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  • Sincerely, Southern

Georgia Southern theatre department strives on with COVID changes

By Kenzie Stewart

Photo courtesy of Sarah McCarroll

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues past its one-year mark, many professors at colleges and universities continue to conduct the majority of their courses online. For some students who are studying majors that involve hands-on experiences, they are losing out on a lot of content that is typically held in a classroom setting. As a result, professors in these areas of studies have had to adapt their courses to a format that is still beneficial to students’ success.

Sarah McCarroll is no exception. McCarroll is an associate professor in the theatre department at Georgia Southern University. She received her bachelor’s degree in theatre from University of Missouri and her master’s degree in fine arts at University of Alabama. McCarroll completed her Ph.D. in theatre history at Indiana University in Dec. 2011. Her areas of expertise include costume design and technology, as well as theatre history. McCarroll has been teaching theatre at Georgia Southern University since 2011.

This semester, McCarroll is not only tackling the challenges of teaching during a pandemic, but also directing a show piece, “Much Ado About Nothing”. McCarroll considers herself very fortunate to have such small class sizes this semester that have allowed her the opportunity to conduct distance learning in the classroom.

“Last spring when the pandemic began, I had to shift all of my courses online given the severity of the outbreak,” stated McCarroll. “However, this semester, I’m not teaching any studio classes, which has allowed me to continue to teach in the classroom, just with caution.”

Although her physical academic situation hasn’t changed much, her teaching environment has been much different and emotionally intensive this semester.

“What I have noticed is that much of my time has been spent in emotional labor. Specifically, the number of pep talks, especially for my juniors and seniors who have no industry to walk into since there are literally no jobs available in this field at the moment,” McCarroll said.

Along with the challenges faced in the classroom, McCarroll states that most of the logistical hurdles have come during the production process of this season’s show, Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”.

“One of the biggest adjustments has been in how we deal with costume fittings for the production. In non-Covid times, we would fit about three people in a fitting room at one time for measurements. Now it’s a process of one in and one out, which can slow the process down,” McCarroll stated when asked about the challenges she has faced in directing this show.

It has also been difficult for her to direct a show design for a stage play and adapt it into a production that had to be filmed. “We had to push the filming back because a cast member tested positive, which exposed about five other students,” said McCarroll.

As the pandemic continues, it not only has taken an emotional toll on university students, but professors as well.

“I’m exhausted. For me, a big source of anxiety has been about my mother and her wellbeing,” said McCarroll.

When the pandemic began, McCarroll explained that she thought it would be best if her mother came to stay with her for a short period of time. However, she worried about potential exposure when she went back to teaching in the classroom last semester. Thankfully, neither of them was exposed to the virus and her mother now has had her first round of the vaccine, which has been a “huge relief” for McCarroll.

Although she has had her share of struggles and anxiety, McCarroll shared that she does feel very fortunate for how she has fared in the pandemic.

“I do feel very lucky in many ways. I have not been worried about my income or job, which is not a luxury that many people have right now,” said McCarroll.

Between dealing with the stresses of her personal life and making sure she has a successful production put together by mid-March, it is apparent that McCarroll has done so with grace and has been a huge support system for her students.

Elizabeth Mccooey, a junior theatre and English major student of McCarroll’s states that, “the best thing Dr. McCarroll has done for her students is genuinely care for her students’ mental health. Everyone has been in survival mode for a while, making sure we protect our physical health, but very few professors have taken the time to make sure their students know that their mental and emotional health are of equal importance.”

Christopher Green, a senior theatre student also commends McCarroll for her hard work and determination during this semester.

“One thing I learned in Sarah’s theatre history class is no matter what the circumstances are, you can’t kill theatre, not even Covid,” stated Green.

McCarroll offers some sentiments and words of encouragement to fellow educators and students during these unprecedented times.

“I think what we should be doing is offering each other grace and support,” McCarroll said. “Figure out how to get through it and make the best decisions you can for yourself and your students. I think it’s all about support during times like this, I wish I could tell every single person I love you and you can get through this.”

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