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Next up: I will be featuring in the short films Dark & Stormy and Belfast Caliber 9.

27 Apr 2018

Gillian Reynolds' Advanced Acting for Camera Workshop

Over the first weekend of April, I attended an excellent workshop delivered by The Dublin Central School of Acting, lead by the casting director Gillian Reynolds.
As I step up preparations for #PilotSeason2019, I have been trying to upskill in as many areas as possible to maximise my employment potential, so a screen acting course delivered by one of the country's top casting directors was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Day 1

The main focus of the programme was on soap operas - the major employer of screen actors in Ireland - with particular focus on Fair City. While screen acting is usually set as distinct from stage acting, it encompasses a wide range of output. The quiet brooding of a film noir (or 21st century Mumblecore) is one extreme, and the psychodrama of body horror is arguably the other, but the heightened physicality of slapstick comedy is in stark contrast to the realism in soap operas.

We started off with an innovative exercise where we each were tasked with recalling a particularly vivid life experience (from real life) to camera. What became apparent was how animated people become when they are accessing memories, something you rarely see actors reflect. People tend to look down and to the right when they are recalling things, and will physically 'access' (if you like) actions to demonstrate what they were doing. For example, my story was about putting out a pan fire in university halls, and I was rushing to get a fire blanket out of it's case, which I mentally 'accessed' by actually recreating tugging the two straps that release the blanket. I was also able to present the geography of the room - the fire blanket was to my right, and the pan fire on the hob was to the left. These are all details that need to be instilled into a monologue if they are a character's memories - the character should remember every detail of a moment of their life that they can recall in great detail. Too often actors will just say the words on a very surface level, which can get monotonous and dull to watch, but crucially, it robs the performance of a certain degree of realism - if a character is morosely remembering an event from their past, someone is going to talk over them, not let them continue droning on until it is their turn to speak.

Steve Gunn

The next session was headed by Steve Gunn, a former cast member of Fair City. He was able to bring a real insight into the day to day workings of a soap opera environment - getting in at 7am for makeup and prep, and remaining on site at all times waiting to be called for filming. It is a very intense workload, with a whole 30 minute episode filmed every day, so the actors need to be on site and ready to perform at short notice (lines learned, with very little rehearsal due to time constraints).

He was very supportive of the class's ambitions and experience, going one-by-one around the group to discuss their career aspirations and what they could do to help fulfil them. It was a very high caliber group, with everyone operating at a very high level, mostly within the Dublin acting sphere.

There was a good mix of ages in the group - at first I was worried I'd be the oldest one there by about 10 years - but everyone was at roughly the same level in the careers, and are all talented enough to make the next step when the opportunity arises. Everyone was rowing in the same direction, and I will be looking to work with them in the future.

Day 2

The second day began with advice on how to get into character, even in an outlandish situation like a supernatural being. If the actor asks themselves questions about the character's life and existence they can portray the character with more depth. This is especially useful in an audition situation where you will have very little information about the character except for some very basic detail about their situation. In order to embody the character more fully, the actor should attempt to empathise with the character as much as possible.

Hilary Reynolds

The next session was lead by Hilary Reynolds, a former cast member and current writer on the series. We ran though old scenes taken from Fair City with the camera focused on one actor - similar to an audition tape. Hilary gave notes to the actor and encouraged them to try the scene in a different way in response to the notes, which was an excellent exercise when watching the clips back to see the difference in performances, not only between performers, but between each performer's take. Her advice was always useful, even when she was deliberately giving a note that was not in keeping with the tone of the scene, it was useful to see how a series of lines can be moulded by the actor's delivery.

Day 3

The third day began with another acting to camera exercise, but it was a duologue we had written ourselves - just four lines, with a big revelation. Embarrassingly, I misinterpreted the scale of the revelation, and wrote a very big revelation involving a father who was presumed dead, but was actually being held in prison (!), while everyone else's was more grounded revelations like the end to a relationship, or a redundancy announcement. In keeping with the melodrama of the lines, I over reached for the reaction shot, and it ended up looking very comedic when it was watched back.
Gillian is refreshing direct in her feedback, and said as much - that what I had done wouldn't work for screen, as it was too 'surface.' Again, this is valuable, it is one of the things that I am conscious of in my screen acting - that I do too much with my face, which is more natural for me coming from a stage and comedy background, so I need to know when I've crossed the line into overacting.

Peter Sheridan

The final session was with the hugely entertaining Peter Sheridan, one of Dublin's leading playwrights. The exercise he made us perform was to take a plot point from a recent play that he had produced Love in the Wild, and try to imagine a character that we would be realistically cast as in a film adaptation of the play. It again was a worthy exercise to make us consider what our casting 'type' is, and how we should be aiming for parts to audition for. I wrote a character who meets him in a reggae club, which is described in the play in flashback as somewhere where he would take his girlfriend. Peter is very encouraging and was hugely impressed by the standard of writing that emerged from a quick twenty minute exercise, and some of the pieces were genuinely excellent, given that the brief was quite specific, and the time to prepare was short.

Overall the three day course was brilliant, and hugely beneficial in a number of ways. I would recommend it to actors who feel they have reached a certain point in their careers, and need to see the standards expected when to reach the next level. My only complaint is that it was only the three days, so I'll be looking out for any longer form classes Gillian runs. Keep an eye on the DCSA's website for any similar upcoming courses.

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