Theatre education during a pandemic

image of ghost light in empty theatre

As much of the world faced an abrupt change to virtual learning, VCUarts Theatre forged our own path. Our faculty and students impress with some very fun and innovative work in their Zoom virtual classrooms.

The Department’s first ever Virtual Senior Showcase

headshots of students in senior showcase 2020

As the pandemic forced us to teach remotely and stop all school travel, one of our top concerns was our Senior Showcase. Typically, graduating performance seniors travel to New York and Atlanta to audition in front of casting agents. Lucky for the department, our chair Sharon Ott and a talented filmmaker grad student Dorie Barton (MFA 2020!) were heading the class. Between our students’ determination, Sharon’s directing experience and Dorie’s filmmaking expertise, (plus some help from Sharon’s sound designer hubby and the department’s marketing coordinator), we were able to pull off a successful virtual version!

“The students have been getting lots of interviews with agents, managers in NYC, LA and Atlanta. We’re not sure if it is just the novelty of it [during the pandemic], but we actually have received more agent interviews, casting director requests from this Showcase than we have previously doing it live……..and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper for all concerned!” – Chair Sharon Ott

Kikau Alvaro & Musical Theatre

Kikau’s website

Kikau is an Assistant Professor and the head of Musical Theatre at VCU. Kikau earned his MFA in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University in 2016 and his resume contains extensive credits in direction, choreography, and acting. Kikau is also the Associate Creative Director at Virginia Repertory Theatre in town.

In addition to his course load, Kikau was directing our mainstage production of Spring Awakening when quarantine started. We’ve had to reschedule the public performances because of the pandemic, but Kikau and the cast got together to record the final number of the show. The department released this Zoom version of The Song of Purple Summer in lieu of the original opening date of April 15th.

The cast of Spring Awakening sings Song of Purple Song over Zoom. Directed by Kikau Alvaro. Musical Direction and Video editing by Anthony Smith.

Kikau’s Cabaret Storytelling class also completed an innovative final project. The class presented Quarantunes: A Virtual Cabaret over the department’s social media. Students recorded their own original cabarets at home and we hosted an event to watch the videos as YouTube premieres, allowing attendees to live chat throughout. The videos also live in our Instagram LIve TV channel. Find a couple sets from Alvan Bolling and Sharaia Hughes below!

Alvan Bolling: Disney Bolling
Sharaia Hughes: Ordinary Magic

Jeffery Darland & Kikau Alvaro: Movement for the Actor

Jeff currently teaches movement classes at VCU, helping students discover their natural physical impulses through a variety of methodologies. Jeff earned his MFA in Theatre from VCUarts in 2019, and his experience includes 10 years of comedy in NYC and working behind the scenes in production for television and film.

Jeff & Kikau both teach sections of Movement for the Actor and had students create a music video as their final project. Students had to lip syncing to a song while considering movement techniques learned throughout the semester.

Check out these projects from River Cowan, Corey Norman and Erik Mayes.

River Cowan sings “The Neighbor Song” by Lake Street Dive
Corey Norman performs “What Kind of Love” by Childish Gambino
Erik Mayes performs “Samaritans” by Idles

Elizabeth Byland & VCU Improv

EB’s website

EB (as she is fondly known at VCU) is the head of Improv in the Theatre Department and also teaches Applied Improv in the Medical School. Her improv classes created several surprisingly successful and enjoyable Zoom sessionsin quarantine. (We had no doubt of EB and her students’ talents but such a collaborative art form seemed daunting over Zoom!)

Here’s two examples of their work. The first is with two graduating seniors who perform a game called Love Letters in the style of Shakespeare, and the second is a set from the all female team Toxic Shock, recorded for VCUarts Theatre’s first night of Virtual Improv which took place over Facebook Live.

Love Letters with David and Tara
Toxic Shock performs a set for our first Virtual Improv night