By Hillary Haft Bucs, James Elliott, David Kaye, Matthew Mastromatteo, Tom Pacio, Valerie Clayman Pye, Kim Shively, and Gerritt VanderMeer 

This article presents resources for instructors who are facing the challenges of teaching theatre performance during the COVID-19 era. The online video content links to four videos, which are organized by theme and accompanied by a timestamped guide for quick reference to specific topics. In these conversations, we consider strategies for: practice and accountability in the online acting studio; navigating shifting modalities for voice and movement training; virtual scene work and rehearsing online; and face-to-face teaching using masks and social distancing.

Context and Background

The work is the result of many weeks of ongoing conversations among a group of colleagues from eight different institutions, including public and private universities, working in environments ranging from small BA theatre programs to large BFA acting programs. We began meeting via Zoom in May 2020, just as the spring semester was winding down. Despite a lack of preparation, each one of us survived the shift to teaching online with, what we felt, were varying degrees of success. However, it was becoming increasingly clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was far from over. With the immediate crisis behind us, we had a three-month opportunity to start developing thoughtful, longer-term strategies. We felt that our success and growth as teachers, the success of our students, and to an extent the future viability of our programs and institutions depended on our ability to adapt to a very uncertain future.

At first, we came together informally to share what we had learned during our crash-introduction to virtual teaching. Some of us were long-time friends, many of us had met at previous ATHE conferences, and some of us were new to one another. Our first discussion began with the questions: What learning objectives and practices do we most value in our acting classrooms and studios, and which will be most challenging to preserve in the face of shifting modalities and new constraints? Some areas of common concern began to emerge: How will we manage in-person acting classes in the fall given social distancing and mask requirements? How can we do so safely but effectively? Which learning outcomes could we preserve, and how would the transition to different modalities and safety practices impact our ability to grade and assess them? If given the choice, would it be better to teach voice and movement classes virtually or in-person? If the choice was not up to us, how could we teach effectively in either scenario? How can we create a sense of ensemble and collaboration skills in a virtual environment? How might we manage a virtual classroom in which the physical teaching space occupied by the instructor and the physical learning spaces occupied by the students are very different? In the virtual environment, what does it mean to be "present"? What does it mean to commit? How would factors beyond the instructor's control such as unequal access to the internet, appropriate learning spaces, privacy issues, and others impact our ability to hold students accountable? How will we instill discipline and teach students to build a practice in the face of a professional landscape that is in limbo? What might we be able to learn from the way our fellow instructors in other practice-based disciplines, such as music, physical therapy, athletics, and so on are adapting to new constraints?

It quickly became apparent that it would take more than a single brainstorming session to begin to get a handle on these issues. Our initial conversation blossomed into a series of twicemonthly, focused discussions, which were led by two-person research teams assigned to preselected themes. We jokingly called our discussion group the "DIVAS" (for Designing Instruction for Variable Acting Studios), and the moniker stuck.1 These discussions became the genesis for the instructional videos below. An alternate name, "Developing Awesome Variable Instruction Design Heuristics, for ASynchronous, Synchronous, ELectronic, Hybrid, Online and Face2Face" (DAVID HASSELHOF) was suggested, but quietly rejected.

Video Content

The following videos have been gathered in the following YouTube playlist for ease of access:



1. Process and Accountability: Addressing Exercises in a COVID Conscious Classroom/Studio

Presentation by Matthew Mastromatteo and Valerie Clayman Pye.

  • Introduction and Guiding Questions, 00:00

  • Things to Consider, 2:52: Audience, outcomes, and the current moment.

  • Embracing and Celebrating Process in New Environments, 14:47: How do we see what we are used to differently?

  • Accountability, 24:57: What are we changing and why?

  • Wrapping up and Embracing Change, 35:27: Meta-teaching: Modeling progress and flexibility for our students.

In this video, Clayman Pye and Mastromatteo discuss how potential changes in course modality raise questions about process and accountability in the acting studio. Together, they pose a multitude of questions that can guide course design as pedagogues adapt to changes in their teaching environments. In this discussion, Pye and Mastromatteo emphasize the value of reverse design, and consider how outcomes may be modified to align with necessary pivots to teaching acting in an online environment. Furthermore, throughout the talk, the duo get "jazzed" by the exciting new changes in academia and the theatre industry while dissecting how to empower students and colleagues to be equally excited.

2. Teaching Voice/Movement Courses Virtually

Presentation by Matthew Mastromatteo and Tom Pacio

In this video, Pacio and Mastromatteo present their findings following weeks of research and dialogue about the ways in which we may modify voice and movement training to meet the online acting studio. They begin by identifying the reasons behind and need for movement and voice instruction within the context of greater acting training. Pacio and Mastromatteo identify the distinction between the daily components of voice and movement education as well as the inherently problematic counterparts (within the context of online actor training), the "extra-daily" components. The two invite viewers to both rethink and modify their teaching in ways that both center their expertise and practice, but to also consider the divergent circumstances students may experience in their home studios. In the latter half of the video, they propose and share an outcomes-driven module that assists instructors as they plan for either a given exercise or an entire course.

  • Introduction, 00:00: How does voice and movement training support acting training?

  • Introduction to Language, 1:42: Daily versus extra daily.

  • Centering Your Practice and Considering Institutional Context, 3:27: Imagining your practice online.

  • Areas of Focus: Considerations for Online Teaching, 6:12: First pass at universal principles of voice and movements studios.

  • Questions Finding Tool, 7:47: Sharing MindMeister flowchart for systematic transition of inperson exercises to online interface.

  • Responsive Resources and Strategies, 11:12: Additional resources.


3. Face-to-Face Studio/Rehearsal Practices in the Time of Social Distancing

Presentation by Hillary Haft Bucs and David Kaye.

The following video and PowerPoint conversation originated from Kaye and Bucs's research on teaching acting while masked and social distancing as part of the DIVAS biweekly research group. They assess the risk factors of teaching acting and performance-centered classes based on available research, as of early August 2020. Since both Kaye and Bucs are teaching face to face in fall 2020, they discuss agreed-upon best practices for in-person teaching while following the existing published guidelines for safety. The PowerPoint and discussion include samples of masks that both practitioners are investigating for use in the studio as well as Kaye's "Acting Studio Grids" that outline various social-distancing arrangements for groups of twelve to twenty-two students. The video concludes with thoughts on syllabi modifications, COVID adaptations, and exercises that can work for teaching performance in a face-to-face environment.

  • General Introduction, 00:00

  • What We Do Know, 01:10: The most updated info (as of early August) on masks, aerosol spread and ventilation, and the relation between these areas and acting class activities.

  • The Bottom Line, 11:24: The overall safety assessment for teaching acting and other performancecentered classes, based on the available research.

  • If You Must Teach, 11:42: These are the agreed-upon best practices.

  • State Guidelines, 19:12: An example of state-level published guidelines for the performing arts (New Hampshire).

  • Acting Studio Grids, 19:50: Various social-distancing arrangements for twelve to twenty-two students in different sized spaces.

  • Mask Samples, 27:38: Thoughts on masks, and the clear-mask fashion show.

  • Things to Think About, 37:40: A range of important topics, from adjustments, to your absentee policy, to COVID classroom rules, to quarantine considerations.

  • Thoughts on Exercises and Studio Work, 49:16: Modifications and COVID adaptations.

  • Conclusion, 51:45


4. Virtual Scene Work and Rehearsing Online: Designing Instruction for Virtual Acting Studios

Presentation by Jim Elliott and Kim Shively

The following video/PowerPoint presentation was created by Elliott and Shively as a result of their research and offerings to the bi-weekly DIVAS group. After piloting their teaching approaches during the COVID-19 shutdown in spring 2020, they compiled the lessons learned with additional research. The video was shared as a part of the ATHE Acting Program Midsummer COVID Response Forum in July 2020 as a tool for preparing to teach in the fall while facing a number of possible modalities. Specifically, Elliott and Shively acknowledged that teaching students to rehearse is a challenge under typical circumstances. Rather than dive into the difficulties, the pair leaned into the gifts presented by the virtual acting studio to maximize student outcomes while acknowledging challenges and highlighting key considerations. They also share effective exercises and guidelines for the virtual acting studio.

  • Introduction, 0:00

  • Background and Rationale, 0:25: A short history of how the authors arrived at their presented research.

  • Proven Methodologies, 1:08: An overview of successful approaches that have been tested during sheltering in place.

  • Pedagogical Challenges and Considerations, 2:27: An acknowledgment of the specific challenges that acting teachers face during the times of COVID-19 and online teaching.

  • Technical Considerations, 4:30: A collection of best practices for maximizing technical tools.

  • Additional Technical Considerations, 6:08: Additional tools and adjustments that can maximize classroom interactions.

  • Happy Discoveries? 7:10: Benefits of the online acting studio.

  • Helping Students Create Productive Rehearsals, 8:37: Strategies to maximize productive rehearsals for online and in-person scenarios.

  • Sample Projects, 9:38: Some exercises and training practices that Elliott and Shively share from their experiences during the spring.

  • Closing, 10:25


As theatre artists we were attracted to this collaboration because it answered a deeper need for community and connection. The research gathered here is shared in the spirit of open educational practices. The DIVAS remain committed to continuing their research while sharing the most current best practices with the larger community of teaching artists. In order to make these resources freely accessible, the members of this collective have formed a blog, DIVAS (, in addition to our individual ongoing research and publication projects.