Monday, September 1, 2014

V studies abroad and yells at rich children: my first day at London Dramatic Academy!

Ello! (Sorry. I told myself I wouldn't start with a British sort of greeting, but it just came out.)

I've been in London since Thursday, meaning I have about 500 photos to upload already. What can I say, I'm a trigger-happy new camera owner. But I'll save my post about my first weekend in London for later this week because right this second, I have other things on my mindnamely, everything I've taken away from my first day of classes at London Dramatic Academy!

Fordham's London Centre is based at Heythrop College, which is tucked away in a corner of Kensington Square (a quaint section of houses for the Richie Riches of the world). If you take a right on to Derry Street off of Kensington High Street, you'll find yourself right about here, with the unassuming Heythrop College straight ahead:


That white building down there is Heythrop. You can't see it from where you're hypothetically standing, but there's a small church right next door.

And NOW, if you turned to the block of residences on your right, here are a few more pretty things you would see...

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Don't you love those branches weaving their way up that corner building? LDA scheduled us for a walking tour of Kensington, and our guide told us that we'd basically need to be blockbuster movie stars to afford the apartments in Kensington Square. You hear that, Boy on Scooter Who Is Dressed Adorably Well? You are PRIVILEGED.


Now on to our classes. Today starting at 9 AM, we had about two hours of Voice, two hours of Movement, lunch, and then Period Dance and Stage Combat for an hour and a half a piece. My roomie Julia and I got there at 7:15, though, because we wanted to sign up for a first-come-first-serve buddy program where LDA pairs seven of us each with a third year student at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. They're giving us a few "tenners" so that we can take our Guildhall buddies out for drinks (seriously, drinking is a way of life over here) and basically make connections.

Our voice teacher is Simon Money, a friendly and energetic young guy who studied under the famous Patsy Rodenburg and now teaches at Guildhall. Everything he wore and usedfrom his hoodie to his socks to his pencil casewas orange. No comments there; you do you, Mr. Money. We started out with a hilarious-slash-frustrating warm up. It's a bit hard to explain. Simon passed a key and a pen in two different directions of the circle we were standing in. We had a very specific set of dialogue to follow, and the goal was to get the key and pen all the way around to the opposite ends without messing up our lines. It was kind of like intense whisper down the lane. Really difficult.

We had a substitute named Jess for Movement because our regular teacher, Sue Goodman, won't be in until next week. But that was fine because Jess was really cool, and she led us in a lot of fun warmups that had me actually dripping in sweat. (When I was eight years-old, I was mortified about my tendency to sweat rivers, but I figure as an actor I have to learn to not care about these things. Commitment!) I actually had the most fun in Movement because our exercises made us work with each other in a really intimate way. In one exercise, we had to guide our partner's movements simply by placing our palms on top of theirs and leading them with our own palm (their eyes were closed for a lot of the exercise). Someone said it was like traveling through a murky ocean and having to concentrate on just one distant light. It was actually kind of relaxing.

We also did an exercise where each of us and our partners "choreographed" four sets of three simple movements (each partner choreographed their own two sets) that we practiced until they all flowed together. Your first movement, for example, could literally be putting your hand on your partner's shoulder. The second movement could be taking your partner's hand and placing it on your shoulder. Etc. Once Jess set us to music, though, all of those little meaningless movements suddenly seemed to add up into a narrative. And that's when things got really exciting. (Or shall I say steamy?)

For instance, Jess asked Courtney and Declan to do their rehearsed set of movements for the class, except this time while looking directly at each other the entire time. We murmured a lot while they performed because suddenly the whole piece became very sweet and romantic. Then Jess told them to do it again, this time moving as slowly as they could bear to go, all while continuing to maintain eye contact. At that pace, the dance looked like something else altogether. When set to a slow pulsing melody, the whole thing suddenly became charged with this intense romantic energy. We told Jess that we almost felt embarrassed to watch because it seemed we were encroaching on something private.

THEN Jess had another coupleTim and Sarahgo up and do their "dance" at the same time as Courtney and Declan. This time, Declan and Sarah were instructed to look at each other while dancing with their respective partners. Set to an upbeat, flirty background song, it now looked like Declan and Sarah were two former lovers who were trying to make each other jealous. The point was this: audiences play a big part in theater because they load the actors' behavior with meaning. Audiences look for that unwavering eye contact between actors. They read into little touches on the shoulder. It really doesn't take much. It might only take a simple movement--one that wasn't even choreographed with any intention or narrative behind itfor an audience to understand something greater about what's going on.

In period dance, we learned a circle dance, which was called something like...escargot? We were all holding hands in a circle and pranced until we resembled something like a snail. Then we learned a brawl (not sure on the spelling), which consists of more prancing, some lifts, and partner switches. Afterwards our teacher approached me and asked what kind of dance experience I've had. When I told her "zero," she said I had a gift for it, which made my day. And in stage combat we got to play with swords! But it was just an introduction, so we mostly learned the basics, like how to hold them, how to check distance between you and your partner--ya know, so you don't actually stab them--and also how to do parries one, two, three, and four.

After jumping, prancing, planking, and sword fighting on just a few hours of sleep, I am exhausted. Who knew acting school would be such a workout? It seems Mondays are our active days because that's when they piled most of our physical classes on top of each other. I'm definitely gonna sleep easy tonight.

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