Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Acting Exercises

While sat in the park yesterday, I got to writing a bit about drama school. As I wrote, I started to remember things that my brain had clearly desperately tried to forget about, things that started to enduce a strong sense of panic the second I started to write about them. The main culprit was 'acting exercises' These were exercises that you had to perform mainly solo (although later ones included a partner) in front of the rest of the group. They start out simple with a simple object exercise where you're on you're own performing a simple task. Then, once you've successfully completed that task, they progress in difficulty until you're in a life or death situation where you have to escape without waking up your partner otherwise you'll die. Each exercise has objectives and obstacles and actions and you have to state these before starting and then the piece is then performed for everyone.

My first tutor who introduced me to these was an absolute demon. He was incredible and a comedy genius but he was also as demonic as they come. He would firstly insist that you bring in as many props as possible so that you could recreate your surroundings as much as possible. This would mean that you'd instantly know who was on that day as they'd arrive laden with bedding and rugs and ornaments and CDs and photos and everything else that they held dear. After setting up your room, you'd state your scenario and then you'd set about mentally preparing so that you were ready. This was all done in front of the group and you were allowed to take as long as you liked (one girl took 20 minutes and we were all left watching her lying on a bed as she supposedly got her mind ready for the task ahead.) You would then begin your task and the exercise would end either when you reached your objective or if the tutor stopped you. And he was a bugger for stopping people. If he thought you dropped out of character or lost your objective for a second then that was it, game over. And you couldn't just start again. Oh no. You'd have a thorough dressing down in front of the group and then you'd have to wait for your turn to come round again in a few weeks. One guy famously took four months just to get his first exercise completed. The boy was very nearly broken by the end.

My personal worst was for my 'sleeping partner' exercise where you have to reach your objective without waking your partner up. Your partner is control of whether they wake up and it all based on how much noise you make, meaning that you spend a lot of time creeping around all in the name of acting. I'd set up a scene where I'd read a letter of my mum's without her knowing and I needed to return the letter to her bedroom. A very simple scenario and after a few minutes of mental preparation, I was ready. However, at the exact same time that I started, my brain went into meltdown and instead of the delicate creeping that I'd planned, I charged across the room. Naturally, my partner was woken up instantly by my elephant-style stamping and my exercise was over in a matter of seconds. Tutor shouted, I had nothing to say for myself and I then had to wait another three weeks before I was allowed another attempt.

Then, of course, there was the challenge of watching other people's exercises. Because of the nature of the pieces, you had to sit in complete and utter silence so as not to make any noise that may ruin someone's exercise. The worst came when a guy in my class did his, without any warning, completely naked. It was for his life and death situation where he was being held captive by kidnappers and he needed to escape without waking them up otherwise they'd kill him. He did his mental preparation fully clothed in front of us and then went into the next room as he needed to enter the room to start the scene. All blissfully unaware, we sat back and waited only to be faced with him entering, bits first, through the door. We then had to watch him creep around the room (I should add that we had to use the local church hall for some classes and this was one of them and it had windows that faced out onto a very busy carpark) naked for fifteen minutes while he tried to retrieve his clothes and a set of keys. I have honestly never felt like such a child as I did that day.

And then of course there was the poor girl who had made life so difficult for herself by being tied to a pipe while sat on a massive piece of tarpaulin. The person who had tied her up had done it so tight and the tarpaulin was so noisy that we then spent 45 minutes in complete silence watching her desperately try to move even an inch successfully. Finally the tutor called an end to proceedings when the girl was in actual tears at the sheer frustration of it all.

It's when I remember things like that that I'm so thankful I'm no longer training. I don't think I've ever felt like such a failure as I did during those months when it felt like everything I did was completely and utterly wrong. Of course, the elation at being allowed to move onto the next exercise was also pretty damn unbeatable at the time. I'm sure my notes from back then would be interesting but I'm pretty sure they're a tear-stained jumble of words as I desperately tried to work out how to get it right. Hmmm, maybe things haven't changed as much as I thought they had...