Words by Megan Taylor
The Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK all the way back in January 2020 and it is safe to say it has had a significant impact on all of us. Universities especially have been hit hard with modules switching to online or socially distanced learning. For those of us with courses that are mostly dependent on interactive or in person learning- such as Drama- this has proved a real challenge. However, students and tutors alike have been working hard to make the best of these tough times.
I spoke to some of Sussex’s drama students and tutor Jason Price to see how they feel they had been affected by the pandemic:
As you can expect, many commented that they felt their learning and subsequent performances had been ‘hindered’. 3rd year student Francesca Hotten said she felt a feeling of disconnect that came from this online learning. When coming to University all of us expected the course to be physically engaging. The reality we face now is staring at computer screens, sometimes for hours and ‘it is very alienating at times’.
This is something that I think all of us across the University can relate to. Being almost trapped in our rooms for weeks in a lockdown has meant we are easily distracted, we struggle to concentrate, and we feel ‘alienated’. For so many of us this has had a huge impact on our mental health which, unfortunately, also affects our assessments. With everything that is going on it is difficult to focus on anything that does not directly relate to Coronavirus.
I think for most of us, the most important thing to focus on at the moment is keeping ourselves safe and healthy. For some, going to University has given them a routine to stick to which can be helpful. For 2nd year student Evie Toswell, keeping up with work has given her purpose. Evie said ‘I have found this year somewhat manageable… the fact that things have been online has enabled me to be more proactive on my note taking etc.’
In terms of making performances and getting feedback, things have been difficult for us drama students especially 3rd years- we are used to the supportive environment that comes with performance exam days.
3rd year student Katie Webb said, ‘I was disheartened about creating performances online, as we never had an opportunity to show our work… we could only discuss ideas then get feedback on a one-off video which was quite jarring.’
Usually when we show our work to our peers there is always a sense of camaraderie and collaboration that goes into it, it is definitely a supportive environment. As Katie says, now doing things on our own and recording them only to be seen by tutors is significantly more challenging, and we do not get that same peer support that is so important to the course.
Many of us feel that we are not getting what we are paying for in terms of our course expectations when we signed up to the University. Francesca said: ‘I would have chosen a different course if I knew that learning would be online, this is not a course that should be done virtually.’
Drama is obviously intended to be an interactive course. When we applied to study at Sussex we were expecting to put on live performances once a year and more so than this, we WANTED to do these performances. It is what we love and enjoy doing. Having this integral part of the course taken away and replaced with long hours staring at screens has definitely been a hard pill to swallow.
Having said this many of us agreed that we are impressed with the performances put on in the last year given the circumstances. I personally saw some fascinating performances done crammed in various corners of our houses- my housemate even did a very physical performance hunched underneath our kitchen table!
Tutor Jason Price commented ‘The pandemic has been challenging for all university subjects, but those which involve practice-base elements, like ours, have had to contend with significant levels of adjustment. But right from the beginning the Drama faculty consistently emphasized that creative possibilities can still be found in working remotely or in a blended way. Students and staff have stepped up to this challenge and we couldn’t be prouder of the results… the kind of work we are known for at Sussex, which tends to be more experimental in form, means that working with social distancing has not been an issue.’
As Jason says, both students and staff are trying to make the best of things given everything that is going on at the moment. At Sussex we are known to create alternative styles of performance at the best of times. Now, in the most difficult stages we have all done what we have learnt over the years studying here and have created some really fascinating performances.
First year student Emma Bean did not experience Sussex without the social distancing and said her experience may well be different from ours due to this, but she has been impressed with the work that she has seen so far- ‘everyone knows that the socially distanced style of these performers is necessary now and people have really dug deep into their own creativity to harness this restriction… it has altered my perception of what constitutes a stage.’
To end on a positive note, in some ways you could argue the pandemic has given us the opportunity to create performances we never would have previously thought of. Although it has been difficult, we remain reliant on the support of our peers and are thankful to those in the drama department who are trying to make the process easier for us.