What are the benefits of virtual arts education?

From increased focus to on-camera readiness, Interlochen Online summer faculty sound off on the benefits of virtual learning.

Interlochen Online flute students attend a virtual master class

Interlochen Online flute students attend a virtual master class.

This summer, Interlochen Online hosts a robust slate of back-by-popular-demand favorites as well as innovative new offerings for young artists in grades 2-12.

With new course titles such as “Making a Movie With (Almost) No Money,” “Writing Fantastic Worlds,” “Visual Arts Mashup: Painting and Graphic Design,” and “Leadership & Management in the Arts,” there’s a dynamic course to engage every curious young creative. Practical offerings will be available as well—for example, high school students can prepare for college applications with “College Essay Writing.”

Since its successful launch last summer with over 1,400 students from 22 countries, Interlochen Online has grown to encompass highly rated after-school programs, college audition bootcamps, and a Master Class Saturday Series. This summer, three-week sessions will run from June 28 to July 16 and from July 19 to Aug. 6.

“What I love about this platform is the chance to work with students from all over the world,” says Instructor of Musical Theatre Peggy Trecker White. “We’ve been able to extend our reach and connect with young artists in a really amazing way.”

Here, Interlochen Online summer faculty discuss our upcoming programs, the benefits of virtual arts education, and their biggest piece of advice for young artists.

Jeanine Cowen, Music Composition for Film & Video Games for High School Students

In demand as a composer for film, television, and video games, Jeanine Cowen serves as a professor of film scoring at Berklee College of Music.

What’s most exciting about this program
I like to think about these intensive camps as a sort of artist residency. It isn’t often that artists have the good fortune to be surrounded by a supportive and welcoming group of people to use as a sounding board. Our goal in this course is to to understand the journey that any piece of music or art must take from inspiration to realization. As artists, we have to learn from our process and the workflows that will be the most supportive to our creation and completion.

Benefits of digital
Teaching this type of class over a digital interface works really well. Each person can see and hear the same thing with the same ability to interact with the faculty and their peers. It is much easier to show some of the hands-on aspects of the material when students can view right on their screens. We also have the opportunity for small group work in a format that is far easier to participate in than a noisy classroom.

Biggest piece of advice for young artists
The most important thing to remember is that you will evolve over time. The more you practice your craft, the more you will grow as an artist.

When you are first starting out, be patient with yourself. If you have a super big idea, see if you can get started on it in a small way. Build your vision up from small parts rather than letting the enormity of an amazing idea keep you in your head for too long.

Shelby Lewis, Acting for High School Students

A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy, Shelby Lewis is an actor, educator, director, voiceover artist, coach, and industry consultant for sensory-friendly productions. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA and a cast member of the Interlochen Shakespeare Festival.

What’s most exciting about this program
I am very excited to challenge students to foster a genuine sense of listening, reacting, and connecting with their scene partners, both in and outside of class—even if they’re halfway across the world! In my last Interlochen Online class, I crafted a 15-minute version of Shakespeare’s The Winter's Tale, and the result was spellbinding. I’m looking forward to more of these “mini-plays” because they allow students to feel a deep sense of understanding and satisfaction. Students will learn a new play and a new character, and will be able to execute that character’s arc.

Benefits of digital
Students bring just as much commitment, drive, and energy to each virtual class as they would to one of our physical venues. The work that they have done through Interlochen Online has blown all of us away. I continually find myself inspired and emboldened by the young artists that are supposed to be learning from me!

Biggest piece of advice for young artists
Prioritize authenticity. Never try to be “what they’re looking for.” Come to auditions, performances, and any new experience wanting to seize the chance to explore who you are, what is important to you, and how you can express that through your artform.

Peggy Trecker White, Musical Theatre for Grades 6-9

A founding member of Lean Ensemble Theater, Peggy Trecker White has worked nationally and internationally as an actor, director, and theatre educator.

Goals of the program
Musical theatre lends itself to being more performative than plays. But I’m looking for actors to move past the performative, the surface of “razzle dazzle,” and dig deeper into connecting to their material. The goal is always to be in the moment and react honestly in that moment and those given circumstances.

Students can expect a friendly, supportive, and encouraging atmosphere with instructors who are passionate about musical theatre—and passionate about finding truth, authenticity, and moment-to-moment work within the acting of musical theatre.

Benefits of digital
Teaching or performing online provides students the opportunity to be more savvy when working on camera. Like many other businesses, actors moved into working online during the pandemic. Some of that is here to stay. Film and television auditions had gone the way of the self-tape well before the pandemic. Knowing how to connect on camera and produce a solid self-tape is really important for young actors.

The challenge of teaching on a digital interface is trying to break through to the other side. As stage actors, we’re used to getting instant feedback from our audience. We do not have the same non-verbal conversation with our online audience. Because of this, being true to our choices and making sure we are living as specifically and authentically as we can in the moment is even more important. You cannot hide from a camera.

Biggest piece of advice for young artists
Don’t be afraid to make big choices and see what sticks. It’s good, even great, to make a big choice and discover it doesn’t work. How will you know if you never try? I urge my students to set aside their insecurities and “what ifs” and see what happens.

Camille Mitchell, Arts Adventure for Grades 2-6

Camille Mitchell is a performer, playwright, and puppeteer currently based in Chicago. 

What’s most exciting about this program
Arts Adventure covers a wide range of arts disciplines, including acting, creative writing, visual arts, and creative movement. There’s something for everyone! We will use the building blocks of improv for everything we explore, so there will be lots of physicality, silliness, and comedy. Also, puppets!

Benefits of digital
I find that virtual learning makes classrooms more collaborative environments. Teachers and students work as a team to make sure there’s smooth communication through basic skills such as listening, respect, and taking turns. Virtual learning also connects students and teachers across great distances. How cool is it that a class can be in multiple places at once?

Biggest piece of advice for young artists
Start keeping a journal to write what happens in your day-to-day life. This is where your art comes from, so take big risks!

Keith Contreras-McDonald, Acting for High School Students

In addition to leading roles in regional theatre productions across the country, Keith Contreras-McDonald appears in such TV series as Law and Order SVU and in national commercials and industrials for major brands and retailers.

What’s most exciting about this program
Students will learn professional acting techniques from working actors in theatre, film, and television who went to Juilliard. Classroom work will deepen and strengthen their own professional careers.

Benefits of digital
Accessibility. Students and teachers can meet from around the world in the comfort of their own spaces. As a teacher and working actor I can shoot a TV show episode and then meet with my class the next day.

Biggest piece of advice for young artists
Be your true self. Engage in the study of the craft of acting and rediscover yourself through movement and voice. Learn to apply acting techniques so that with a variety of tools you can play various roles and have a long career. But above all, have fun.

Visit interlochen.org/interlochen-online to discover more virtual summer programs for emerging artists in grades 2-12.