by Kerry Hishon
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and we’ve been thrown into a situation with many unknowns. We don’t know when we’ll be able to safely see our friends and family in person. We don’t know when we’ll be able to go back to school and our daily lives. We don’t know what life will be like going forward, because things are definitely going to be different. As we collectively figure out our new normal, students and teachers alike are practicing “social distancing” to help reduce health risks. A better phrase might be “physical distancing,” as we can’t actually connect with others in person. We have seen a huge surge in connection through technology, which is great, but not quite the same. And while social distancing is absolutely necessary, it can be a challenge for drama students and teachers to go without that in-person human connection. We hope the following four tips will help you navigate through this challenging time.
1. Get some fresh air, safely.
We’ll start with basic needs. Humans are basically houseplants with emotions – we need water, sunlight, and fresh air to thrive. It’s easy to hole up in your house with your phone and mope or go stir-crazy from lack of activity. When the weather is good, try to get up and get out of the house. Go for a walk around the block (observing proper safety measures), or if that’s too much, just stand at the end of the driveway. If even that’s too much, open a window and let the air and natural light in. Breathe deeply – use this breath control exercise to help.
2. Get physical.
With everyone and everything transitioning to life online – distance learning, video chatting, watching movies, and more – we are all at risk for strained eyes and hunchbacks from leaning over our devices. Take a moment right now and notice your body position while you’re reading this article. Are you slouching over your tablet? Curled up in a ball on the couch? Are you holding tension in your shoulders, pursing your lips, or holding your cell phone inches away from your face in the dark? Step away from your device and move your body. Stretch, dance, or sing your favorite tune from a musical. Shake out your hands and feet. Do one of these warm up exercises. Then drink some water. We’ll be here when you’re done!
If you’re doing distance learning with your students, I suggest having them do at least a few minutes of physical movement in each class, no matter the topic of the class. Get your students to stand and move around their workspaces, shake out their bodies, stretch, and release any tension they might be holding before sitting down to continue the lesson. Or – do they have to sit? Consider having your students do a distance drama lesson in a different position than they usually do. While you are giving instructions, have students take up a different position – standing up, lying on their back with their device on their stomach, sitting upside down on the couch, putting their device on a high shelf and watching from below, and so on. Have students take notice of their bodies and reflect/journal on how they feel in the different position. Do they feel alert, uncomfortable, sleepy, energized? Do they notice different muscles being activated? Are they able to absorb the material better in their choice of position, or do they want to move back to the traditional “sitting upright at a desk” position?
3. It’s okay to grieve.
A lot of what we are currently feeling is grief – the cancellations of our productions, loss of spring break vacations, the possibility of not having a prom, or not knowing whether a proper graduation ceremony will occur. This is particularly hard on our senior students, whose final year of high school is not what they imagined it would be. While we can look at this time as an opportunity to learn coping and resilience, it’s still unfair and sad. Take the time to grieve. Write your feelings about it down to get them out of your brain. Have your students create a monologue or spoken word poetry piece about how they’re feeling. Let your students know that they can talk to you about how they’re feeling, or direct them to another appropriate resource, such as a school counselor or mental health helpline.
4. Be gentle with yourselves and others.
We have all been thrown into the unknown. We’ve never been through a situation like this before, and we don’t know when it’s going to end. At this point, we all need to prioritize our mental and physical health. Many of us are struggling with uncertainty and loneliness, partners being home, children being home, worries about family and friends we can’t visit, job insecurity, new technology, going to the grocery store safely – it’s a lot to deal with. We’re being told conflicting information – use this time to be super productive, but also use this time to rest. Get online and connect with everyone, learn a new skill, teach your classes as usual – but still make time to be with your family, get outside, limit screen time. We can’t do it all, and that’s okay.
We also need to be gentle with others. Students, please know that your teachers care about you. They’re thinking about you, they miss you, and they’re experiencing grief as well – yours and their own. They’re also navigating new technology, trying to move their lessons online, and figuring out how to make it all work for you. This transition can be particularly difficult for drama, which is so community-based and collaborative. Your teachers are worried about you – whether you have access to a computer to complete your classwork, whether you’re getting enough to eat and a good night’s rest, and whether they’ll get to see you in person in the classroom again.
When this is all over – and it will be, at some point – I think we will all have a new appreciation for the things we once took for granted. Things like being in each others’ presence, spending time together sharing and creating, and reviewing blocking and choreography “one more time” (it’s never just one more time) will be that much more special. Until then, please stay healthy and safe.