“A long time ago, in a green wooded valley which faced the blue sea, all of the birds got together for a meeting.”
So began yesterday’s drama presentation of The Monarch of the Birds. The speaker was about 10 years old, a lively lad sitting alone in his bedroom. In attendance were nine other performers, John and I, and any number of parents, grandparents, friends and family—all of them in various conditions of lockdown.
“Unfortunately, at that meeting, the birds all made their noises at the same time. Everyone wanted to talk, and no one wanted to listen.”
Teaching and directing a play on Zoom has its challenges. Just getting everyone to class feels like a major victory. You never know when someone will have to leave and come back due to technical problems. Acting in unison is tricky, but possible. Some drama games are impossible unless everyone is in gallery view. Sending people into breakout rooms is difficult if everyone has changed their name to “Poop”. And sitting quietly in the frame of the camera takes real effort for active ones who have a hard time sitting still in any class.
But there are some surprising benefits. Voice projection isn’t as big a problem as it is when kids perform live—the microphone hears everything, from dramatic whispers to idiosyncratic bird voices. Gender and age biases don’t seem to matter as much —the kids were happy to work in small groups with any team members. Props and costumes can very effective on camera—and for us, working in our puppet studio, many things came easily to hand.
The kids loved the drama games, working in small groups in the breakout rooms, and making new friends. They didn’t want to go away from each other in the 10-minute recess. They did a great job—learning lines and gestures, supporting each other, and getting at the heart of the story. They were also happy to help each other with computer problems.
We loved spending time with the kids, of course, and watching the story come to life. It was good for us to learn this new skill, and to feel more confident about being able to teach and work online. We appreciate the encouragement and guidance of the Ottawa Children’s Theatre team, Amanda Lewis, Nick Miller and Emily Poulsen, who shared what they’ve learned from online teaching, and facilitate discussions with other drama teachers David Hersh, Emmanuelle Zeesman, Molly Reisman and Clayton Briggs, who are discovering more every day.
“Chirp, chirp chirp!”