Meet Rene BeVier Dill. She is a mom of three and a middle school theater teacher in Colorado who is making the most of teaching theater online. Before teaching middle school, Rene was a Teaching Artist in NYC and a high school theater teacher in Colorado with over 17 years of experience. When our nation’s teachers had to turn on a dime and start teaching virtually, Rene wrote her whole spring e-learning curriculum around the Stage Partners play THE DAY THE INTERNET DIED using our PDF Script Pack. Not only were we flattered, we wanted to know how she did it!
Here, Rene shares some of her Distance Learning tricks and a couple of her wonderful lessons with Education Director, Maria McConville, and, of course, all of you. We hope these lessons and her experience help kick off your school year a little easier. Break a leg!
An Interview with Theater Educator Rene Dill:
STAGE PARTNERS: How are you overcoming some of the challenges of teaching via the internet? Have you picked up any good tricks?
RENE BEVIER DILL: One of the challenges that I've had to face is not getting to meet my students in person!
One trick I picked up is the app Flipgrid. It is FABULOUS for a drama class. It is an educational video tool that allows teachers to pose questions or teach concepts through video and for students to respond back through video. My middle school students have been very receptive to this app, as they LOVE recording videos. This app has sort of broken the barrier of the distance between us. Here's an example of my introduction Flipgrid video that I sent out to my classes.
SP: What tactics are you using to keep your schools theater community together even though we can't actually be together?
RENE: This past Spring, I kept up communication with my cast through Google classroom. This year I plan to do Google Meets with them where I can check in with them "face-to-face."
SP: What about THE DAY THE INTERNET DIED drew you to developing an entire Distance Learning curriculum around the play?
RENE: The Day the Internet Died jumped out at me right away. I was drawn to it because it is about a town going through a crisis: Their way-of-life has been dramatically changed overnight due to the internet crashing. I knew my students could relate to this with our own current crisis of the pandemic as our own lives have been completely turned upside down. I love the themes in this play because I feel that my students can relate to them; themes of our difficulty communicating face-to-face to one another, amidst the struggle of having to find new and VERY uncomfortable ways of doing things, and the need to fill time in a very different way. But it is through these struggles, that we grow and learn to see things differently. This speech at the end of the play really sums up the big ideas of the play:
“As the internet comes back into our lives, we remember that there's more to life than just...tweeting and messaging and posting pictures. That there’s a whole world we ignore on a daily basis that maybe...we should pay a little more attention to.”— THE DAY THE INTERNET DIED by Ian McWethy and Jason Pizzarello
RENE: These are very similar ideas and situations that most of us are facing during this hunkering down in isolation at our homes, and I just loved that I could make so many connections to our current situation with what is going on in the world of the play.
I also love the humor of the play, which I thought was very necessary for me and my students. We all need a bit of levity and escape right now, and I think that The Day the Internet Died provides this.
SP: Are there certain skills you are hoping to help your students hone while they are learning at home?
RENE: I want my students to be able to respond to a piece of theatrical work in a variety of ways. They will be reading the play online, learning about play structures and drama vocabulary, as well as being able to connect this play to the world around them, through critical thinking.
For the final unit, students will be given the option of three performance opportunities. They can perform a monologue from the play (through Flipgrid), they can design one of the scenes through a drawn rendering, or they can write a new scene that could be added to the play.
SP: What is your teaching motto? Has it changed now that we are e-teaching?
RENE: It has always been this: Make every kid feel comfortable where they are at currently by creating a warm and supportive learning environment that is a safe place to be, learn, and explore. Drama is such a unique subject where students have the opportunity to not only learn about themselves, but also to be receptive to others. Drama truly teaches self-confidence as well as empathy.
I firmly believe that theater has the power to change lives because it gives kids a safe place to be themselves and a community of support to embrace them. I think e-learning has challenged me to find new ways to reach and motivate my students. Since we've lost our usual way of doing things, I'm hoping that having the opportunity to read a fun, entertaining, and thought-provoking play like The Day the Internet Died.
About the Play:
The Day the Internet Died
By Ian McWethy and Jason Pizzarello
On a sunny day in the town of Bloomington, a devastating occurrence happens. No, it’s not famine, or floods, or loss of your basic rights. The internet has gone down! And it will continue to be down! For a week! A whole week! Pandemonium! In a world that is so dependent on the internet for shopping, mailing, and posting pictures of cute babies, how will society function? Not well as it turns out. The Day the Internet Died hilariously explores how inept we are at dating, research, and basic human interactions when we don’t have a screen to look at.
One-act, 30-35 minutes. 10-50 actors, gender flexible.
Rene BeVier Dill is a theater educator currently teaching middle school ins Colorado. She is a former NYC Teaching Artist and has over 17 years of experience teaching high school.
Discover more tips for using plays in the virtual classroom by exploring our Distance Learning posts on the Stage Partners Blog.