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Staying Active in Quarantine – How Strasberg’s Faculty Transitioned Into Movement Classes Online

As the lockdown endures, students continue to study Method Acting at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute through online classes. The shift to virtual programming in response to COVID-19 has proven how effectively The Method can be taught online. But while acting classes have transitioned seamlessly, online movement classes might spark skepticism. LSTFI teachers Madeline Jaye and Ron Navarre discuss the continuation of Movement classes online. 

The Loss of Transitional Movement

Dance and Movement teacher Madeline Jaye describes her own initial struggle when it came to trying to replicate her classes at LSTFI online, “I had a stark realization this Tuesday morning right before my 9am class. For ‘some reason’ I was really struggling to feel movement-motivated. I had gotten up stretched, showered, etc, but something felt not right.” Madeline made the realization that for most of us in the lockdown right now, we are missing what she describes as “Transitional Movement,” that makes up most of our day:

We aren’t spending time walking up and down stairs between classes walking to and from the train walking to and from school or outside for lunch and without that physical and emotional cleanse between activities we start to get all gunked up and antsy and anxious and all the things that get ‘treated’ naturally, through our daily activity, are suddenly upon us.

To supplement the mental breaks that Transitional Movement provided us throughout the day – the small breaths we once got from moving to and from class or work – Madeline suggests, “If you can put on music and dance around, if you can walk or march in place teach standing up where you might normally sit, or if you can get outside to nature safely, point being: doing something every hour or so to shake up our physical being.” Something that we so heavily relied on for a break, that we earned automatically by moving through our daily schedule, now becomes our responsibility. “So ask someone to help you get up or enlist an accountability partner,” Madeline insists, “and move and dance, stomp, roll around as often as you can throughout the day to try and offset our hours and hours of screen directed gaze and newly sedentary state.”

Ron Navarre teaching Tai Chi
Ron Navarre, teaching Tai Chi at LSTFI. Photo by Patrick Reymann.

Getting Creative with Limited Space 

Tai Chi teacher Ron Navarre also discusses the initial difficulty he faced in transitioning his classes online. “The obvious challenge for me has been the process of rearranging my living space for each class and the many limited spaces for my students,” he explains. Students, being the artists that they are, have found themselves getting creative in their newfound lack of space. Some students have made room in their garages, turning the space into their own personal movement studios. Others have found themselves tuning into movement classes from their backyards, which allow them to safely move outside in an isolated manner. Even students without these resources have found themselves space to move by rearranging the furniture in their apartments or by making do with the space they have in their bedrooms. Ron remarks on the adaptability of his students:

For the most part, the majority of my students have handled the process of working in shared/limited spaces very well. It has given me an opportunity to address how to be adaptable and how to relate that to the challenges of working professionally with limited resources.

Madeline talks about how this lack of space has helped her impart an important lesson onto her students. “The warmup I give in class is designed to become a tool in the actors arsenal of methods for physical preparation,” she explains, “It can be done in a spacious studio at the theater, a corner backstage, in a dressing room or a movie trailer on set to any or no music, either in parts or start to finish. So that was not something I was worried about ‘translating.’ Doing this in their domestic spaces literally brought this reality home!” She comments on how her students found the importance of adaptability and have felt the power that movement had given them in this time of anxiety, remarking, “They were surprised at how easy it was to do, out-of-studio and how good their bodies felt afterwards.” 

Madeline Jaye teaching Ballet
Madeline Jaye, teaching Ballet at LSTFI. Photo by Celine Held.

Focusing on the Individual

Despite the challenges that come with transitioning classes online, both Madeline and Ron have found this to be a positive experience. Madeline discusses how her students were initially skeptical about online classes, as Movement work was done in pairs or small groups. She explains that it is “a class wherein we often depended on input from others.” However, rather than resign to the fears of her students, Madeline saw online classes as an opportunity to deepen their work on an individual level. “I felt this would be a wonderful opportunity to get to the deeper work that usually we would get to much further down the training track,” she explains.

Madeline gave her students an exercise in which they explored the human experience from birth to death through movement. “They reported being profoundly affected by this and unexpectedly moved,” she says, “It was interesting to watch them on my screen as if from windows across the alley. Each in a private but viewable exploration.” With the success of the first, Madeline devised another exercise to keep her students’ focus on the power of the individual:

I guided them through a ‘scene’ using only a chair, that included physically exploring three very strong emotional conditions. They were delightfully surprised to realize they were able to do a whole scene, full of emotions, all by themselves – something usually directed by or shared with another human being.

This work Madeline has created through movement is an important lesson for all actors to learn but, in in particular, for Method Actor. While emotional life is created inside the mind of an actor, it manifests itself physically, a reality the actor should explore when crafting emotional choices for a character.

Madeline has emphasized the importance of the individual within her online classes. Discusses a common trap that actors fall into when they first start honing their craft, she says, “A lot of times actors will say to me they felt their work didn’t go well because, my scene partner.” The purpose of her online exercises has become to recognize that, feeding and reacting off your acting partner is important, much of our emotional life has manifested inside of us long before an interaction begins. Thus, our characters, as our counterparts, must have full emotional lives independent of the interactions with other characters in the story. This emotional life that has been created by the individual is what feeds reactions to other characters. Madeline explains:

I wanted them to realize that the work you do on yourself prior to the scene, is equally important as the work they do with the partner.  However, actors in training don’t often have time to deepen their own relationship to the material before having to work with someone else. Having the opportunity to do physical ground work, as the first or second layer to the rehearsals, can profoundly deepen our understanding of our own process.

Ron Navarre, with a group of students. Photo by Patrick Reymann.

New Class Dynamics

Discussing his own transition to classes online, Ron describes, “I feel the shift to online classes was a natural progression for me personally. I have been working on filming an online course for the past year and, as such, I have more equipment than most and was already acclimated to teaching in this fashion.” He describes some of his own revelations upon the shift online, explaining, “Overall I feel the class was able to continue and I have been able to maintain the same level of quality minus the ability to physically interact with students.” He has not found this inability to interact in a physical space not as a loss of quality, but the creation of an entirely new quality of class dynamic:

Interestingly, I find the connection between my students and myself has become more intimate. Seeing them in their personal environments and speaking to them through the medium of the lens and screen is a different energy, not bad, just different and more personal.

This newfound intimacy has also led Ron to approach his Tai Chi classes from a different angle, one that he would like to continue as he meets new students through the medium of online class. “I am curious to see how NEW students will respond to this format,” he explains, “and how I will have to adjust to correcting them without the ability to physically touch them. It takes a few weeks for beginning students to understand the process and the value of Tai Chi and, as such, I may have to take more time explaining and exploring than usual.” Ron continues to evolve these findings as classes continue on our new online platforms

Always Moving Forward, Even Online

Ron explained it best himself when reflecting on adapting Movement classes for the online format: “All in all it has been going very well.” Neither Ron nor Madeline have seen this transition as a set-back on the training of students, but rather a different lens and an experience for everyone, including themselves, to learn from. In these last months, Madeline has explored exercises that she will continue to develop and implement into her regular curriculum. “What I came away with is that there are many, many exercises that can and probably should be done solo,” she explains, “and I would love to teach a semester’s worth [in person] and see what effect it will have on the next phase of those actors’ training.”

While we miss seeing all of our students in person, and are looking forward to being reunited behind our red doors, we at LSTFI are lucky to have faculty like Ron and Madeline who are continuing to pioneer how Lee Strasberg’s work may be taught.