Even if you don't necessarily want to become an actor...
Maybe you've always dreamed of being an actor, but never yet had the chance to try it, and don't want to put it off any more? You might have done a few plays at school, or a beginner's course once upon a time, and would love to get back into it. You might work in another aspect of theatre, or teach drama, and would love to communicate better with actors or students. All of these are great reasons to sign up for an acting course this Autumn.
However, having taught and directed adults from all walks of life for nearly twenty years, I’ve seen acting offer benefits that go far deeper than "mere" professional training. Here are ten ways in which taking an acting class can enhance your day-to-day existence.
1. IT'S A GREAT WAY TO MEET PEOPLE
Perhaps the new term has brought you to a new town to study or work? Or your life circumstances have changed in some way? Maybe all your friends are married with babies, or you're sick of the pub, perhaps you've recently retired or gotten divorced, or you feel stuck in your social circle and would like to make new friends? By its very nature, a drama class breaks down barriers between people through group and partner work, building trust and, most importantly, shared laughter. As students focus on creating work together, interaction happens without thinking about it too much, friendships spark, post-class social occasions start to spring up, and you suddenly find yourself with a whole new social circle which has the added zing of creative collaboration.
2. IT'LL BOOST YOUR CHARISMA
One of the silliest myths around acting is the idea that "Presence" is some magical thing that "special" people like Cillian Murphy or Saoirse Ronan have, while the rest of us are unremarkable mortals. Of course, some people may have cultivated their presence to a greater degree, but it's accessible to everyone with a body and breath. Stage Presence is simply the ability to be fully present in your body and in the moment, so that you can access the power needed to radiate your being out into the audience and respond truthfully to your fellow players. Nearly every style of acting training seeks, through different techniques, to bring students into this experience, which makes it easier and easier to be present in our outer lives as well as on stage. You'll notice over time how much more grounded and magnetic you feel!
3. IT'LL SPARK YOUR IMAGINATION
And one of the most ridiculous myths about becoming an adult is that you lose your imagination. Or you might have always felt that some people are just born more imaginative. That's not necessarily true, it just looks like that because, for any number of reasons, some people just find imagination easier to access - a little like presence. You just have to trust that it's there. Indeed, imagination begins with presence, being still and observing, and then taking what you observe and asking questions about it and that way transforming it. A good drama class will allow the space for people to try out ideas in their raw form, and then learn how to shape them. A good facilitator will keep an eye out to make sure that everyone in the group has space to explore and that people listen to one another. It can often take time to trust yourself to follow your creative impulses, but over six to twelve weeks, if you go with what comes up, you will definitely surprise yourself.
4. YOU WILL LEARN TO EXPRESS YOURSELF MORE CLEARLY
For students whose first language is not English, an acting class is an ideal place to utilise their existing linguistic knowledge in all kinds of dramatic situations, to learn new words and phrases as they are encountered in scripts and improvisations, and master the subtleties of how words and syllables are stressed. Clearer expression is also a by-product for native speakers, as we explore breath support, resonance and diction for the voice. As we commit to our characters, we learn how to commit to the words we speak and what we are trying to achieve with our words. We become aware of how we use our body to express ourselves, and notice the things we might be doing which unconsciously counteract the message we want to get across. (Very handy for interviews!) We learn how to ground ourselves and connect with the space and audience before speaking, which is invaluable for those with a horror of public speaking, but whose work demands it of them from time to time.
5. YOUR CONCENTRATION AND MEMORY WILL IMPROVE
The best acting exercises will have multiple benefits. For instance, many exercises around developing physical presence have a knock-on effect on your concentration with their demands upon you to be ready and responsive in the moment. Getting on top of your cues in performance trains your mind not to drift, while learning lines and memorising (and most importantly, making sense of) of the actions that have to happen do wonders for your sense of recall, which can help stave off memory loss later in life.
6. YOUR INNER CHILD WILL THANK YOU
My absolute favourite thing as a teacher of adult drama is registering the difference at the end of class between the shy, guarded individuals who come in after a long day of conforming to the demands of work and/or home life - of responsibility and productivity, of fitting in to the space they have carved in the world - and their sparkly-eyed dopplegangers who bounce out of the room full of energy, mischief and a kind of breathless incredulity because they have just played for two or three hours, with nothing too serious at stake, and nothing too heavy to take home with them. This is because drama at its heart is gorgeously ephemeral, and yet powerfully transformative.
7. IT'S A SAFE SPACE TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR SHADOW
And my absolute favourite thing about being an actor is playing a villain, because, let's face it, behaving badly is ridiculously fun sometimes. You get to do and say things that you'd never be allowed to (and probably wouldn't really want to) in the outside world. This is me, for instance, playing an evil nun called Lucifer - and having a ball! Everyone needs that safety valve where they can own and release the darker aspects of their nature, take them out into the light in such a way that they are not acted out on anyone in reality, but also to find the power in parts of themselves they might have repressed. Shadow selves are not always bad - in fact it has been said they contain the real gold in your personality - they might just be modes of being you might have been afraid of, or might not have permitted yourself to explore. An experienced facilitator will create a safe space for all of this to happen by keeping a strong boundary between acting and reality, and, especially for beginners, always keeping it at the level where it is fun. An acting class should never be therapy, but at the same time, you never know the gold you might find!
8. IT WILL BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE
One of the most common questions I get asked when people phone me up to enquire about courses is “I’m really shy, can I still do the course?” and my answer is always “If you are shy, and want to get out of yourself, this course is the best thing you can do!” The first thing I ask them to do is to be aware of what their personal line is in terms of what they are comfortable doing - it varies from person to person and situation to situation - and then go the equivalent of one or two steps over that line week by week, thereby incrementally pushing that line forward. Most traumatic memories around performing in public from childhood come from where the personal boundaries of a child are not respected and they are pushed too far into the deep end of a situation before they are ready. Confidence begins with minding your own boundaries and learning how to challenge them in a safe way. A good teacher should be able to sense those boundaries and know how to respect them, but also how to safely coax you that one or two steps over the line. However, the best teacher will make sure you are having so much fun, that you won’t even notice that this has happened!
9. YOU'LL ENJOY WATCHING MOVIES, TV PROGRAMMES AND THEATRE SHOWS MORE
As you learn different filters through which to observe the world in order to interpret and create characters and the relationships between them, you will gain a deeper appreciation for how the media you watch are put together. You’ll see differences in approach, for instance, actors who work from outside-in as opposed to inside-out. (I will write a more detailed blog post on this in future, but if you’re curious now, come along to a class!) Having worked hard at mastering a particular technique in class, you cannot fail to be wowed when more experienced artists make it look effortless. The experience of mere entertainment gives way to the more satisfactory experience of craft and you’ll probably start enjoying long spirited discussions after evenings at the cinema or theatre!
10. YOU CAN'T BEAT FUN, FREE, LIVE ENTERTAINMENT FROM YOUR PEERS ON A WEEKLY BASIS!
It’s great being entertained by professional actors, whether live or on the golden or silver screens, but I have to say nothing entertains or satisfies me quite as much as being in a room with my peers, creating work from our own experiences and for our own enjoyment. And nothing makes me laugh quite so much either. When you think about it, this is the way people used to entertain themselves - telling stories to one another, enacting them with whatever was to hand, singing songs, doing our party-pieces. This is how society used to come together and it sometimes makes me sad that this, along with so much else, is outsourced to people who have been airbrushed beyond all recognisable resemblance. So, if you’re bored with what’s on the telly and want something fresh and exciting, something that represents your perspective on life, why not sign up for a class and create it yourself?
SO, ACT NOW!
So after reading this, I hope you jump straight onto Google and find a class in your area. Or, if you’re in an area where this is lacking, why not get a group and a few books of basic improv exercises together, and start to figure it out yourselves?
I’m hoping you’re reading this much further afield than Galway City on the west coast of Ireland, but if you’re in the vicinity, we have a couple of places left on our Introduction to Acting course, with a further 6 week course coming after mid-term, all based in the Anno Santo Hotel in Salthill.