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The Shift to Teaching + Learning Online: Reflections and Successes from Northeastern’s Department of Theatre

Final Project for Movement for the Actor.

Over the last few months, CAMD faculty and students have pivoted and adjusted to online teaching and learning in innovative and creative ways. While many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging and uncertain, the CAMD community has embraced the opportunity to shift online and continue to come together, remain engaged, and move forward in positive and productive ways. The Department of Theatre at Northeastern has proved that even the most hands-on and performance-based classes can be implemented online; when dedicated faculty and students come together, creative spaces can be created anywhere.

One example of a hands-on course that pivoted online is called Viewpoints, taught by Jonathan Carr, Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Theatre. Viewpoints is an improvisational movement technique and training, where groups of students react to each other in real-time and space and create physical choreography together. While the course is grounded in in-person interactions, “we had to come to terms with the fact we were going to give it a try” online, as Professor Carr explained – and the result exceeded expectations.

As a starting point, the class took advantage of breakout rooms on Zoom so that students could work one-on-one or in small groups – and react to each other in their own room as though they were face-to-face. Eventually, the class found ways to continue large group improvisational exercises online that leveraged the traditional Viewpoints techniques in a new way. Professor Carr describes some of these techniques that they embraced to make the class work well in its new digital format in the video below, which is part of an “online teaching” series.

Following the success of teaching Viewpoints online this spring, Professor Carr is now hosting online Viewpoints drop-in sessions with alumni, with the next session in June. Both graduates and current students are participating in these sessions, which are open to anyone who has taken the course. The most recent Zoom Viewpoints session featured people who took the class in 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2020 improvising from three different cities simultaneously.

Screenshot from Viewpoints.

Another Department of Theatre course, Movement for the Actor – taught by Jesse Hinson, Associate Teaching Professor – took a new shape this semester.

For the final projects, students (who would normally perform in a studio space on-campus) were filmed in their backyards, from their living rooms, or anywhere else they could find space during the nationwide lockdown. Under Professor Hinson’s direction, the students embraced the opportunity to push creative boundaries, and the final projects concluded the course in a meaningful way.

Final Project for Movement for the Actor.

“For those of us who are working in physical methodology, we understand flexibility in the body—now you have to be flexible in a different way in terms of how you work with students,” Professor Hinson said to News@Northeastern in an article about moving his class online.

This flexibility, and ability to adapt quickly, has been at the heart of the College of Arts, Media and Design over the last few months. And from Viewpoints to Movement for the Actor, and other classes and initiatives in between, the Department of Theatre has played a central role in showcasing how creative engagement does not stop online.