Regarding Online Training

― By Allen Barton

Zoom acting classes.

Meh. Pardon me if I go throw up now in a nearby bathroom.

Sorry, we’re not going to do it. Ever. Period. If there is to come another moment when live acting classes were banned, without hope of getting back into the theatre, we’ll fold up shop and find a place — some village, town, city, state, country, planet — where we can get back to meeting in person and start again there.

In March 2020, when the world lost its mind and supposedly democratic governments determined that locking people up and shutting businesses down were going to do a damned thing about a highly transmissible respiratory virus, the BHP lost 300 students across three cities overnight. It was cataclysmic. What to do?

Everyone was sprinting to Zoom. Zoom acting classes. Zoom K-12 education. Zoom AA meetings. Zoom church gatherings. Zoom “democracy.” Zoom Zoom Zoom. And hey — we tipped our toe in those waters. For the first 10 weeks of The Crazy, I held Zoom sessions in the normal slots where our classes traditionally met, if only to get people together in some way and check in on everyone. But I refused to critique acting via this format. No way. We talked, I would read aloud from the two books, we sometimes would assign a movie to watch and then have a conversation about that, or we had a guest here and there who joined us and provided a focal point for discussion. Even after we got back to (gasp!) live classes, I continued this public-facing discussion/reading/Q&A format in a once-a-week online format for about a year, until I just got so sick of myself, so sick of everything about Zoom, that I retired from that format altogether.

I remember a moment in 2020 when I was holding live classes in something of a speakeasy format, since group settings had been banned! And a wonderful actress was performing Maggie the Cat on our stage, going nuts on them no-neck monsters, while Los Angeles County authorities pounded on the locked front door of the theatre, demanding entry so they could put a stop to this heinous activity. I truly knew we had entered some alternative universe on that night.

So who knows? Maybe the Authorities will rise once more, come up with another reason to ban group activities like acting classes. But I will never critique a performance on Zoom or anything platform like it. Performing arts training happens in person, or it doesn’t happen. I know people may disagree, and some of my former colleagues who migrated instantly to Zoom “training,” and who stayed there, will say they’ve discovered all sorts of beneficial aspects, and they’ve developed certain exercises, and it allows for this or that or the other that doesn’t happen in live settings. So be it. I think it’s nothing short of a certain kind of charlatanism, designed primarily for the benefit of the school/teacher to retain some income while they’re locked out of a theatre. I think that effort would be better put to use raising some hell with the “Authorities” as to why theatres have been locked in the first place. Where the hell did everyone’s courage go? (I know…. Zoom.)

But I’m not participating. I’m out.

Performing arts training happens in person, or it doesn’t happen. I will teach acting in person, or I will not teach.

That’s my belief. That’s what the BHP will represent while I’m in charge. If you want something other than that, as Milton used to say, “Throw a rock, hit an acting class.”