Peta Downes – Rehearsal, Interrupted: re-imagining a live performance for an online space


Peta Downes

University of Sydney

Rehearsal, Interrupted: re-imagining a live performance for an online space 

Abstract: In their case study research article, “Theatre Online: The design and drama of e-learning”, Robyn Phillip and Jennifer Nicholls (2007, p.277) reflected on the delivery of an online university theatre course and how it could replicate the dynamic of the live drama class, complete with synchronous interaction. They noted in conclusion that the course was effective due to the design of the mise-en-scène and the online space in which the drama occurred, which “created a lively course dynamic even though the course was conducted at a distance and mediated by technology”. They also suggested that the active presence of the teacher “as designer, director, and side-coach” provided students with the direction and guidance to construct individual and ensemble work as performers. 

In 2020, technological advances, mediated culture, accessibility and live streaming has enabled online teaching and theatre performance to be easily experienced all over the world. Gathering an audience together has never been easier. But how do you gather an ensemble of actors for a live performance when your theatre rehearsal process has been interrupted by a pandemic? 

Referring to the parameters of Philip and Nicholls and the notion of directing theatre at a distance, this paper will present the case study of how theatre director and educator Peta Downes worked with her ensemble of second year Bachelor of Performance students to reimagine and present what was planned to be a live theatre version of Michael Gow’s THE KID on an online “stage” during Sydney’s COVID-19 shut down. Combining rehearsal and performance footage with commentary by the performers, the paper demonstrates the individual and group processes used to gather this ensemble of self-isolated student actors, and through a combination of theatrical mis-en-scene, film techniques and virtual technology, enabled them to deliver a performance of the play. 

Peta Downes. Position: Program Leader – Scholarship, Academic Lecturer (Acting, Directing, Producing and Entertainment Management) – Australian Institute of Music, Sydney Current Research: Artist or Creative Entrepreneur: the impact of creative industries on independent theatre practice in Australia 302.html 

Peta Downes is a theatre director, producer and arts educator of twenty- eight years’ experience. She is a PhD candidate with the University of Sydney and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Directing (QUT), a Bachelor of Arts – Honours -1A in Directing and Educational Drama (QUT) and a Graduate Diploma in Arts Management (UTS). She has developed and produced new theatre works with the Brisbane Powerhouse, Metro Arts (Brisbane), Darlinghurst Theatre and the Seymour Centre (Sydney), and worked as a director for theatre companies La Boite Theatre Company, the Queensland Theatre Company and the Bell Shakespeare Company.