Phil Gyford

Writing

Wednesday 10 August 2005

PreviousIndexNext The Method Studio Intensive Summer School

I’m currently taking a brief holiday from work and am three days into a two week acting course at The Method Studio in central London. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s turning out to be a tiring holiday.

As the establishment’s name suggests, teaching is based on “The Method”, which it seems everyone has heard of but few people know anything about (see my notes on Stanislavski’s first book for some hints). So far much of this process requires getting to know ourselves and our physical, verbal and emotional habits in order to put them aside. If you’re going to play a character on stage you should start from as blank a slate as possible, which is hard. And, I imagine, is harder the older and more stuck in your ways you are.

There are twelve of us in the class and, at 34, I’m the fourth oldest, with most people in their mid-twenties to early thirties. So I have a few decades of in-grained habits and tensions and I find myself glad I’m giving this a go now, rather than in ten or twenty years’ time when it would be even more frustrating. Having the teacher (Georgina, who taught Ways Into Text) and the rest of the class watching as I simply walked back and forth in front of them and pointing out all the peculiarities (one shoulder higher than the other, head sticking forward, tense shoulders, not being “big” and “physical” enough, etc) left me with plenty to work on.

Often this feels like some odd form of group therapy, working out our many problems together. This morning we had a session where we had to talk to the group, answering questions of ourselves — Who am I? What do I want? What are the obstacles? etc. — that one would usually ask when playing a role. I’d been unsure exactly what was required and hadn’t prepared enough, so my winging it didn’t take matters very deep. Although this still made me think about things which I usually manage to avoid worrying about. For other people, who perhaps did their homework properly, it often went much deeper.

This afternoon was in some ways harder: a song and dance exercise. I dumbly volunteered to go first and, standing in front of my classmates, sang “Happy Birthday to you…” v.e.r.y. s.l.o.w.l.y and LOUDLY. Look at one person, sing a syllable for a long time until the breath has gone, then move to the next. Although I’ve signed up to perform in front of my similarly game new friends, this was the hardest thing I’ve had to do since that exercise where I had to speak the words to a song in front of a class. The point here was to open up the voice and again, as Georgina poked and prodded us, to loosen up all those bits of our bodies that were tense or held in peculiar positions.

How did I feel while doing this? I was asked that question, and the best answer I came up with was feeling like Eugene in Big Brother doing a task — that same gangly awkwardness and game embarrassment. I found the next step even tougher. Prancing around, singing “Happy Birthday…”, changing my movements upon command every few seconds. Tough, but not the end of the world, and in some ways I had it easy. As is apparently common in these exercises, the singing and the release of pent-up tension caused a flood of tears in some. Like I said, it’s strangely like a weird therapy.

I’m surprised how tiring doing this stuff is, all day every day, but it’s fun and I think it’s turning out to be worth the effort. And hopefully I’ll be somehow slightly different by the end of next week.

Next: parts two and three.

Comments

Which reminds of me of the therapy sessions in The Sopranos.

Dr. Melfi: Some people say that an intense therapy session is like giving birth.

Tony Soprano: Actually, it's more like taking a shit.

Anyway, I'm enjoying reading these stories of these acting classes, something that seems so un-Phil (the role in the 6th Form panto doesn't count...)

Posted by ted on 11 August 2005, 5:40 am | Link

Hi, my name is Mick. I will be studying at the Method Studio in September, what's the building like? Is there any chance to take more? What did you do for food and living expenses? Can you put their exercises into yuor work? Are you still benefitting from it?
Yours Gratefully,
Michael Bogojevic.

Posted by Michael Bogojevic on 13 June 2006, 9:18 pm | Link

The building is <a href="http://www.conwayhall.org.uk/" rel="nofollow">Conway Hall</a>. It's old and solid and I like it, but I guess it depends a lot which room you're in. We were in a very small room, so there wasn't much room to move around. You might be somewhere bigger, even the theatre maybe?

I've no idea if there's a chance to take more - I don't know what their programme is these days. The course I did was only two weeks, so it was a holiday from work for me, so living expenses weren't an issue. It was definitely a worthwhile thing to do.

Posted by Phil on 14 June 2006, 8:19 am | Link