Inspirational students lead the way in 2020 – a year of online HNCs


As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, and potentially for good this time, our HNC Acting Lecturer Sam Webber took a look back at a year of online teaching at The Garage

Just over a year ago, the day before the first national lockdown was announced, we were preparing for the final week of our HNC Performing Arts course.

Myself, Accredited Courses Manager and Lead Lecturer Diccon Hogger, and Singing Tutor Andrés Hernandez-Salazar were reading the headlines, rapidly consuming government advice, and throwing paper left and right putting together plans of what we could do in any given outcome.

Meanwhile, our 2020 cohort of students were upstairs in studio three calmly and professionally rehearsing for their upcoming performance of Spring Awakening, putting our panic to shame.

And thus they set the bar for the year to come. After having their course cut short by a week, The Garage students threw themselves into the world of online productivity almost faster than we could keep up.

Submitting their final assessments online before anyone even knew what Zoom was, they took the first brave plunge into the world of online education that we would all be a part of for the next year.

Over the next few months they continued developing their online presence through script R and Ds, social media content (search¬†The Garage’s¬†Facebook¬†page circa April 2020 for an example of the sheer volume of their creation) and most importantly a lengthy and detailed consultation session to allow us to improve our HNC course even more in the future.

Our most recent HNC course has been predominantly online, and the students have been equally as adept at traversing this strange new type of education. Luckily, we had more than half-a-term in the building together to get to know each other – working on movement, voice and practical drama skills.

Of course, when the time came to once again move online our biggest worry as teachers was that student experience would be bad, the performance they created would be of poor quality, and practical skills learning would be put to a halt by being on a screen.

While it would be wrong to say that this wasn’t tough, it is a huge credit on the part of the students that they not only continued to do what was required of them, but they excelled beyond all expectations in using online performance to their advantage.

Choreographing dances to suit the layouts of their own house, devising theatre that made the most of the limited boxes Zoom provides for us, and performing one-person shows that captured the sense of loneliness and isolation we have all felt when sitting on the other end of a screen. 

In all ways, these young creatives show that where there is a will, there is a way – and an artistically fascinating way, to boot.

It is always saddening when there are government cuts to the arts, but after this year especially it is heartbreaking to hear the news that it is cutting 50% funding to the arts in higher education. Now more than ever, support is needed to develop and nurture our young artists.

Working so closely with such passionate, creative and fiercely determined young people over this last year is enough to make anyone angry at the systematic removal of support from above, and enough to make us all even more determined to continue our support and growth in all of our work with young people across the organisation.

Having seen what the next generation of artists, actors, dancers, performers, singers, writers and producers can do when facing the challenges of a socially-distanced world, I cannot wait to see what they can produce when the barriers are finally removed.

It is both intimidating and exhilarating to acknowledge that whatever it is they do, it will be better and far more inventive than what has come before. Government cuts or no cuts, virus or no virus, I truly believe they will be the start of a brave new artistic world.

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