Friday, April 24, 2020, the last day of classes for students here at Hope College. The “here” for most of these students is more varied these days — a handful remain in Holland, Michigan, while the rest of the 3,057 enrolled find themselves back home scattered throughout the country. Some, like myself, are fortunate enough to wake up in the same time zone their virtual classes were now held. Others were getting up one or two hours earlier to be on time. Many international students were staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. — if not later.
Living in extraordinary times like these, it can be easy slip into anxiety and despair, and motivation can be hard to find, but theatre allows us to see the familiar in the alien and the extraordinary in the ordinary.
On Friday, my alarm woke me up at 8:00am. I promptly shut it off and lay in bed until 8:30, catching up on the news for the day. Mostly I just scroll, letting the words, ads and images fly past my half-open eyes. This has become my daily ritual. Once I feel caught up on the happenings of the previous day — it seems protestors have begun picketing the Michigan capitol, demanding her to ease up restrictions on the stay-at-home order — I get out of bed to dress for my 9:00 a.m. class.
Though going to class now means dealing with bad connections on my end, poor audio on the other end, and stilted conversation all around, I am grateful to still have classes to attend.
I wake my brother, who is sleeping soundly across the chilly room. This has been an interesting transition for him as well, since he has graciously agreed to stay out of the room when I have classes and meetings. After grabbing a cup of coffee, briefly greeting my siblings, pets and mother, I head back to my room, open my computer and click the link to my last first class of the day. The class goes well even though the guest speaker my professors have invited has a bad wifi connection so his speech keeps breaking up. The story he tells is interesting, and the professors do their best to accommodate — an overall fulfilling end to a fulfilling class. Though going to class now means dealing with bad connections on my end, poor audio on the other end, and stilted conversation all around, I am grateful to still have classes to attend.
Routine has been grounding, and while the smiling faces of my mentors and peers are pixelated, it is uplifting to see them every day. My next class is bittersweet — it is the last class that Jean Bahle will teach at Hope College, as she is retiring after 26 years of pouring into students. Like every other professor navigating this extraordinary time, she is adapting to new teaching strategies and learning new technologies. Rather than shy away from this challenge, she is open and intentional, actively searching for ways to make the class accessible and engaging — and asking for help when she needs it. She, like the rest of my theatre professors, has also made sure to check in with students, leaving room in her 50 minute time slot for us to express small frustrations and relish small triumphs. This is something that I think observing and creating theatre allows us to do — practice perspective.
Rather than shy away from this challenge, Prof. Bahle is open and intentional, actively searching for ways to make the class accessible and engaging — and asking for help when she needs it.
Living in extraordinary times like these, it can be easy slip into anxiety and despair, and motivation can be hard to find, but theatre allows us to see the familiar in the alien and the extraordinary in the ordinary. Opportunities made outside of class have done much to energize my spirit. Michelle Bombe and the theatre department has set up a series of virtual play readings for students who were desperate to reconnect, recognizing now more than ever the value of each other’s company.
On our last day of classes, the stay-at-home order was extended another two weeks in Michigan. While the future is uncertain, our roles as artists remain the same. We continue to practice and present perspective to others, as we have always done.