Too Cool for Zoom? Why your kids might love SF Shakes’ virtual Shakespeare programs. In conversation with Teaching Artist Amy Lizardo.

When the pandemic hit a year ago, SF Shakes pivoted rapidly to online platforms for the safety of audiences, artists, and staff. Not only did Free Shakespeare in the Park become a trailblazing live virtual experience, but education programs also shifted to the virtual sphere. Our initial pivot is chronicled in this blog; you can read about our mainstage transition to YouTube and about how our Saturday program for teens switched to Zoom mid-course in response to public health mandates.

One year later, SF Shakes continues to offer Zoom-based performance programs for kids and teens … and we’ve decided to retain them even as the case numbers of Covid in the Bay Area are beginning to dip and something resembling normalcy is visible on the horizon. The Atlantic reports that cautious public health experts “generally agreed that at some point between June and September, the combination of widespread vaccinations and warmer weather would likely make many activities much safer, including having friends and family over indoors, taking public transit, being in a workplace, dining inside restaurants, and traveling domestically” (The Most Likely Timeline for a Return to Normal, Feb 22, 2021).

In the here and now, however, parents across the country– and especially in California where schools have been slow to reopen– worry over the effects that prolonged Zoom school may have on their children’s development. An October report by the Pew Research Center identifies five areas of concern for parents of children learning via Zoom:

Screen time

Social connections

Emotional well-being

Extracurricular activities

Exercise

Even as normalcy shines visible in the distance and many parents pine for their kids’ return to in-person school, SF Shakes will continue to develop cutting-edge online programs that build on the successes we’ve enjoyed since March last year. We talked to veteran teaching artist Amy Lizardo to discuss her experiences teaching virtually for SF Shakes. In the course of this conversation, Amy addresses the concerns many parents have about increased screen time. One takeaway from this chat to note is that virtual Shakespeare education at SF Shakes may resemble Zoom school, but it is NOT Zoom school. In fact, it may be just the thing for your kid.

Meet Amy Lizardo

Introducing SF Shakes Teaching Artist Amy Lizardo

Any parent wondering if a virtual Shakespeare program is right for their child should hear Amy discuss student engagement, socialization, body movement, and screen time. In the course of this interview, you’ll learn that while a virtual Shakespeare program entails more structured Zoom time for kids, the nature of the work and play undoes some of the negative aspects associated with Zoom schooling.

Amy Lizardo discusses concerns such as screen time, exercise, and emotional well being.

At this point in the pandemic it’s really easy to adopt a negative attitude towards Zoom since it mediates the thing most of us miss the most, direct human contact. At the same time, however, for many theatre companies like SF Shakes, Zoom has become an essential stage and teaching tool. Indeed, SF Shakes is currently offering a webinar to other theatre makers around the globe on the elements of making virtual theatre with Zoom at the center of the curriculum. Engagement techniques developed by SF Shakes over the past year turns Zoom into an innovative tool for communication. Teaching Artists at SF Shakes have been developing and assigning performance-based exercises that take advantage of its unique features. In this segment, Amy talks about some of the ways she has adapted to teaching performance on Zoom.

Amy Lizardo discusses the advantages of teaching via Zoom.

As a theatre company that believes in the power of live performance to build community, SF Shakes eagerly looks forward to the day we can gather in person to watch a show shoulder to shoulder, to take to the stage to kiss, fight, and save the day. But until that time, we will continue to provide public art and performance instruction in the safest way possible. For now that means a socially-distanced Shakespeare.

Amy Lizardo is an actor, singer, and teacher. She is also an acting company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has worked with Bay-Area theaters like Marin Shakespeare Theatre, California Shakespeare Theatre, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Amy teaches in all SF Shakes education programs including after-school enrichment programs and Bay Area Shakespeare Camps.