THE OFFICIAL Volume 5, Number 1, 2021 

 

Heather Timms, Mitch Tawhi Thomas, Peter Zazzali: Questions of Context and Actor Training: Embracing Difference and Inviting Complexity

Keywords: Actor training, COVID-19, Lasalle, Toi Whakaari

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The impact of COVID-19 on the arts-education landscape necessitates confronting structures of power and how they operate within the industry as well as in our training programs. What does it mean to train actors during a time when a pandemic frames an unprecedented examination of cultural identity and social justice? In what ways can embracing difference and inviting complexity inform our teaching and learning? How might we challenge and disrupt systems of power and corresponding complacency towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable pedagogy?  This article engages a range of contextual issues to address these questions. We posit the training environment of an acting program as complex and reliant upon the values and identities of a given institution. We apply this thinking through our respective programs in Singapore and Aotearoa - New Zealand. Thus, we depict LASALLE and Toi Whakaari as forward-facing in responding to the aforementioned questions. We teach among a diverse group of students and colleagues, thereby affording us considerable experience from within Oceania, South- East Asia, and beyond. We argue that actor trainers should meet this moment of threatened sustainability and survival by deeply reconsidering our pedagogies in complex and variant ways. We suggest thinking through the impact of the pandemic and related challenges by robustly responding to questions of context as they relate to teaching and learning through embracing difference and remaining open to equitable and inclusive exchanges of culture. 

Heather Timms, Vaughan Slinn: ‘Archetypes’ – Liberating increasingly diverse actors towards specific and deeply embodied playing for live and screen.

Key words: Archetypes, character, embodiment, imagination, creativity

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Over the last seven years, acting cohorts at Te Kura Toi Whakaari O Aotearoa - New Zealand Drama School have reflected increasing diversity in their student base, comprising students of Māori, Pasifika, Pāheka (New Zealanders of European ancestry), Asian, Scandinavian, Middle Eastern and African descent.  This is reflective of our ever-changing world and has called for changes in how acting craft is taught. Amidst this new landscape, one key inquiry has been how to liberate  our young actors to reach for greater imaginative freedom and more sophisticated choices. This requires our students to go beyond a blinkered picture of ‘realism’ many enter the training with.  Such liberation is crucial to achieve embodied, layered characterisation and targeted acting choices. Working with ‘action’ has been challenging in this regard; students routinely struggle to move beyond a cerebral conceptualisation of action and often get stuck in superficial, lifeless work. To address this, Heather Timms (Director of Actor Training) and Vaughan Slinn (Senior Tutor, Screen and Creative Practice) have developed an embodied approach to character and action, using a version of ‘Archetypes.’ This approach has been developed within rehearsal and performance across stage and screen.   This evolving technique is both a process and tool that explores personas drawn from archetypal and poetic origin. Over time this approach has proven to quickly build and test embodied characterisation, liberate greater physical, vocal and imaginative range and scale, and employ the actor’s individual artistry. It has also created a pathway for more deeply integrated application of action and objective.  This use of  ‘Archetype,’ rather than creating broad, non-specific characterisation, has instead proven to create highly detailed categories of playable action, and allowed students to work more imaginatively in crafting affecting, idiosyncratic and original acting choices. With these discoveries, this approach has now become a key acting tool, and supports Toi Whakaari’s deeper acting pedagogical aim: creating self-sustainable, creative and unique actors.

Mark Seton: What we ‘profess’ as professionals and how we behave – are they the same thing?

Key words: Disaster media, consumption, pandemic, experiment, cinema, video games, COVID-19

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This article contains both an offer and a response to a lingering challenge experienced by many acting teachers regarding students’ moments of both resistance and compliance during their training journey. This theme emerged during the 2020 AusAct: Australian Actor Training Conference where I presented a paper identifying accounts of students who may be resistant to change in regards to their own ongoing well-being. In my presentation I suggested that student actors, desiring to align themselves with certain perceived professional values or maxims such as ‘suffering for your art’ may not embrace seemingly contradictory advice about nurturing their future sustainable professional well-being. I will outline my argument for this claim in the second section of this chapter. However, I will also offer a reflection and response drawing upon some cautious reactions to this presentation at the conference in which it was felt that I was advocating that acting teachers might need to step into the role of psychologist or therapist to equip students into change. While this was not my intention, the immediate post-presentation conversation did highlight some important tensions that teachers may be experiencing as they seek to enable students to become professional actors while being sensitive to not triggering detrimental experiences in the process of potentially highly confronting training experiences. Through this offer and response I hope, in this chapter, to map out a new way of framing the ethical accountability between teacher, student and educational institution in regard to professional identity formation.

Robert Lewis, Dominique Sweeney: Action/Reaction and everything in between in the Virtual Space: (dis)embodied learning through online performance practice

Key words: Archetypes, character, embodiment, imagination, creativity

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Robert Lewis and Dominique Sweeney have been developing a place-based actor training andragogy at Charles Sturt University. Since moving practical classes, rehearsals and performances online during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, this ‘place-based’ andragogy has been somewhat challenged. What happens when place is disrupted and student actors are connecting from multiple ‘places’? Is there a unified place/space in between these points? Throughout the rehearsals of Mark Roger’s ‘Seeing Horrors 2’ during the lockdown, the authors address how place, space and grounding have maintained a strong element in their work via the online space. Online actor training for platforms such as Zoom is an new and foreign phenomenon. Actor training for film and television contexts may not be suitable for this platform, therefore it is important to look at what Zoom offers that other screen media doesn’t. In addition to the performance process, the authors discuss one specific training system that has been developed for the online performance space.


 

Melanie Beddie, Anthony Crowley, Kim Durban, Ross Hall: Not a Pivot, But a Pirouette: A Panel Presentation about the Arts Academy Online in a Time of Pandemic

Key words: COVID-19, acting, online rehearsals, adaptation

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This paper is an extract from a presentation given by a group of academic staff from the Arts Academy in Ballarat at AusAct: The Australian Actor Training Conference, which was held online in December 2020. The title alludes to the ways that the Performing Arts teaching team adapted to the restrictions placed on three-dimensional training by the global pandemic. It focuses on the impact of COVID 19’s second wave of lockdown on performance training at Federation University’s Arts Academy in Victoria. It plots the experiences of transitioning from live face-to-face studio classes to working online with students, culminating in a series of Zoom productions, including Second Year actors rehearsing and performing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Third Year actors and music theatre students rehearsing and performing A Chorus Line, an adaptation of Hamlet entitled Out of Joint, and an Australian play, Embers by Campion Decent. It describes various dimensions of adapting dramatic and musical works to a new online format; the way many of the rehearsal processes simulated their theatrical counterparts; the adjusted online rehearsal cycle; the way students grew into learning online; and the unexpected discoveries of working in a new and nascent medium of performance.

Bree Hadley, Caroline Heim: Addressing the mental health issues of the ‘Covid Generation’ –Innovative approaches to Performing Arts Studies in Times of Crisis

Key words: University students, Performing arts students, Anxiety, Mental Health, COVID-19

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Pre-COVID-19 rates of reported anxiety amongst Australian university students were significantly high. With 79% of Australian university students reporting anxiety as an impediment to their learning (Headspace 2017). With the onset of Covid19, anxiety issues soared. Globally, these impacts were being recorded with a 42.5% horizontal increase in anxiety for some university students (Kaparounaki et al. 2020). As Study Area Coordinators for the Acting & Drama programs at QUT, Heim and Hadley observed this rise in students’ anxiety and its effects on learning. In the scramble to adapt performing arts programs to the online learning environment necessitated by Covid19 shutdowns, colleagues around the globe, fellow lecturers, and learning designers were quick all quick to share resources to help translate performing, rehearsing, and directing activities online. What was missing, amongst this abundance of resources, was tools, techniques, activities, or supports to assist performing arts students – already prone to perfectionism, performance anxiety, and stress (McQuade 2009) – in dealing with the rise in stress they were feeling. In this paper, Heim and Hadley report on initiatives implemented to understand the nature of this rise in stress, through invitations to self-report issues arising via an anonymous Padlet tool during our shutdown Semester – including fear of failure, and judgement, amplified by a sense of ‘missing out’ on key learning that could never be recouped for those who would forever be known as the ‘Covid Generation’. They then report on initial approach to address these concerns, including mental health talks, videos, and adaptations to teaching models to address fear of failure and judgement as students began a staged CovidSafe return to campus in the following Semester.


 

Suzie J. Jarmain: Beyond Real(ism): An Investigation of the Twenty-First Century Transformational Actor and Identity

Key words: Transformational acting, realism, identity, Leder, Mirodan

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Transformational acting is a fragile, technical process reflective of blowing a soap bubble. This type of realism-based acting, different to personality acting I will refer to as actors disappearing into characters. When they disappear, they begin living in a metaphoric bubble breathing life into its contents, keeping it afloat. Transformational actors work in fantasy worlds that could pop at any moment. A dangerous ‘floating world’ replicating the world actors live in with fictional character, moving from identity to identity. Actors sometimes ‘lose’ themselves in these imaginary ‘worlds,’ disappear inside this metaphorical bubble or it bursts depositing an unexpected psychological ‘mess’ on the rehearsal room, stage or virtual Zoom floor. Actors ‘becoming’ the character is a familiar statement in acting theory texts but what does this do to the actor’s identity? There is currently little clarity or practical investigation into what happens to the actor in transformation. How could the process of transformation develop a language that grounds the phenomenon through disappearance? Studies blending cognitive science shed light on the transformational acting process, while keeping strong, ‘sticky’ hooks in ‘mysticism’ and acting folklore. My paper borrows from Leder’s theory of disappearance, dys-appearance and social dys-appearance as an innovative lens viewing actors ‘disappearing into characters’ as an ever changing state of transformation relational to gender. My paper engages discourse in psychological and identity in acting, alongside the work of Mirodan and Stanislavsky to discuss the practice of transforming, highlighting the criticality of knowing who we are and what we do, when we act.

Corinna Di Niro: Covid Commedia: strategies for teaching Commedia dell’Arte in Zoomtopia

Key words: Zoom, Commedia del Arte, Acting, Movement

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Pike, Neideck and Kelly (2020, p. 2) state that the ‘boundaries of neo-liberal bourgeoise capitalism have crumbled as artists dance in their lounge rooms and teachers instruct students from their living rooms, via Zoom’. As the world moves to a screen-to-screen lifestyle, so does Commedia, seeking to find its place among the digital elite.  Commedia – a hyper exaggerated form of theatre known for its masks, gestures and movements that allows for immediate understanding of human nature – has survived for well over 500 years due to its ability to reinvent itself to suit varying socio-political contexts. Yet, in the digital space, the genre’s physicality has created a barrier for teachers trying to teach the genre within the walls of Zoomtopia – a place where our physical bodies are left behind while we’re transported to any part of the globe.  How can the physical nature of Commedia be taught and enjoyed in a contemporary Zooming culture? Can Commedia reinvent itself for the digital world? To decipher these questions, I discuss my work as a Commedia specialist living in Adelaide, Australia who created a methodology for teaching Commedia to international secondary schools via Zoom. My three-dimensional approach extends upon early Commedia strategies of adaptation and accessibility to better fit the digital age. As the world reinvents itself to fit the unavoidable digital shift, so does Commedia. I argue that Commedia does indeed have a place within Zoomtopia and that it can still be taught and performed in a manner “authentic” to its translingual roots.

Mark Radvan: Reconstructing Actor Training Within a Social Constructivist World View 

Key words: Materials of construction, performance as transaction, performance as artefact, dramaturgy

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Pandemic lockdowns, challenges to the economic sustainability of theatre and theatre training institutions and calls to take action on broader social and environmental responsibilities have propelled many in actor training into unfamiliar and unsettling territories. With the future that students are being prepared for radically changing, and the fiscal environment for training them being for many, drastically reshaped, is this an opportune moment to re-evaluate the actor training curriculum?

Andrea Moor: Rethinking the Conservatoire: Is the traditional drama school model tenable in a post Covid world and if not, how can institutions maintain excellence in training?

Key words: Conservatoire, Acting, Training, COVID, Theatre

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Leading Australian actor training institutions were originally modelled on the conservatoire format of the British Drama School. This model included many hours of acting classes or rehearsals, hours of voice and speech classes and hours of a variety of movement classes per day. In addition, there were specialist classes in fight choreography, accent, Alexander technique, period movement, acting in style, comedy and more. Traditionally there were a number of second year and third year productions each year. And in more recent years screen training has been introduced in the shape of studio and location shoots, with emphasis also on self-testing. This smorgasbord of classes and projects has created a forty hour plus week with programs requiring specialist teachers and directors to deliver industry standard training. Staff costs are very high for such a program, and, with between four and eight productions a year, plus filming costs, these projects have a hefty price tag. Actor training institutions all over the world are faced with diminished budgets, and yet institutions remain committed to maintaining their reputation of excellence. Can we continue to train actors in the conservatoire model going forward? This paper will attempt to answer this question. Via a series of interviews with teachers from leading schools around the world I will attempt to offer new models for the BA/BFA. One cannot attempt this task without considering the urgent need for a more diverse representation in the teaching staff as well as exposure to a wider variety of playscripts that challenge the patriarchal heteronormative status quo of years gone by. These changes are already afoot as suggested by initiatives being implemented at London’s Central School; “They include moves to "de-colonise" its curriculum and "cultivate a workforce of more diverse academic staff".”(BBC, 2020) I will look at those schools who are at the forefront of this change and seek to redefine what relevant training could look like in the post Covid world.