America Day 61 – Voice Class

Today I went into a “public speaking” class with a large number of students who haven’t found their voice yet.


It’s a wonderful space to work in, helping people find their voice. It’s part of my job here and so I’ll do it. I came into teaching “voice” pretty much by mistake.

About 10 years ago I got a call from my friend Mel. She was working at a fee paying drama school in central London. She was directing Dream. This was the end of their second year. A project. “Al, I don’t know what to do. These kids can’t speak.” That was the call. There was virtually no money involved but I could get involved with some script reading for a playwriting prize that paid at the same institution, and she would buy me pints. I wasn’t working and I thought maybe the script reading would recur – even though it was only about £4.00 per script. I was struggling, back then. I decided to help her rather than sit on my hands.

Those poor students. They pay as much as you’d pay for an actual training, but they learn nothing useful. Back then it was an alcoholic running the place. I don’t know if she’s still there. She was essentially a vampire, feeding off the hope of these poor kids, and slurping their parent’s money. Giving nothing in return. I tried to bring some light. I tried to teach some breath, honesty, confidence and attack. I ended up giving days and days more than I was being paid for because I wanted these kids to do well, somehow.

They were being pushed into bad habits tricks and lies by the institution. I did my utmost to give them the beginnings of a toolbox and some concept of safe use.

Afterwards I recommended the two best male actors in the group to a friend of mine who was casting a major job. She needed two young men and knew I’d just been doing that work. She phoned me up after their auditions. “Oh, Al …” she said. They were atrocious. Beyond anything she had ever witnessed.

They had auditioned dreadfully in the real industry. Unsurprising, but disappointing. All the work I’d tried to do to break the bad habits they’d been taught… But I only had a few days with them…

The institution teaches the students to do well in terms of the taste of an extremely out of touch narcissist alcoholic who runs the institution. It didn’t serve the students back then in terms of the real industry, outside of the friendships from fellow victims of hope that have wasted their grandparent’s money too, some of whom might go on to make something, depending how rich their grandparents are.

It was eye opening teaching them. It was eye opening to go on Google just now and find that the institution I’ve been writing about still exists.

Every year hundreds of humans come into this industry from places like that, having spent tons of money, expecting a job, having paid good money in good faith and having been given precious little in the way of tools to do the job well. I was only doing it for a couple of weeks and it was a favour. I was paid to be on it for a single day. I stayed because the kids were great and I wanted to try to help them because I knew they’d paid thousands for nothing.

I would be surprised if even one of them was still acting now, unless they pushed reset and went to another institution afterwards. Still it would’ve taken time to get the validation of bad habits out of them.

But as you can tell, I found myself caring about the students. I wanted them to do well despite their antitraining. Even if they had ability before they started, it would’ve been sent in the wrong direction.

Anyway, that turned into a vent. The intention was to say how nice it was to work on voice with students who don’t identify as actors here in Indiana. I hadn’t realised how much thinking about that hellhole would trigger me to write about it. Still, better out than in.

Which is what I’d also advise to any young actor who doesn’t get accepted anywhere else aged 20, but who gets the acceptance letter from them. Better out than in. Research the institutions.

Anyone who knows someone in the audition process, I’ll try and throw a list your way of places to consider and places to avoid. The list is ever evolving. For instance, The Drama Centre. Up until recently it was a genuine training, and a factory of working actors. It is about to be utterly destroyed by bureaucratic morons who have no concept of actor training. It’ll become nothing more than an average academic university drama course, out of which you’ll rarely if ever find a practitioner. I hope they lose the Drama Centre name. It’ll be criminally misleading if they don’t. Idiots.

But there it is. It’s why I would never make it my full time business to teach. The majority of these institutions are run by fuckwits. The ground staff are amazing.

It’s another reason why I love this particular job I’m doing. We are well treated by people who know what they’re doing. Scott drove all the way from South Bend tonight, loved the show, bought us all dinner and was lovely to us all. Deb has been glorious and incredible when we have hit terrible hotels or any issues. We are supported artistically by artists and makers who get what we are doing and give us room to do it properly. We have a frame to create, and we do. Only a bit left. I’ll miss this when it’s gone…

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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