Performance enhancement

The enduring value of acting schools

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  • Published 20220127
  • ISBN: 978-1-92221-65-8
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IT’S A STINKING hot Saturday morning in December and I’m dressed as an elf at a rundown shopping mall in Sydney’s western suburbs. Four of my fellow graduates from QUT’s acting class of 2003 are also clapped out in cheap Christmas drag to bring some seasonal cheer to the centre’s multicultural patrons. The short straw went to my friend in the moth-eaten reindeer suit. Not one to readily discuss bodily functions, she quips that it was ‘a mistake to fart in here’. She’s dripping in sweat and the fibreglass head of this reindeer reeks of stale human expiration. Compared with Santa, Mrs Claus, the human Christmas tree and the reindeer, my job as a balloon-twisting elf is comparatively easy. My limited repertoire means the kids get two choices: dog or flower. Three if you call a long-necked dog a giraffe. The camaraderie and trench humour keep us going, but we’re all asking the same question: is this what we trained three years for? No one commits to an intensive conservatoire acting degree, cutting their teeth on Chekhov and Shakespeare, to participate in a third-rate North Pole charade in 35-degree heat. Our ambitions were slightly loftier. So it’s fair to ask: was it worth it? What did we think we’d be doing with our degrees? Pursuing our art? Changing the world?

If that sounds glib or high-minded, I was reminded of the value of acting as a craft and as a ‘mode of inquiry’ – as Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts at Griffith University, puts it – when I saw Queensland Theatre’s production of Prima Facie recently. Written by former legal practitioner Suzie Miller, Prima Facie is a one-woman show about a female lawyer’s personal reckoning with the legal profession and its treatment of sexual assault victims. Brilliant as the script was, the show was helmed by NIDA graduate Sheridan Harbridge, who, night after night, delivered a blazing performance: vocally, physically and emotionally dynamic yet delivered with precision and control. The play is an example of the sort of theatre Meyrick says has ‘strongly intervened in social and political processes, illuminating issues and raising debates, but also igniting them with feelings, giving them affect’. He adds:

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