Journey Theater raises the curtain on online learning

Acting, dancing and even bucket drumming taught via Zoom for Journey students during pandemic 

VANCOUVER — The next generation of actors, dancers, singers, Broadway stars and maybe even filmmakers are studying their stuff even when they can’t go to class. 

Journey Theater online student Goldie Hohnstein uses her phone as her camera to record her performance as an acting class assignment. Photo courtesy of Journey Theater
Journey Theater online student Goldie Hohnstein uses her phone as her camera to record her performance as an acting class assignment. Photo courtesy of Journey Theater

Journey Theater, which is based in Vancouver and has locations in Oregon as well, launched online material for its Spring classes using Zoom at the start of April. After a few weeks, things are working pretty well and students are still engaged.

“We have a great team and they were able to kind of make that switch really fast,” said Executive Director Stephen Pick. “That was a benefit because we were able to take the people who already registered in classes and say, ‘Hey, it’s gonna look a little different than we all expected, but we still have this class for you.’ A lot of people were just totally happy to dive into that.”

Due to the restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, gathering in person for classes was not possible, so the Zoom format coupled with pre-recorded videos and written material was the next best thing. Right now, Journey is running 15 online classes, and has plans to try a similar strategy in the Summer and Fall.

“We’re doing drumming and a lot of rhythms with our hands and feet,” said teacher Chelsea Lapp, who is teaching a “Stomp” class from California. “It’s been super interesting, trying to figure out the sound delays and just how to communicate everything that needs to happen to the kids, without physically being there for them.” 

Perhaps one of the unforeseen benefits of the video-call format was the ability to try a “Acting for the Camera” course. Taught by organization veteran Melissa Bareford, the course uses the unique circumstances to teach concepts, tips and best practices when acting for film or video. 

“It’s certainly not been something that’s part of our regular curriculum up till this point, we’re more a theater, stage-based company,” Bareford said. “When we had to go online, we were kind of brainstorming on what classes could we do? Because some of the classes just were not going to translate well.”

Wyatt Baxter plays a five-gallon bucket as a drum for his “Stomp” class while on a Zoom call with his teacher and classmates across the area. Photo courtesy of Journey Theater
Wyatt Baxter plays a five-gallon bucket as a drum for his “Stomp” class while on a Zoom call with his teacher and classmates across the area. Photo courtesy of Journey Theater

Bareford explained how her husband David, who is a very talented fight choreographer, was going to do a sword fighting class this Spring. It’s pretty hard to be a swashbuckler or a jedi via Zoom, so they had to get creative.

“We’re doing a lot of things like talking about focus and intention, and we just finished talking about subtext in inner monologue, some of these more advanced techniques,” Bareford said. “Really taking some of these other techniques that are vital to film acting that they’ll be able to use in their stage acting too, but are just highlighted more when the audience is right up next to your face in a camera.” 

Another silver lining Bareford pointed out, is that students from each of Journey’s four areas, Vancouver, Vancouver East, Portland and Beaverton, are able to easily take classes from areas they haven’t before, because of physical distance. It also gives students a chance to, albeit virtually, meet other students they don’t know, she said.

Right now, the classes are critical to Journey, which is operating without the usual income generated by their large scale shows’ ticket sales. 

“They’re connected and continuing to work together on honing their skills as young artists and that is exactly what we need to be doing at this time,” Pick said. “We’re grateful for the platforms that have allowed us to do that. I think overall, there’s been a lot of positive feedback from parents, from students and teachers too. I think maybe even more than we expected.”

Bareford explained how usually when teaching acting specifically, live interaction and reading the room or the scene is critical. When you transition to an online format, that becomes much more difficult with just little faces on a video screen, she said. 

“I have some kids in the class who do not like to be on stage, they get really nervous when they’re in front of a bunch of people and doing something live,” Bareford said. “But in this class, they’re really shining, because for some reason the camera doesn’t read to them in the same way. They’re losing a lot of their inhibition and they’re not as nervous.” 

Spring classes are currently half way through the term, but students can still join now. On the Journey Theater Website, there is a list of all 15 classes and links to sign up. One is currently full, but the rest remain open.

Journey Theater is a faith-based organization, and recently the board and staff decided to pray for their situation and the situation of all their students and families, as well as the school and church facilities they usually perform in. These prayers might look a bit different though, since they are mobile. 

This week and next, the Journey staff and board members are driving to or by all of the locations they usually use for performances and are praying for the end of the current situation. Places like Ridgefield and Washougal high schools and many churches across the region, are used for performances. 

“God put it on our board chairs’ heart to just drive around to the different sites that we perform at, we rehearse at or have classes at and just pray,” Pick said. “God really is the one who’s running the whole show here and to make sure that’s the case and make sure we don’t start investing in our own agenda at the expense of his, this is one of many ways we try to keep that.”   

For more information on Journey Theater’s online classes or Giving Tuesday which is coming up on May 5, visit their website at www.journeytheater.org.  


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About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a graduate of WSU Pullman’s Edward R. Murrow College where he studied journalism and media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Argentina. He has won a regional Emmy and Mark of Excellence award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his film work. His passions range from sharing the love of Jesus, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife and son in Vancouver, WA. Proverbs 16:3

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