At Synetic Theater’s exercise classes, you’ll play every part

Instructor and Synetic Theater company member Alex Mills, right, has his students do forearm crawls across the floor. (Christopher Anderson/For Express)
Instructor and Synetic Theater company member Alex Mills, right, has his students do forearm crawls across the floor. (Christopher Anderson/For Express)

When Alex Mills starred as Puck in Synetic Theater’s recent production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the actor didn’t speak any lines from Shakespeare’s comedy. Instead of using words, he told the story with his body, which scurried up ropes and leapt across the ethereal set.

“We’re always asked, ‘How do you do that?’ ” says company member Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly. The answer: intense, three-hour fitness and technique classes developed by Synetic founders Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili. Now regular folks can get a taste of Synetic’s rigorous physical training.

What it is: Students can drop into new 45-minute classes or enroll in a semester of hour-long sessions; those introduce elements of theater movement and mime. Either way, classes begin with intense cardiovascular exercises and then downshift to strength and flexibility training. Instructors borrow from Pilates, kickboxing and dance, but the common ingredient is imagination, says instructor Randy Snight.

“If you feel like you are storytelling, your brain focuses on the story you are telling and not how tired and miserable you are,” he says. For instance, at a recent class, as Snight had students relax into a backbend, he told them to imagine they were melting into (the Little Mermaid’s beau) Prince Eric’s arms. “Or whoever,” he amended.

Moves: Don’t get attached to one spot. “We do a lot of traveling across the room, because it involves total body coordination,” says Mills, who’s also an instructor. Students may find themselves hopping like frogs, crab-walking or running with their knees pulled high.

Synetic instructors don’t use weights to build strength. Instead, they often have students work together to provide resistance. In one exercise, a person holds his hands out straight in front of him and tries to turn from his core, while another student pushes back on his hands in the opposite direction.

Crowd: The intensity level of the class depends on who shows up, Mills says. Morning sessions tend to attract sinewy Synetic cast members, who “warm up” with handstand pushups. Other classes bring in more regular folks, including people who spotted the classes through the windows of what used to be a McDonald’s. Synetic season ticket holder Stephanie King, 36, discovered the program via email. “I wanted to take an exercise class, so I thought ‘Why not give money to an organization I already support,’ ” she says.

Garb: No street shoes are allowed on the springy dance floors. Other than that, anything goes. “We’re all theater people. Wear a boa if you want,” Snight says.

Details: Sign up for a 10-session series ($150) that starts Monday, with classes on Mondays or Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Or drop into 45-minute express sessions ($10 per class or $90 for 10) on Wednesdays at 7 a.m. or Thursdays at noon. Classes take place at 2155 Crystal Plaza Arcade T-19, Arlington. Visit synetictheater.org for more information.

Sadie Dingfelder is a features writer for the Washington Post Express.
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