Online Staged Reading in the Pandemic
"Theater Arts and Education Project: Spring Staged Reading Education Project" is a course that encourages students to participate in art through vocalization techniques, script literacy, and the spirits of the characters. The pandemic has caused school closures since June this year, and students have no choice but to stay at home. To ensure that learnings are not interrupted by the pandemic, Weiwuying presented the course in digital format. With the help of teachers and theater professionals, schools performed their work online, showcasing the fruits of six months of hard work in staged reading. Although it was a rich experience, environmental and hardware limitations brought various hardships to teachers and students. The Weiwuying team interviewed teachers and broadcasting staff and excerpted contents as follows, sharing the ups and downs of the Spring Staged Reading course. Interviewees: Teachers of Yancheng Elementary School, teacher CHU Chih-ping of Feng-Shan Senior High School, and broadcaster TSAI Chi-an.
When Romantic Staged Reading Meets the Realities of Internet Speed
Teacher: The course officially commenced on May 26, and there were three classes before the performance (June 2, June 9). Since roles were assigned during the last class before school closures and we had rehearsed before, our main challenge when moving the class online was the students' usage of microphones and unsolvable issues of the internet. As for the script, I deleted passages that would cause confusion due to requiring physical, live performances. For instance, we originally wanted a few students to sing the
crucial lullaby melody at the beginning of the performance, but after testing, it was a nightmare. Another example was at the end, where students would shout. We Originally planned for them to each create an effect of nothing holding them back, but the results were less than ideal. We also removed some of the sound effects from the script because there was a time difference on the internet, which made it impossible to create the tight-knitted feel. I remember saying to a student during one class: "You have to say your line immediately after student A." I later realized this statement was meaningless because whether dialogues were tight-knitted or not relied on the speed of the internet and not their response time.
Chi-an: It was because many participants of the staged reading class talk with their cameras on. The performers must adjust their performance based on past experiences of unstable internet connection, such as: should I say my line later? Should I talk after I’m sure that the images and sounds of others are stable? Should I pay more attention to others while the internet is unstable? If someone's connection is broken, should I pick up what's left unfinished?
The students of Chung-Cheng Industrial High School and Feng-Shan Senior High School demonstrated ways of salvaging each other's scenes during the performance. During the performance of Chungcheng Armed Forces Preparatory School, the first scene was completely silent, and the students were willing to repeat the performance at the end of all sessions. Not only did the performers feel the performance was important, but I believe audiences also felt their sincerity of "wanting to present the comprehensive message of the work to the viewers."
The Sparks of Live Performances Turning into Sparks of Internet Lag
Chi-an: At first, we imagined it to be a simple matter of arranging separate tasks on Google Meet, but that didn't solve the bandwidth problem of multiple people being online at the same time. Furthermore, the project's primary concern was the students. Imagine Google Meet that included the audience and performers at the same time. If we are unable to ensure that all participants have turned on the “spotlight” mode, then we would see multiple headshots, which not only results in an image with several small screens, but viewers would also see the headshots of teachers, the headmaster, or parents next to them while viewing the performance, or that audience would accidentally turn on the mic or video, or that they would leave or disconnect during the performance. These would cause notifications to ring in Google Meet, resulting in a less than ideal experience.
Then we came up with the method of separating the audience area with the stage area, as in two online platforms, one as the stage with only the main performers and project staff, and the other would be the audiences, with people in charge of broadcasting the scenes on the stage to the viewers.
Later, we realized this method was actually a lot like viewing performances within a physical theater. Audiences would not interact with performers on stage, and the incidents on stage would not be interrupted by viewers entering or leaving the scene or having conversations. With this scenario in mind, we bettered the procedure to include everything that would exist in previous performances, such as the three-light-three-dim reminders, opening speeches, etc., as well as a side TV area that allowed performers who did not need to be on stage to watch the performance. This time, we also included something new, which was that performers could connect with audiences through the link after the performance ended.
Shifting between Live Rehearsals and Online Rehearsals
Teacher: The first online class was a lot like the physical class. People gathered around in a circle and shared their feelings on the week of school closure. The musical walk changed into walking with the hands, allowing students to experience the ritualistic atmosphere of staged reading. After the first class, I adjusted the teaching contents for the following two classes and changed to meeting with separate groups (the performers of each scene). I wanted to focus more on individual performances and others to have a good rest (online classes can be challenging on the eyes).
Chi-an: Performing for the lens is slightly different from physical performances. The teachers made adjustments to each scene. For example, one of the characters of The Incredibility of Alice staged by Yancheng Elementary School had a swimming scene, and the original design was for the performer to swim around the stage. However, when the performance moved online, classmates still performed swimming motions; it was delightfully sincere. Another example was the scene of the 921 Earthquake in Chung-
Cheng Industrial High School's Palaces. The teacher asked the students to perform under the table or to walk and shake the lens.
The Highs and Lows of Rehearsal and Unexpected Rewards
Teacher: During class Q&A and dialogues, the children were more able to express their thoughts eloquently. These experiences let educators know that there was a distinct, positive correlation with the articulation training in staged reading.
Throughout this period, the children have learned to collaborate and have become more active in providing assistance, especially since each performance required the performers to move back and forth between the stage and backstage. The process relied heavily on the students from the music and sports classes to work together to achieve “seamless” transitions, which also benefited the overall atmosphere.
Teacher: "Using imperfect methods to stage a perfect performance" was my prominent thought when the performance ended. We have been forced to let go of many things during this pandemic, but we have also received many unexpected gifts because of this. Imperfections are inevitable, and the students’ internet collapsing rights before the performance was devastating. But the moment the performance ended, the sense of fulfillment was the same. As for the performance of the students, to be honest, the official performance was the first time we completed the work from start to finish. Still, the students remembered all of the points made during rehearsals, including the tone of speech and emotions. I think they are fantastic and sincerely hope I will be able to take these 22 students onto an actual stage. It would be great to see them shine on stage!
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