Students in Theatre and Dance department push for exception to ‘distance-learning’ model

Students say governor’s decision threatens program quality

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Update: UB department of theatre and dance production season has officially been canceled as of 12:54 p.m. on Friday. Veronica Sedota, assistant to the chair of the Theatre and Dance department, announced to the department that as of March 19 there will be “no face to face instruction in the department.” This change means all “classroom-based instruction, lab-based instruction, studio-based instruction, performance-based instruction and ensembles” will be offered remotely for the remainder of the semester. In her message, Sedota wrote that “faculty will work to provide the best education possible via online means.” 

Students in UB’s Theatre and Dance department sent letters to the department chair, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, provost and president asking for an exception to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly implemented “distance-learning” class model. As of 12:54 p.m. Friday, the Theatre and Dance department cancelled all student productions and announced all classes will be moved online starting March 19. 

Many say they were shocked by Cuomo’s Wednesday announcement that all SUNY and CUNY schools will switch to “distance learning” and are especially concerned with the model, as their grades rely on in-person feedback and performance art. Provost A. Scott Weber sent an email Wednesday night, writing “unit leadership has the authority to grant exceptions in some circumstances with the guiding principle to minimize density in the teaching environment.” 

As of Thursday at 4 p.m., UB and the Theatre and Dance department have not made announcements on the status of the student productions “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Everybody.” The Spectrum called the department on Wednesday and Thursday, but did not hear back regarding the decision process in time for publication. Many students say they are concerned about the fate of their production season.

Emily Carello, a junior theatre major, said she sent a letter because she’s concerned that online classes won’t provide her a proper educational experience. 

“The classes are so heavily experiential that there’s no way for us to learn remotely,” Carello said.  “Our shows are [probably] being shut down too which is how we get the credit we need for graduation.”

Kelsey Jessup, a senior music theatre major and cast member in UB’s “Merrily We Roll Along” musical, feels that these changes will affect the performance season at UB.

“Now, not only are practically all of our courses being diminished because of their experiential and in-person components,” Jessup said. “But we are also losing the opportunity to share messages of hope with audiences who would greatly benefit from it.”

Performance majors aren’t the only ones concerned about this switch. 

Ryan Wilkie, a sophomore technical theatre major and assistant stage manager within the department, shared similar concerns about the quality of online education. 

“We pay tuition to get hands-on experience and in-person guidance,” Wilkie said. “If we are not receiving the product, we should not be required to pay.”

Hannah Wolland, a senior technical theatre major is involved in design and technical aspects of both the play, “Everybody,” and the musical, “Merrily We Roll Along” and fears she will never see her designs meet the stage. 

“I'm devastated that the productions that were supposed to be the capstone of my experience here will never reach their completed form.” Wolland said.

In Carello’s letter to UB administrators, she urged them to consider the impact the decision could have on the fate of her program and her academic experience. 

“Just as a scientist cannot be expected to experiment from home, an actor cannot be expected to play out scenes remotely without a partner, and a dancer cannot be expected to learn partnering from their bedroom,” wrote Carello. “There is no way to provide students in the performing arts with a “high-quality” education without the practical, hands-on application of our skills.”

The news desk can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com