After receiving feedback from Helena on my original self analysis (which reflected on my progress and position at the beginning of September this year), I thought it would be sensible and beneficial to do this again from my perspective now, a few months into my second year at Conservatoire EAST. Since the beginning of the year I have switched pathways from the Musical Theatre Pathway to the Acting pathway. Obviously now I am on a different pathway the focus of my skills is going to differ slightly and I will be looking at more specific areas within the acting discipline instead of just a sweeping overview of the subject as a whole. Baring this in mind, I decided to give a brief comment on each of the areas and how well I feel I am achieving in each of these and the actions I hope to take to improve.
Accent work is something I am very interested in and always have been since I was very young; I remember I would always return with new accents after mixing with anyone from somewhere different! The way the voice works has always interested me a great deal and I get a great amount of pleasure listening to other people’s accents, the words the use and the way they form them in comparison to myself and why and how they speak that way. One habit of mine is the way in which I immediately copy anyone’s voice if it sounds unusual or distinct to me, and will continue to do so until I feel like I have captured it. Although I may not always get it exactly right, I think this is the best way to learn and understand an accent and have always found that it is the best technique for me. From my understanding everyone has different ways of capturing accents and various techniques on embedding the patterns in your head successfully; I have found that I work best by listening and repeating but also by technically figuring out where the placement in my voice is and how my mouth, tongue, lips and soft palette correlate and move in relation to each other to create the specific sound for that accent. I must admit, there are a great many accents that I am awful at but I think these are mainly because I never tried them as I was too afraid of getting them wrong, or the fact that I have never needed to or never been exposed to the accent to make me think ‘I wonder if I can do that!’ – but I hope that the more accent work I do and the more curious and fearless I am to give it a go, the better I will get!
Naturally I speak with a relatively soft and gentle voice, so I have to be careful when plying characters that are more grounded and fiercer than I am and have to make a conscious effort to strengthen my voice and use a less airy and breathy speech quality than my usual tone. This is something I have been working on when doing monologues and have in fact challenged myself to pick character that don’t necessarily match my own voice type in order to make me work harder and improve my skills in this area.
Diction / Articulation / Pronunciation
I would say I have good diction and articulation when speaking (to the point that lots of people make assumptions that I’m incredibly posh) however, I know there are areas that I could improve on and refine even more to reach a full RP sound. Lots of my peers struggle with the ‘th’, ‘f’, ‘v’, ‘t’ sounds in words due to having a strong Suffolk accent, however thankfully this is not an area I find difficult and comes quite naturally to me. My main problem is the way in which I seem to make up my own pronunciations for certain words and particular vowel sounds. This is something I have done since I was a child and is not because I don’t know what it should be or because I can’t tell I’m saying it differently etc as I am more than aware of what I am saying. However, I think it may relate back to when I used to constantly copy people’s accents and voices when I was younger and perhaps some of the vowel sounds and dialectal habits got ingrained in my head, leading me to pronounce certain words in my own way! In normal conversation I have accepted this is how I say words and I don’t want to change it as its my voice and my identity and way of doing things, however, when it comes to playing a character I have to be very careful and discipline myself to pronounce the words correctly. The word that I most notably pronounce slightly differently is ‘Surely’, which I tend to say using a ‘ir’ sound rather than a ‘u’ which makes it sound like the name ‘Shirley’ – obviously this is not ideal and can be very comical when I make the mistake of letting it slip into text I am performing.
Characterisation (physicality, psychological insight, back story)
When creating a character I do have several techniques I tend to use to successfully build a picture and fully understand the character. For me, the first step is always to read the play and look at the given circumstances of the character and their situations. I then find that applying Uta Hagen’s eight questions is a helpful and effective way of knowing the character you are playing fully and to get into their mind-set and understand why they act and say the things they do; this technique also requires the actor to think about elements to the character and their life beyond that provided in the text given to you. As well as this, I usually find a comparable personality figure in my mind who reminds me of the character I am playing, which can either be a fictional character from a tv show, film, book, play or a real life person that I know of, and then I study them and use their quirks, and qualities as a way of building on your character.
Line learning ability
Although I personally don’t see learning lines as a skill an actor should be assessed on as it has no correlation with ones ability to connect emotionally with a character, I obviously understand that it is a helpful and preferable skill to have within the industry as it makes an actor appear more employable and desirable. In my opinion, however, I view this skill as a secondary to the ability to be able to successfully portraying a character and manipulating an audience into feeling the intended emotion in response; someone may be able to recite the whole of the bible off by heart, word perfect with no mistakes, however if said person had no connection with the text or hadn’t the ability to present this confidently and clearly, then it would be no use at all and completely irrelevant to whether it was word perfect or not!
Personally, I feel my ability to learn lines varies depending on the nature of the piece and the level of interaction with other character on stage, as well as the way it is actually written. For example, I find Shakespeare monologues relatively quick to pick up as they have a rhythm to them and the sentence structure and liguistic patterns tend to make sense and fall into place; however, some contemporary style pieces can be extremely hard as often the more modern writers strive to produce accurate replications of the everyday speech pattern which therfore involves lots of broken sentences and disjointed trains of thought. When it comes to scripts involving several other people I sometimes struggle to say my lines at the right point or give the wrong response at the wrong time; however I have recently realised that as an actor you are actually disadvantaging yourself by just trying to remember which line comes where but rather if we listened to what the other actors were saying and then consider what the most logical reply would be, you are far more likely to get it right! This is a technique I have learnt to be true as I have matured as an actress and got more expereince – regardless, this can lead to falling into the trap of paraphrasing whichis a habit I am currently drilling out of myself!
Ability to respond to direction / feedback
As an actor, I feel I am responsive to direction from both peers and directors alike, especially when it comes to plays or directed pieces, however, I try to balance this with my own opinions as well when working on monologues or self directed pieces as I believe it is essential to invest some of yourself and own ideas into your work. Regardless of this, if it is a directed piece I will always favour the directors choices and make I sure I deliver what they have invisioned. As an individual I have always found crisitism difficult to take as I am such a perfectionist that I take everything to heart and start over anaysing things far too much, however, over the last few years or so I have really worked on this area and am able to respons positively to feedback rather than trying to defend myself. In my opinion a good actor is someone who can take a directors advice and turn it into a truthful portryal of their vision, and this is a skill that I think have and will continue to develop with expereince and as I grow as an individual.
Improvisation is a skill that I had only done a few times when I was younger and wasn’t very confident with but enjoyed and knew I was good at. As I have been in all the season shows so far I never got the opportunity to join in with the imporivation oppotunities however I decided to challenge myself to take part in the improvisation gig at the beginning of term and get involved as much as possible in lessons this year (especially after switching to the acting course this year). Ever since I was young I have been fairly good at making up stories and senarios very quickly in my head, or making up excuses for things, or saving myself when I forget my place in a song and so making it up – so I guess the nature of improvisation and quick thinking has always been there. I have always loved comedy (especially the type of comedy that comes from improvisation sernarios) and I am aware of the technique and intuition behind getting the right comedy timing – infact this is somthing that I am often comlimented on. However, there are lots of areas of the skill that I want to develop and become more confident in. In particularly, I think I need to push myself to get involved more on the spontaneous improvisation games and exercises when someone has to volunteer themselves forward, as I often sit back in fear of not having a good enough idea, when in truth it is better to use any idea than not offer anything at all!