Vocational actor training develops the talents of exceptional people to work on stage, film and TV.
- Actor training isn’t the academic, social or theoretical study of drama or theatre.
- Actor training is practical, usually takes three years, and prepares actors for the disciplines of rehearsal rooms and the pressures of audiences.
- Actor training allows early career professionals to test themselves, behind closed doors, led by directors and skills specialists working in the industry they want to be part of.
- Actor training is an apprenticeship for a theatre craft.
Acting students learn technical and interpretive tools in order to create characters, generate an in the moment truth through given narratives, and collaborate with creative colleagues to serve audiences.
Many people want to act, few people have the aptitude to do it professionally.
Entry to drama school is highly competitive and thousands audition for a single place at the leading conservatoires.
Currently its virtually impossible for learning disabled students and actors with potential to access this kind of training.
Separate Doors 2 aims to find ways to open actor training doors to exceptional talent, whatever shape it takes in the world.
The building blocks of a vocational actors’ Stanislavsky based training are:
A body which talks
A voice which moves
…and a method or technique
For actors with learning disabilities are:
Access (financial , actual and attitudinal)
Few text based theatre directors and tutors with the experience and skills to work inclusively
A reliance on verbal instruction…
The silent approach
Is a way for directors, tutors, students and actors with and without learning disabilities to work and train together and to make extraordinary narrative based work.
The silent approach offers clarity.
The silent approach offers equality.
The silent approach demands excellence.
Led by me and a RADA Associate Director, core skills tutors, actors with and without learning disabilities and an assistant director will work as an ensemble using the silent approach in a short and intense rehearsal process.
There’ll be a showing of the work at an event and panel discussion at RADA in London in April.
On these pages I’ll dissect a snapshot of parts of the process alongside interviews and observations from everyone working on and with the project.
I hope you’ll come along for what’s likely to be a very interesting and exciting journey…
Entering the space
The first step in the silent approach is the step into the work space.
There is no clutter, no noise, only the work.
Everything else is left outside.
In the rehearsal room there are no bags, no coats, no scripts, no food, no old socks, no trash, no un-needed chairs, no cups, no barriers, no issues, no relationships, no disputes, no histories, no ‘I’m just here to watch’, no terrible journeys in, no ‘what’s for lunch?’ no anecdotes, no passengers, no distraction, no chaos…
Your ensemble colleagues.
And the work.
Example exercise 1/Coming into the space
The space is completely clear.
Music or sound cues play (No actor ever enters a silent or unready room).
The music or sound cues have no lyrics or language and give focus to the objective of the rehearsal.
The space is active from the moment before the actor enters.
The exercise demands total concentration.
The director is alone and prepares the space.
When all is set a cue is given to student 1 waiting outside.
The director returns to a space in the room, looking away from the door and warms up.
The student enters and stops at the hotspot by the door.
The student looks at the director and doesn’t move.
The director turns around and looks at the student in the doorway only when the connection is felt.
The student stays on the hotspot and connects for some time, with direct eye contact and genuinely ‘sees’ the director.
When the time is right the student moves from the hotspot to 3 distinct places in the space, looking closely at the room, observing changes in temperature and light.
The director also moves to 3 different places in the space.
Student 2 is cued and the cycle begins again, with two people now waiting to engage (The director and student 1).
Again the student stays on the hotspot and connects for some time, until direct eye contact is made and the director and student 1 are ‘seen’.
Student 2 moves and works through the 3 places in the room and the cycle begins again, student 3 is cued in, then 4, then 5 and so on.
The final student comes into the room and draws the attention of the whole ensemble from the hotspot. As always the student doesn’t move until the eyes and focus of the whole room is gained.
The director draws the focus of the ensemble, through eye contact and brings the room together.
Connected to the space and to each other the ensemble is now ready to work.
How to set up the exercise for the first time…
- Tutor students in a personal warm up, a series of stretches they can do autonomously.
- Establish instructions verbally (economically) outside of the room, use these visuals to assist, make sure the whole ensemble understands, check understanding and then check again before moving into the space.
- Walk through the activity once in the space with student 1 while the ensemble watches, elicit the process once more and then ask all to leave the room ready to start the exercise.
- Every time a student makes an error clear the space and start again.
- Any time you notice a lack of concentration start again.
- Insist on absolute precision in looking, in standing still on the hotspot, in finding 2 spaces in the room, in being aware of colleagues, if it’s not correct clear the room and start again.
- Repeat the exercise until its known and understood by all.
- It takes as long as it takes.
- Once successfully achieved by the whole ensemble feedback once.
- Always insist on precision and for ensemble members to observe the focus and concentration of colleagues.
Once the ensemble knows the exercise there’s no need to use speech to do it again…
New ensemble members will pick it up from established students.
It’s in. Its part of the work.
All bodies are different.
All actors are different.
Every body and every actor can find their own neutral.
A neutral standing position is where feet are about 30 centimetres apart. Knees are bent slightly. Weight is evenly distributed. Arms and shoulders are relaxed and hanging by sides. The head sits facing forwards on the neck, not tilted up or down. Eyes look ahead, not up or down. Standing tall, the chest is lifted slightly from the sternum, the spine tucked in mid back and lifted. Breathing is deep and regular and into the diaphragm (The chest doesn’t move). There’s no tension, it’s comfortable, still, ready, focused and strong.
Before we can watch actors doing, they first need to be.
It’s the most difficult thing in the world to just be on stage, instead of doing, when others are watching, but if we want to believe our actors are real people in the naturalistic stories we believe in then this skill needs to be mastered.
It takes hard training and discipline to find neutral and it can take years to achieve.
Developing neutral in a rehearsal room, while being observed and criticised by peers, is a fundamental of silent approach training.
Once an actor finds neutral she/he can transform physically into a character.
Actors can then experiment with moving from neutral into different states by working with physical changes such as…
- Lifted shoulders
- Rounded bellies
- Bandy legs
- Tapping fingers
- Crossing arms
- Changes in weight and height
- Leading with different body parts
- Habitual gestures
- Facial expressions
There are two key uses for an actors neutral state:
- To achieve physical transformation into character and
- To exist truthfully on a stage.
It takes patience, training and discipline to find it.
Example exercise 2/Developing a neutral state
The director positions students where all can see her/him and where the director can see all students.
The director demonstrates neutral and checks each student individually, adjusting foot and other positions.
Two verbal instructions In Neutral and Out of Neutral are established.
Out of neutral = moving parts of the body as directed through the kinesphere shifting weight.
In neutral = moving back into neutral.
The director checks and corrects in both states for precision.
The director asks the ensemble to move around the space, touching walls, giving eye contact to colleagues, changing pace on command (Slow, slow motion, fast, running etc.).
The director gives the direction Stop and focuses on one student.
All students and director focus on the one student.
The direction In Neutral is given.
The director adjusts the students’ neutral as required.
The exercise begins again and continues until all students have been the focus of the ensemble’s observation and have achieved neutral.
The director moves the ensemble into a corner of the room and demonstrates 3 marker points on the floor with 1 student.
The ensemble observes the student as she/he’s moves into Neutral and walks in In Neutral between the 3 points.
The ensemble and director feeds back on the viewed neutral state, adjustments are made.
Developing physical awareness of neutral is a dry, technical discipline.
Adding creative objectives at an early stage of developing physical memory of the state isn’t helpful and needs to be approached with caution and only once a working neutral is known.
However once there all kinds of explorations of extreme physical states and the movement back into neutral can be explored by the ensemble.
The director establishes individual spaces in the room, elicits that all are at a party and before each shutting off of the music gives a human physical state instruction…You are a two year old, you are very tall, you have a bad knee, your teeth stick out, etc. and students dance and interact with these physical characteristics. Once the music stops all return to neutral and the director again monitors each students’ state.
Neutral work = sequences of exercises and disciplines that lead to a state remembered physically (rather than cognitively), repetition and observation is key. No amount of talking about neutral will lead to its’ acquisition.
Music without words during the exercises with emotional/lyrical interest helps to engage director and ensemble to the work. Anything dull or too jolly is likely to compound a sense of ‘doing tough exercises’.
Precision is vital. As with all silent approach work there are no half measures just as there are no ‘half actors’ and a director needs to take the responsibility for correction and detail over the course of the long journey to neutral.
Finding neutral can be integrated into warm ups and cool downs but in training it needs to be an ever present goal.
Actors who have found neutral will benefit from and enjoy the exercises too and will always need to refresh and adjust their working state.
Acting is a team sport.
In order to reach the goal, to deliver the objective (the play or the performance) to the audience, actors work together.
The acting ‘ball’ is passed between the actors, moment by moment, in each scene.
The actor knows when she/he has the ball.
Sometimes the ball is passed to an actor so that it can be hit into the back of the net.
Sometimes the ball isn’t passed and an actor makes a run for goal and takes the moment and hopefully the glory.
Ensemble training gives actors the discipline to know when to pass and when to play…
Example exercise 1/Listening physically
Pure silent approach work demands a high level of sensitivity within the ensemble.
This exercise starts the journey towards awareness of other actors’ movements on stage.
If focus drops by one member of the ensemble the exercise restarts for the whole ensemble, it requires precision and concentration, nothing will be achieved at half power.
The director establishes the rules once verbally.
Focusing music underscores activity.
The ensemble stands in neutral in a circle.
A student walks in neutral to the centre of the circle.
She/he is joined by a student who stands as close as she/he can to the first student. Arms stay by sides, no embracing, simply standing close enough to tune into colleagues breathing.
This continues, slowly, until the whole ensemble has come together.
The whole ensemble breathes at the same pace.
The director says its time to move away and asks someone to make the decision to move back into the original circle.
This happens one student at a time until all are back in their initial places.
Example exercise 2/Listening using words
It easy for actors (for anyone!) to forget to listen and observe other people, even to be aware of other people in the room.
This is an exercise which can be used when forming an ensemble and it can also be used and extended in later stages of training when awareness and observation of other actors needs refreshing.
Some speech is used.
Where students have little speech visual images on the walls are helpful.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are marked out in 3 places on the rehearsal room walls.
Students take a moment to remember what they individually had for each meal the day before. They keep this information to themselves.
Tag is played the Director deciding who is ‘on’ each time until she/he shouts STOP.
Students go to either breakfast, lunch or dinner, find a student they haven’t spoken to and then ask what they had for the meal yesterday. Once the Director feels it’s time to move on she/he shouts GO and tag starts again.
The ensemble’s objective is to talk to all students and remember what they had for each meal, in between a very high energy game of tag.
Finally the ensemble comes together and the Director asks each student to look at each person in the room and try to remember what they had for each meal.
The Director asks a student to recall another students daily menu.
The same shape can be followed using the following ‘quests’:
- Last birthday presents
- Pets name and identity
- Favourite piece of clothing
Many student actors come to the work with an idea of performance that is to do with ‘being a celebrity’ or ‘being a star’ and have an experience of being ‘centre stage’ and ‘the best’ in school plays and community groups.
It’s important to communicate the collaborative nature of theatre, and vocational theatre acting in particular to both students and the people supporting students from the very beginning of the training.
The aim of ensemble work isn’t to smooth out the individual talents of students, it’s to ensure that each ensemble actor can work to her/his best potential, co-operatively, with other talented people.
This focus on collective excellence is how the best work is made, this is what theatre is.