BWW Feature: Teachers and Students Discuss Online Workshops and Classes
On 16 March, the lights went out in the West End. But was that the end of the arts? Not at all. Artists and creatives have continued to find ways of sharing their passion - including the numerous generous people now giving workshops and classes online, many for free.
Not only are they good for mental and physical health, but it also gives people who might be struggling financially an opportunity to take part. In fact, these online workshops are available to those who might have been restricted previously by price, location, time, or simply struggling to find the courage to physically show up.
By making these classes accessible online (often on Instagram, where you can easily go live and save it for later) and completely free, it removes all those constraints and gives people all the freedom to be as creative as they'd like. And to dance like nobody's watching!
Online classes to try
There are workshops and classes of all kinds: dancing, workouts, singing, acting... For instance, director/choreographer Drew McOnie (King Kong, Jesus Christ Superstar, In the Heights) live-streams classes on Instagram, either through McOnie Company or the National Youth Ballet. As part of 'West End Wednesday', McOnie - alongside other West End stars - also provides live dance classes, workouts, performances and Q&As.
Similarly, Tamara Rojo (Artistic Director of the English National Ballet) teaches online dance classes with the company - a real privilege for ballet fans and budding dancers.
Pros From The Shows offers a live workshop series called 'Stay and Slay' with theatre, TV and film stars. The various workshops include dancing, singing and acting, and consist of a 30-minute class and a 15-minute Q&A. Those featured include West End stars Layton Williams (Everybody's Talking About Jamie), Lucie Jones (Waitress), Alex Tranter (& Juliet), and many more.
Mike Colbourne (Wicked) introduced Lockdown Live, offering West End workouts every day from 6pm, featuring theatre stars such as Sarah O'Connor (Waitress), Pete Hannah (Waitress), Lauren Drew (SIX) and Will Richardson (Les Misérables), among others.
Teachers from Sharpe Academy - a full-time vocational college based in London - are doing weekly live classes on Instagram: jazz, workouts, body conditioning, West End and theatre workshops. They're even holding free virtual auditions in May!
The teachers at Base Studios are also turning their usual classes into live ones. You can take classes with West End performers such as Rhian Duncan (& Juliet) and Cherelle Jay (SIX) via 'Heels and Feels', among the many available every week.
If you want to know what's on when, check out @livestreamdancefitness on Instagram - they post daily timetables for every dance and fitness classes available online.
All of these are entirely free and work on a 'pay as you can' scheme to support their organisations or give to a charity, like Acting for Others. So don't hesitate to join in, have fun, keep learning and spread the positivity!
Hear from the teachers
We spoke to some of the teachers from Sharpe Academy about their online classes and workshops.
"It's been so lovely to be able to offer the students, as well as other performers, some sort of structure and routine in their days, especially with people feeling so unsettled at the moment.
"For my first live class, I found it a little strange not having students responding, but soon, it became so motivating to see people popping comments below about how they were getting on and I found myself getting so involved in the psychical side of teaching. It's a great idea and, hopefully, we'll have lots of people feeling connected and involved!"
"Well, to start with, I had to move most of my furniture to make room for a home studio. Then, there are all the times you ask question and remember there's no one there to answer.
"It definitely makes me describe things in more detail, so hopefully a wider audience can benefit from it. And it does feel a little like putting on a show every week with just you and the camera! It's amazing how everyone has suddenly developed this new platform of making it work - who thought that in 2020 we'd be teaching from our lounges?"
"Teaching online couldn't be more different to teaching in person. Having no one physically there in front of you to correct, I find myself working even harder to demonstrate correct technique etc. But it's amazing how many people you can reach, and from all around the world! We can reach people who have never been able to get to a class before, and that is very exciting."
Sharpe Academy: sharpeacademy.co.uk
We also asked the lovely Layton Williams to tell us about the history and aims of Pros From The Shows!
"I created Pros From The Shows about three years ago. It's gotten bigger and better every year. The whole point of it is to inspire the next generation of performers, students - it doesn't matter what age. Our aim is to link them up with professionals - pros from people's favourite shows, whether it's from a musical theatre show or a TV show.
"We have a lot of different and versatile actors and performers, and we send them to people's schools, colleges or universities to inspire them, teach them and get them moving - whether it's a dancing class, a singing class or an acting class. We were preparing for MOVE IT, which is the largest dancing convention in the world, but it got cancelled this year because of the virus. We didn't know what we were going to do, so I just thought that we had an opportunity to spin this thing around. We're now bringing digital workshops to people online instead.
"I think it's really necessary for people to be moving and inspired at home. It can be a dark time for people, and their health can be at risk. With this, we're keeping the light shining. Lots of people are tuning in and it's just great. People are inspired!"
How different is it from teaching a class/workshop in person?
"It's very different. But you still get a good vibe. What I do is I split screen Instagram so I can see them and let them perform, and they basically just join in. It's so fun!"
How have adapted your teaching?
"I haven't adapted it that much. I've been teaching for a long time and it's all so virtualised that it's more of me encouraging them through the screen, like "You're doing it!". I also encourage them to post videos after and use the #ICameToSlay hashtag, and people do send in their videos.
It's 'pay what you can' on my Instagram, so people can pay from £1 to £5 or whatever, and at the end of the week I try to give a portion of it to Acting for Others, which is a charity that helps all actors. It's all about giving back and inspiring people."
How do you get many different performers every week?
"I have a lot of friends, so I give them a call and ask them. The thing is we've all got each other's back - we're all in the same boat, we all lost our jobs, and all of us actors are basically out of work at the moment. So anybody can really benefit from staying creative and getting themselves off the couch, because we lose our spark when we're not doing what we love. I've just got a lot of lovely friends, so it's all about making it happen!"
What have you learned from it?
"I've learned that there's a market for teaching online and there are many people who wouldn't have necessarily come to my workshops who've been joining in. I'm talking older ladies, young girls, like everybody's been getting into it. I've seen the videos from my friends' mums who are in their sixties really giving it for me in the kitchen. You're in your own home, so you don't have to be intimidated, and you can really go for it! Keep it up, everyone!"
What has touched you the most about all of this?
"For me, it's really about inspiring the kids, staying creative and keeping them working towards their dream. And in return, it inspires us and reminds us why we're doing what we're doing."
What would you like say to people interested in taking the workshop?
"I would say come down to Pros From The Shows - all of the information is on our Instagram and website. There will be more things to come: merchandise, moments from me... It's the place to be for the online, virtual world. You pay what you can, I'm here for the love, so come on down and give me a little shimmy. I can't wait to see you all soon!"
Hear from the students
We also talked with some people who have attended these online classes. Here is what they had to say!
Georgia: "I was working abroad as a dancer in Cyprus when we all went into lockdown, so I had to fly back home having no idea when I could be going back to finish the contract. While times are tough, our industry is pulling together to support each other, with the majority streaming live classes or workouts on their social media pages.
"As someone who hates the idea of sitting around doing nothing, I knew I had to find a way to keep myself busy - and this is perfect. A timetable gets posted with what's on offer for the day, and I pick the classes I want to tune into. They're a great way to stay on your toes and keep your skills and fitness level up, whilst learning from the stars themselves and the choreography from their shows.
"For me in particular, I live too far out to get to London for classes with top choreographers and industry professionals on a regular basis, so I find this a good way to be able to take their classes, as I know they'll be pushing me out of my comfort zone - and I can learn their tips and tricks."
Clélia: "I've participated in a few dance workshops live on Instagram where they teach you a short routine or a bit of choreography from a show, and I've been having so much fun! I always wanted to start dancing again, because I'm really bad at it, but never took the leap, and this is giving me the opportunity of trial and error on my own at home, which is quite reassuring. And it's super cool to learn choreography from the shows you love, because even though you can't see them at the moment, at least you get to relive them a little through these classes."
Hannah: "There are two main reasons why I decided to do online classes during the lockdown: firstly, to keep my physical activity levels up whilst I'm not doing thousands of steps a day at my theatre job; and secondly, I used to dance several times a week during my school and university days, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to get back into it from the comfort of my own home.
"One obvious difference with these classes as supposed to how they would normally be run is that the teacher and the other people taking the class can't see you, which gives you the freedom to do the exercise or dance however you choose without feeling self-conscious, pressured or comparing yourself to others around you. Also, the livestreams are focused just on the teacher close up, making the steps or exercise easier to follow than if you were in a big room and perhaps not able to have a full view with several rows of people.
"What I really like about these classes is that they've allowed me to challenge myself to learn routines quickly, undertake exercises I might not have done before, and also to push myself to have confidence to upload videos of me doing the routines - which isn't something I'd really done previously. I'd like to say a massive thank you to the schools who've agreed to take their classes online so everyone can have access to them and the teachers who've spent time planning and running them, as it's allowed me to support and stay connected in some way to the industry that I love so much even in a time when we can't physically go to the theatre.
"Once I got into doing them, they've become a regular part of my lockdown routine and have kept me (vaguely) sane whilst stuck in the house, so I'm very grateful for them bringing me some sense of normality, motivation to keep active, and a way to interact online with people whilst we're unable to in person. I'm loving seeing all the videos of people living their best lives on their own stages!"
Which online classes and workshops have you been doing? Let us know @BroadwayWorldUK!
And check back tomorrow for our definitive guide to online ballet classes!