Some kids dream of becoming the next Disney Channel superstar or having their own Nickelodeon show, and there are plenty of acting classes in LA that can help them land agents and book auditions. But what if your budding thespian simply wants a chance to learn the craft of acting while having oodles of fun in a non-competitive environment? Meet Eastside Arts, a school with Un-Hollywood acting classes that focus more on building important life skills using imaginative play than booking a Cheerios commercial.

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Hooray for Un-Hollywood
For over 25 years, professional actors/coaches/moms, Kathryn Winslow and Elise Robertson, have been teaching acting classes using very similar philosophies at two separate studios. But last year, this dynamic duo year joined forces to start Eastside Arts, a studio that offers distinctly non-competitive classes in a safe and fun environment where kids learn more about teamwork, listening and confidence instead of booking the next big gig. Winslow says, “Eastside Arts is a place for all kids to come and feel supported in a creative space.   Most of our classes are game based, and all of them are focused on teamwork. Our core values are listening, imagination, teamwork and body awareness. We foster kids’ imaginations through creative play. We help build their confidence and teach them how to articulate clearly and project their voices. And maybe most importantly of all, we work hard to create an environment where kids can play and make magic together but where they can also feel free to fail spectacularly.”

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A Class for Every Kid’s Interest
Eastside Arts has a really wide variety of class offerings that any young actor is bound to love. “Theatre Games” introduces 5-7-year-olds to the performance space through games and exercises that foster listening, teamwork, imagination and body awareness skills. They team up to create stories together, make human machines and play with imaginary “energy balls”.

“Improvisation” is for 8-12-year-olds and is by far Eastside’s most popular class, so sign up for a session early before it fills up. It builds upon skills learned in “Theatre Games” and starts to add rules and structure to the imaginative play to create complex improvised situations and promote the creation of character and story. Kids learn to work off each other, say “yes” to imagined situations and not judge themselves.

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Another great class for the 8-12-year-old set is “Acting 101” which introduces kiddos to scripted dialogue. It explores concepts like character, listening to your scene partner and being in the moment. They also focus on vocal exercises, learning stagecraft and learning to project and enunciate (perfect for those mumbling tweens).

Eastside’s newest class is “Filmmaking” for kids aged 9 & up. As an award-winning director of children’s television for PBS, Robertson uses her experience to help instill a deep love of film early on. She says, “It’s totally hands on, with the kids using iPads and smart phones throughout class as we learn about various shots, composition, foreground and background, even editing. With iMovie, the kids can shoot and edit on the same device and it’s all very immediate. Each class combines shooting with planning. We start with hands-on camera exercises that help develop their shooting skills and visual storytelling sensibility; and then we move into a storytelling or writing lesson and they break into groups to plan their movies based on what we’ve learned. By week four, the kids are dreaming up their own scripts. They create mood boards, scripts, and storyboards, organize their productions, and shoot. By the end of class, they will have edited their own 3-5 minute movies.”

The last class of every session culminates in a performance for friends and family, so kids can show off all the hard work they’ve been doing in class.

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Even the Shyest Soar
Eastside Arts is especially fantastic for those kids who may have an interest in acting, but tend to be more on the shy side. Robertson says, “A lot of parents enroll their kids in class to help with shyness, and the game-based teaching model is the key to helping them ease into performance. We never force kids to participate, so sometimes they will watch for a few games until it looks like so much fun that they join the circle. Once they engage in the games, they forget to be shy and are soon laughing and speaking up, creating imaginary monsters and making up stories along with the other kids. We find role-playing games are especially effective for kids who feel uncomfortable. If they can be a cat or an otter or a bear, then they don’t feel shy about interacting with their classmates.”

If you’re interested in checking out Eastside Arts in person, Winslow and Robertson invite all families to attend their upcoming holiday show on December 4, to see what the studio’s all about. The winter session of classes start on January 12th, and Eastside is happy to offer mutliple class and sibiling discounts.

Eastside Arts at Twinkle Toes Dance Studio
5917 N. Figueroa St.
Highland Park
323-496-6659 or 323-371-8028
Online: eastsideartsla.com

Got a favorite acting or improv class in your part of town?  We’d love to hear about it in the comment section!

–Jennifer O’Brien