Phil Gyford’s website

Acting update

Last term I only managed to write about acting classes once. As Tom Coates said the other day, if you write a lot on your site you’re probably not doing much. Classes have continued but it’s been a combination of busy-ness and, unfortunately, a lack of enthusiasm that’s kept me from writing more.

It’s not all been bad; the Mask class I wrote about last time continued to be fun and very useful all through the term — it has definitely made me think more (or at all) about what I do with my body when acting. And some of the Foundation course’s Acting classes have had their moments — a few of the quick improvisations I was in last term really worked, and that felt good.

The “but” comes here. One evening of the week has felt like a waste of time for me: I don’t feel I’ve gained much from the Foundation course’s Movement and Voice classes. Part of Movement is learning how to warm up, which is fair enough — it’s important and something most classes begin with anyway. Unfortunately, in this class, it often takes the form of everyone facing the front, music on, copying the teacher and it feels way too much like an aerobics class. This kind of militarised, line-dancing-esque exercise is guaranteed to drain me of all enthusiasm.

After warming up there have been other movement-based exercises, a few of which have been interesting and possibly useful. But too many have seemed vague and pointless and at far too many points I’ve looked around the room and thought “what the fuck am I doing with my life, stuck in this room on a Tuesday night doing this?”

Voice class follows straight after and while I really need to work on my voice I haven’t gained as much as I’d like from these classes. I’m now aware of how to warm up the voice with a lot of breathing and vocal exercises, which is great. But if you’re in a class with 18 other people you’re not going to get much individual attention for your voice and your unique problems — you’ll get a smidgen of attention and then sit through 18 people getting their attention.

While the Acting class has had some good moments, too much of it has involved solo acting exercises (I’ll type up my notes on Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting, from which the exercises are taken, before long). Again, watching 18 people do their pieces, which are often 5-15 minutes long rather than the two minutes they’re supposed to be, becomes tedious. And performing the exercises isn’t much fun either — the best thing about acting is working with other people and creating a new character. Standing there alone, performing two minutes of my own everyday life does little for me. I can see it helps hone some skills but you’d need the time to get feedback on your performance and repeat it until it was good. Time we don’t have (although in some ways that’s a blessing; I’m glad the exercises are over).

I spent too much of the classes last term wondering what I was doing, and I was glad of the Easter holiday, and I’m glad this new term is only six weeks long. Maybe my expectations were wrong about the Foundation course. I hoped for something inspiring, exciting and serious. Instead it’s felt frustrating, tired and laid-back. I’m not sure how much of that is down to the course itself, doing the classes in the evening, the teachers, the other students, or me. There are three other Foundation classes running on different days; some people have loved it, others have felt like me, and no doubt many others are somewhere between.

But it’s not all bad. This term in Acting we’re, finally, working with scripts. I’m doing a great scene from Harold Pinter’s The Collection with my partner Mark and we’re going to work hard on it. I’m also still excited by acting in general. If I see a decent play I so want to be up there. I’m fascinated by reading about ways of acting, and I love talking with other students about things they’ve discovered as they feel their way through this surprisingly complex skill. This term I’m following up the Mask class with one on Commedia dell’ Arte and I’ve signed up for a week of Clowning in the summer which should be fun. I’ve not been put off it all yet.

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Thursday 27 April 2006, 9:10am

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