It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten the rules governing our daily lives. Movie theaters? What are those? Hugs? Say what? Handshakes? You’ve got to be kidding. Among the most daunting challenges brought about by coronavirus is how to teach and learn remotely, where the richness of face-to-face encounters in the classroom have evaporated. Joanne Fayan shares her unique experience bringing the educational page to the virtual stage.   

Joanne Fayan is Arts Department Chair at the St. Andrews School in Barrington, Rhode Island. 

Education. Education is content. Education is community. Education is relationship. Ask any student to tell you something positive about a teacher they know, they probably won’t discuss curriculum. They’ll probably tell you it’s a teacher that fostered confidence, trust, connection. I’m not a traditional teacher. I’m a teacher of a performing art that demands community, gathering. I teach theatre. But my classroom changed. Once ... on a stage or in a studio; then to a small screen. No ensemble, no noisy chatter, no energy exchange.

Virtual theatre classzoom one. Across three continents, three time zones. Six-thirty am messages dinged my phone awake. A student half-way across the world, excited to share his work on Greek Theatre. Yesterday, it was Beijing Opera. Theatre assignment options. Explore. Go find out something you didn’t know; come back to tell us.

Virtual theatre classzoom two. All within thirty miles, bi-weekly. They seemed so young, trying to navigate the links, the classwork, the schedule. Confusing. They’d forget when to come; they came when they forgot to be in another link. Classes were now links. They lost the room. But I was there, in case you dinged my zoomroom and I needed to tell you to be somewhere else.” But first I asked, “Are you ok?” “Do you have any questions?” “I’ll see you next week.”

Virtual theatre classzoom three. Across four states, one time zone. They talked for ten minutes at the start, to each other: “nice hair”, “what’re you eatin’?”, “get out of bed”, “hey, turn on your camera.” I let them. They missed each other. Seven out of ten will graduate. They won’t see each other again. That ten minutes was as important as the work of the day. “Go create something. Figure out how to do it. Manage your time. Make sure you communicate. Clearly, with meaning, keep the listener in mind.” “Yes, you may work in pairs; stay connected.” 

“Be well. Stay safe. Bye.” My eyes are wet.

Virtual theatre classzoom four. This one across two continents, two time zones. Spring production canceled? Then, we wrote and filmed and created our own show: comedy and original music and tributes that can break your heart. And then, hope. And this teacher gave herself a crash course in editing and stitched us back together. Across the continents. Across the time zones.