Thursday, April 09, 2020

A different kind of theatrical transition

Professionally, the COVID-19 closures and cancellations dealt a double blow to Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, UIS associate professor of theatre; she lost face-to-face contact with her students, and was forced to cancel the university’s spring production, "Twelfth Night," which was set to open in mid-April.

“It was just heartbreaking, there was so much time and energy that had been put into it already,” she said. "We were really in the home stretch. And, we didn’t get closure, which is important in theatre productions.”

Before she could even think about how to convert her classes to remote learning, Thibodeaux-Thompson had to drive across the country to bring her own daughter home from college.

She credits several colleagues and Kara McElwrath from ITS for helping her get ready to teach remotely. “Kara is my hero, she needs to be the employee of the millennium,” Thibodeaux-Thompson joked.

“I learned that you don’t have to replicate everything that you would in an on-ground class,” she said.

Thibodeaux-Thompson’s students will use Zoom’s Kaltura feature to act and record monologues for class feedback. And she’s found workarounds. Instead of students writing a paper on a live production they’ve gone to see, they are watching a production online from provided links.

One of the best remote-learning experiences she has had so far is her students showing up for her first Zoom class. “They’re dealing with crazy things like being at home,” she said. “On that first day, they just showed up and waved from their bedrooms, just to say hi. Their heads were in the game and that speaks volumes of our students, that they would rather be in the classroom.”

Thibodeaux-Thompson is also applying her newfound technology skills to other parts of her career, participating in Zoom meetings with UIS Campus Senate, other directors in Art, Music and Theatre as well as the regional leadership team from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

And she says "Twelfth Night" will debut on stage in spring 2021. “The design and conceptual work were already done,” Thibodeaux-Thompson said. “We understand some people will have graduated and may have other plans or commitments but they are welcome to come back. We’ll take as many people who can come back.”

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