trusting the actor

I'm in London and yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting Brian Astbury. Brian co-founded South Africa’s first non-racial theatre and arts centre, The Space. In the 1970’s The Space produced theatre, dance and exhibitions which broke apartheid taboos while also winning critical acclaim abroad. After relocating to London, Brian went onto teach in some of the UK's best drama schools and headed the pioneering project, Arts Threshold.

Over the years, in his quest to understand actors and acting, Brian developed a series of exercises that he uses in his teaching. Recently, at the request of past students, Brian put these together in his book, Trusting the Actor. Part diary, part text, Trusting the Actor is an acting book like none other and a must read for all actors.

"If you think this book is just going to be about ‘acting’ you would be very wrong…
Brian Astbury could easily have titled this excellent book ‘Everything you need to know about Acting’ and even then not have come close to describing it’s worth
."  Stephen Moyer (True Blood)
"An idiosyncratic, challenging and practical guide to the craft of acting." Richard E. Grant

I got to spend about two hours with Brian and over multiple coffees he shared some extraordinary life stories with me. It was a pleasure to meet him.

To buy his book. To follow Brian on Twitter.

poor poor school

Whilst in London, I attended a 'four day acting course' at The Poor School. It was the only acting course I could find to squeeze in over the time I was there. What became obvious as time passed was this course is a selling tool for places in their long term programs.

The Poor School appears just as its name suggests: a run down venue with limited facilities and a challenging floor plan, to say the least. I'm not fazed by this though - NIDA originated in tin sheds and we all know constraints can help boost creativity. In general the staff were professional and experienced (especially voice coach Christian Fellner), but Paul Caister, The Poor School's founder and director... I don't believe so much in mollycoddling actors. Acting's a tough game and training should be challenging. But I do believe when I teach it is my responsibility to create a safe atmosphere where actors will develop freely and confidently. Paul Caister rules over his kingdom with impatience and sarcasm. Not at all my style. 

In the last session on the last day, players gather to have their efforts brutally critiqued and places are offered to those worthy of the The Poor School's Two Year Training Course.  In a way I admire their pluck. To have operated since 1986 in the heart of London's Kings Cross, they must be doing something right - albeit preying on London's desperate wannabe actors. I won't be taking the place in the Two Year Training Course that I was offered.

burnie acting workshop

Heather & Catherine.jpg

I've spent the last week running an acting workshop with 23 students from four schools in Burnie, Tasmania.  The workshops were held at Burnie High School where they have a new performing arts facility.  Not all the students knew each other so we began by creating an ensemble, and then spent the week on acting skills that lead to a presentation Friday evening.  The week was a great success and it was a great privilege to take my skills and experience to those who don't have access to the things city teens take for granted.

Heather Polden & Catherine Segger pictured.

filming at plc

Tamara Sweetman, drama teacher at Pymble Ladies College brought me in to assist a group of students with a film project.  The six students from years 9, 10 and 11 were entering a film competition and I spent two days helping them prepare for the shoot.  On day one we brainstormed ideas around the competition brief and each student devised their own film concepts around our findings.  The students pitched their ideas to the group and then voted for the idea they liked most.  Over the next week they wrote the script before I returned for day two.  We then story boarded the film and created a shot list and a multitude of props that were required for the shoot.  I was told the shoot went well and they're presently editing the film.  Good luck in the competition girls!
I can't wait to see the end result.

coaching laura

I was recently approached by a mother from the Coffs Harbour region.  Her daughter Laura was having difficulty selecting a HSC solo performance piece and suspected she may have difficulty polishing her performance to gain a good assessment result.  On purchasing Individual Performance, my book of 20 original scripts for HSC students, Laura selected Deing Julia, the first script in the book about a teen's struggle being dyslexic.  Laura chose the script because it spoke to her - she has had some learning difficulties and has a friend who is dyslexic - she felt it was familiar.

Laura's mother then brought her to me in Sydney for a 4 hour coaching session on her performance.  Laura had rehearsed her performance and came to the session well prepared.  We played with the piece, improving it bit by bit and finished giving Laura specific work to do on her return home.  I recently heard from Laura's mum:

Just thought you would like to know that Laura has just performed her Individual Performance at the Eisteddfod. She came first in her division with a mark of 91%.  Thank you so much for your help. Laura has really appreciated it.  Will stay in touch as it progresses towards the final performance.

And Laura said:

Thanks Paul, you are a true champ!

aftrs

Today I ran a screen acting course for the Australian Film Television and Radio School, AFTRS, Open Program.  The course was for young actors and started exploring camera techniques before focusing on screen acting skills.  I used a few of my favourite screen acting exercises which resulted in the students not only having a great time but developing confidence in front of the camera.

To organise a screen acting course in your school, contact Creative State.

drama nsw group devised project

Today I ran a Professional Development workshop for teachers and members of Drama NSW.  It was held at the New Theatre, Newtown - a great character filled space.  It was a large group of teachers who threw themselves in head first right from the start.  My experience to date is that teachers are always so desiring new approaches to drama and new exercises to run in their own classes, that they easily throw their innabitions away. Throughout the day we explored

  • impulse
  • entry points
  • brainstorming
  • scene building

I received some amazing feedback from the teachers involved.  To organise a GP workshop at your school contact me.

individual performance - 20 original scripts for hsc drama

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Available for pre-order now!

Are you a HSC Drama student?  Do you teach or coach HSC Drama students?  For the first time ever, you can buy a book of 20 original scripts written specifically for the HSC Drama Individual Project: Performance assessment.

Individual Performance - 20 Original Scripts for HSC Drama

12 scripts are written as female characters, 8 as male with some easily adapted to change the gender.  It's available now for pre-order, so to guarantee you get a copy of the first print run, buy now.

drama nsw

Today I ran a workshop at the Seymour Centre for Secondary Drama Teachers.  The workshop, The Dramatic I: Teaching the IP, was organised by Drama NSW - the official, professional body representing teachers of Drama in NSW.  With a group of committed teachers, I worked through the process of selecting, analysing and rehearsing monologues for the HSC Drama Individual Project: Performance assessment.  The workshop went so well, Drama NSW have requested I run a HSC Drama Group Project workshop in the new year.
Image and links by Drama NSW

bundy boy

The following article appeared in the Bundbaberg News-Mail on Saturday 14th Aug 2010.

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A life up on the big and small screens.

After graduating from NIDA, Caesar has had many roles on TV and the big screen.  On TV, his roles have included appearances in 30 Seconds, My Place, All Saints, Home and Away, Water Rats, GP, A Country Practice, Big Sky, The Feds, Soldier Soldier, Murder Call, Young Lions and in the ABC's acclaimed series Heartland.  He has acted in feature films - The Square, Cross Life, Gino, and The Well - and toured inRomeo and Juliet and in King Lear.  Caesar said his father was a former policeman, and he got to play a police officer in The Square.  He has also coached aspiring actors for 14 years.  Caesar has taught at NIDA since 2006 and is the core tutor at NIDA's Drama Studio.

Bundy boy a real class act.

For Paul Caesar, life has rather been about contrasts — perhaps none more so than his transition from Bundaberg railway station porter to acting classmate of superstar Cate Blanchett.  Now Caesar is a successful actor with numerous film and TV roles to his name, as well as being a highly respected coach helping others in the thespian world.  And on Saturday, August 28, he will bring his skills and experience back home for an acting workshop at the Playhouse Theatre.

Caesar said although he was born in Brisbane, he grew up in Bundaberg, where his parents still lived.  He attended school at the Christian Brothers and then at Shalom College for the first year of its existence.  One of the reasons he is coming back to Bundaberg is for the 25th reunion of his school class.  “It’s been 20 years since I left Bundaberg,” he said.  Caesar said his early acting experience was with the Bundaberg Players.  “In about 1981, I was in a Players production of The King and I, and that was the first thing I did with them,” he said.  “After that I was hooked, and there were times I spent seven nights a week at the Playhouse doing acting, directing, choreography and behind-the-scenes work.”  After leaving school, he worked as a railway porter, then auditioned for the demanding National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and won a coveted place. He graduated from NIDA with a diploma, which he later converted to a degree in dramatic art.

Caesar has also experienced the tough times of a professional actor’s life.  “I’ve been out of work more than I’ve been in work,” he said.  “But now I’m doing lots of coaching, helping people prepare for auditions, and I do a lot of teaching at NIDA.”  Caesar said while he loved acting, he was finding himself doing more and more directing.

Bundaberg acting identity Nigel Dick said he was the Bundaberg Players youth director when Caesar started out with the group.  “You could see he had a certain gift,” he said.  Mr Caesar’s exploits can be tracked at www.creativestate.com.au

st patricks strathfield

Today I ran an all day workshop for St Patricks year 10 & 11 drama students.  Noel Nassar, Head of Drama brought me in for the IP & GP workshop which took the students through:

Individual Performance

  • sourcing and selecting an appropriate script
  • script analysis and exploration
  • character exploration
  • eliminating nerves in performance

Group Performance

  • Finding a great idea
  • Exploring possibilities
  • Brain storming techniques
  • Acting verses demonstrating

It was a great day and the feedback from the students was that it had been a fun filled, practical workshop that had definitely increased their chances of succeeding in their IP & GP projects.  It's rare I get to work with an all boys group and it was a pleasure to see such a strong united group who were so open and supportive of each other.

country nsw

I've just returned after a great week in the country.  Firstly I went to Griffith for NIDA to run a 2 day acting workshop for high school students, as a part of the local Xposed Program.  There were 18 teens in the group including Bonnie Owen, a local student I saw play Juliet in an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet.  She is very talented and I'm sure we'll be seeing her at one of Australia's top drama schools some time soon.

I then drove 3 hours across our beautiful country (pictured) to Albury and met up with 4 other NIDA tutors.  We ran three days of workshops at Walla Walla with about 70 primary and secondary school students from the region.  It was a great 3 days, partly class work and partly devising theatre performances which were presented to a large audience on the last day.  It was a great experience for students and tutors alike.  I felt privileged to take my knowledge and experience to a group of students who don't have the kind of access to classes etc that local Sydney kids do.

back of bourke

Today I returned home from Brewarrina and Bourke (some 800 kilometres north-west of Sydney) where, through NIDA's Open Program, I spent five days running drama workshops with secondary students.  Brewarrina Public School has just over 200 students, Bourke Public Primary some 300 students and Bourke High School approximately 200 (between 55-97% identify as being Aboriginal).  Some students had never participated in drama workshops before but in the end we had all students experiencing what it's like to perform in front of a live audience.
My companion, Matias Stevens, a Sydney based actor managed by BLA Management like myself, worked with primary school students and also had students up in front of an audience, most for their first time.  I must say Matias was a delight to travel with (we laughed so hard) and has a great ability to get fantastic results due to his energy and enthusiasm.  It was a wonderful week that I hope will be the first of many.

summer school

teachingdramaI've spent the last five weeks in locations over Sydney facilitating a number of workshops with participants aged 9 to adult.  I ran two separate workshops called Acting on Screen for participants age 12-16 years, two Drama School courses where partcipants aged 9-11 and 12-15 gained some understanding of what it's like to train as a professional actor and also steered a number of 12-16 year olds through the auditioning process in a two day Auditions and Screen Tests intensive.

Two days ago I finished running auditions for two one-year-long courses I will facilitate part of throughout 2008: Young Film Makers and Drama Studio.

Two weeks ago I also facilitated a two day Teaching Drama course for Primary School Teachers.  Eight teachers from all over Australia came to Sydney to participate and the results were great.

Following is some of the feedback I received from these courses.

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Teaching Drama for Primary School Teachers (2 Days)

  • Fantastic - I will be a much better teacher - especially when I deliver drama lessons.  Paul's sessions were clear, explicit and fun.  I wanted to return on the second day!  Will tell my peers!!!  Debbie
  • Excellent, very helpful for practical exercises to do with all ages within primary.  Paul was excellent, encouraging, has an obvious passion for drama which came across in his enthusiasm & great teaching ideas.  Tracey
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the course and have gained confidence and a repertoire of resources for teaching drama.  Jeanelle
  • Absolutely awesome.  Fantastic ideas to run with in the classroom.  Really got the creative juices flowing!  Paul was excellent!  Great to work with.  Understanding. Very knowledgeable!  Sharon
  • A fantastic opportunity to learn new relevant ideas.  Paul was well prepared, relevant, supportive and positive - a great facilitator.  Leanne
  • I found the course great, really rewarding and I feel I can go away with a repertoire of ideas and use them effectively.  Craig
  •  Fantastic! Paul was wonderful, researched, experienced, open to answering all our questions, supportive and patient.  Sally

Youth Drama 12 - 15 years

  • Awesome! Couldn't have been better!  (Paul was) Friendly, really helpful and a great tutor.  He really knows what he's talking about.  Colin
  • It was great and very rewarding.  It gave me new friends, new experiences and new skills.  Paul is a great teacher, he knows how to treat and teach us.  He definitely knows his stuff. Justin
  • Heaps of fun!  Learnt a lot of different things that I didn't know about before.  Paul's a really good teacher.  Anita
  • Awesome and great fun!  Paul was great!  Adam
  • I had a great time and enjoyed working with Paul & all the people in our group who were all really inspiring.  Paul was awesome.  I was given really good direction & advice & feel I have improved as an actor.  Ainsley
  • I thought this course was a lot of fun and I met a lot of nice new people.  Paul was a great teacher.  He was really enthusiastic and supportive and gave good constructive criticism.  Ruby

nida holiday workshops

nidaI've had a great time over the last few weeks facilitating a variety of workshops for the NIDA Open Program.  I started by making a short film with NIDA @ The Stables students.  This took place at Palomino Riding Centre in Belrose.  Then I ran the first NIDA workshops in conjunction with the Glen Street Theatre with students devising work on the theme 'Friends and Enemies'.  I ran a four week program for adults on auditions and screen tests and last week devised a theatrical performance with a school group who came all the way from W.A.  It's all been very exciting with a great time had by all participants.

For information on NIDA's holiday and term classes contact the NIDA Open Program on
02-9697 7626 or go to their website.