As online classes at USC resumed on Monday, several arts students voiced their concerns about the functionality of their classes given the recent switch. The change to online instruction was in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.
A statement from the President Folt’s office announced that classes would be conducted online or remotely for the rest of the spring semester on March 16. The performing and visual arts communities are struggling to make the transition.
In an effort to express their opinions and concerns about the issue, several students created a Facebook group called “Zoom is not Art” on March 12. The group has over 500 members who are “demand[ing] better treatment amidst the threat of COVID-19.”
Everyone has dealt with the changes differently. Any student with a hands-on lab, like chemistry, has needed to shift drastically. However, for arts students, the blow has been felt especially hard, according to these students.
Ella Harris, a film and TV production major, said that the SCA labs were open until the Thursday of Spring break, but that might’ve just been their misstep.
“There are instances where every project that needed to get a laptop was able to get a laptop from the school with the software on it that we needed to edit,” she said. “These resources that they’ve always had as safety guards could have been utilized so much sooner.”
As a senior, she had just wrapped shooting a musical for her senior thesis.
“I didn’t want the labs to close because I thought I was losing access to the only thing that I wanted to focus on still,” she said. “I was holding onto this thesis like it was my only sentimental normalcy through what is a global pandemic, something that nobody has experienced.”
Ella is among the many seniors who have had important projects hindered. Akshay Ravi is double majoring in film/TV production and media arts practice. While a majority of projects, assignments and classes can be finished online, her major classes are designed to be hands-on.
Students in these classes understand the circumstances, yet still feel their entire experience is unfulfilled.
Ravi explained that while one of his senior capstone projects had finished production, the post-production process has been heavily affected.
“A lot of these processes involve us being on campus and in the labs of SCA, using the materials SCA provides in terms of hardware and just having a space to work collaboratively with our peers,” Ravi said. “It definitely hinders the quality of the project we are doing. Beyond that, we have to figure out processes that require SCA equipment.”
Classes and projects are not the only works that are facing challenging changes. Each Spring, the USC School of Dramatic Arts produces their annual New Work Festival with pieces written by MFA playwright majors. Natalie Hurt, a junior Bachelor of Arts theater major, was cast in one of the plays.
“Now they decided to continue our work with the show, however we will not be performing it for crowds. Now it is just a class for us,” said Hurt.
Meetings have continued as if they were going to perform, however, there is a lot more research involved, rather than actually being together and practicing.
“Nothing has changed in our trajectory, but if we take initiative we will have to motivate ourselves,” she said. “Even though I don’t feel that all the time, I have to push myself to feel this way.”
Other students who are not in major projects are still affected in their day to day classes.
Kennedy Hatton, a sophomore Bachelors of Arts theater major, said professors and other students are trying their best to stay positive in the midst of challenging situations. Her acting instructors have shared experiences or challenges where they have had to act online, through a computer or to a sticky note on a wall.
“While it’s not the best education we can receive, it still is a good education and will benefit us,” Hatton said. “So I really like how they’re all being positive and not just throwing sad pity parties.”
Professor Tina Haatainen-Jones is looking at the opportunity afforded by this crisis. As a costume designer who supervises shops all around the world, she is required to communicate over long distances and explain designs. She is now seeing this time as a chance to teach this skill to her students.
“We didn’t have to learn that before because we were in the fitting room with the actor, we were with the director, we were on the stage,” said Haatainen-Jones. “You can’t not learn that, but we are going to take the opportunity to learn another set of skills. Their arsenal of skills will get bigger because of this.”
Haatainen-Jones says that although her class has changed, it still remains somewhat normal. She was able to receive five sketches for costumes and send feedback on all of them within 50 minutes. She noted how this is the same length of time that it would take in person.
Professor Elsbeth M. Collins, the head of production at SDA, believes there are benefits to these new conditions, too. Though she sees how people have been affected, she realizes that this is what actors live for, in a way.
“The thing that I love about being a theater artist is that we deal with adversity and shortage and challenge all the time.” said Collins. “That’s one of the things that excites us; That we constantly need to come up with solutions to solve problems."
Collins said she hopes that this will be a learning experience.
“What I hope we can all take out of this experience is the opportunity to learn new skills,” she said. "We’re certainly learning new technologies, all of us.”