Acting coach James Bowden: ‘UK drama training needs to be shaken up’

James Bowden. Photo: Jon Charles James Bowden. Photo: Jon Charles
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How did you start off in theatre?

My first professional job was with Opera North in the first British version of The Magic Flute at the age of 10.

What is the best piece of advice you have for students today?

Just be! Hone your craft and continue to train even after drama school. Be a nice person to work with. When you perform, always give.

What would you change about UK training?

It needs to be shaken up. I have been in drama schools where students are taught the same thing I was taught more than 25 years ago. Acting – whether in musical theatre, ‘straight’ stage or film – has changed. There is a need now for a real connection to the truth. I teach my own approach at the Dorset School of Acting called ‘the Process’, which helps performers connect with truthful emotions. There are so many performers out there. The best are those who can adapt and connect fully with their emotions and affect their audience.

What is the best part of your job?

When an actor ‘gets it’, has that ‘aha’ moment of inspiration and fully connects with their emotions. It’s amazing to watch a character become a real, three-dimensional being.

And your least favourite?

When an actor won’t listen or trust what I’m saying and doesn’t reach their full potential.

Who are the practitioners you admire the most? Who should students look up to?

Obviously Stanislavski, but a real turning point for me was when I looked into the approach of [US actor and teacher] Sanford Meisner. All of the practitioners from the Group Theatre [the 1930s New York theatre collective, of which Meisner was a member] brought important elements into actor training. The Process draws from all these with a little bit of my own ideas.

What is the one skill every successful actor should have?

The ability to be open and vulnerable.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Changing the way people approach acting and for creating consistently truthful performers.

James Bowden, co-founder of the Dorset School of Acting and a teacher at London’s Actors Centre, was talking to John Byrne