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Every Learner Everywhere

Recasting the Role: How This Film and Theater Student Is Launching a Career in the COVID Era

As a film and theater student, Grace Davenport would normally be spending her Fall semester of senior year in close contact with other artists. She’d be directing actors, taking movement classes in a studio, and interning with one of Atlanta’s many theaters.

That’s not quite how this year worked out. Davenport, a senior at Georgia State University, is still taking directing and movement classes. She’s still interning with a theater, though its stage is dark for the season. And she’s also working two jobs while she prepares for a career in casting, a field that is on hold — and perhaps permanently altered — by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And she’s doing all of that remotely from her off-campus apartment. “I’m stuck at home quite often,” she says, laughing.

Performing remotely

Davenport is a Film and Media major interested in working with actors; she likes directing and casting. In Fall 2020 she registered for classes toward a Theater minor, although she jokes that she’s taken so many theater classes, she may as well be a double major.

Her schedule includes courses in directing for the stage, community-based production, piano, film theory, and voice and movement. All but the piano class are online and blended, which can be tricky for performance classes.

“In voice and movement, we focus a lot on our chakras and different parts of our body,” says Davenport. “Typically what we do is just make sure we have enough space at home to move around, and so our professor goes through exercises to help us get into character.”

Because it’s a blended class with some students in the classroom and others like Davenport joining with online conferencing tools, it can become chaotic during improv or voice work.

The directing class is also hybrid, and Davenport is often working from home, dissecting scripts with actors who are on campus.

“There’s a limited number of spots in the actual classroom, and you sign up for it if you want to be there. We all give feedback to the people who are actually in the class,” says Davenport. “It’s an interesting system. It works, but it’s definitely not ideal.”

Rethinking the internship

Davenport has had to be proactive finding an internship that supports her goals. Luckily, she had some relevant experience. In Spring 2020, when COVID shut down Georgia State with little notice, she was interning remotely with a casting agency. Most students lost their internships, but Davenport kept working through the semester.

For Davenport’s senior year, her plan had been to take advantage of Atlanta’s vibrant arts community by getting a theater-based internship. That got tricky during the pandemic since many theaters were still requiring residencies from their interns, and Davenport wasn’t comfortable being on site. Meanwhile, few theaters are doing shows, so an internship with the casting experience she most wanted was unlikely.

Her search led her to an internship at Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, which offered remote internships for each of its departments this semester.

“What I ended up doing is going into the development department, because I wanted to have more of a business background,” says Davenport. “A lot of my knowledge is around the pre-production phase of film and theater, working with actors, but I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the actual business of theater.”

Her internship lets her work on grants, create timelines for donor appeals, and draft development materials — and she can do it from her apartment.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity, especially because everybody seemed to have shut down their internships once all this happened,” she says. “So I’m very grateful for that.”

Flexibility matters

One of the biggest challenges Davenport faced in the Spring 2020 semester was having to leave campus during the shutdown and return to her parents’ house. Her family lives in a rural area of north Georgia where neither the internet connection nor cellular service is reliable.

“Being out in the woods during the pandemic was extremely stressful,” she says. “Even if my wi-fi didn’t work, it’s not like I could hop on my phone and dial in to class, because we don’t have cell service.”

She thinks schools could make remote learning inclusive by realizing that not all students are able to log in. Even students in the city don’t always have reliable internet.

“You need to be prepared for students to not be able to log on every time and not to be able to submit assignments,” she says.

Davenport says recorded lectures, some asynchronous weeks, and flexible due dates go a long way to make online learning more inclusive. She understands this level of flexibility might be a shift from what many faculty expect of students, but she says the lenience is worth it.

“It’s hard because as a professor you want your students to be on top of things,” she says. “But at the same time, it’s better to be there for your students and be more flexible than not. I had several professors who’ve been extremely flexible with me during this time, and it has been amazing.”

Another way faculty helped her has been by offering resources. Davenport wasn’t aware that Georgia State allowed students to check out mobile hotspot devices, for example, until a professor mentioned it. (Mobile hotspots allow the user to connect their computer to the internet by pulling data from cell tower signals, as opposed to cable or telephone lines.) She checked out a hotspot before the Fall semester, which has been a help because her off-campus apartment this year doesn’t always have the best internet connection.

Preparing for a changed industry

Davenport is constantly thinking about how the entertainment business she has been preparing for will be changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the casting agencies she’d like to work for simply aren’t hiring.

“I’m a graduating student, so I’ve already started looking at job opportunities, but most things are closed off. Everybody’s just in limbo,” she says. “I’ve reached out to I don’t know how many theaters, film companies, and casting agencies, and they’re all like, ‘Nope. Sorry. We can’t.’”

Still, Davenport hopes she can find a job that will play to her strengths. After all, thanks to her internships and coursework, she knows a lot about working online with casting agencies, theaters, and actors, and is well positioned to help the theater and film industry in Atlanta make a shift to remote work.

“I do have an idea of what the digital landscape is going to look like for both theater and film; I can give insight on that,” she says. “I hadn’t thought of this as a skill I would have, but I do because I worked through the pandemic. That’s been a big positive to come out of all this.”