A.C.T. Conservatory Classes Go Online

By Claire L. Wong

The world is still adjusting to sheltering in place in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. In this time of uncertainty, A.C.T. Conservatory Director Melissa Smith emphasizes connection and creativity. “It’s crucial to seek joy, to find laughter and hope,” says Smith, “which happens naturally when theater artists get together and play.”

 A.C.T. San Francisco Semester Spring class students make the most of remote learning with Studio A.C.T. Director Mark Jackson (center top).

How are theater artists getting together? All of A.C.T.’s Conservatory classes for students in the MFA Program, Young Conservatory, San Francisco Semester, and Studio A.C.T. are now online through Zoom video conferencing. It was challenging for faculty and staff members to figure out how to quickly adapt classes for a live performance art form to something digital, but they found solutions. “They worked with remarkable speed, agility, thoughtfulness, and flexibility,” says Director of Studio A.C.T. Mark Jackson. In switching to a virtual platform, it became clear that some theater experiences couldn’t transfer. “We cut 6 of the original 23 classes offered, because we didn’t feel those classes would retain their integrity online,” says Jackson. “But the process of talking through possibilities with faculty left me feeling very confident and excited about the classes we’re offering.”

Young Conservatory students in class before the shelter-in-place mandate. 

Three classes in the Young Conservatory have transferred online as well. “The high school students have a monologue class which translates nicely into this format,” says Director of the Young Conservatory Jill MacLean. “Students and faculty can focus on scripts with a shared screen, and there’s ample opportunity for students to rehearse in between classes and have something to share with classmates.”

“The Young Conservatory families have been incredibly supportive and so many have donated their tuition back to the organization or transferred it to a future session if they’re not taking the online classes,” says MacLean. “As a parent myself, I know school closures have created many challenges for working parents. Having these experiences and fresh-for-the-household smiling faculty faces is such a great way to keep spirits up.”

Studio A.C.T. students in Acting Focus: Scales of Realism before Studio classes went digital. Photo by Tracy Martin.

First- and second-year MFA students are even using Zoom to rehearse for their spring productions, and the third-years are preparing their showcase performances online. “The MFA Program actors have come to A.C.T. to grow and expand their artistry,” says Smith. “As teachers, we’re also thrust into a growth period—which makes us true collaborators with our students. What can we do online that we never knew we could do? There are hurdles to get over and pleasant surprises.”

As they adjust to engaging with theater classes online, the A.C.T. Conservatory faculty, staff, and students are continuing to find ways to connect and find hope. “We have to be creative, improvisational, imaginative, and inventive,” says Smith, “all of which we are teaching the students to do and be. And when we’re in the mode of creating, it frees us from anxiety or fear as we’re focused on moving ideas forward and making something happen.”

Interested in taking a Studio A.C.T class in acting, movement, voice, playwriting, and more? Check out class listings here. Click here to learn more about the Young Conservatory class offerings!

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