Performance students find a silver lining amidst lockdown challenges

How do you train a generation of performers online?

Some music and theatre performance students around Australia right now will have spent up to half of their degree online as a result of the pandemic and the chain of lockdowns it has entailed.

Engagement with performance initiatives is more crucial than ever in keeping many students’ mental health afloat, but the practicalities of these endeavours become complicated online.

Students at the University of Melbourne Musical Theatre Association (UMMTA) have had to juggle attendance caps, rehearsal limits, and a lack of rehearsal spaces for this year’s season.

UMMTA President Liv Jackson says that translating community connectivity online has been a priority; “With the fantastic work of our production teams and specifically the equity officers, I feel as though we have made some significant strides in creating a new community online. I feel that continuing with the connection that the UMMTA productions create has provided our community with something to look forward to, and to focus on while we juggle the challenges that COVID-19 has created.”

VCA student Olive Cullen says the committee was unwilling to scrap the planning and work put into student productions, despite external pressure to cancel this year’s season; “One thing [Liv and I] both really appreciate is that while a lot of theatre companies have just called it a day, dropped the shows and cancelled them, we have tried to keep going with it all… It does make a difference in having that space for people still.”

Image: UMMTA were able to stage their May 2021 Sitzprobe in person

Olive runs a chorus for the committee which has been shifted online.

“If we want it to keep going we have to have less people so we had – you know, while the MCG was still playing games – we had an 8-person cap at rehearsals.”

She maintains there’s been a silver lining to it all; “It’s given us more time to appreciate the music. It’s more relaxed… it’s also a safer space for new singers I think, because everyone’s on mute.”

Between online lectures and zoom doom, these young performers have to keep their craft alive.

Nicole Stinton, Head of Music at NIDA says lockdown has unleashed a new level of creativity in students;

One minute we’ve been singing while climbing a tree or standing on one leg on a bar stool, the next minute we are doing scenes on film with musical underscoring. In the next session a group is creating dream ballet sequences and pirouetting through the kitchen, in another we are looking at the musicality of speech and the way that all human beings are musical all the time.

Yes, we are online, but we come to the sessions with a mindset of not what we can’t do, but what we can do.

Find out more about UMMTA on their website.

Applications for both NIDA and VCA’s musical theatre courses close on the 30th of September.

Sabrina Caires

Sabrina is a Melbourne based Journalist. She is currently studying a Diploma of Entertainment Journalism at Collarts.

Sabrina Caires

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