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A wonderful, rich and rewarding conversation with Matt Wolf. So satisfying to discuss theatre and life with such an intelligent and inspired man. I hope I get to meet him in person someday.
04 June, 2007
A few months back I received an email from a totally lovely, eloquent and hopeful high school student named Matthew. He was curious and crafty enough to do his research and he randomly found and contacted me through my website to ask me a few questions about training at The RSAMD. This got me thinking: if Matthew is out there, and has questions I can answer, perhaps my answer to him could serve to help others out there with similar concerns and queries. Thus! I have decided to start a new serial entitled Ask Al; in which I post a real-life question and answer correspondence (edited for privacy of course), in the hopes of helping, enlightening, or perhaps merely entertaining, other inquiring minds out there. Enjoy. And Ask Away!
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My name is M. I am an aspiring actor at the high-school level and was wondering if you would be kind enough to share with me your impressions and thoughts about your training at The RSAMD? I would be very grateful. Thank you so much for your time.
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All British training is different, yet for the most part follows the same principles. For example, most Drama Schools begin the training with a study of Naturalism, and devote the entire first year of study to what most consider to be the most truthful and basic style of acting. (The dictionary defines Naturalism as "a movement in theater, film, and literature that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment.")
But all this being said, every drama school is always evolving, and I can only speak to RSAMD's methods, and hope that it serves a good enough example to ask appropriate questions of other schools.
RSAMD is very encouraging with their students, but they are also quite realistic and at times provide more "tough love" than nurturing. I personally like this. No soft stuff for me! I feel that life is too short to go through it with delusions, and RSAMD instructors provide a decent balance of inspiration and realism.
Example of nurturing inspirational teaching would be The Voice and Movement Project-- this comes in the middle of your second year as a culmination of your voice and movement training up until that point in the course. The instructors leave you alone for 3 weeks to work with your group of 4 or 5, and create a piece of 30 minute theatre based loosely around a theme. The parameters require each member of the group to perform two contrasting pieces of text within the piece (prose, speech, song, a duologue with another member of the group, etc) and to use their movement training to the height of your capability. The instructors leave you alone to create, but check in daily to both encourage and stimulate your development.
Example of tough love would be around the final year acting showcase for agents in both Glasgow and London. The advisors are VERY clear about making sure you are as both world aware and self aware as possible. What I mean by this is A) that you understand the nature of an incredibly difficult business to break in to, that you understand that you are performing in that showcase not to show off, not to display what you are fully capable of, but to get an AGENT. And the only way to do that is to show yourself excelling in what you would be cast in tomorrow. (for me, at RSAMD, I always played the BIG lady parts-- things I won't do professionally for 20 years. Since I've left, naturally I have been hired to play young ingenues.... that's how life is. Despite the confusion of some of my classmates, I showed off my ingenue-ness in the showcase and look at where I am now. My other classmates were not so lucky). They make it very clear what you are good at, and what your weaknesses are. I think that is helpful. I always want to know where I can continue to make improvements. But they aren't exactly soft about it.
As far as acting methods go... the training for the most part is based (and I mean that in the purest sense of the word) on naturalism-- stanislavsky, etc. The first year final productions are usually Russian realism plays (Chekhov, Gorky, etc), and the styles advance from there. I suppose the theory is the same as singers or dancers: a dancer who trains in ballet can dance any style, a singer who trains in classical music can usually sing any style... the theory holds for classical acting too.
But saying that, the training is largely process-to-production based. There are units of work that slightly alter annually. First Year is Realism/Naturalism (Chekhov, Ibsen, etc), the Second Year begins with Ancient Classics (The Greeks), followed by New Writing, followed by Shakespeare/Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre. Third Year you study more advanced theatre styles: Theatre of Alienation (Brecht), Theatre of Catastrophe (Howard Barker is a favourite at RSAMD), Theatre of the Absurd (Ionesco), a bit of New Writing, and some light film and TV studies. It is a theatre course, don't be fooled. I did my first film last year and was CLUELESS (it actually came out in the USA yesterday, it's called 1408).
If you are concerned about pretension, RSAMD's INSTRUCTORS are the furthest thing away from that. I cannot guarantee what one's classmates could potentially be like. We had a few GEMS in my class. On the whole, I think the school benefits from being away from London, from the heart of the BRITISH theatre scene. There is less pressure, less of a show-biz feel. It is really just about great training. And the Scottish theatre scene is vibrant and beautiful in a very real way. The down side is that one isn't always as prepared as one could be for the "real world" of being a professional (most likely out of work) actor. It's a tough life, even when you are doing well.
Best of luck! I hope that is helpful.