How to Address the Challenges of Online Training

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Photo Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

When the pandemic hit we probably all had some sort of fight or flight response. No real surprise to learn that our industry, specifically our training establishments, all opted to fight or more specifically adapt. Soon dance, drama, and music colleges were up and running online and in just three months we’ve gone from online classes being niche to online classes being the norm. Tutors and students have adapted and adopted so that many basic skills can now be taught with ease online. As one tutor remarked to me recently, this isn’t the time to talk about what we can’t do. It’s a time to embrace what we can do. That includes addressing the challenges that come in this new online training environment.  

When the world went online overnight, our internet speeds slowed down to deal with the demand. It’s easy to forget that not everybody is in the privileged position of having access to a fast connection. So the first challenge with online training is somewhat basic–you need to ensure that you have a good internet connection and by good we’re talking about a decent speed in order for your computer to keep up with all the information it’s needing to process. On a bad day, online training can be frustrating simply because you keep getting knocked offline and Sod’s law means that you’ll get kicked off at a crucial point in the class. Obviously, for dance classes specifically, you want to make the most of your warm-up and a 20-minute reboot of your system means that you really have to stay aware of your body and how it’s cooling down during that time. You might need to physically reboot yourself as well as the router.

For students, there’s the obvious difficulty of where to do classes. As most of the online dance classes are being taught in small spaces, teachers are naturally adapting their classes to fit the space. Lots of them are having to move furniture around in order to get the bare minimum, which is not so easy to do if you live in a small house or flat with lots of shared space. What about singing lessons? As lovely as it is to sing your heart out, it might not be as lovely for your housemates or indeed neighbors. Of course, there are workarounds. I’ve seen more and more people discussing the merits of a belt box, but nobody seems that enamored with singing into one for more than a few minutes at a time. This is a challenge that puts the onus on the student to provide the training environment and for a lot of people that is a luxury of space that they simply don’t have. 

There’s also the bigger concern of safe spaces. Regardless of which platform you’re working on, eye-line is a major issue. Working online denies you the ability to look at one person at a time, so there’s an intimacy issue almost immediately. Not an issue for one on one training, but an issue when there are more than two people involved. Then there’s the fact that most of the time you’re only looking at somebody’s head and shoulders so you can’t see who else might be in the space with the person that you’re working with. More than that it denies you the ability to read a person’s body language, surely a vital tool for any actor? 

Now add into the mix that some of us these days seem to lack the ability to focus on one thing for any length of time. If we’re watching the TV we’re likely to be multitasking checking our phones for messages at the same time. In a physical class, we’re afforded the luxury of creating rules which facilitate a safe space such as no free use of mobiles yet online this is not up for debate. People can do whatever they like as long as it’s out of the view of the lens. You might not think this would have a huge impact but the reality is very different and it doesn’t only impact the students. Imagine teaching a class whilst categorically knowing that the people that you’re working with are potentially holding other conversations at the same time? As the student imagine “getting up” to perform your song or monologue in front of your virtual class. Whether online or in-person this seemingly simple exercise leaves the person standing up feeling hugely exposed and vulnerable, but now you have to have confidence in yourself to not focus on the other conversations which you know might be taking place as you’re performing. 

If you’re joining online training you have to be honest with yourself about the safety of the space and ensure that you’re able to keep yourself safe both physically and emotionally. If you’re currently in training and are expected to carry on that training online think about what you can do to create a safer environment for your class. Sit away from the lens so that people can see that you’re giving them your undivided attention. Take responsibility for your own part in maintaining a safe space for others. Check that your personal environment is safe for you to work in. Know that online training is more tiring than training in a studio. Be sure to give yourself plenty of screen breaks to rest your eyes and get your body back into alignment. If at all possible get yourself outside in those breaks so that you’re getting some fresh air as opposed to remaining in your room switching the online classroom for your phone.

Online training very much puts the onus on you to keep yourself safe. If you’re unable to do that, think about just waiting until something like normal service has resumed.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Annemarie Lewis Thomas
Annemarie Lewis Thomas is a musician, composer, teacher, and director/founder of The Musical Theatre Academy.
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