Back to School

Every few months, an actor needs to put something new on her résumé to show she’s been active, engaged in the industry and is thus employable, i.e. not a lazy couch-surfing wannabe who’s hoping for her big break to fly through the window.

I was well overdue for a résumé refresh, but short on time, so I signed up for a few one-day courses at City Lit. An interview was required to get a space so I assumed the class standard would be high.

The first course was called Casting Day. In the morning session, we met with two agents who covered basics like headshots, not paying up-front fees, always keeping your agent apprised of your schedule, etc. They also said to be aware of your “type” because all of your early career work will be “with type”. One of the class members, who had a thick Italian accent, launched into a half-hour debate about how she didn’t want to be pigeon-holed and that she should be considered for the part of, say, an English housewife. The agents couldn’t seem to make clear to her that the show’s writers would then need to alter the script to explain how an Italian immigrant ended up in Cornwall married to a local fisherman. After awhile, the rest of the class gave up hope of having any time left to get their questions answered. We were all just watching the clock in anticipation of our lunch break.

The afternoon session was run by two casting directors who gave a handful of helpful tips. They confirmed my suspicion that audition monologues are only needed for drama school and The Actors’ Centre and occasionally for getting an agent. (Thank goodness because my monologues are getting seriously rusty.)

The casting directors emphasized that you need to be passionate about your chosen career. Bizarrely, a couple of people in class argued this point, again eating into class time with pointless polemics. As it’s not polite to blurt out “YOU’RE WASTING EVERYONE’S TIME”, the rest of us just thought it instead.

The other course I took was Acting for the Camera. We did various exercises focusing on precise repetition of movements, hitting marks, etc. Then we did an Uta Hagen exercise in which you do an activity for two minutes that you would normally do alone at home. The focus was on specific movements, making it look natural, etc. Even in doing two minutes of “nothing”, there is something going on. For instance, we could often infer what time of day it was, whether the person lived alone and what their relationship was with the objects around them (all without any dialogue from the actor).

We all had our two minutes of stage time followed by 10 minutes of discussion about the two minutes. I thought I did pretty well, but nevertheless got a few notes from the teacher. One of the girls, apparently in her first ever acting class, took 20 minutes for her two-minute scene. Worse, she sang along to two stanzas of some insipid song on infinite repeat. I thought about sending the recording to Guantánamo – I know I was ready to confess anything to make the music stop. Later, she happily declared she’d written the song. Eee-gads.

As we worked throughout the day, I started thinking about the tedious parts of acting for the camera. So much of this business is so technical. Could I really be passionate about it?

Towards the end of the class the rookie actually asked the teacher “so, do you think I can act?” The teacher replied with as nice of a non-answer as anyone could muster, but it was enough encouragement for the rookie who declared “well, acting’s not as hard as I thought it would be”. No one seemed willing to burst her bubble.

My bubble has been burst many times, but every so often a little hope is breathed back into it. Like when, after class, the teacher asked me to stay behind. She wanted to explain that she gives really positive feedback to the beginners but always gives more critique to her best students, and that I was one of the latter. I floated out of class.

I might not have learned all that much in those classes, but I got a bit of the passion back, and that was enough.