Sophomore Music major Alison Kiaseleh joins a Zoom call with her private vocal instruction class. Photo courtesy of Alison Kiaseleh
After the Pepperdine community transitioned to online classes in the wake of COVID-19 concerns, Fine Arts faculty converted syllabi dependent on performances and exhibitions to teleconference platforms like Zoom.
The Fine Arts Division — which includes programs in art, music and theater — had many plans in place for students to showcase their talents, including the spring theater production “The Cherry Orchard” and the senior art exhibition in the Weisman Museum. Junior Theatre major Indy Wilson said while losing the opportunity to perform was disheartening, leaving her community was the most upsetting.
“I got the email about school being canceled, and I was just devastated,” Wilson said. “I need to be in the community so much right now. I don’t know what [leaving] is going to do to my mental health. We had to say goodbyes in two days that should’ve been two months.”
Senior art major Aliya Edwards said the stress of having to move out of her on-campus dorm was compounded by needing to relocate her senior art studio in the CAC within a two-day period. The art studio, shared by all senior Art majors, was where Edwards worked on her senior art exhibition.
“A lot of the teachers — and myself included … are finding it rather challenging to regroup our entire studio inside a space where there wasn’t space, like a home,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she is also concerned that her preferred medium, which involves fabrics and textiles, may not translate as well digitally.
“When you’re all in one physical space, it’s a lot easier to communicate and receive input, which is a lot of what art is — you showing your work,” Edwards said. “It’s really difficult to share your work through a screen. Because mine is so textural, it doesn’t read the same.”
Gretchen Batcheller is an associate professor of Art and serves as the coordinator for the Art Department. Batcheller said she is proud of the way her students have adapted to the changing circumstances.
“An art degree is a degree of problem solving,” Batcheller said. “Our students, pretty immediately, were evolving their ideas and their thesis work according to what was going on around them. That’s the nature of the discipline — quickly responding to something and moving forward.”
Batchellor said the Art Department is considering converting the senior exhibition to an online format so seniors can still display their work to a larger audience. Batcheller, who also teaches a watercolor painting class, adapted her own teaching techniques to the Zoom platform. She now streams and records much of her painting lessons with an overhead projector.
In addition to addressing students’ concerns during this period of transition, Fine Arts Divisional Dean Bradley Griffin said he wants to prioritize the mental well-being of professors as well. He has encouraged professors not to take on too much and connected them to additional resources like the Student Success Center and the Counseling Center.
“I just said [to the Fine Arts faculty], ‘In the midst of teaching your classes, and continuing to advise your students, I know that you also want to be that listening ear and that support … but you may be overwhelmed right now,’” Griffin said.
Griffin commended several Fine Arts professors for creatively reevaluating their syllabi. Theatre professor Cathy Thomas-Grant asked her students in her role development class to respond to several prompts through a series of journal entries and detail how they feel during this time of adjustment. At the end of the semester, Thomas-Grant’s students will turn these entries into monologues and perform them in eight-minute shows to be presented over Zoom.
Junior Theatre major Clayton Mattingly, a student in Thomas-Grant’s class, said he thinks this creative challenge will benefit his career in the long run.
“This is the time where we should start to create our material … and really figure out who we are as writers, because that’s one way that you could stay alive as an actor in LA,” Mattingly said.
Sophomore Music major Alison Kiaseleh said being unable to create music with her peers has been a difficult facet of the transition to online classes, along with the cancellation of many of the Pepperdine Concert Choir’s upcoming showcases.
“The Vocal Performance major is about performing in front of audiences [and] making music with other people,” Kiaseleh said. “There’s really only so much you can do via online communication. Obviously, it’s different … but I don’t feel like I’m being robbed of my education because [professors are] really trying their best to give me everything they can.”
Kiaseleh said she has been able to improve her singing abilities through online vocal lessons with her music professors.
“I thought [online lessons] would be really wack and not help me improve as a musician,” Kiaseleh said. “Honestly, I’ve had better lessons via Zoom than our face-to-face lessons.”
Adjunct Professor of Theatre Brian Lohmann teaches improvisation this semester and said Zoom classes have presented challenges to students who are used to performing on stage.
“It’s an art form based on communication,” Lohmann said. “We can’t make the same kind of offers, as we say in improvisation. Anything that happens on stage is an offer. Physical offers that we would be able to communicate to one another in a shared space are out the window, literally. [Zoom is] a tiny window that we can do everything in.”
Lohmann said the platform is helping students improve their on-camera acting and reading abilities, as he has adjusted his syllabus to have students read scenes over Zoom as a class.
“[Students] can see what works [with their] classmates; when they’re doing things that are more internal and more subtle, the camera picks up everything,” Lohmann said. “I think the students are walking away with an on-camera acting class as well as learning how to improvise stories together.”
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