Improv, Comedy, Women, Melbourne and everything in between.
It feels like just yesterday I was obsessively plotting an outfit and assembling a bag full of “actor’s stuff” for my first night of the Actor’s Studio at the Victorian College of the Arts. As I stepped onto the 5:20pm Flinders Street train, it dawned on me that I would be doing this every Monday and Wednesday for the rest of the year, and I had a minor moment of commitment-phobia.
I eloquently thought to myself;
“Fuck, Hayley, there’s still time… drop the mic and get out of this bitch!”
Despite the rational argument of bailing on a $4000 year-long acting course, I still got on the train and dreamt of the possibilities I was opening myself up to in the year to come.
Walking down St Kilda Road every evening, passing the NGV, the Melbourne Performing Arts Centre, Melbourne Theatre Company, a dumpster – all on my way to the V. C. A.
Getting to know me getting to know you getting to know Acting stuff – the beginning
Walking into the foyer, awkwardness became her.
Her skin glistened with nervous sweat,
Her voice – once clear, coherent – now stuttered, stammered.
She narrowed her gaze to an empty bench, next to some other sweating people.
She sat, not before tripping on her own shoes.
Sitting on the bench, awkwardness became her.
If you look up “fearful awkwardness” in a non-existent, metaphorical picture-dictionary, there will be an image of thirty or so people, all of different ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and social abilities, sitting in the foyer of VCA Southbank that night, January 30. And, if you look really closely at the picture, you’ll notice that every single person is trying NOT to make eye contact with one another. Look a little closer (to the non-existent, metaphorical picture dictionary) and you can even see beads of sweat dripping down their foreheads because it was late January, or everyone felt uncomfortable as fuck.
A woman with short hair and baggy jean-shorts – or ‘Jorts’, as nobody calls them – strides into the foyer in an attempt to make us feel even less confident. Or maybe she was doing her job and trying to make us feel more comfortable, I don’t know. The woman smiled at us, and she spoke a lot. I immediately crafted some flawless “facial acting” to hide the fact that my thoughts were straying like a Rottweiler puppy in a dog-park surrounded by vulnerable, unsuspecting children.
Look at all these people. Who are they all?
That one’s gay, he’s gay, he’s… gggggaaaassstrraaiiigggghhhtttt…
Shit, the teacher is still talking.
Is she wearing baggy denim shorts? Are ‘Jorts’ a thing? Is saying ‘Jorts’ even a thing?
Why is she staring at me so intensely?
Fuck, maybe I missed something important.
Am I staring at her Jorts?
Look away, Hayley.
Shit, don’t look at that guy’s crotch!
Look at the wall.
Wait, now it looks like you’re not listening to the Jorts!
LOOK AT THE FRONT AND BE NORMAL –
YOU CALL YOURSELF AN ACTOR?
The lady in the jorts continued to wave her arms around a bit, and then she took us upstairs to the rehearsal studios. I think she said something about eating healthy food.
It was those first 12 weeks where I was taught how to charismatically walk around a room, or “pulse”/viewpoint” (an Anne Bogart acting technique). My mind was locked shut at the start, but it began to crack open a further 20% by the end of the first term.
The awkward lady doth protest too little
Enter the second term and things were a lot better, probably because everyone consensually made eye contact with one another and we were all friends by that point. Term two is scene based, working with Shakespeare and contemporary scenes. During the Shakespeare classes, most of my classmates were scanning the room for sharp objects so they could gouge their eyes out – Oedipus style – to avoid doing Shakespeare. I couldn’t have been more excited to be cast in a scene from Richard III and to be taught by Jenny Lovell AKA Miss perpetual Shakespeare 2012.
Ah, to be working with words again. This was my kind of learning environment.
And on the third day (or third term), we were filmed. And each had an existential crisis.
Well, actually, not everyone had internal meltdowns or existential crises after watching themselves on camera and realising they were not the person they thought they were projecting. Maybe it was just me. Most people in the class were excited to tackle film and television acting because that’s what reel actors do (and with that pun, I’ll never get a job again).
I struggled with all this ‘desensitisation to yourself’ stuff. When I watched myself on the big screen (in front of everyone) I realised I resembled less of a normal blonde girl and more of a Kermit the Frog vigilante – if you think he flails his arms about and makes indecipherable noises like “YAAAAYYAYAYAAYY”, then you just haven’t met me yet. Did I mention my middle name is actually Kermit?
This is Hayley Kermit Tantau reporting for nobody, because I make bad puns.
…maybe the MX newspaper will hire me.
Here’s what I learnt during the 10 week therapy session/acting class/cosmetic surgery consultation:
The term, however, was so valuable to me because it extinguished the flailing fire in my belly that was the ambition to ever act on television. I have since learnt that, a) I hate it, and b) I move around like a disgraced mime trying to find its way out of prison.
And on the fourth day (or term) the end was nigh. I want to have a commitment ceremony to Howard Barker and Hallie Shellam – if that’s a thing.
Throughout the entire year I was looking forward to our final performance (my inability to live in the present is why nobody let me into Buddhism). I thought about the final term a lot, mainly because I feared our “guest director” would just put on some Fleetwood Mac and make us “pulse”/walk around a room while our parents watched and wondered why their daughter couldn’t comprehend the basic mathematical skills to do economics, marketing, stripping, cat-wrangling, anything but this “walking” torture.
And yet, as the year went on, my mind gradually opened and my cynicism and scepticism fucked right off to the “Romantic Comedy response” section of my brain. The brilliant Hallie Shellam AKA Miss Acting School It Girl introduced me to the plays and ideas of Howard Barker.
Howard Barker’s The Possibilities is one of the most incredible plays I have ever read and performed in. Check it out, if you have a soul and enjoy having your thoughts provoked.
Being part of Acting Studio 15 was one of the most prolonged, – yet somehow fleeting – enjoyable moments of my life. I signed up for the course because, if I must be honest, I missed being able to talk freely about theatre with someone – anyone – and gush about playwrights and actors and costumes and Kevin Spacey. I wanted to surround myself with people who were passionate about the same thing as me. Doing a full degree of journalism, I am constantly confronted by some of the most intense, prematurely politically-active 20 year olds you will ever meet. I could no longer suppress my need to dweeb-out and talk theatrically.
I thought the course would also help me audition for the full-time VCA actor’s course, but the $4000 totally paid off because I no longer want to go to acting school. That door is shut. I don’t want to spend three years of my life answering to someone else’s idea of what a good “actor” is, walking around a room, waiting by the phone. If you really love something that much, you’ll stop “waiting to get into drama school” and you’ll find your own way there, or at least go your own way while you wait.
After all, acting is about honesty, entertainment, and humanity.
Don’t overthink it…
that’s for the writers to obsess over.
To all the beautiful, talented, charismatic and downright amazing people of
VCA Acting Studio 15 –
Thank you, to each and every one of you, for making a theatrical entrance into my life. You’re all so wonderful in so many different ways. Whether it be your optimism, your cynicism, your witch cackle, Becc’s laugh (I couldn’t think of an accurate, one-word description for it), your deliriousness, or your sometimes seediness, you’re all my favourite characters.
I cannot wait to work with you in the future, if you’ll have me.
You talented fuckers.