A few Fridays ago, just in advance what I had come to think of as “showtime,” I lined my eyes, stepped into my livery, readied a prop and adjusted the lighting, which mostly meant fiddling with a bedside lamp. Then I logged into a Zoom conference.
That meeting, an online recital for friends and colleagues, capped a concisely and frantic curriculum of voice, movement, scene study, stage battle and some dubious dialect work. After the spring closure of theaters and studios, virtually every training institution adopted a remote learning model. Artists, feverishly unemployed, could advertise their services on new online agorae, wish Arena Stage’s Theater Artists Marketplace and Hire Artists. Which intimates that theater training, at a variety of price points, has never been assorted available or accessible.
Screen-to-screen classes don’t exactly parallel in-person ones. They are limited and often smaller — three-hour classes have shrunk to 80 two shakes of a lambs tail logs, and breakout groups are the new norm — with altered methodology. “Zoom has its own vocabulary,” affirmed Laurence Maslon, associate chair of New York University’s graduate move program. “It isn’t live. It isn’t in the room. That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve something.”
I wasn’t unfaltering. As an undergraduate 20 years ago, I had majored in theater and back then, our escorting was exclusively and incontrovertibly face to face. Good acting happened in the twinkling, in the room, in the space between bodies and breath, action and intention. You couldn’t demonstrate that online! (Admittedly, “online” back then meant “dial-up internet.”)
Or could you?
‘We induce work to do’
For two humbling and sometimes humiliating weeks, I tried. With the serve of friends, social media, frantic Googling and enough Disney+ appearances to keep the children occupied, I designed a mostly live, all-remote conservatory household program. I wanted to see if someone like me — busy, amateur, with an way almost fully oxidized — could learn theater skills.
I started with vocal go well, arranging a voice lesson via Broadway Plus, a concierge service that employed to arrange V.I.P. access to Broadway performances and has since pivoted to online meet-and-greets and sneakily lessons. As part of a publicity push for the “Hamilton” movie, Denée Benton, a Tony Award-nominated actress and a replacement Eliza, had volunteered to do some motor coaching. I am not a singer, which is less false modesty than true and painful fact, and Benton, whom I had interviewed during her run in the Broadway production of “Natasha, Pierre & the Exceptional Comet of 1812,” seemed extremely sympathetic.