HOW TO TRAIN AS AN ACTOR WITHOUT GOING TO DRAMA SCHOOL

32Often when you start out in the acting industry, you have a vague notion of wanting to act, but no idea of the many and varied ways in which you can do that.  High school would have given you a brief introduction to Stanislavski, probably Brecht, maybe some Beckett and usually Ray Lawler (if you’re in Australia).  If you had a feeling this was only the tip of the iceberg, you’d be right. If you’re not at drama school, you need to be proactive in self-training. That means reading books, going to short-courses, and of course, researching online – like you’re doing right now. Well done you.

I’m going to tell you some uncomfortable truths now. Read More

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR VOICE FOR THE STAGE

14-2Right, so I promised I would talk about voice next.  As always, I will try to keep it extremely general, so you can look at it as a broad guideline of things to work on rather than a detailed criticism of different techniques.

When you first start out as an actor, voice can be one of the big things that hold you back, particularly if you are doing stage work.  Screen work is more forgiving because you don’t need to project as much, but you’ll still need good vocal technique for emotionally and physically difficult scenes.  Women in particular can struggle a lot when they first start out because a naturally high voice is difficult to hear, and smaller frames can mean smaller lung capacity. Don’t let this get in your way, it can be improved with a little time and effort – but firstly you need to be aware of what you need to work on.

Regardless of whether you have a light voice, Read More

WHY YOU DON’T NEED TO BE HOT TO BE AN ACTOR (PART 2)

4Right.  I just finished talking about your body, and now I want to talk about – your body.  Yes.  In an entirely different way.  Let’s stop thinking about what it looks like and start thinking about what you can do with it. This discussion relates more to stage than screen, simply because usually your whole body is visible in theatre, and in film there is often more of a focus on your face.  However, I believe the best actors, regardless of medium, know how to use their bodies.  If you’ve ever thought, “What should I do with my hands?” then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

You might want to ask yourself, “What is a great actor’s body?  What do great actors do with their bodies when they act?”  Read More

WHY YOU DON’T NEED TO BE HOT TO BE AN ACTOR (PART 1)

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It might be a bit of a touchy subject, but I’d like to talk about your body for a bit.  This is a really tricky area, especially for a lot of young women, but it affects everyone in the industry to some extent.  I have seen a LOT of actors struggle with body image issues, so it’s something I feel passionate about.  Often we think that changing our bodies or faces to fit a particular ideal will get us more work.  More often than not I think the opposite is true: changing to fit an ideal will get you less work because there’ll longer be anything interesting or memorable about you.  It happens a lot to celebrities – they have plastic surgery and suddenly they look like grotesque and inhuman and cease to be cast in anything.  And beyond that, chances are that whatever you think is a problem is probably not what’s stopping you from getting work – it’s more likely to be a lack of confidence, or the fact that you don’t seem alive or vibrant in auditions because you’re too busy thinking about your big nose…  More about noses later.  Let’s start with body.

I don’t believe for a second that you have to be super skinny or super muscly to be a successful actor, but your body shape will affect the sorts of parts you get.  To some extent, you won’t be able to help this, because your body has a ‘type’, just as your face does. Read More

DIY ACTING TRAINING (PART 1)

So now that I’ve chewed your ear off about training, I’ll leave that for a bit so you can think it over.  In the meantime, I’m sure you’d appreciate some ideas about what you can do to train yourself – whether you’re attending classes or not, there are always little things you can do to get ahead.  So I’ll start with the simplest and possibly the BEST of them all: reading.  Yes, this blog will be a very nerdy celebration of the written word.

I’m going to talk a bit later about some drama theory you might like to get into, but let’s start with something easier – plays and screenplays.  Film or stage, if you are working within the Australian industry, it usually pays to spend some time reading and watching whatever’s coming out of your own industry. Read More

Didn’t get into drama school? Here’s how you can train instead

11I told you in the last post that you don’t need to go to drama school, and now I’ll start the long series of suggestions of things you can be doing instead.  The best place I can think to start is with training, which you are probably already considering in some form.

Training is important.  99% of the time you can tell which actors on a stage are trained and what sort of training they’ve received, just by the way they move and speak.  Film is slightly different.  ‘Raw talent’ is much more common in film because the camera loves actors who can move and speak ‘naturally’, which is possible without training.  On stage, this naturalness would probably mean that nobody can hear you or that you’d create the dreaded ‘talking head’ effect.   But  eventually, film or stage, you are going to come across a particularly challenging scene where you are going to need to rely on ‘technique’ of some sort.  Some actors are lucky and become very successful without training, but this is often due to a personal temperament that includes confidence, diligence, and intelligence, as well as natural ability.  This is a rare combination, and whether you have it or not, it will almost certainly benefit you to get at least a little bit of training.

Training doesn’t have to come from a drama school.  There are a lot of courses available Read More

5 REASONS YOU DON’T NEED TO GO TO DRAMA SCHOOL

Part of the requirement of a life in the theatre is to stay out of school. The old joke has the young woman in her bedroom as a visitor to the castle at Transylvania when a vampire appears in the middle of the night. The young lady grabs two wooden spoons off the night table, forms them into a cross, and thrusts them at the vampire, who responds, ‘Vil gurnisht helfin’, which is Yiddish for ‘It ain’t gonna help’. And the same is true of school.

As a young actor in Perth, it is highly likely that you have thought about going to drama school.  WAAPA and NIDA particularly have trained some amazing, very successful actors and the quality of their courses rival the best in the world.  It is absolutely a great place to go and learn how to be an actor.

However, there are some important things to consider before you decide whether or not you want to train there (and these can be applied to any well-reputed training institution).

 

1. Drama school is not the be-all, end-all.

One of the biggest motivating factors for me to create this website was listening to a group of young actors discussing their plans for the future, and almost none of them had any definite plans other than ‘auditioning for WAAPA’.  Getting good training is important, but drama school is not the only way to get it.  Waiting to be accepted into drama school is putting your future almost entirely in someone else’s hands – and that’s a scary choice to make so early in life.  Let me explain why.

 

2.  The odds are against you.

If you look at the headshots of the graduating Actors lining the foyer of WAAPA each year, you will notice some similarities.  Every year, most of the actors will resemble someone who graduated the year before them.  There is a reason for this: the school needs to take certain types (I’m talking casting type) of actors, so when they graduate, they will fit into the types the industry has created for them.  Not only that, but they can only take 1 or maybe 2 of each type every year – and it’s for your own good.  If they took more than that, the industry would be flooded with the same type each year and the competition would be worse than it already is. 

 

So, if the year you audition is flooded with girls or guys who look exactly like you, unfortunately, they may decide to take someone else who you may think is not quite as good at acting as you but is a different type, because it is in everybody’s best interest that they don’t take 5 people who look the same.

 

3.  No matter how hard you work or how good you are, it’s possible you still won’t get in.

I remember hearing older actors say things like ‘they won’t take the best, they’ll take the ones with the most potential’ or ‘I was too trained to go to WAAPA’, and I thought, “That’s just what people say to kid themselves when they weren’t good enough”.  Now that I’m older, and I’ve seen a lot of people audition, be accepted or rejected, and subsequently go through training or go their own way, and I can see the truth to those statements.  I have actually heard Drama School teachers mention that they won’t take those who “just need polishing”, and it’s often declared that some institutes prefer to take actors who are slightly ‘rough’ or ‘raw’ so they can shape them in the way they choose.  And beyond that, at it’s simplest, each institution is attracted to certain types of actors – ones with a particular style or focus that matches the values of the institution. 

Again, it’s in everybody’s best interest that they take people who match their values, as those actors are more likely to gel with the content and style of teaching that the institution offers, but if you don’t have the style they’re looking for, it may prevent you from getting in, regardless of how good you are in other ways.  By ‘style and content’ I mean that a particular institution may focus on classic works, while your style may be more contemporary, or vice versa.

Having said that, don’t change your style or try to please them – chances are you will just look like your heart’s not in it, or that you’re a carbon copy of someone else, or worse – you’ll get in and spend three years feeling like you’re in the wrong place.  And that leads me to:

 

4.  Drama school may not be for you.

This is an important one.  You probably won’t believe me, but no matter how much you think you want it, drama school just doesn’t suit everyone, and/or you may not be ready for it yet.  I have seen some very talented people be accepted into drama school and either leave after a year or suffer through three years and come out not wanting to act any more.  A lot of this is to do with ‘life experience’, which you may have heard mentioned a lot.

A few years back, the average age of an actor accepted into drama school was 23.  Now, it is closer to 19 or 20.  There is often quite an age range in each year group, often anywhere from 18 to 30; but the majority will be 20-ish.  The change, so it is said, was influenced by ‘the industry’ wanting trained actors to be younger when they graduated.  What this means is that you can now be accepted straight from high school straight into drama school, which may seem like a good opportunity for you – but it may work against you in the end.  Drama school is a high-pressure environment with a workload worse than TEE – every day, for three years.  It’s a big adjustment for even the hardest working high school student, and you may find that your ability to cope and continue developing as an actor is impaired by the stressful environment.  ‘Life experience’, which used to be an important part of acceptance criteria, is not just about seeing the world or doing interesting things, it’s about the maturity and coping skills that develop from doing those interesting things.

Apart from the workload, what also creates a highly stressful situation is the ‘constructive criticism’.  The actors are grilled by the teachers day in and day out – and if you’ve had no experience with this kind of criticism, or you are sensitive or uncertain about your abilities (which is common when starting out), it can do a lot of harm to your self-belief and self-worth.  Without a strong sense of belief in your abilities, drama school can lead you to feel worse about your abilities than when you started. 

You need huge amounts of resilience for this job, and drama school is an ideal place to learn it – but if you don’t have enough to start with, it may wear away the little you have.  Ask yourself whether you have a tendency to crumble or feel like giving up when you are given direct feedback. If so, you may find that holding off for a few years before you audition will give you the sense of resilience you need before you enter a high-pressure environment.  There’s no harm in waiting a few years before you audition – planning ahead can help you develop the personal skills needed for drama school, and can put you ahead financially if you save some money. This is not about being scared and running away – you want to make the most of the opportunity, so consider when you’ll be most able to take on their criticism.

 

5.  It might take you nowhere.

A reasonable percentage of actors come out of drama school and don’t manage to get an agent, or get an agent but not much work.  Even the best students with the best agents are competing against the best students from other academies – not to mention the graduates from the previous 5 years!  Sure, their standard of training will help them get work eventually, but it often takes just as much time for them to ‘break into’ the industry as it would for a self-trained actor.  And the actors who came out with bruised self-esteem and no agent to speak of – they will have to start from scratch just like actors who haven’t gone through drama school.  It is important not to think of drama school as a stairway to the stars.  It is more like a stepladder – it’ll take you a few steps but you’ll have to find your way up from there, just like everyone else.

 

Having said all that: audition anyway.  Seriously.  I’m not against drama school itself, only the fact that it’s seen as the only way to become an actor.  If you get in, have the time of your life.  In any case, the audition itself is good experience – it takes a lot actors a few attempts to be accepted, so you will put yourself ahead by knowing what to expect next time. You might be one of the ones they take, and you can improve your odds by working hard, but please remember that acting takes time, and you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket, or put your future in someone else’s hands.

 

Upcoming blogs will focus on what you can do to put your future back in your OWN hands. 😀

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