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Theatre 100: This Online Course is a Showstopper

March 19, 2018 by Miranda Lim |

Photo of hand pulling back stage curtain

Your screen pulls back the curtains as you go behind the scenes of theatrical performances in THR100: Drama Appreciation. This undergraduate online course gives students a front row seat to an in-depth study of theatre as a dynamic, living art form — all from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Ken White, an instructor in the School of Theatre within the College of Visual and Performing Arts, developed the THR100 curriculum for online students. He explained that in theatre, “Everything is about a choice. Nothing ends up on stage as an accident.” He applied the same perspective to his work on the THR100 course materials, crafting a learning experience that intentionally incorporates real-world experiences, peer collaboration, and expert guidance from theatre professionals.

Skills transfer from theory to practice

“At the heart of theatre, it’s a live experience,” White says. “When we’re talking about drama appreciation, to me this means helping students develop a deeper, richer understanding of the field,” he says. With this fundamental philosophy in mind, one of his primary goals for the course was to guide students through the many resources and skilled professionals that contribute to the performance of a piece.

Students start by exploring the perspective of an audience, transition to studying the art of acting and directing, then consider the behind-the-scenes technical elements of lighting, sound, scenery, staging, and costumes. As students delve into the variety of components that augment a successful production, they are also required to attend two live theatrical performances of their choice to apply what they’re learning to the critique of a real-world experience.

Developing this relationship between theoretical concepts and realistic practice is the personification of the course title, explains Emily Heilig, a lecturer of Costume Technology and the teaching instructor of THR100. Like White, Heilig shares a passion for developing students’ holistic perspectives.

“Drama is art, and I believe art is seen differently by each person who views it. We have to remember this when others do not agree with our opinion of a production,” she says. “I encourage students to look deeper and explain why or what it was that they did not like about the production. I believe this allows us to all walk away with an appreciation for the art.”

Engaging multimedia

To illustrate course concepts, photos, graphics, and videos are integrated throughout the course website. These resources bring the material to life, supplementing the class lectures and required readings. Multimedia helps students remain engaged in the online learning experience through visual and audio cues.

Graphic illustration of Proscenium Arch Theatre Section

For example, a graphic illustration of a venue demonstrates the relationship between the audience, the stagehands, and the performance space.

Image shows ring of interconnected part of a show


Graphic of Directing for the Stage vs Directing for Film/TV

Charts and graphs also depict the connection between key elements discussed in the module.

Image of a video starting screen


Videos and audio clips offer students the opportunity to personally experience the performances referenced throughout the course. “Movies and clips are helpful to form a common vocabulary for students,” White says. “But we always acknowledge the importance of the live elements, and never lose sight of of our goal of having students experience the face-to-face medium, too.” 

Collaboration with peers

As they continue through the THR100 modules, students learn that theatre productions involve extensive teamwork and the blending of multiple talents. In the spirit of this necessary synergy, so do a portion of the THR100 course assignments.

THR100 is offered as an asynchronous online course — meaning students work through the materials independently, with no scheduled course meetings — but there are significant opportunities for collaboration integrated into the class modules.

Peer-to-peer learning is a valuable aspect of the course, supporting the development of a digital classroom community. No matter where they are in the world, students are able to talk and write with one another, as well as with their instructor. For example, students are asked to view recordings of famous theatre productions, then discuss their insights with peers over video chats. Follow-up analysis and debate are conducted as written posts on a discussion board.

This interactive component is critical for helping students develop strong relationships with their peers and instructor, despite their different geographical locations. Heilig found that her student population has been highly diverse, including active military members, working parents, theatre veterans and those new to the field.

“I greatly value the variety of students that have taken THR100,” she says. “They have learned from the course, but I have, in turn, learned from them.”

Led by experienced professionals

THR100 is a class led by instructors with firsthand experience of what it really takes to bring a production to life, performance after performance. Students are able to learn directly from veteran professionals, not just from a textbook.

White, a professional lighting designer, incorporates stories of his past work into the course modules. His fascinating anecdotes about his role in national stage productions infuse THR100 with humor and relevant insights into the practical applications of course topics.

Heilig earned her BFA in Music Theatre and — before transitioning to making costumes for the performing arts — started off as a stage performer herself. Her eclectic background allows her to share her considerable technical knowledge, and most importantly her love of theatre with students. Through her teaching, her students gain a thorough understanding of what it could be like to pursue a career in the arts. And the immersive learning experience doesn’t stop once students log off. “Some students were so intrigued by THR100 that they enrolled in other School of Theatre courses!” she says.

Find out more

THR100 is your ticket to an exceptional online learning experience. Theatre is just one of UNC Greensboro’s many disciplines featuring online courses. Curious about completely online degrees at UNC Greensboro? Check them out here.



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