Only 2% of UWindsor courses will be in person, here's why acting classes made the cut

In a rare exception — some theatre students at the University of Windsor are going back to school in-person. 

Students can expect mandatory masks, physical bubbles mapped out on the floor

Acting students will be allowed to take some of their performance-based classes in person when school starts. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

In a rare exception — some theatre students at the University of Windsor are going back to school in-person. 

While 98 per cent of courses at the university will be taught online, students in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting program will be allowed to take some performance-based classes, like movement, voice and scene study face-to-face.

"We felt there was a case for in-person learning for this particular program because of the small classes and the intensity of the program"," explained Meaghen Quinn, a professor at the School of Dramatic Art.

She said given the small class sizes and the fact that acting students take all of their classes together, it was possible to make face-to-face learning a reality.

For students stepping into the acting studios for the first time, post-pandemic, they can expect designated entrances and exits, mandatory masks, mandatory hand sanitizing upon entry, and physical bubbles outlined on the studio floors ensuring that actors stay eight to 10 feet apart. 

Meaghen Quinn, a professor at the School of Dramatic Art, says there was a case to be made for in-person learning among acting students. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"Students will come into the space and it'll already be mapped out," Quinn said.

"What we're doing specifically in the drama studios is we're creating an eight-foot-by-eight-foot performance space for each actor."

Smaller class sizes

Classes will also be cut in half, with a maximum of 10 students per studio, with one professor and one teaching assistant at a time. When classes switch over, actors will stay in the same room, and professors will rotate.

The school is also looking at the possibility of setting up separation screens in the studios.

Once classes begin, acting studio floors will be mapped out to indicate performance bubbles for students to ensure proper physical distancing. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"We've learned that some musical theatre companies have been using curtains ... like shower curtains as a way of a barrier so that people can sing," she said. 

Further to that, the department is looking into potentially using specialty masks designed for singers. Neither the specialty masks or the plastic barriers have been approved for use just yet, Quinn explained, because it depends on direction from the university's health and safety team.

Theatre is a 'live art'

Fourth-year acting student Jonnie Lombard says he's prepared to extract the most out of his education, despite the new circumstances. 

Fourth-year acting student Jonnie Lombard is excited to get back to in the studio in fall, despite all the changes. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"Theatre is fundamentally a live art. And I just think there is something that's lost when everything goes online and when everything has to be done virtually," he said. 

"So I am very glad that the university has made some exceptions."

Other schools are taking different approaches.

George Brown College in Toronto decided earlier this summer it would postpone its theatre programs for the fall until January, because of the challenges around transforming in-person classes. Sheridan College will deliver all theatre programs remotely in September, in the hopes of offering some in-person classes by November.

In an e-mailed statement to CBC, the university's director of communications John Coleman said face-to-face courses will be conducted where it's "considered necessary for a proper learning experience," and in those cases health and safety procedures will be followed. 

"It's expected that, in all cases, course planning for individual face-to-face courses will involve the minimum possible face-to-face engagement and include the use of social distancing, screening, contact tracing, and PPE," he said, explaining that 98 per cent of all courses will be conducted online.

'New perspectives and approaches'

Lombard understands the need for restrictions to make sure students are as safe as possible. 

"Even though it's going to change the way classes are approached, I'm still excited for the way that it's going to change how we work," he said. 

"It's going to give us all these new perspectives and approaches to performing and learning about theatre that we might never have thought about before we had these restrictions put on us," Lombard said. 

Acting students will have designated entrances and exits in and out of the Jackman Dramatic Art Centre at the University of Windsor. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

In addition to the precautions set up in the studios themselves, Quinn explained that the university has made an app that helps students do a self-assessment ensuring that they're feeling well before coming to campus and that the university has a number of other safety precautions in place.

Other more theoretical classes will still be taken online, like theatre history and drama and education. Quinn said the university had arranged for a number of workshops and virtual conferences over the last several months to help professors prepare to deliver their classes online.

The pandemic has not put a dent in enrolment numbers for the acting program, Quinn said, explaining that most students are returning to school, with a first year cohort of 16 students.

As for how performances will work in the fall, the University Players will be taking its season online, with the help of directors and writers from around the country.

In addition to theatre courses, other examples of face-to-face classes at the university will include some music performance classes, and those related to research, the university said.

In-person internships and practicums will also take place for programs including nursing, education, law and off-campus aeronautics courses and flight training. 

The acting students will still be performing for audiences in the fall, but it will all be happening online. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)