Huntington Theatre Company Keeps Learning on Track Through Virtual Courses

Huntington Theatre Company has announced that its series of online classes, called Huntington @ HomeSchool, will continue through the fall and into the rest of the 2020-2021 season.

The Sun spoke with Meg O’Brien, Huntington Theatre Company’s Director of Education, about the courses, which began in April, and how they are expected to work moving forward.

O’Brien said that March 13 was Huntington Theatre Company’s last day in the office, around the time when many other businesses and organizations ceased normal operations. Also like many others, the original thought was that it would only last a few weeks. Once it became clear that the shutdown would last much longer than that, O’Brien and her colleagues realized that they needed to “find a way to keep something moving in a time that felt so uncertain; so scary,” she said.

They thought about what classes they could offer virtually, and thought that it also might be a good opportunity to highlight some jobs that exist behind the scenes and aren’t always as  obvious as acting and dancing, such as lighting and costume design. Many of the courses are taught by the education staff and some of O’Brien’s colleagues.

“Any topic is open,” she said. “We created this course catalog of about 40 different classes that we could teach.”

The courses launched in April with offerings from Shakespeare analysis and discussion of plays to “informational sessions on some of the programs we were running on education” to color theory and Drawing 101 classes. There were also some panel discussions, O’Brien said.

She said there were “all sorts of courses that really meant we could stay connected to whoever wanted to join. There are no requirements on where you lived and you could come join us.”

The initial round of courses brought in 614 students from 23 states and five different countries, Huntington Theatre Company said.

“We had no idea if anyone would be interested or care,” she said of the courses. “Families were scrambling about,” trying to work from home and dealing with kids learning remotely as well.

But “It’s been pretty popular,” she said, adding that “there’s so much of what we usually do in the Education Department that we haven’t been able to do. It’s just been a nice way to stay connected.”

She said that because of the popularity, the courses will continue for the rest of the season, and more panel discussions will also be part of the offering. Most courses are one session and one hour in length, but O’Brien said they hope to include courses that span over several sessions to be able to go into more depth on a given topic.

O’Brien said that because of the many colleges and universities in Boston, news about the courses has been able to reach a wide variety of people around the globe.

Information about the courses was sent out to all subscribers, donors, board members, and students who are on the email list, she said.

“I am personally on the mailing list of a bunch of theater companies across the country,” O’Brien said. “I certainly would want to take a class if another company…was offering it virtually. That’s one of the perks to virtual learning.”

She said that the arts are a way for many people to process and deal with what is happening in the world right now. “People want art and theater to give them permission not to think about what’s happening for an hour or two,” O’Brien said.

“One of the regular series we’re doing are these teacher talks,” she said. “Teachers are at the center of this in a way that feels really hard.” These kinds of courses create a space for them to talk about that and use art to express how they feel, she said.

O’Brien said that something she and her team have been trying to work out is the best time to offer the virtual classes, since there are so many people from so many different places who want to participate.

The classes have all been offered at 6pm, but O’Brien and her team are exploring whether that’s a good time, as well as “how often we want to look at various topics,

She said that if there’s anything she’s learned from this whole situation it’s that it’s necessary to be “open to adjusting to a constantly changing environment.”

She said that even though it’s “hard” to not be doing work in a normal way right now, these classes help her colleagues highlight the important work they do and be able to pass on some of their knowledge to younger generations.

 “I hope that students understand that COVID notwithstanding, there are ways to create careers that are rich and deep and go on for years in the arts and you don’t have to be an actor,” she said. “You can be 47 other things and still be important to the process.”

Courses that began in September will be $15 per session for adults, and will remain free for anyone 18 years old or younger, with promotional code 18BELOW. For course information and registration, visit huntingtontheatre.org/huntington-at-homeschool.

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