Ruskin Group Theatre and the Ruskin School of Acting are finding their way during the COVID-19 crisis. After moving production and all classes to online only, their reach immediately expanded around the world.
“During a time that’s brought so much emotional and economic suffering, there are small silver linings, which will make us stronger for the future,” says John Ruskin. “Online meetings and teachings have suddenly become a lifeline to keep people connected.”
Ruskin School of Acting is creating a global community with new students from Japan, Austria, Europe, Canada and all over the US. Staff includes Michael Myers (who chaired Santa Monica Arts Commission for 9 years) and Amy Ruskin (Director of the Young Actors Classes). Amy explained how “even our youth classes have expanded because children and teens are out of school, coping with isolation. Staying connected and having a creative outlet to express themselves has become even more important during this time.”
John Ruskin and Michael Myers discussed their new way of doing business:
SM Mirror: How have your Santa Monica businesses changed since COVID-19?
John: We are very fortunate that our team and the student body was so open to embracing this new way of learning, virtually overnight. Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others before them, has brought on a lot of emotional pain. We are deeply affected by these events, and we’ve been working hard to keep connected to our artists and to continue the work that we love.
Michael: Like most companies, it forced us to change our business model quickly. Scaling an acting program to work in a Zoom environment is a daunting task. Our professional theatre was in rehearsals for its next production, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” when the Stay-at-Home” order was implemented. Unfortunately, “Dinner” had to be cancelled, but we have other ways we can bring theatre to people both online and in person.
SM Mirror: Do you see growth from the extended reach of your online offerings for the Ruskin School of Acting?
John: It’s definitely going in that direction because people don’t want to be limited by their location. A new student texted me to say how much she loved her classmates, and could hardly wait to fly in from Canada and actually meet them in person. When guest teacher Dylan McDermott led an inspiring interactive talk on building an acting career, we were able to accommodate guests from everywhere and had a much larger audience than if it had been held at our school/theatre in person.
Michael: Offering classes online has allowed us to reach out to a wider population because we are no longer geographically limited. The Zoom platform lets us connect with a more diverse group of students who previously would only attend if they were physically in the Los Angeles area.
SM Mirror: What are the most popular classes? Why do you think people gravitate towards them?
John: The school has been teaching the Meisner Technique classes for over three decades, and those are still the most popular classes. People gravitate towards this work because it centers around becoming as truthful as possible and making connections. Meisner designed the foundation exercise, called Repetition, to stop you from thinking so much and to teach you to respond emotionally. Our Scene Study with Master Teachers is another popular class because it gives students experience working with professional directors and master actors on a weekly basis.
Michael: The work transforms people, not only as actors but as human beings. Among our younger students, our Play Reading Series is very popular, especially with kids who live in areas where they don’t have access to acting classes.
SM Mirror: Have you had to add classes and private coaching sessions?
John: During July, we are adding a new round of classes for all age groups. As summer camps have been cancelled, parents are looking for programming to keep kids engaged, so we will continue to offer acting, play reading, and filmmaking classes for kids and teens online. Every great challenge brings new opportunities for improvement, and we look forward to that. Also, Film, TV, and commercial castings have continued as the industry figures out how and when it will be safe to go back into production. Many of our students need coaching to prepare for auditions and/or taping themselves. Amy coaches her young actors on the material and then she helps them learn to handle the technical side of shooting and uploading clips for themselves. We want to make sure that our young students are capable of producing their own work and this is another step in that process.
SM MIRROR There has been a lot of social unrest in addition to the pandemic. How are you guys responding to that?
John & Michael: The events of the last month remind us all of how much more work needs to be done to ensure equality in the world, and that no person should have to fear for their life during an interaction with law enforcement because of the color of their skin. We all need to be deeply challenging ourselves, our practices and our beliefs while educating ourselves and making a commitment to take more action in fighting systemic racism. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” by Todd Kreidler, was to be next on stage for us. Sadly, it’s as poignant today as it was when they made the movie, but it is filled with hope for a better and more just future. Until we’re back in live production, we’ll be offering some online programs. On June 28th at 10am, “The Actor and Inequality: It’s Time to Take off the Mask and Say Something” will be hosted by Lita Gaithers Owens with a panel that includes Tor Campbell, Amin Joseph, Candi Milo, Rob Morrow, and Charlayne Woodard.
Ruskin School of Acting: https://ruskinschool.com
Ruskin Group Theatre: http://www.ruskingrouptheatre.com