Remote LearningWest Chester Arts Faculty Use Creative Approaches to Aid Remote Learning

When WCU President Christopher Fiorentino sent the March 10 email notifying faculty, students and staff that, due to precautions surrounding COVID-19, the remainder of the semester would be taught using alternative modes of instruction, a wave of surprise ran through campus. As the first university in the region to make this announcement, West Chester University was a leader in taking such action.

Faculty rallied to find creative and innovative ways to continue instruction remotely for the remainder of the semester. Arts faculty in particular – some whose classes have the sole purpose of bringing ensembles together in unity -  faced the tough task of finding ways to connect with and instruct students from a distance. 

As part of this ongoing feature, we will share some of the new and creative ways our arts departments and schools came together during this unprecedented time to ensure student success.  


Meeting Mondays

To keep lines of communication open, the department of Theatre & Dance scheduled zoom meetings every Monday at noon. Faculty, staff, members of the University Theatre and University Dance student groups, and all majors and minors were invited to attend.

Martin Dellago, production manager and associate professor of theatre, says, “Our hope is to stay connected with our students and support them if we can. They are greatly missing congregating in the Bull Center and these meetings are an opportunity to socialize and share information.”

Cast of SPRING AWAKENING Unites in Song

To say that the cast of SPRING AWAKENING was disappointed when they learned of the production’s cancellation is an understatement.

Charlie Delmarcelle, the director of SPRING AWAKENING and assistant professor of theatre says, “We rehearsed SPRING AWAKENING for only a short time, but I can say with a full heart that we all knew it was going to be very special. You could feel it in that room.”

Delmarcelle says that cast was “all in” when he brought the idea of doing a video to them. The cast wanted to perform “Song of Purple Summer,” the show’s final number about hope, rebirth and uncertainty in new and challenging times.

Students Jessie Hazell and Nick Castillo took full charge of the video’s editing and production. See it here:     


“For me, what makes theatre so special is people in a room together,” says Charlie Delmarcelle, association professor of Theatre.  “That said,” he adds, “I think the ingenuity of my colleagues at this time has been a really beautiful thing to see.”

Delmarcelle teaches a Musical Theatre Repertory Class. In a typical semester, the class culminates with work on a 32-bar musical theatre audition piece. Delmarcelle had them continue this activity as a video submission, something that has become more standard practice in the industry.

“It was the perfect time to introduce proper audition and film technique for video submissions,” says Delmarcelle.

Delmarcelle also organized a virtual day-long symposium with area artistic directors from top professional theatres throughout Philadelphia. Kevin Glaccuum from Azuka Theatre, Craig Getting and KC MacMillan from Tiny Dynamite Theatre Company, and Claire Moyer and Tom Reing from Inus Nua Theatre Company all participated.

“Under normal circumstances, it would have been very difficult to schedule these very busy theatre artists for a full-day symposium on West Chester’s campus. Doing it virtually made it possible, and I think it was a great day for all who participated.”

As another activity, students in Delmarcelle’s Acting 1 class were assigned scenes before classes moved online. Delmarcelle had them continue with these scenes, but gave students the option to choose a member from their household to perform with, or to do the scenes remotely with their scene partners.

He says, “They took to it really well. Theatre artists are scrappy and creative. Ingenuity is one of our strong suits and that came through. Their scenes with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and even grandmothers, provided fun and relief for all of us.”


For his directing classes, associate professor John Bellomo turned to new outside resources.

“A positive to come from this,” says Bellomo, “Is that theatre companies from around the world have opened their vaults to give students access to some of the greatest productions from the most prestigious theatres. I will continue to use this material even after face-to-face instruction resumes if it is still available to us.”

Bellomo and students watched the productions and then discussed them as a class.

Bellomo made another shift in the class’s syllabus.

“Since directing other actors is not easy or even possible right now, I had my students focus on the work that happens before the cast and designers hit the rehearsal room,” says Bellomo. “Directors spend up to a year before each production doing a lot of work on their own interpreting and studying the script.  This was the perfect time to introduce this prep work.”

For Bellomo’s Movement for Performance class, he also used videos to demonstrate movements. The class culminated in students creating and editing their own movement video from Romeo and Juliet, featuring movement that they worked on throughout the semester.

“The videos were so fun to watch,” says Bellomo. “One student choreographed a fight using tips from her makeup class. She bloodied and bruised herself between takes of her receiving punches.”


Within 24 hours of President Fiorentino’s announcement on March 10, and after seeing dance colleagues around the country in the same situation, associate professor Liz Staruch launched an online Facebook group called "Dance Professors Online Transition." The page is a place to share resources and ask questions for faculty from across the country and around the globe who are transitioning to online academic instruction. Within 48 hours, there were 500 members. The group is over 2800 members strong and has been referenced as a resource in both Dance Magazine and Dance Teacher articles. Staruch says, “The group has quickly become a great resource for asking questions such as how do we teach technique classes online to what does this pandemic mean for the future of our field. Faculty from around the world are sharing ideas with one another and offering much needed support at this time.”

Dancing with Sand and Hands

Many instructors transitioned their classes online using Zoom or Google Meet, but some dance coursework required a bit more innovation. To continue teaching her beginning Tap class, Staruch first needed to solve the problem of a proper floor to dance on at home. Inspired by this Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dance from the 1943 movie, Stormy Weather, she landed on “sand dancing.” She recorded steps and combinations in her garage on sand on top of concrete. She says, “Concrete is a very hard surface for dancing, but one works with what they’ve got.  The sand worked great to amplify the sound of my sneakers for recording.”

Associate professor Maria Urrutia’s Jazz I class took up several assignments that focused on the use of alternative spaces (hallways, doorframes, stairs) and movement invention. One assignment that generated enthusiasm and pushed creative boundaries was Hand Dancing in small spaces. This assignment focused on how hands can be a creative expression and dance by focusing on musicality and hand gesture phrasing. This is senior Olivia Kleintz’s hand dance: 


Staruch used her scholarship in ScreenDance for her choreography class, in which she asked students to choreograph specifically for the camera. She says, “It's thinking not about the audience sitting live in a space, but asking students to consider how the camera can affect the composition of the piece."

The students learned quickly about perspective, space and tackled how to edit.

“I've been wanting to utilize this in my classes for some time,” says Staruch, “And now was the perfect opportunity to do so. I’m very proud of that class and the work they did.” This is a curated collection of each study the class completed remotely: 


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