To be in person, or not to be in person

That is the question the U of W theatre department has to address

Hope McIntyre, an assistant professor of theatre at the U of W, has been teaching remotely but will resume in-person instruction in 2021.

Supplied photo

The University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Department of Theatre and Film has always been a vibrant force in the local arts scene, hosting festivals and a wide range of performances. Most importantly, perhaps, is its instruction of theatre, filmmaking and dance to U of W students. 

Like so many other artistic and educational institutions this year, the department has altered its activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While most U of W courses are being delivered online, the Department of Theatre and, Film has been able to offer some of their courses in person.

Christopher Brauer, an associate professor and chair of the department, explains the rationale behind offering some in-person courses, while most of the university is online.

“Because we’re a practical program, and in a lot of instances, that practice requires specialized equipment, we have approval for in-person teaching for theatre production courses at all levels and for film courses from the second year up,” he says.

Of course, this does not mean that things are business as usual.

“There’s a huge amount of administration involved in setting up the in-person (classes) and setting up the health and safety procedures and protocols,” Brauer says.

“We’re making sure that we’ve got appropriate equipment and making sure that all our people are appropriately trained,” he says, noting that he believes the department is “exceeding” provincial guidelines. 

Though the pandemic has forced the cancellation of many events, the UWPG Film Festival was able to take place last month. It featured works by students from 28 countries, but took place entirely virtually.

More recently, three department members, Brenda Gorlick, Allison Loat and Eric Blais, received prizes at the Winnipeg Theatre Awards.

Hope McIntyre, an assistant professor, has been teaching online this semester, but plans to be in person for rehearsals next semester.

“I am hoping this will still be possible come January,” she says, noting that “there are some things in theatre and film that simply need (in-person) instruction and cannot be as effectively taught online.”

Being in person “provides connections that students need with each other, and better mental health due to human interaction,” McIntyre says.

However, she stresses the importance of balancing the obvious COVID-19 safety concerns with students’ desire to be in person and their mental health.

“Student-centred learning is so important, (as well as) allowing students a choice,” McIntyre says.

With regards to her online teaching, she says the main challenge has been “redesigning courses, finding new ways of approaching lessons and being extremely adaptable.”

“The challenges do lead to new discoveries,” McIntyre says.

Since Manitoba’s COVID-19 restrictions are often changing, please note that this article reflects the Department of Theatre and Film’s situation at the time of publication.

Published in Volume 75, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 18, 2020)

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