Well, I can’t believe it’s been almost a decade since graduating from drama school and almost a decade since I’ve done any further drama study. I mean, I’ve worked closely with dialect coaches over the years and privately with teachers preparing auditions, but in terms of flexing the muscle in a classroom environment I haven’t done much.
Having spent the last two pilot seasons in LA, it’s incredible to see the commitment actors make to the evolution of their craft. It’s not unusual to find professional actors taking two classes a week alongside their usual filming or stage commitments. That’s before their regular voice class, Alexander class and weekly session with a therapist which, according to renowned American acting coach, Larry Moss, are a must.
It’s funny, but in my late-teens and early-20s I couldn’t get enough of everything ‘drama’. There was ATYP, On Camera Connections, drop in classes at the Actors Centre, followed by three years of drama school, during which time I even ventured to London to train with Philippe Gaulier.
But what happens once we graduate? Do we become lazy? Jaded? I’m sure many actors will agree it’s actually not for lack of enthusiasm. I’m always nodding in agreement when watching ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ and hearing actors talk about their passion for learning, growing and improving.
So, in Australia where do we go to deepen our craft? Who can we work with after leaving drama school? Especially considering if our drama school was interstate? To my knowledge there aren’t many regular classes available.
In America on the other hand, there are many consistent, accessible classes aimed at working actors – classes run by world-class teachers like Ivana Chubbuck, Margie Haber and Larry Moss. Chubbuck coached Charlize Theron before winning the Oscar for Monster and Halle Berry for Monster's Ball while Larry is the man behind Hilary Swank’s repeated success. These are but a few.
At the beginning of the year, 16th Street Actors Studio in Melbourne brought out Chubbuck to run an intensive four-day masterclass espousing her famous ‘Chubbuck’ technique. There were 32 places for professional actors based on submission then selection. You paid about $1200 to participate and it really gave us a taste of what these regular classes are like.
Each actor was assigned a scene partner and allocated a scene, which Chubbuck chooses. My partner Aaron Jeffery and I were given a gutsy scene from When a Man Loves a Woman.
The instruction was then to read Chubbuck's book, Power of the Actor (which you are given), and apply her 12 steps to the work. Once that is complete you continue with your rehearsal process before presenting the scene on stage at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne for Chubbuck, your classmates and 300 auditors in the audience. I’m sure the other actors will agree, that the nerves before going on felt like an opening night on steroids.
After working on stage with Chubbuck for about an hour, you then watched the remaining scenes for the day before heading back to the rehearsal room at night to re-work the scene with the new notes, in preparation for a second performance.
Chubbuck used to be a stand-up comic and her candour is dry. She can be persistent and bold at times but is incredibly honest. Her method is all about using your life ‘stuff’ to infuse your choices so you can create dimensional characters.
We watched every single actor grow enormously in the work they produced. Watching Pia Miranda and Natalie Imbruglia tackle playing a lesbian relationship infused with drug addiction in a scene from GIA; pushing Sarah Snook and Andrew Lees to get out of their comfortable playing zones by using bold choices in a scene from Memento; Zoe Tuckwell Smith and Ryan Gibson raise the bar by playing their scene (also from Memento) from a place where they wanted to win contradictory to the obvious depravity of their situation. Ella Scott Lynch and Michael Sutherland brought the house down by playing more of the subtext in their scene from When Harry Met Sally (and it wasn’t even the orgasm scene) and Christopher Sommers and Jane Barry did a brilliant job with Kramer vs Kramer by breathing more life into all the moments in between their lines.
Refining objectives, then really pursuing those objectives, seemed the key to unlocking great performances time and time again. During the masterclass, Chubbuck also worked with Jeffery on a cold read audition he was preparing for, which was invaluable to see.
At the end of the four days I felt so proud to have been able to share such an intimate yet exposing working environment with 31 incredibly talented actors. I felt like I had a new sense of confidence in my work. I also had a new in depth process to apply to breaking down a script and I wanted more. I wanted now to tackle a different scene. I wanted to be able to follow it up with more classes.
Thank you to Kim, Jamie and everyone at 16th Street for your passion, energy and unwavering support. How lucky your students are to have mentors like you.
Zoe Naylor has worked extensively in film, television and theatre. She recently starred in The Reef alongside Gyton Grantley and Damien Walsh-Howling and has just completed filming the lead role in US sci-fi thriller Robotropolis due for release this year. She has worked on Mcleod’s Daughters, Orange Roughies and The Book Of Revelation as well as US productions, Evil Never Dies, Fearless and Virtual Nightmare. For more info you can visit her official website, Facebook page or Twitter.
Actors at the four-day masterclass with Ivana Chubbuck.