MSA Theater Thrives During Online Learning


Carl Robinette singing “Proud Lady”

Emma Winton, Reporter

For years, MSA Theater has been one of the most desirable programs for students at Novato High School. Its in-depth curriculum and hands-on activities, which include singing, dancing, acting, and more, make it popular among those who love musicals, dramatic acting, and everything in between. Yet, with such an emphasis on collaboration and in-person performing, the pandemic has caused this program to make adjustments.

Rodney Franz, the MSA Theater teacher, explained the challenges of teaching theater online.

The spirit of collaboration depends on bonding experiences,” said Franz. “This was difficult this year, especially for the freshmen, who had never been to high school. We couldn’t do many of our fun theatre games that add excitement. Also, we are not able to partner in dance.”

Theater requires a lot of focus and attention on the subject and craft you are learning. Being at home, there are many more distractions involved. It can be a major challenge for students to remain attentive to online learning. 

The four-by-four schedule gives us much less class time and consequently demands more time outside of class from theatre students. Also with remote learning, we have all needed to learn new skill sets, such as production, filming techniques, and editing,” said Franz.

Theater requires the use of facial expressions and body language to optimally keep the scene going in an effective way. Masks and social distancing present challenges, as performers can’t see what their fellow actor’s faces are doing.

MSA Theater produced an award-winning production of Dracula. This performance had a cast of roughly 20 actors, and it was filmed all individually and then edited together. It impressed many of the viewers due to its high quality. It was a challenge to make a performance flow so perfectly online.

“We tried to devise assignments that would be creative, relevant, and rigorous,” Franz explained. “We also looked for opportunities that would let us proceed as close to normal as possible. This included participating in the English Speaking Union’s Shakespeare Competition. Clark Schutz won for the San Francisco Division and went on to compete online nationally in NYC.”

Sophomore Gabby Winnett weighed in on how the pandemic has affected the MSA Theater curriculum. 

I feel like I’ve worked twice as hard this year as I did last year,” Winnett said. “Something that may be simple in person, has twenty moving parts online.”

It’s understandable that working in a program like theater could be much more difficult and stressful online, especially when you can’t interact in person with your peers. To act, you need to be able to see and hear how the other people are performing, so that you can respond in the appropriate way.

“For performances, we were able to shoot as many takes as needed before turning in the assignment,” said sophomore Henry Greber, who explained some of the pros of working online. “It gave us more time to make sure our performance was as good as it needs to be.”

Ultimately, MSA Theater proved that they could adapt to the new normal.

“I think all being said, we were able to make the most of the experience and have a lot of videos that we are proud of, documenting our talents and growth,” Franz mentioned.

Franz has done an admirable job teaching MSA Theater during such a hard year. With all of its challenges, this school year has displayed noticeable growth and a willingness to adapt. Thea

ter may have been forced to change, but knowing that it’s possible to accomplish such amazing things, even in a pandemic, has been truly enlightening for the young performers.