Reconciling with remote learning


Celine Park

Remote Learning has changed future plans for art classes

When news of the school’s sudden closure broke out, the quad erupted with cheers, but Elias Peter ’21 did not join the celebration. With a sinking feeling, Peter realized the announcement was not a free four-day weekend, but the cancelation of a long-anticipated Jazz Band trip to Poland and the Czech Republic, he said. Two weeks later, instead of playing his tenor saxophone in Warsaw, Peter spent his spring break watching “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” and “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” from his living room couch as part of The Jazz Band’s end-of-year project.

“The documentaries brought the inner passion of jazz forward, but the downside is that we can’t have a performance [of] the pieces we’ve worked so hard for the whole year,” Peter said. “We were supposed to go to Poland and Prague for 11 days to perform 40 songs, but that was pretty much doomed during the quarantine.”

While most instrumental and choral classes have not met over Zoom for the past few weeks, dance, acting and visual arts courses have continued to meet regularly in accordance with the school’s online daily schedule. However, remote learning poses various obstacles for the arts, especially when classes attempt to participate in group activities, Actor and the Stage II student Gisele Stigi ’22 said.

“[During script readings] it’s hard to be in character when you’re in your living room, and it’s hard with the internet connection, because you’ll say a line, and then there’s a huge lag before the next person can say theirs,” Stigi said.

Students are still able to engage in online classes

Despite technical limitations, Sophia Schwartz ’20 said that Advanced Dance II teacher Anne Moore has effectively structured Zoom sessions that engage students through cardio workouts and movement classes.

“It’s good to actually get out of our chairs for once,” Schwartz said. “There’s a certain connection you have when you dance with your friends that you can’t get through a screen, but out of all my classes, dance has honestly been the one that has [adapted] the best.”

Nevertheless, remote learning has pushed artists to explore new outlets, Drawing and Painting II student Skylar Liu ’21 said.

“Zoom art has been decent in the sense that it has forced us to try new media,” Liu said. “Some people are doing more digital art, and we’ve been able to collaborate in a group project where everyone worked on the same piece, where we all take turns and pass it around and that’s not something we’ve ever tried before.”

Students take advantage of the benefits of online learning

Similarly, Stigi said her class has taken advantage of Zoom’s features in ways that have allowed students to understand acting in a new light.

“We’re pretending to pass things through the screen, and pretending to reach over through the other person’s Zoom boxes, and we change our names to our character names; instead of Gisele Stigi, it says ‘Emily,’” Stigi said. “I think this is something where the online experience has changed [“Our Town”]. We’re taking the fact that it’s online and making our play different, maybe even better.”

Will Nordstrom ’21 said he has also experienced more artistic freedom while creating short films for his Video Art II class.

“[Our teacher] assigns something and we do it on our own time; there’s no deadline,” Nordstrom said. “You can make anything you basically want, and it has vague guidelines, but you have full creative control. At school, we have 45 minutes of class and we can only do things in that timeframe, but at home, we have all day to do these short films.”

Following the school’s closure, all performances after March 11—including the Dance Concert, as well as Jazz and Symphony recitals—were canceled. The lack of final shows has affected artists’ motivation, Alon Moradi ’21 said.

“I sing, work on my vocal technique and practice music all day because that’s what I like to do, but because there are no performances or any sort of short-term goal I’ve set for myself, I haven’t worked as intensely in certain aspects,” Moradi said.

The annual Playwrights Festival will be converted to an audio play

This year, however, the annual Playwrights Festival will be converted to audio recordings. Leading up to the broadcasts from June 8 to 19, students of the cast will work with professional directors over the course of five weeks to improve their acting and vocal skills.

Stigi, whose play was accepted to the festival, said that she is grateful for the theater department’s efforts in creating opportunities for student directors to showcase their work digitally.

“I obviously prefer having actual class in person, but I think it’s really cool how we’re not just giving up on the process, and we’re finding a way to perform the show,” Stigi said.

Playwrights Festival Director Aaron Martin said the adjustment from a physical show to an online recording has not only been difficult, but also reflects changes in the arts community.

“My personal opinion is that this virus has affected the art world for years to come, whether through inspiration for visual artists, new ways of putting on live shows, or obviously the advanced use of digital practices,” Martin said. “There is something profound happening to the world around us and attempting to define it now will be difficult. How we rebuild and what we become attracted to and how we move forward will truly help define our future and art will in many ways help guide those definitions.”

Moradi said while Zoom cannot replace in-person collaboration with his fellow artists, he still believes that the love for the arts as a whole is what keeps the arts community functioning during quarantine.

“I think what’s so special about the performing arts, even outside of Harvard-Westlake, is that there are so many different kind of art institutions that have put out live streams performances and orchestras, which is obviously not the same, but there’s still kind of the power of unification that comes with performing as an ensemble,” Moradi said. “Even though it’s harder to function as a larger group, when it all comes together, it’s really gratifying because you have this sort of connection everywhere.”