September 15, 2020
When COVID-19 turned the world on its head, Shoreline’s Performance Arts and Digital Filmmaking program had to get creative about teaching a hands-on craft through online learning. The result is a re-envisioned approach to film utilizing the pandemic as both a storytelling opportunity and a chance to evolve the medium. “Six months ago we were wondering, how do we do this?” said Tony Doupé, Program Lead in the Performance Arts and Digital Filmmaking program. “But then everybody rallied and got really creative about how to respond to the physical limitations COVID-19 placed on filmmaking. Seeing what people were doing nationally—with play reads and productions being very successful online—we realized we could do this, and do it well.”
The College’s annual Shoreline Shorts festival moved online for spring. It usually features live productions of short works written, directed, produced, and acted by Shoreline students, but this year students performed in a virtual space via live streaming.”It was a great success,” said Doupé. “And a very valuable learning experience. In the film and theater industries, things rarely go as planned. You have to always be flexible and think on your feet and make what you can out of what you have in front of you. The students rose to the challenge and produced some fabulous work in a tough environment. That’s something they can be proud of and a skill that will serve them in their professional lives.”
Another key to success has been in emphasizing film as a creative outlet for personal expression and going back to the basics of emphasizing story. “We’re telling students not to worry about production value as much as they do story,” said Doupé. “Too often we get to producing too soon and sacrifice the art of storytelling, which is the heart at what connects the viewer to the film.” In today’s digital world barriers to creating film are low. “You can have an eight-year-old iPhone and a mic,” said Doupé. “You just need creative thinking, not thousands of dollars.”
“I’m amazed at some of the work students are doing right now,” Doupé continued. “I don’t know if it’s having more time on their hands or the artistic need to express themselves in uncertain times, but I think having that creative outlet, especially right now, is really important. It’s exciting to see it showing in the personal and innovative work students have been putting out during COVID.” For students who don’t have a camera phone, or for those who want to get their hands on professional equipment, the program offers equipment for check out. Filming kits include lighting equipment, a camera, and audio equipment that students can borrow for practice or for shoots. With students at home, one challenge has been in finding actors. “They’re having to perform themselves or use their friends and family, which is actually really good experience for emerging filmmakers to have,” said Doupé. “If students can learn to communicate their vision to non-actors, it’ll up their craft when they’re able to work with professional actors again.” Students in the program are getting the technical aspect of working in film combined with the acting experience, which means “a lot of students are actually really thriving in this more intimate environment,” said Doupé. For performance students, online auditioning was a trend that was catching on pre-COVID as it saves time and allows more people to audition. “We’ve been working on online auditioning a lot as far as expectations from casting directors and how to present oneself as an actor from home,” said Doupé.
For fall, Doupé is excited to push the medium further with a class that allows students to create a fictional documentary of their experiences during COVID. Experimental Theatre Production (Drama 234) will allow students to document their experience of the pandemic while also incorporating any historical event taking place at this time, including Black Lives Matter demonstrations, police reform protests, political unrest, climate change, and more. “This will be a collection of monologues, short plays, scenes, documentary-style footage, and more addressing COVID-19 but also some of the larger issues of our times,” said Doupé. “The class will ask ‘what experiences have you had as a human during this time and how are they incorporated together.’ It’s a way for students to get their voices heard while learning their craft.”
The Experimental Theatre Production class is open to writers, directors, and actors as well as those who want to work on the technical end of production. Classes across the Performance Arts and Digital Filmmaking program are aimed at helping students learn to use their unique perspective and creativity to continue successfully telling stories during these uncertain times.”The number one priority is the students,” said Doupé. “I do know where to direct my energy right now and it’s to helping students, teaching our students, and trying to spark creativity. Once we hold onto that mission statement, that’s what brings us back to being able to say we’re online and we’re not just doing fine—we’re thriving.”