With no lights and no camera, can there be action? Without a stage to perform on and an audience to receive it, can live performance exist? This is the dilemma facing the performing arts industry across the globe during the Coronavirus pandemic. At WestKing, lecturers are tackling this challenge head on by finding new and experimental ways to allow students to hone their craft whilst in lockdown.
The end of year performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream turned in to a nightmare for Year 2 Performing Arts students when the Coronavirus hit the UK. The perfect location at the Story Garden in central London had been found, and since early January hours of rehearsals had been put in. But with theatres and stages across the UK sitting in the dark, and end of year exams cancelled, it all seemed futile.
Positive that there will be light after lockdown, lecturer Rob Alexander regrouped and found a revolutionary way to allow students to perform. Through the camera lens on laptops and tablets, students are now performing a socially-distanced version of the Shakespeare play from their homes via Zoom. Each day an act is practiced, performed and recorded with the entire play being completed within a week. Once restrictions are lifted, the recorded performances will be edited together by our technicians at WestKing’s Creative Arts Studio to produce one seamless performance.
Student Gabriela Madalina said: “Of course, watching your plans fall away is not a pleasant way to finish college. However, as I thought more about it, there’s nothing new here that an actor shouldn’t be ready for and maybe this is the final challenge college will bring upon us. The online meetings turned out to be the perfect solution and allowed us to continue with the performance. Radio theatre has been around for a long time but somehow it is overshadowed by all the performances meant to impress the eye. Now we get to impress the ear. Sure, it’s not what we were preparing for, but that’s what actors do: we improvise.”
Rob Alexander said: “Like playing an instrument, acting is a skill which has to be practised, and exams being cancelled was no reason to become complacent. In fact, it drove our students to dig deeper and much like a radio performance, learn to perform in isolation. They have had to adapt quickly, for example, getting their timing right and waiting for different cues so there isn’t a lag. This is an experience that they would not have had without the lockdown.”
Our Year 1 students have been working hard too. In conjunction with film and theatre company Broken Hearted Youth, they were set the challenge of writing and performing a monologue which could be unrelated to the lockdown but has the underlying theme of isolation. Artistic Director at Broken Hearted Youth , Michael van der Put said: “For a number of years we have had a rewarding collaboration with Westminster Kingsway College. We were in the early stages of planning a theatrical production around the theme of mental health when the lockdown arrived.
“Luckily for us, being a film and theatre company affords us some flexibility in our approach. In planning what comes next, we’re able to look to Rob and the team to see the adaptations they make in teaching and evaluating their students. This in turn informs our approach to the creation of future work. It’s early days in this period of change, but we know the passion and enthusiasm from both Rob and his students will weather the storm.”
Students have come up trumps with a rich tapestry of stories and will perform and record the final piece from their homes. One student, Nami Olivia, centred her monologue on the faults in the American justice system and racism in the 1920’s – 1950’s. She said: “It is focused on a woman called Aubrey Browne who grew up in downtown Detroit and moved to New Orleans where she got caught up in a murder investigation. Despite the fact she was 17 years old and the evidence was in her favour, she was tried as an adult, found guilty and spent 25 years in jail. The monologue is set the day before she’s due to die by lethal injection and she’s reflecting back on her life.”
Another Year 1 student Alexandra-Stefania Chiran said: “I really enjoyed working on this project I think that it’s really exciting that we get to write our own script from scratch. I’ve been working on a monologue about a girl that is isolating herself from all of her friends and family and everyone is starting to get worried about her. They try and get her to talk to someone about how she feels.”
With Patrick Stewart reading a Shakespeare Sonnet a day on Twitter and the Royal Shakespeare Company enlisting help from the likes of David Tennant with homework, performing artists are very much fighting back. The adaptability at WestKing is the perfect illustration that even though we are locked down, things are very much looking up.
Although the regions also have thriving theatre scenes, London is still the UK’s performing arts hub, as it’s home to West End theatres, TV studios and more. Learn with us and your career options after college include TV and film, radio and theatre in areas such as acting, dance, direction and choreography. Please click here to find out more about studying Performing Arts at Westminster Kingsway College.