This entry to my Theatre Diary is a personal message.
I have over the past year or so, since extricating myself from NIDA, been working on a number of projects. One of my objectives has always been to empower the actor as an independent creative force, in an environment where we, the actor, were often (are) simply relegated to the bottom of the 'tools' necessary for product, as: 'talent'. Even, within the political machinations of an institution, my objective was to empower the "acting student"- or, at least strive, attempt to. It was not always possible to do, given the mastery of the "corporate beast (s)" of the 'institution' (any institution, I suspect) where profit and efficient time productivity dominates the mind set, over the will and needs of its artists - we were often seen as 'difficult'.
I want to introduce you to one of the projects I have been working at, to continue with my objective, to empower the actor.
I wish to introduce you to a speech by actor/entrepreneur, Oliver Wenn. Oliver, his partner, Natalie and I began in October 2011 a project to set up a centre for professional actors to help them, in this contemporary and globalised world, maintain and develop their skills.
One of the difficulties, tragedies of the Australian scene (Sydney) is that there has not been a consistent opportunity for professional actors, who are not in regular work, to hone their skills, and at a cost that was reasonable for them to do - don't count on our institutional corporations, where profit is as important, today, as craft or artistic service to the on-going development of the artist, to be wanting to supply that 'opportunity' at a reasonable cost for the, generally, unemployed actor. (Beside, the cost of classes by 'famous' guest, American artists, of late, has simply appalled me. There is no denying the gifts of some of these teachers/coaches but I must say that the cost has taken my breath away "how do these artists afford it ?" I wonder).
We began with a Scenework class with myself as leader. Over the past 18 months we have moved around the city to different accommodation. Other teachers of speciality have joined us. It has now grown into something a little bigger (read Oliver's letter) and 18months later we have been encouraged to at last find a permanent home for what we called THE HUB - The Actor's Gym.
Oliver recently told me of a space he had found for rent. When he gave me the address, I had to tell him that the 'stars' could not have been more auspicious, as, unbeknownst to him, he had found the building that one of our great mentors, had used in "centuries past": Keith Bain and the Bodenweiser Dance Studio, at 18 City Road, Chippendale - just around the corner from Broadway, on your way to Newtown. We were able to secure it for the coming years.
Please, read the speech that Oliver gave at our launch on the 3rd August, and join us in the making a step forward for the Australian Actor in Sydney. All enterprises are scary to take on, but Oliver seems to be fearless and inspired with a concerned generosity that can only result in good.
"The HubStudio held its first session; The Kevin Jackson Master Class, just over a year and a half ago, on the 11th Oct 2011, and since then we have grown in leaps and bounds. I remember KJ telling me then it would us take two-to-three years to establish a studio and I’m really proud to say we beat that record by four months! Then, as now, Natalie, Kevin and I felt there was more to offer this industry.
At the time we were looking to establish a hot house of the best actors in the city, working together on scenes and material that stretched us to the next level. We felt that there was more that actors could achieve, more undiscovered potential and definitely more we could do to keep the 'muscle' working. Since that time we have succeeded and now offer seven different courses in Film, Theatre, Body and Voice. We have held 22 series, placed over 259 students in them, and currently have 200 members with an average repeat rate of around 37.
Even before we really began we were developing our ideas of what a modern studio could mean, the possibilities for what we could achieve and how as a community we should be thinking; as we all move towards an ever more accessible, and ever more globalised industry.
With the move into this, our new studio venue, we now feel we can begin.
Here is the crux of what I want the studio to achieve. I want to change the mindset of actors, by giving them a place to be actors more often. I want them to know in themselves what that means, and what it takes. I want to create a studio space capable of up-skilling and connecting actors and creatives, providing them with the resources and skills they need to develop their careers on a daily basis; not a drama school, an incubator, a Hub. When I went to drama school for 99% of the time, I was taught how to act, and for 1% of the time, how to live as an actor, which is fine. However, after leaving drama school I spent 1% of the time working as an actor and 99% of the time trying to figure out how to live as an actor. We want to change that.
This next phase will see us move towards being a development and resources hub for working professional actors and creatives. Our aim is to empower these actors and creatives to "achieve their dreams by providing goods and services that advance their careers on a daily basis"; a hub for all working professionals living or visiting Sydney. Eventually our ultimate vision is to have a multi-levelled venue with rehearsal rooms, hot-desking offices, edit suites and a late night cafe/bar. A vertically integrated studio capable of skills maintenance, career development, production development, and eventually, actualisation. We see ourselves as a multi-focused 21st century production company, and under that pretence most definitely not a drama school.
But what does a Hub mean? Why is it important.
Through my work with Annie and David McCubbin at corporate performance company Coup, I was lucky enough to work inside some of the biggest companies in Australia, Westpac being a good example. What I saw was not impressive in itself, in fact, it was taken for granted; but what was impressive to me was that these people, working professionals, had a place to go to, everyday, to do the thing that they, in many cases trained years to do. They were surrounded by likeminded people doing creative and challenging things in an environment that catered for their needs.
Now, looking at these people working in those buildings, I thought....what if we took all these people and drained the building; told them to work from home, in cafes, in parks, mainly alone; without the necessary space, equipment, resources or community, without the mentors, elders and friends, they needed to talk with, network with, learn with, plot and scheme with? No yearly conference, training seminar or group email...oh, and lets take them off salary and make them work another job, or two. How effective would they be? Would Westpac for example, be able to operate at the same standard; how much impetus would be lost, how distracted or idle would they become, how isolated, how ineffective? This is often exactly what actors deal with all the time.
Now, I am most certainly not offering a magic wand solution, but what I am saying is the environment we surround ourselves in makes a huge difference to the outcomes we can achieve. How many actors nail that audition when they're already in work?....how many ideas can feed other people's? How much more can we learn when we come together and skills share?
We know for a fact at the studio, and I have seen it in myself; that our members feel more connected, book more work, feel better prepared and less intimated in auditions and rehearsals, in foyers and (for me at any rate) in life, in general; and why... because they're a part of something they can control. They have a place to be a professional working actor, feel connected and involved, important and professional. It’s not rocket science; it’s social science. It's fact. For most actors trying to develop a career, if you're not working on set or stage, there is no place to go to be a working professional actor. And that is what we are: “Working Professional Actors”. We might or might not be movie stars, and roles will come and go, but that definition of ourselves will never fade. That is who we are, but it's so frustrating, that for many of us, a lot of the time we don’t feel that way, we feel like the ‘sometime working, not really sure, doing our best, often isolated, trying to be actor - actor.
Now I know that the above might sound dramatic, but I'm an actor, and drama is what I'm good at. We're good at! I actually think that if we really ask ourselves, "do we have a system that best supports us outside of the casting agent, theatre company or film studio?", the answer is, "No". Unless it's a drama school there isn’t a place that caters for us as a working community of people when we're off-set or not in a rehearsal room; it’s just not part of the 'system'. I know there are great places to train in this country, but what about great places to create or develop work in? We think it’s vital, and I think it the missing link.
Some people might call us stupid, crazy, or just plan inaccurate, but I don’t care; it’s worth finding out. I really believe in actors in this country, I’m not being woolly when I say that. I'm a capitalist, I believe in the free market and I know we have a lot more to offer. I think the era of the Actor Entrepreneur is dawning; especially with the emerging digital media market in the face of a global world. I think a more autonomous, self generating and self sustaining actor with a professional mindset, belief system and working structure is what’s going to help shape our Australian industry, help it to keep moving forward. I genuinely believe that if we have a place to come to work, like The HubStudio, or others, then we can make a difference, and help create a generation of Working Professional Actor Entrepreneurs; capable of taking seed ideas and turning them into something glorious.
It’s time to start making a difference unto ourselves, and each other, and I’d like to welcome you to come with us!
Have a great night and please if you have any questions or queries, think we’re plain right or wrong, let us know. We can only but try and fail. As Kevin says "Fail Gloriously!!!" And why...? because as the Rolling Stones said; "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need."
– Oliver Wenn, The Hub Studio