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Performing arts students play out drama online during pandemic


University of Wolverhampton students played out their drama studies online when social distancing measures affected face-to-face teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third year Drama degree students, alongside staff, remotely worked together to pull together an audio production called The Worm in the Blood. The piece is composed of extracts from 17th Century plays including Hamlet and Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy which are spliced together with new material to tell the story of one night in Birmingham in 2019.

The drama, which combines elements of audio drama and graphic novel, was produced at the height of the lockdown when directors, composers, technicians and student actors were following strict social distancing guidelines.

Helen Rudge, Deputy Head of the School of Performing Arts at the University and one of the directors, said: “Students responded with professionalism and enthusiasm to the challenges presented by this new way of working. 

“It is an increasingly big news story at the moment about how theatres and the creative industries are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. We noticed that many big theatre institutions were slow to move any new output online like this so this was a big step for us.

“Many of our students had challenging things to cope with. We would often see them start the lecture in the living room as their families were still in bed and then move up to their bedroom later in the morning. Many of their parents were key workers coming and going in the day and needing our students to pick up childcare responsibilities so this was a pretty amazing achievement.”

Peter Cann (playwright, director and Senior Lecturer in Drama) who wrote and directed the play said, “Contemporary Texts is the students’ final assessment module and they would normally take part in an ensemble production at the University’s Arena Theatre. The production uses Renaissance Texts and places them in a 21st Century context and we wanted to get as close as possible to this kind of experience for the final piece of their degree course.

“Training workshops were delivered by staff using online learning platforms Canvas and Zoom.  Students collaborated on research exercises using a range of media and were taught specific radio performance techniques. We rehearsed with the students using the same digital platforms and they constructed their own “studios” using cardboard boxes and blankets and recorded their speeches and dialogue separately.

“All the dialogue was recorded by actors alone in their own spaces and the final footage was edited together by editor, Pete Bridges (Principal Technician in the school).

“During the rehearsal period and as part of the research and exploration process students produced illustrations in a range of graphic novel and comic book styles. These became a visual accompaniment to the play and the sound effects and music were edited into the dialogues.

“Music for the play was composed by James Prosser (Music Technology graduate and Technician) and Demetris Zavros (Senior Lecturer in Drama).

“Theatre professionals in the UK, Portugal and The Azores were monitoring the process in the belief that the experiment may demonstrate ways of working for professional companies as well as Universities and training institutions during current and possible future crises precipitated by COVID-19. International designer and puppeteer Helen Ainsworth offered some of her illustrations as part of the project.”

Tia Kalirai, one of the students who worked on the final year assessment project, said: “I really enjoyed having the chance to complete an ensemble piece of work as planned, even if we couldn't be in the same room.

“It would have been much easier for our lecturers to just get us to do monologues and not engage or interact as a group, but I think that having the opportunity to do so at a time like this was really important. It gave a sense of normality back to us for a few weeks, and gave us all the chance to finish our degrees on a high.” 

The production of The Worm in The Blood is available for viewing on the School of Performing Arts YouTube channel.

Anyone interested in studying Drama in the School of Performing Arts at the University of Wolverhampton can still apply for courses starting in September and October 2020.


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