This week I have gone back to school, kind of. The world-renown Vancouver Film School has invited me into their Summer Intensives classes, which are brief crash-courses, each representing a slice of a full multi-month program and course load. The intensives run for eight hours, five days this week and should they desire, students can then sign up for the full program in the fall. I’m getting a sneak peek (a few hours a day) in a different Summer Intensive each day this week. My course on Tuesday was Voice & Movement for Actors.
As today was the second day of class for those participating in the Summer Intensives, there was no rundown of course content or introduction to all of the instructors. Instead I walked up to the 7th floor of the campus at 182 West Hastings and got right to work.
The class was lead by Adam Henderson, whom everyone was meeting for the first time. From what I gathered during the “what did you learn yesterday” question period, students had some time in front of the camera, did some improvisation, and already formed a bond between them. One student who appeared to be a bit timid said that after the first day, he was more comfortable with everyone and ready to break out of his shell. By the way the group interacted and inquired about one another’s ambitions, goals, and experience, you could tell they were becoming a supportive unit.
I wasn’t a fly on the wall for this class, I was fully immersed — stretching my shoulders, groaning, and literally clowning around with the other students. To pull out a random reference… it’s like that episode of Friends when Monica and Rachel are at a dance studio spying on a woman who stole — and is using — Monica’s credit cards. They position themselves at the back of the room and when the instructor asks what they’re doing they say they’re just observing. She replies: “You don’t observe a dance class, you dance a dance class!” So abandoned my notebook on the floor and acted, in the acting class.
“Be idiots… just don’t hurt yourselves,” Adam told the class as we imitated walks, played with rhythm, and pretended we were all caught in the middle of a hurricane. With each exercise we were encouraged to make some noise — you can’t have movement without noise. We also learned the importance of breath. It’s the source of voice, it can change and evoke emotion, and it sets a tone inside and out of your body.
I do my fair share of speaking engagements and they usually come in clumps of five or six, every few months. I get incredibly nervous before each one as my throat closes up, my stomach ripples internally like a trampoline full of sugar-rushing children, and if I lose my train of thought on stage, I start to shake. Most of the time, no one notices.
Adam addressed a few of the student who said they get nervous and his response was that you need to acknowledge what your body is doing and go with it. It makes you human and as Adam says, “perfect is boring.” People want to see real people. Sure you can learn to become less anxious and some might teach you to listen to music, practice lines, meditate or get into a “zone”. But don’t become stiff as a board and don’t lose who you are in the process.
Standing in a circle snapping my fingers and chanting along with the warm-up game Big Booty I was more than miles away from the dark studio of yesterday’s sound design campus. Both classes got me thinking, one got me moving, and tomorrow at The Business of Screenwriting I’m sure I’ll have another completely unique experience.