First-year theater major navigates online school


Shannon Carlson

Lindsay Nelsen, SHS class of 2020, poses in her garden at her house in Shorewood, which is where she’s had to take her classes from this semester. Nelsen is a theater arts major, which has provided unique challenges during COVID.

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Lindsay Nelsen, SHS class of 2020, gets in front of her laptop camera for acting class. This is one of eight classes she is taking remotely this semester.

For college first-years, this school year has been difficult to navigate. Students are spread out: some have been permitted to go to their college campuses, and some, including Nelsen, have stayed home to do the semester virtually. 

Nelsen is a theater arts major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. Being a theater arts major in a time when learning is virtual provides unique challenges. Nelsen is trying to lessen the impact by taking as many general education classes this semester, saving the theater classes for when she is able to be on campus.

Intro to Theater Performance, the class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is the only real acting class she is currently taking. Right now they are working on monologues.

“Acting class hasn’t been too hard and because we’re so close to the screen, it’s easy to see people’s facial reactions and stuff. We haven’t really been doing scene work yet, but I know we will be doing [them] towards the end of the semester.”

Nelsen thinks that given the circumstances, the class runs pretty smoothly. She attributes its relative success to its size.

“Because it’s such a small class I think it’s easier, and I’m glad they did it that way because if it were any bigger I feel like it could have been a mess.” 

Nelsen has been acting since second grade. She was in multiple SHS productions as a child, and more as a high school student. She also did shows with Skylight Music Theater and First Stage. 

According to Nelsen, being a theater major in LA is competitive in a way she’s not totally used to.

“I’m definitely kind of terrified because there’s just so many people who want to do this, and like even within the school I’m going to, there’s competition … but like when you just think back to it, everybody is getting rejected all the time and you kind of have to learn how to deal with this industry. You’re always going to get ‘no’s,’ sometimes you’ll get a ‘yes.’ And that maybe makes your career.”

However, exposure to this new atmosphere (though everything is virtual at the moment) has further solidified her desire to make theater part of her career.

“I’m really excited, [because] this is what I want to do, and I know it’s what I want to do.”

Nelsen is also a member of choir at her school. The choir director and pianist are on campus, and they conduct rehearsals from the recital hall. The 60 or so students are muted the entire time, but remain on video which is projected on a big screen so that the conductor can see them.

“I guess he’s just trusting that we’re singing because we’re just opening our mouths … But also every week we have assignments, like a recording due every week, so that he knows we are making progress.”

Despite not being able to hear the choir members singing, Nelsen thinks the conductor is doing a good job giving feedback. 

“I just think he’s good at what he’s doing because even when he’s looking at the screen he’s like, ‘Oh, I can tell this person or a few of you guys aren’t doing this,’ or he just knows what parts of the song people will have trouble on, so he makes sure to go over those sections.”

Though her professors are making the situation work, Nelsen really just wants to get to campus and be able to attend her classes in-person. She wasn’t able to visit the campus last spring because of COVID-19, meaning she actually has yet to set foot on the grounds of LMU. However, the part she’s most focused on is when she will be able to perform again.

“It’s so unknown when I will perform on a stage again,  when can audiences come in?  And the energy that’s in a room when you’re performing it’s so different than a Zoom production. And even if we try to replicate it, it just won’t be the same — it’s sad. But hopefully we will come together and make it better eventually.”