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Tech meets ingenuity in theater course

How do you teach a hands-on class long distance? Several faculty members have been faced with that dilemma this semester after COVID-19 forced all instruction online, according to a news release from LaGrange College.

Luke Hopper, technical director for Theatre Arts, had some particular challenges in teaching Stagecraft, where students learn about props, scenery, lighting and sound.

“The tools the students needed were in the shop at Price Theater,” he said in the news release. “One of our students was in Brazil and didn’t have access to any tools.”

So Hopper came up with a new plan.

“I asked them to make a prop from a TV show, film or theater production,” he said. “They had to research it, then build it from materials they had around the house. Finally, they each did a two-minute video presentation of their project, including a description of their prop, what materials they used, how they built it, what they learned and the greatest challenges they encountered.”

Despite the struggles, Hopper said his students seemed to be extremely engaged online.

“They knew I was available online and they could ask me whatever questions they had,” he said. “They could build anything they wanted, but they had to figure out ​how to design and construct it on their own.”

Freshman Joseph Wallace built a Captain America shield to its original specifications.

“I enjoyed having the freedom to do a hands-on project like this,” he said. “I learned a lot about all the tools you use in building different things.”

The props ran the gamut from a bird house to the bows and arrows from “The Hunger Games.” There was even a sword.

Rebekah Powers, a freshman digital creative media and film major, has loved the “Lord of the Rings” movies since she was seven years old. When it came time to choose a project for her Stagecraft class, her decision was easy.

“I immediately thought of the sword, Anduril, that belonged to Aragorn,” she said. “I found a good image online, enlarged it to scale and printed it out as a template.”

The sword was constructed of wood, polymer clay and leather. It was not an easy task — she said she struggled in almost every step. In fact, she destroyed two swords working out problems before finally getting it right on the third try. She is especially proud of the Elvish script that runs the length of the sword.

Powers is no stranger to online courses, having taken three Georgia Virtual School courses in high school. She said she’s been impressed with the way the college’s faculty has adapted to this new way of instruction.

“All of my professors have handled this change exceedingly well,” she said. “They continuously send emails to check up on student progress and safety. Even though this is a difficult time, I have found that I am still learning all the material, albeit in a different way.”