Last week marked the first day of the last term for many drama school students. Except there was no one filing in to the buildings of their alma maters.
Instead of piling into rehearsal studios, students were sat behind computer screens. Turned on, tuned in – hopefully no Wi-Fi drop-outs – to glean invaluable knowledge from their teachers, which included me.
On Tuesday morning, I was down to deliver three classes on interview technique, all seated at my desk in sunny south London.
This is a class I normally present over three hours for 20 to 25 drama school students, often in a windowless rehearsal studio. Now in the virtual world, I’ll be dealing with three groups of 10 in one-hour sessions.
There are certain advantages. While smart from the waist up in a designer shirt, below, unperceived by my protégés, I’m making good use of a pair of Primark trackies I was given when playing a window cleaner in a coffee commercial.
On opening the virtual classroom, I am not assailed by Millennial or Generation Z body odours. And being of a certain age, I’m incredibly grateful that the students I’m working with are all arranged in little boxes – like a curious version of Celebrity Squares – with their names tagged on screen.
They are keen and grateful that their drama school has arranged a term of virtual tuition. While so much drama training involves physicality and a need to be in the same space, there are still many techniques that can be developed in the virtual classroom.
We are considering how to turn an interview into a conversation. How not to sit in a room and just answer questions, but how to have a conversation both sides will remember when you leave the room. While the ultimate decision may come down to performance, often the factor that clinches it is you and how your personality came over during the meeting.
There are still many techniques that can be developed in the virtual classroom
So, it’s an excellent idea to spend a little time investigating that, and it’s simple to do face-to-face on a screen. I start the day by acknowledging this is all as strange for me as it is for them. We are in it together, as Boris Johnson keeps telling us.
I struggle not to focus on the student who chooses to do the class while in bed. As this goes on, it feels like we need to set some ground rules. No smoking, no eating and definitely no beds. But it is working because we are talking to each other. And that is what is going to get us through this disaster movie.