Walking the Talk

The acting teacher researches the teacher's acting

Watching the rough cut of the short film "Method School" in which I played a slightly esoteric, somewhat zealous acting teacher (no comment), known to his students as Dom, I was intrigued to watch the performances of many of my 'real' students as well as my own performance. The film was shot chronologically in an un-tenanted office space over four long nights.

The premise of the film a black comedy is that Dom and his class will be visited by a guest improvisation teacher. An unwitting bank robber who has botched his robbery due to incompetence and inexperience tumbles into the class and barricades the door as he anticipates pursuit which does not follow.

The class including Dom think this is a radical way to begin an impro lesson but decide to go along with it. All sorts of mis-interpretations occur until our "impro-teacher" Ewen, goes one step too far and cracks a student across the nose with the butt of his pistol.

At this point Dom steps in and confronts Ewen and a mexican stand off occurs, as the tension mounts Ewen breaks down and spills the stuff that is causing him to act this way. Dom realises he is not an impro teacher, but the class are still not clued in and applaud the performance.

At this point the real impro teacher barges in, 'pretending' to be a bank robber, with a toy gun in one hand. He swoops up the real gun in the other hand, soon after he enters. The newly arrived "expert" does some pretty bad acting and manages to shoot himself in the head.

Later when being Dom is being questioned by a detective, it is clear to the audience, the class have switched the impro teacher's clothes with Ewen's and have taken Ewen into their fold the inference being, that the bad acting of the real impro teacher meant he deserved what he had coming to him. Like I said black comedy. 

For me, the acting is organic and believable and is a good example of a script that has grown in collaboration with the actors and director/writer workshopping, recording and re-writing. The main lesson as an actor came from watching my performance grow and change as the shoot progressed. 

I feel that on the first and second night of shooting there is still subtle evidence of a "camera consciousness" by the third and fourth night of filming this self consciousness has dissolved.

This is a big lesson and one I intend to share with my students the question is, now that I've identified this subtle but obvious (to me) behaviour how do I prevent it from happening in the future. Perhaps it is a good start to be aware of the tendency and to take steps earlier in the rehearsal process to overcome this habit.   As a teacher it was scary to act with and in front of my students but I feel the benefits are enormous and I feel I have conducted a very real piece of research and 'walked the talk' so to speak.

©2004 Martin Challis

For more commentary and articles by Martin Challis, check the Archives.

Martin Challis is an actor and director "down under" in Australia.
He recently  commenced a coursework Doctorate in Creative Industries
developing projects such as The Raw Theatre and Training Company.
He's also the director of the Studio For Actors and Ensemble Works. 


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