I often joke that I graduated with a degree in ‘how to change direction’ following my three years studying acting at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire.
That’s because many of my so-called movement classes consisted of the tutor standing at the front of the class, telling us to walk around the space and change direction on his clap. I was particularly good at it, I have to say. I can now change direction with ease when I hear clapping. But it makes going to the theatre slightly problematic – I’m all over the place when I hear the applause.
I am joking, of course. And what I actually got from my three years training was hugely valuable. But did I actually learn to act? Or is that something you just either can or can’t do?
According to Paul Roseby, artistic director of the National Youth Theatre, performers “can either act or they can’t”. They don’t, he suggests, need three years to train. He admits students need “various modular courses” but the suggestion is, a three-year course isn’t necessarily going to make you any better at acting than before you went in…
So, do you agree? I have to say I may be inclined to. Did I come out of Bretton Hall a better actor? Probably not. But then I didn’t go in to Bretton Hall a very good actor. And, yes, the reality is, you probably can’t be taught to act.
In a crowded market, performers need to learn how to be seen and heard, and how best to position themselves
What I did get, however, was an understanding of the works of practitioners such as Artaud and Brecht. The ability to work alongside others (even though I couldn’t stand the sight of many of them) and the chance to work with a variety of directors, and experience different techniques and approaches to staging a production. I refined any acting skills I may have come to my training with, and also began to understand how disciplined the industry requires people to be. I also gained confidence, communication skills and most importantly, after three years, the realisation that acting wasn’t for me.
So Paul may well be right. For me, my acting training – in retrospect – wasn’t about making me a better actor, necessarily. It was about everything else it gave me over three very formative years of my life, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Paul goes on to say performers don’t need to learn to act, rather they need to learn how to sell themselves. Again, I’m inclined to agree – because, in a crowded market, performers need to learn how to be seen and heard, and how best to position themselves. Hopefully this is something drama schools prepare students for.
I also believe – something I’ve said before – that drama schools could do more to prepare actors for the reality of a working life, particularly in front of a camera. More and more, performers come out of drama school and land television work, but most of those I speak to talk of how unprepared they are for this. There’s an area here that drama schools could embrace and which any student could benefit from – whether they can act or not.