The actor’s primary instrument is the body. It houses other vital instruments: the mind, the breath, the voice, the feelings and the senses. Together, they are the actor’s media of expression and communication.
Students experience a process of physical development that leads to greater self-awareness, flexibility, control and coordination. Lazy, mechanical modes of moving and behaving are identified and made transformable. Whatever the body’s size, weight and shape, it is primed to be technically proficient in skills such as trust, balance, neutrality, rhythm, grace and expressivity. The body in its interactions with other bodies, with objects, with costumes, adornment, and make-up are also explored.
The training of the body is accomplished through progressive series of games, exercises, mime and mask studies, creative dance, gymnastics, clowning techniques, and martial arts elements.
Students are trained to breathe more efficiently, to gain control of breathing technique and enhance their capacities.
The voice travels on the breath, and students learn how this synergy can create a wide range of effective communication. Voices are enriched, made strong, resonant, flexible and expressive; they become the instruments to effectively convey all subtle distinctions of meaning and feeling in characterful ways. Students are helped to ‘find’ their voice, and then to develop its range, pitch, timbre, and to place it in different registers, through a sequence of exercises.
The work on the voice extends into the workshop on speech, which aims to develop greater clarity through corrected pronunciation and sensitivity to intonation, stress and rhythm. A module on phonetics is taught at this stage.
Voice and speech training is accomplished through a carefully designed series of exercises, story-telling, news-reading, script-reading, gibberish improvisations, singing, chanting, word-games, radio plays, interviews, and the performance projects.
Training the mind is challenging, but if it is transacted through concrete experiences and practical activities, rather than wordy lectures and abstract philosophy, then significant development is achievable over four or six months. Students learn that the mind is not a singular muscle but a repository of multiple intelligences, operations and awarenesses, many of which remained inactive during conventional education. Often, they have been repressed or abused.
Students undergo exercises that have the purpose of activating dormant or desensitized areas and operations of the mind, and learn, as actors must, to have them operating in concert, synchronously.
The key operations and skills that are developed are: concentration/focus, belief, curiosity/questioning, creativity/imagination, making choices and decisions, spontaneity/intuition, reflection and memory, spatial awareness, and interpersonal skills.
Sense perception is developed both as real and imagined experience. Students learn that the senses are the fertilizer of the imagination and are infused in all aspects of the actor’s work. Sense perception also breeds sensitivity, which in turn fosters sensibility; the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional, aesthetic stimuli.
Students are also led into an exploration of mood and emotion through a variety of approaches and methods. Each student is encouraged to search for the means to connect with feelings and behaviors that are authentic and truthful rather than contrived.
The men especially, are induced to overcome the gender conditioning that prohibits the public expression of emotion. The problems of sustaining a mood, and of continuity, especially in film production, are also addressed.
The course aims to facilitate the fullest flowering of each student’s mind and abilities; the mind of an artist, aware of its role and place in society, its responsibilities and possibilities, its quest for enlightenment.
It is said that whole purpose of education, and of life itself, is to know yourself. It is certainly a crucial project for an actor; one that is never completed. For, as we grow, we change.
Particularly at the beginning of the course, but sustained through it, students are embarked on an analysis of themselves, and of course, each other self in the group. A progressive series of exercises, improvisations and assignments stimulate an exploration of the ‘luggage’ that they carry with them: memories of childhood and youth, beliefs, attitudes, aspirations, fears, and dreams.
It is not psychotherapy, but a search to bring to consciousness the reasons for being the way we are. Importantly, this lays the foundations for the work on character building. Certain aspects of the self may be carried over into a role, other aspects may have to be transformed or neutralized. Students confront the challenging paradox of acting: it is me, but at the same time it is not me.
To the extent that students are aware of the complexities and contradictions of the self, it is invested and reflected in the characters that they create and perform. Work on the self lies at the heart of all the training, for it generates the faith and confidence in oneself that are vital in pursuing a successful career in the media.
Improvising for the actor is the ability to think and create on one’s feet. It is a fundamental and compulsory skill for actors who wish to be innovative and riveting. It develops the crucial qualities of spontaneity and transparency, of living in moment, which accomplished actors achieve even when negotiating a rehearsed text.
Students learn that improvisation is a major tool with many applications, with or without a given text. It may imply a journey into the unknown, a quest to discover things such as one’s identity, activity, emotional response and progression. It may be an exercise to flesh out the bare bones of a story, idea or theme. It may be an exploration of style or genre. It may be an imaginative devising of scenes that are not in the script, that are back-story or subtext. It may allow actors to change roles and experience a story from a different perspective. It may be simply a game to exercise the skills of rapid decision-taking and visceral responses.
Acting is doing. During the course, students are challenged with numerous acting exercises and scene work, simulated television programmes, and actual film- shooting experience. All the skills developed in exercises and improvisations are fed into major acting projects, some of which may be performed publicly. Performances with and without dialogue, both for theatrical spaces and for the camera, become the ultimate tests of the students’ abilities.
Students are taught to delineate the inner and outer traits of character, to graph the main lines of their action and to detail behaviour and gesture for every moment, as well as vocal and speech characteristics. Students learn to play off each other, to give and take, to act and react, in the establishment and development of relationships. They are led to search for the essential meaning and purpose of their characters in a story, and to convincingly bare their souls.
The self-study modules are applied to character studies, as students learn to develop complete biodata for their characters. A location-based environmental and character study project is a key aspect of this training, which teaches students the ability to draw on life for knowledge and inspiration.
All in all, students are thoroughly in the awareness of what their responsibilities as actors are. They become disciplined in the preparation and execution of roles, and to learn to work with integrity and courage, even when a director is lapse about these demands. They are programmed to work hard and skillfully, always aiming for the highest artistic standards.
All of the following projects are attempted to be brought to a level of professionalism that warrant public performances, but all are not guaranteed exposure owing to the unforeseeable vagaries of nature, illness, socio-political turmoil and occasional artistic failure.
- Dance Drama
- Primitive Ritual
- Location-based Character Study
- Status Exercise
- Street Play
- Children’s Play
- Mime and Mask Exercises
- Scene Work of Play/Film Texts
The projects are filmed for purposes of documentation and analysis. On-camera performances followed by critiques enable the optimizing of strengths and elimination of weaknesses in the students’ work.
The final weeks of the courses are dedicated to the rigours of filmmaking processes and key concepts in acting for the camera are explored and practised.
Students learn the basics of how films are made in terms of pre-production, shooting, and post-production procedures. They get to know the camera by using it and continuity is instilled through practical exercises and demonstrations.
The understanding born out of the camera work is then fed into the students’ film acting projects. In these, they confront the challenges of ‘scaling’ a performance in accord with the frame of the shot, learning to control movement, gesture, voice levels, emotional intensity and energy levels. They become familiar with ‘hitting the mark’, ‘catching the light’, ‘cheating’, and other technicalities.
Revelations; the devising, scripting and shooting of 10-minute in groups, which are then professionally edited.
Students’ Film Projects. The students undertake the production of their own short films, being responsible for all aspects of it apart from the editing.
Students are also trained in the handling of film auditions and screen tests.
One of the ironic consequences of the current education system is that many students never wish to read a book or indulge in any serious writing once they have left school or college. But a serious actor sustains both activities.
The reading and writing recommended on the course are considered to be important aspects of the students’ growth and development as actors and artists. Many actors have become writers.
- The workbook that students are expected to maintain during (and after) the course has several objectives and functions:
- At a basic level, it functions as a logbook of all the exercises, activities, improvisations and discussions that occur on the course.
- At a more personal level, it is used to record the students’ responses to the work, and their self-assessment of their attainments, their own views on their progress.
- It is used to record the students’ creative writing assignments: recollections of personal experience, stories, poems, and scripts.
- It is illustrated by the students’ own art work and ‘doodles’ character sketches, photographs, imagery cut from newspapers, magazines, or any other source.
- It is used to critique the work of other actors, teachers, guest-speakers, as well as books, plays and films.
- It is used to articulate ideas, opinions and feeling responses to anything that is occurring in their immediate environment, in the country and in the world.
- In other words, the workbook becomes a self-authored record of each student’s development during the course; a multi-faceted manifestation of their work on themselves.
Importantly, it constitutes evidence of a student’s ability to value life and experience, to reflect, to analyse, to understand, to question, and to honestly articulate ideas and opinions. In this light, workbooks are to be handed in to the staff periodically as a part of criteria for assessment of students’ progress.
The Professional Career
Beyond all the technical and aesthetic aspects of an actor’s education, the course syllabus includes modules that enlighten and instruct students in the launching and building of their careers as actors. The faculty, supported by guest speakers from the worlds of film, television, radio, theatre and advertising, share their awareness and experience of how these businesses operate and what is expected of an actor when seeking employment.
All related issues of writing resumes, photographic portfolios, showreels, understanding industry personnel and terminology, interviews, auditions, screen tests, casting agents, contracts, payments, insurance, and even positive unemployment between jobs, are addressed.
After the course, our in-house Casting Agency sustains the concern that our students find employment with continuing guidance and assistance. An online database of students and their accomplishments is maintained and regularly updated for this purpose.
The Agency not only makes recommendations to prospective employers but also safeguards the actors’ working terms and conditions, and non-exploitative financial arrangements.
The BARRY JOHN ACTING STUDIO teaches its students that they, their personalities and their talent together constitute a product. It needs controlled, creative and efficient business management if it is to be successfully marketed and become a popular brand, holding its own amongst many other competitive brands.
An actor has to develop skills and talent, but also the ability to manage and maintain a successful career.