Photo by Amy Haskell

Up to the Challenge:
Teaching Performing Arts Virtually

Ava McPeak '24 chose to create an interview cartoon.
Kira McNeill '20 made a multi-slide presentation of her makeup design concepts for the play "Into the Woods."

 Guitar teacher Ryan Phillips agrees that giving students room for choice and creativity while also maintaining stability is important. His classes encompass the same four components each day so that students know what to expect, but he has built choice into that outline: guitar practice, sight reading practice, rhythm study, and in the fourth component, “Students are to experiment in fields they are not accustomed with,” Mr. Phillips explained. “This can include doing YouTube yoga, painting, drawing, writing a poem, going on a hike. Anything that gets them to try something new.”

The fact that our teachers are combining flexibility with consistency shows an awareness of the students’ needs during this time. Drama teacher Lorie Heald reflected further on these needs. “As an arts teacher in this current situation, I feel as if it is my job to not only offer students information in my content area, but to find ways and things for them to do that might lift their spirits.” Her students are currently immersed in a unit on interviews and storytelling, and most recently recorded or depicted interviews with animals and objects at their homes.

Was the transition of their curricula to virtual learning easy? “I will be honest— switching to this way of teaching has been a real challenge for me,” Ms. Heald said. “My drama classes are active, and in my theater production class we make stuff. At first I felt as if I had to totally change everything, and that was overwhelming to me. But as I sat with it, and explored my possibilities, I came up with a plan that feels genuine to me.”

Thank you to the following students for sharing their project videos: Maiya Douglas '22, Karen Jie '21, and Axel Schulz '24

Performing arts classes bring to mind pairs of students gathered around tables rehearsing skits, a music teacher correcting a student’s hand position, a group building a stage set. Can these classes really continue virtually? It turns out that with enough creativity and the desire to meet students’ needs, they can! TGS performing arts teachers Lisa Bodden, Lorie Heald, and Ryan Phillips have graciously agreed to share thoughts on their process and how they are accomplishing their goals.

“When searching for ideas for online instruction, I found these words repeated over and over: flexibility, choice, and creativity,” drama teacher Lisa Bodden said. “I found and adapted a Theatre Project Challenge—a choice board of 20 projects that the students can choose from. I tweaked the choices and plotted them into a 6 Cs table so students know the general skills to be addressed in each group.”

Ms. Bodden said that the students are enjoying getting to choose their own projects, which are varied in both required skills and energy consumption. Combining these choices with the 6 Cs brings familiarity and consistency into the new online classroom.

Drama teacher Lisa Bodden creates choice boards of projects for students to choose from and plots the choices into a 6 Cs table.

Among the ways our teachers have created authentic plans is by bringing a trove of quality online opportunities into their virtual classrooms. Ms. Bodden found that each Thursday in April, the National Theatre is releasing a play for free on YouTube, which her students are assigned to review. Ms. Heald is gaining inspiration for herself and her students from StoryCorps, and Mr. Phillips has found websites that can help students practice sight reading and rhythm work. 

And our teachers are discovering that the internet can bring them together somewhat after all. Ms. Bodden’s sixth grade class will be performing a play in pieces during Zoom meetings that she hopes to edit together, and in the first week of virtual learning, Ms. Heald said, “I played ‘I Will Survive’ and had a dance party with my 8th grade drama class.”

"I love working here because of the students! Every single one brings unique talents and perspectives to my drama and stagecraft classes, as well as to the productions, and to the school community. Students are enthusiastic about their aspirations, performances, and creations. When working on a theatrical performance, students must communicate their skills of compassion, curiosity, critical thinking, and collaboration. My job is easy when I work with people who are excited to explore the world of theatre and experience new adventures."

Lisa Bodden, M.A.

Lisa Bodden has a M.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of Arizona and a B.S. in Theater Education from Northern Arizona University. She was appointed to The Gregory School Faculty in 2000.

"I love every aspect of my job.  I love it because I feel supported, and I am encouraged to remain creative in my work.  As a theater arts teacher at The Gregory School I am able to share my passion for the performing arts with a community of engaged learners.  As a teacher in our community garden program I am able to share with students the simple wisdom that my grandmother shared with me.  Having the opportunity to work and grow within our community of vibrant and enthusiastic students, faculty, and administration inspires me to always be, and do, my best. "

Lori Heald, M.A.

Lorie Heald has a M.A. in Theater Arts and a B.F.A. in Dance from the University of Arizona. She was appointed to The Gregory School faculty in 2000.

"TGS gives its teachers a joyous and collaborative workplace experience that passes its benefits to our students. We truly care about the success of each individual and find ways to reach all who come through our doors. The support I have received during my time at TGS drives me to push the boundaries on what children can musically achieve during one term. I always look forward to the opportunity to make music with my students."

Ryan Phillips, M.A.

Ryan Phillips has a Master of Music from Northern Arizona University and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Arizona. He was appointed to The Gregory School faculty in 2019.


3231 N. Craycroft Road, Tucson, AZ 85712
Phone: (520) 327-6395
Fax: (520) 327-8276
The Gregory School is an independent, private,
non-profit 501(C)(3), coed day school for grades 5-12.