For today’s lesson, I’ll be using a very specific example from my personal experience.
When I was at drama school, there was one note I was guaranteed to be given every show I did – posture.
I’m one of those actors who sticks their head forward every time their character wants to be sincere.
It was drilled into me again and again and again – stop sticking your head forward, stand up straight.
You’d think that the fact that I had teachers and directors constantly reminding me of this that I would have finished my training having conquered the problem. But alas, no. Right up until my last show, even in showcase, this was an issue. In my own rehearsal time I was solely focused on character, and then during runs I would be reminded of my posture and only then was I really working on it. I could get it up to scratch for performances, but it wasn’t becoming habitual.
Now, at drama school, where you have vocal coaches and physical coaches working with you as well as your director, and where your director is also your teacher and has an objective of helping you to learn and progress, you get a lot more advice and guidance than you do in the real world. A lot more. In fact, my posture hasn’t been mentioned once since I left.
But did that mean that my problem was fixed? Oh no.
For one my current shows we had to choreograph a dance, and we filmed it so that we could see how it looked. When we were looking over it, I was mortified to see my head violently protruding forward from the neck while I focused on the moves. It was as if my three years of training had done nothing.
That’s when I realised that I had been relying far too heavily on other people to tell me when my posture was wrong: I wasn’t keeping an eye on it myself. But now, neither was anyone else, and so it fell to me to sort the problem out.
It seems to me that, if applied properly, internal discipline has a much greater effect than external discipline
Since then, I have paid more attention to my head, neck and shoulders than I did throughout my whole three years in training. Even now, as I type, I am pushing my neck back and feeling that lift through my crown. Every time I pass a mirror, I realign my head. I do it before every performance.
And the work I’m doing is paying off. My posture is improving not only in my performances, but in day to day life as well. I’m putting in more work and getting more results, and all because the discipline I am getting is entirely coming from within myself. I am more invested than I was before.
It seems to me that, if applied properly, internal discipline has a much greater effect than external discipline. The understanding that if I want to improve (not only physically but in all aspects of acting) I have to do it myself, is making me push myself much harder than I used to. Because if I don’t, I simply won’t progress. And now that I am the only person invested in my progression, I will only have myself to blame.
I think this could be something that makes or breaks a lot of actors after training. For some people, the loss of structured timetables and weekly lessons and guidance from tutors could mean that they completely lose all discipline. But for others, the sudden change will push them to work even harder than they did before. I am doing my best to fall into the latter category.
You can never truly test your limits until you remove the safety net. And that’s very much what leaving drama school feels like – it’s sink or swim. But once you get over the fear and start pushing yourself, you’ll find the reward is much greater because you really earned it.