How Can Performing Arts Programs Thrive in Lockdown? | Top Universities

How Can Performing Arts Programs Thrive in Lockdown?

By Julia Gilmore

Updated February 14, 2022 Updated February 14, 2022

The closure of universities and schools due to the coronavirus crisis has been difficult for all students, with thousands having to adapt to entirely new methods of learning and assessment. But what’s it like when your chosen subject is in the field of performing arts? Performing arts courses rely heavily on face-to-face interaction, and schools have had to find truly innovative ways to keep their programs on track.

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One such school is the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), in Moscow, Russia. Three students, studying directing and producing, spoke to us to explain how their student experience was affected by lockdown, and the inventive solutions they have come up with for learning and coursework.

Ivan Chumachenko, Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), Faculty of Directing, Class of Leonid Kheifets.

GITIS image 1

During self-isolation I passed my time by working constantly, reading plays, watching online performances and working on scenes.

Because of lockdown, GITIS switched to online education. During the self-isolation period my class got an offer to make a video performance based on a true story, one of the most dramatic periods in the institute’s 140-year history: the defeat of the theatre history and criticism department of GITIS in 1949. The play was written by Elena Isaeva and Olga Mikhailova.

The team worked separately and remotely, catching up a couple of times per day in Zoom calls. The work was challenging due to the new skills of sound and video editing that the team needed to acquire. As a result, after a month of well-coordinated work completely conducted online, the course released a video performance, "Cosmopolitans", which in one day gained more than 190,000 views online. 

I can say that my time in lockdown was indeed productive, I learned a lot and gained new experiences. I believe that this experience will help me to become a better director in the future. 

Valentin Sadiki, Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), Faculty of Directing, Class of Leonid Kheifets.

GITIS image 2

During lockdown we all switched to online learning, which as you can imagine is a disaster for an actor! But the moment you accept the inevitable stagnation, your brain starts to generate all sorts of new ideas. The desire to be proactive and use all the time that this situation gave us came very quickly and there was a lot of work to do. I tried to teach acting lessons online and I dedicated myself to self-education, developing a deeper knowledge by reading and watching a lot of movies.

I watched Quentin Tarantino's movie "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" a couple of times in order to understand the acting aspect. I found it interesting to give one of the dialogues between the main characters (Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio) a new expressive meaning. Namely, to link a fragment of the film with the current situation, with GITIS students being in lockdown.

I made a voice over of the scene in the film and uploaded the video online. The resonance and attention it gained online was a pleasant surprise, and my video was shared by famous artists and directors. Especially exciting for me was the support of the rector of our institute, Grigory Zaslavsky.

I feel that self-isolation wasn’t the most pleasant moment in my life as a student, but it gave me time to reconsider my focus and priorities. As my course-master Leonid Kheifets would say, it gave me "the opportunity to take my time".

Anastasia Korabelnikova, Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), Faculty of Producing, Class of David Smelyansky.

GITIS image 3

For me, the lockdown went smoothly, and I studied and worked remotely. I gained more time in my daily schedule because I didn’t have to commute. Frankly speaking, moving between tabs on the computer is much more convenient than changing lines in subway! 

During the lockdown, our course leader gave us the task to come up with a theatre project that can exist both in the period of self-isolation and after it. I came up with a gastronomic performance called "The Feast", created in collaboration with food delivery services and gastronomic brands, which during the lockdown became even more popular.

The performance is held on an online platform (Zoom), with actors and spectators invited to a virtual feast. The ticket price includes a unique menu, designed specifically for the performance and delivered to the viewer’s home just before the broadcast. As a result, the spectators and actors eat the same dishes for the online feast. This gives the effect of presence and connection, despite the cold screen that separates everyone.

My other idea was a psychological performance of "Dreams", based on therapy and computer graphics. The project is designed to allow the user to immerse themselves in the reality of their dreams, using VR glasses. The spectator fills in a questionnaire about their dreams on the project website, and the theatre team adapt the real story to the script, recreate graphics from the client's dream for VR glasses and think of an improvisational dialogue between the spectator and the actors.

My ideas were taken very well by the course leader and I was invited to participate in a video conference, the Laboratory of Future Theatre of GITIS, where the best students had a chance to present their ideas and projects that emerged in the conditions of the global pandemic.

Humanities degrees in a post-COVID world

Many experts and university leaders have given statements predicting an increasing demand for arts and humanities degrees in the wake of coronavirus as young people reassess their values and companies require more empathic and analytical thinking at this point in time.

Join this exclusive meetup for a candid discussion about humanities majors that might be the greatest value-add in the post-COVID economy.

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This article was originally published in September 2020 . It was last updated in February 2022

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