Phil Gyford


Thursday 30 June 2005

PreviousIndexNext Acting through improvisation

I can pretty much guarantee that as soon as I’ve thought “Maybe I’ll start writing more frequently,” several weeks will zip by in a blur of work and I’ll have written nothing. So another term has nearly finished and I didn’t get very far with catching up on previous acting classes.

After doing the Introduction to Acting class last autumn I signed up for two classes in the spring (still at the City Lit). The first was Acting Through Improvisation with Angela Walsh, two hours every Friday night.

What little acting I did while at school and college was mostly improvisation, probably because that requires far less organisation and regular commitment from anyone than rehearsing a production through to performance. It was always good fun and, to be honest, felt more like a party game than anything difficult. Much more like the one-off fun of playing charades rather than the learning of lines, endless rehearsals, and all that solemn acting palaver.

Every week we were introduced to some new wrinkle to include in our improvisations. Perhaps thinking about where we’d just appeared on stage from, or saying one thing while obviously thinking another, or having to cover three different emotions during the piece, or being more accurate than usual with the location of the imaginary objects we were acting around. While the process became more involved and interesting as the weeks went on it was still a lot of fun.

However, I did notice that I started to almost type-cast myself. No matter how convinced I was prior to an improvisation that I’d play a certain type of character, I usually ended up playing a slightly nervous, overly-polite chap. No, even more so. Like some kind of Woody Allen filtered through English middle-class embarrassment. It’s frustrating to imagine oneself behaving in a particular way but ending up doing something entirely different. It’s as if you’re drawing, and can picture a beautifully accurate rendering of a scene but you end up with the same scribbly, half-arsed mess you always draw. Apparently there’s a bit more to this lark than just playing party games.

Angela was a good teacher, and it all felt more lively and grown-up than the Introduction class — everyone had done some classes before, one woman was going for TV auditions, another was applying for (and eventually getting accepted at) various drama schools. Again, they were a nice bunch and free of the drama-queen, look-at-me frightfulness I’d feared from these things.

It was a nice way to spend Friday evenings, but the Saturdays were even better…

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