Jaye Elster’s stage credits include Half A Sixpence, Matilda the Musical, Singin’ in the Rain and Annie to name but a few. Now adjusting to a life in lockdown, Jaye is teaching various classes online for all levels. I talked to Jaye about how she is coping with this new way of life and her hopes for the future of the theatre industry.
First of all, how are you feeling about the whole situation?
It feels like a total out of body experience. Before Covid-19, I couldn’t imagine that any scenario would invalidate the phrase ‘the show must go on’. It feels like we’re living in a parallel universe, like we are living out an episode of Black Mirror. I think that the most challenging part now is striking the balance between being aware of our reality and embracing the kindness that can be seen all around, taking many forms.
How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?
Alongside my performing career, I like to keep creative projects running in the background. Ordinarily, they are the ideas that I ache for a bit of space to pursue but I guess the need to earn money largely gets in the way of being able to make them a priority. I am finding joy in teaching online classes and in particular bodyART Training. It is a program that I brought back to the UK from NYC. I am more passionate now than ever because there is a lot of online classes at our fingertips, but under no supervision any number of ailments can creep into the body. The magic of bodyART is that physiotherapy is sewn into the movement and so it acts as much so to move the body in a good way as well as iron out the bad movement patterns. It is definitely a class that will keep us physically and mentally safe at this time. You can find both me and @HarryRFrancis hosting online bodyART classes suitable for all levels.
What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is over?
Sitting in a beer garden with a Gin & Tonic, sun shining, a live band playing some acoustic covers, laughing with friends and not being afraid to talk to strangers.
Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?
What is wonderful is that although we love meeting and talking to you all post shows, your appreciation for the arts has always shone through your online presence too. I would say, soak up the artistry that is being broadcast; concerts, shows, interviews, podcasts and more but do what you do best, don’t keep it in, if you love something, tell them! Quite honestly, I am being powered at the moment knowing that the small things I am doing can brighten someone else’s day.
How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow?
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a girl of routine and quarantine life is no different. My first priority is to know what day it is, whenever the days blue into one, I start to feel lost. So, at the moment I work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. By work, I mean teach online, write, manage PanelProof (I’ll talk more about that) and generate work by connecting with others. Outside of my ‘working’ hours, I am enjoying pub quizzes, sunset walks, online yoga, Netflix, connecting with friends and having a weekend! Something we actors haven’t seen for many years but I can definitely say that I’m getting that ‘Friday Feeling’ again! Hello old friend!
Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?
Everyone will have an individual rhythm that fits them. It is important that we don’t start to comment on our own coping mechanisms by comparing our methods to others. Having said that, if someone else benefits from ‘making sure they know what day it is’ by designing more of a structured weekly schedule for themselves, take it and run!
What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?
Gosh, I guess the industry is different from theatre itself? Speaking of theatre itself, I just love how it can touch so many. If someone hasn’t been touched by theatre, it’s my understanding that they just haven’t seen the right production. The industry however is a community and that has never been more apparent. I’m sure it’s similar across many industries but the support for shows nationwide and beyond as they went dark showed no holes, we are all there for each other, we have untold strength in our creativity and we are all very much looking forward to being an integral part of the effort to lift spirits on the other side of this time.
Can you please tell us more about Panel Proof and how you are working to help arts students?
I’d love to! PanelProof Coaching is a scheme I conceived with my good friend and fellow performer @mattmcdonaldUK. When the severity of lockdown hit, both of our hearts were flooded with concern for Musical Theatre students whose training would be severely disrupted particularly those on the brink of graduation. We knew that accountability would play a big part in sustaining their motivation while studying from home and we also wanted to replace missed performance opportunities with the chance to sing for the industry pros they aspire to be.
So, we gathered our very talented friends and weekly they are giving up their time to web conference with third year students to offer them constructive advice on their audition rep. Not only that, the student receives written feedback after their session in order to guide their onward practice.So far we’ve done three sessions with some formidable coaches including Laura Pitt-Pulford, Luke Bayer and on Friday we welcome Carrie Hope Fletcher to the PamelProof lab.
@PanelProof is completely free of charge, powered by the generosity of professional actors and the passion of our future performers.
How does it feel to teach classes online instead of in person?
Though teaching remotely is a very different experience, I’ve long maintained that a good teacher can teach sitting down. In that way, it’s opened up ways for me to grow and learn.
For the student, I think it’s an excellent opportunity to pay more attention to verbal instruction. Speaking from a dance perspective, our eyes can act as a short cut for information. You see a shape and with luck you can copy it with precision. When your taking class online, however, verbal instruction becomes more vivid than the image on the tiny screen of your iPhone. Dancers must listen, understand and embody instruction. It’s my belief that the shapes they are making via online classes could truer than if they were to just use their eye in a studio.That’s not to say online classes are better. I definitely miss being in the studio, having space to travel (one of my favourite modes of expression) and developing trusting relationships with my students, but it is different in a way that can serve us if we hadn’t experienced it.
Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these trying times?
Absolutely. We must share our feelings. We’ve briefly touched on it in this interview but our self-isolation rhythms are not meant to be pre-programmed. It’s not like switching the channel between BBC and ITV. I might have found a structure that serves me now but who knows if it will serve me next week or next month? We have to be present, present is all we know for now, check in with our feelings and be open to shifts (ask me in a month if I’m still getting dressed in the morning!)
Ironically when I teach dance, one of my favourite lessons is to explain that the really exciting dancers are not afraid of change. They’re not afraid to be a little bit worse before they become a lot better. So, those shifts I’m talking about in our COVID rhythm, it’s ok if they’re not the answer, just breathe and flow. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite poets Nayyirah Waheed.
‘You do not have to be fire
for every mountain blocking you,
you could be a water and
soft rive your way to freedom too’
I would like to thank Jaye for her time and wonderful answers. I wish you the best for the future. Stay safe x