Friday, 22 June 2007

Acting Lessons

In the UK we tend to go to drama school, or to university to do a drama degree, and once we have graduated and start to get work, that is the end of our formal training. Of course, each job is unique and you learn from every experience. Occasionally a director has such a particular method of working that you develop an entirely new technique during the rehearsal process. But, on the whole, working British actors tend not to go back to school again.
In the US it is very different. Some will study drama at a college, but many will arrive in New York or LA with only the experience of High School productions, and while they are getting an agent and starting to audition, they will find a class and they will stick to it with a ferocity that an Alsatian would admire. Starring in a TV show? Just finished a sexy Independent Movie? Doesn't matter, those guys will be back in class and ready to roll as soon as they are in town.
Like many Brits, when I first arrived in California, I was sceptical about the continuing education aspect of LA actors. Hadn't we done all that stuff? And wouldn't it be, well, a little humiliating? Twiddling my thumbs between auditions, an American actor friend recommended a class he often took when he was around, to 'keep my hand in' as he tactfully put it.
The next day, with some trepidation, I drove to the very far end of town and hesitated in the doorway of a beaten-up building. Inside, a good deal of shouting was going on and a quantity of effing and, goodness, was that the c word? Convincing myself that some kind of acting must already be taking place, I gingerly slipped into a seat at the back of the tiny theatre.
The scene that unfolded over the next several hours confirmed all my worst fears and I went home convinced that I would never return. But during the week my thoughts kept returning to the class. Something exciting was happening there; not just terror and adrenaline, but enthusiasm and care for the job of being an actor for no other reason than to try and be better at it. So I went back and I loved it and I learned plenty. And sometimes, when I am standing in the wings, or behind the clapperboard, I remember the teacher's dulcet tones screaming across the stage, "Knock it out of the f****** park, you c***!” And it helps.