A daily routine, a daily plan, defines Distance Education
“Let’s get on with it…let’s make today count.”
With those words, a sip of coffee, and a cleansing breath (or two), Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Paul Mockovak greets his students each weekday morning on Facebook.
Then it’s on to the business of the day, often followed late in the day with another social media post of views of nature from a daily walk on his property which borders Canadaway Creek.
"They have a resilience and outlook that is refreshing and while some struggle more than others, they all have a common core of positivity."
Paul Mockovak, Department of Theatre and Dance Professor
This semester, Professor Mockovak has two sections of Introduction to Acting, part of the B.A. degree program in Theatre Arts; a section of Musical Theatre Styles, a third-year class for the B.F.A. in Musical Theatre, and Rehearsal and Performance, which covered his directing/choreography role in the planned Walter Gloor Mainstage Series production of “Sweet Charity.”
Known as Mr. Paul to his students, the work goes on each day.
Mockovak noted that he had a good head's up on Distance Learning by taking the "Build Your Own Course" online course that was led by Fredonia’s Dr. Kathleen Gradel and Lisa Melohusky. “They were fantastic in their interaction with me and the others in the class and provided some great insights. I successfully completed the course and came into the Distance Teaching/Learning platform for the rest of the semester with what I think was a good overview of what to expect both as an instructor and as a student. I hope I am structuring my course content with all of that in mind.”
Mockovak also gives “a tip of the hat” to his campus colleagues who are educators taking care of their students, but who are also parents at home with their own children and taking care of their needs.
For the Introduction to Acting class, Mockovak has a variety of levels and experience, but he said that no matter where students are on their journey, elements of craft and technique can be applied. In his words, there is a percentage of lecture/discussion but the lion's share of the course content is in the doing, the experiencing, reflecting and assessing, then applying those elements of craft learned to the next exercise.
Student Antonio Devereaux offered this take on the class:
“At first I was extremely stressed about the idea of taking an acting class online but these concerns were quickly put to ease within days. Mr. Paul sends our class emails almost every other day not only to keep us informed on what is going on in the class that week, but also to keep us calm and at ease with many encouraging words. Of course, there are challenges with taking this class online such as no longer getting the in-person contact and experience of having a professor right there with you helping you dig to find the emotions you're trying to conjure up.
Also, it is sometimes very difficult to take yourself out of current events and what is going on at home or just in the other room to take some time out of your day to set up your camera and attempt to record a monologue.
One of the biggest challenges is not being able to have Mr. Paul right next to you telling you to ‘let your emotions fall from your head down through the rest of your body and relax,’ the benefits of having an amazing acting professor directly next to you is no longer there.
Putting the challenges aside, there are so many joys of being able to continue to take this class via Distance Learning! Mr. Paul has it set up so when we record the many progressions and steps of our final monologue we are working on, we then upload videos onto a shared Google drive with the other Intro to Acting classes that Mr. Paul teaches. This is a joy because not only do we get to still see our classmates that we got so close with the first couple of months of classes, but now we also get to see the other amazing products that the other classes that Mr. Paul teaches produce. Also, getting emails from Mr. Paul is the furthest thing from stressful, Mr. Paul attempts to raise our spirits while informing us about what is due for class.
Overall, taking Intro to Acting with Mr. Paul via Distance Learning is a pleasure and I am glad that I get to continue throughout this major historical event.”
For Musical Theatre Styles, the students have had a consistent five-semester sequence in Acting in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and in Applied Voice with their Voice teacher from the School of Music. Mockovak noted, “So, our objective here is a more formal meeting of the two to strengthen becoming the ‘Singing Actor’ with scene work from major musicals bringing the acting and the singing together in a unit of acting breaking into song and concluding with an arc and through-line.”
Student Jong Sang Rheu noted that moving forward with the current situation and going virtual “it has definitely kept us busy.”
He added, “For the class, we submit recordings of ourselves singing various songs in musicals. It's been a blast for myself as I've gotten to work on my materials and with the possibility of being creative and being able to edit, or be goofy, unlike self tapes for auditions, it's been fun. The biggest challenge for me would be having to self tape at home, and not in an ideal space I would normally record myself. For those unfamiliar, when self taping a video of singing it's not so much about how you dress or look, it's more about the quality of the videos so that casters or anyone who'll be watching it can hear you clearly.
It's definitely different than how we've normally been in class but with Mr. Paul, the amazing professor of the class, he is keeping us feel connected and working.
Times like these are the worst for performers, and it's hard to keep a positive attitude. With the class, however, it keeps reminding us that we're in this together, and we'll get through it together as a class.”
As to the challenges of using Distance Education for these classes, Mockovak observed, “The performing arts are very interactive and the interaction between performer and audience is something that is almost palpable. The same goes with the teacher student interaction. While there is a certain amount of information that can be more traditional in a lecture-type format with pieces of information to know and try to apply there are some things that are done better when up close and personal.
That said, we are lucky to have Distance Learning at a time when virtually each student has a smartphone, a laptop, or tablet with a camera in it so my students can submit video assignments or have access to video talks and examples that I put online.”
He added that while not teaching dance this semester, “If I were I would definitely find a way. There are myriad YouTube classes and sessions out there so even if I were unable to actually teach and demonstrate a class there would be opportunities for the students to continue progressing. But, if need be, the furniture would be relocated and ‘we do what must be done.’”
Talking about student assignments, Mockovak noted, “In many respects, both the funny and heartwarming overlap in the Venn diagram of my classes. They submit video projects and many will talk to me before they start their project; I have had some video conferencing and I am especially moved at seeing them and hearing their voices.
They have a resilience and outlook that is refreshing and while some struggle more than others, they all have a common core of positivity.”
On the funny side, he is encouraging his Musical Theatre students to explore a parody or satirical portion of their final project. “We've seen some incredibly creative and funny things on social media using popular music or show tunes with fun lyrics. Several are pursuing that kind of project and so far they seem quite fun.
The last part along the heartwarming part is that I began and have continued to do a daily greeting of encouragement and positivity on social media. The response has been overwhelming with many, many students present and former, as well as friends saying how much they look forward to them, reply on them, and say thank you for doing it.”
Like all things Mockovak noted, Distance Education might not be a first choice for everyone, because of the unique nature of it and the flexibility in working on one's own schedule and sticking to it. “I am finding that myself. Now, in week 3 I have a good rhythm going. It took a while and I can only imagine my students having 5, 6, or 7 courses all going online. For some things, it can work and work well. For others - the Arts for example, there may be more discoveries to be made about how to best serve the needs of the art form and craft with the needs of the student who is linked through only the ether. The time commitment is significant as well as a much more one-on-one element. When I am giving feedback to a student via email I try to be as clear as I can be with what I write.”
As far as the student experience, Mockovak noted that so far, things seem to be good. “If they have complaints they are not sharing them with me. Hints of some stress at first at being a little overwhelmed, but they seem to understand the written replies and observations I make on their assignments that they submit.”
He also has a slightly different take on learning at Fredonia; along with being on the theatre and dance faculty for many years, he’s also a Fredonia alumnus from the Class of 1977.