Parkway district master class replaces in-person theatre programs

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Madi Michajliczenko

Parkway West theatre department head Amie Gossett forms a district master class to take the place of in-person classes.

While sports are being phased back into school, clubs and programs have not had the same treatment. Theatre, however, found a way to combine all Parkway schools’ departments into one master class.

West High theatre officers and I were talking during the summer, and we were trying to figure out options if we did not have the ability to put on a production,” theatre department head Amie Gossett said. “We discussed a lot of options, and workshops specific to different skills was a common interest. We start[ed] brainstorming different ideas, and then I approached the other theatre teachers in the district and thought we could pool our resources and help all of our students.”

The master class includes students from all four Parkway high schools and hosts Zoom meetings every Tuesday for improv, Wednesday for tech and Thursday for acting.  

“Essentially, you can go to a master class to either learn a theatre-related skill or meet and learn from someone who has gone on to work in an industry related to theatre. To give a couple of examples, I have gone to a class on doing old-age stage makeup and gone to hear a professional cinematographer speak. The classes are also divided based on whether they fall into the acting, improv or tech category,” senior Clementine Arneson said. 

Yvette Lu smiles as she teaches her Oct. 1 workshop which focused on characterization and work-shopping student’s monologues. (Courtesy of Amie Gossett)

In addition to lessons from theatre teachers, guest speakers are also invited. Alumna Yvette Lu was a swing on the Hamilton National Tour, has acted in several shows at The Muny, was involved with Fosse/Verdon on FX and, most recently, was a part of the ABC Discovers Talent Showcase in Los Angeles. She spoke on Oct. 1. 

“I loved it. It was so great to get to give back to the community that gave me so much and also to get engaged with some incredible and passionate young talent,” Lu said. “ I taught an acting workshop. We did a little exercise on self-reflection first, and then used the writing from the exercise to work individually with each student on their monologues.”

Another guest speaker was alumnus Seth Betzler, a production assistant on Broadway, spoke Sept. 23. Some of his credits include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 2020 Revival and Children of a Lesser God 2018 Revival.

I think it [the master class] is a smart way to get students involved in the arts when it is not possible to do so in-person due to the health and safety of everyone involved,” Betzler said. “It is hard to say that this is replacing in-person theatre because there is truly nothing like a live performance. These classes, on the other hand, do provide students with the opportunity to learn from professionals, which is an invaluable experience when learning about theatre, especially when considering it as a career.”

Seth Betzler teaches a tech workshop on stage management. Working as a stage manager and production assistant, he supports the stage management team on theatrical performances. “The specific tasks vary from show to show but the basic duties require me to essentially help facilitate the theatrical process anyway I can. This could include making coffee for the company, helping set up the room for rehearsal, and being on-book for the actors. No matter how small the task, I know that we are helping create [peace] of mind for someone in the room and running a smooth process,” Betzler said. (Courtesy of Amie Gossett)
While in-person theatre depends primarily on performances, master classes have been considering cabaret where students can submit clips of them performing and create a compilation. Other options include auditory performances like radio plays or short one-acts over Zoom. 

“It’s really quite different. We have never done master classes before, and they were created expressly so that people still had an opportunity to learn about and participate in theatre while we couldn’t do a live show like we normally would,” Arneson said. “The master classes are more focused on skill building and education than the creation of a performable production, but we have been thinking about ways to allow for performance while online and distant. Everything has been very theoretical because we are never sure of the interest or participation that we will get.”

Even though the department is adapting to the change in learning, it still is not the ideal situation for them.

“We have tried several different options for performances [and] involvement over the past 12 weeks or so, and participation has been limited because of all of this,” Gossett said. “It is so very hard to be on the computer all day to learn and then be asked to be on the computer to also do what we love which is theatre. I get it and I understand; I wish it all could be different, but we must keep in mind that safety is our first priority and then art. We are trying to put art at the forefront so that we can truly feel ourselves, but until it is safe for all, our norm is not possible.”