The Actors Centre

Hugh Jackman 2008 marks the 21st birthday of the Actors Centre Australia, a private acting college based in Sydney. The Actors Centre Australia or ACA, situated in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, just off Crown Street, a favourite haunt for Sydney's foodie and fashion set, offers an alternative education facility to some of the larger, bigger-name acting schools across Australia. The Centre carries a philosophy and teaching style that is markedly different to the schools traditionally seen as the “big fish” of the acting school pond, and it’s clear that the school is determined to carve out a unique approach to performance education in Australia.

The Centre was originally intended to offer professional actors already working in the industry an opportunity to continue studying and building their skills in the years after their initial training, but has become a school for casual and full-time students at a range of levels, many of whom are hoping to become professional actors themselves.

The venue itself is a unique location. Its offices, performance and rehearsal spaces are based in a heritage listed church, built in the late 1800s, and Creative Director Dean Carey, who co-founded the school with fellow actor Stan Kouros in 1987, still remembers chasing out the pigeons when they first opened the doors to the church hall. Carey is proud of what the school has continued to offer to students over the years:

“One of the standout achievements for us has been that we’ve been able to create an environment and a philosophy which is really passionate and dedicated to each individual that walks in the door. The school is not based on fear, competition, or politics. It’s an adult environment but it’s dedicated to each individual being their best”.

Carey sees the ACA as an important alternative to some of the big-name acting schools around Australia such as NIDA: “The bigger schools are institutions, and I think people can get lost inside the institution. The brand of the school becomes so important that the brand can take over from what the school is there to do, which is to train”.

While the school offers part time courses and private tuition, the most prominent course offered by the school is the 2.5 year full time professional course, The Journey. 2008 ACA Graduate from The Journey, Anna Martin, is delighted at the opportunities to learn and grow as a performer that her time at the school has given her.

“I find that it's been a very supportive environment to learn in. The school seems to foster people developing their own methodology throughout the course. We're given a broad kind of training and from that we can pick out from that what really works for us when preparing to perform a role”.

“One of the most important things I've gained from my studies is that I've learned to people manage since I've been there. I've learned that it's important to nurture the relationships you have with the people you're working with, it's so important to be aware of how you treat people when you're in a pressure cooker environment before a show”.
{xtypo_quote_right}The bigger schools are institutions, and I think people can get lost inside the institution. The brand of the school becomes so important that the brand can take over from what the school is there to do, which is to train
- Dean Carey{/xtypo_quote_right}
The Journey program provides professional training in performance technique, theatre history, and students continually prepare for performances of works from a range of styles including Shakespeare, contemporary American, and verbatim theatre as well as some screen acting coursework. In addition to working from published play scripts, students also learn how to devise their own work drawing on a variety of source material. The school’s teaching approach is also unique in that there is a determined approach to being nurturing and supportive, which finds its way into the lesson plans as well as the general environment. In a further move away from the larger acting schools, the ACA includes a personal development program in the course, with course content in both the full and part time teaching programs including “life mastery” and a “breakthrough day”, a session of self-affirmation and emotional release that, according to the school’s website, allows students to “claim new territory of personal possibilities, inspiration and creative liberty”.

Interestingly, rather than working towards performances of full-length plays, students prepare selected scenes, monologues and devised work for audiences. Full-time students attend three days a week rather than the full five days a week, in order to allow students time off to work part-time jobs and prepare for classwork and rehearsals. This gives them time off have a life outside acting class, and prevents students from burning out mid-year. But it also limits the amount of rehearsal time available. While there is the possibility that going through acting school without performing in a series of full-length works is compromising the level of experience that could be gained, Carey is adamant that this does not disadvantage students, and instead sees it as a fairer way to provide actors with equitable opportunities to challenge and extend their acting skills, and a more effective teaching tool:

“When a class of acting students prepare a full-length play for performance, in the end, someone will be doing a role that is inappropriate for them, or they'll be given a small tiny role. Someone in the class will get the big whopping lead, and then the others are playing second fiddle to that. We take a selection of scenes that will give all students an opportunity to perform a great, challenging role. We’ll take the great scenes that serve the students to the very best”.

There’s no doubt the ACA is offering valuable professional training, but it does come at a price - each student undertaking The Journey course is required to pay $24,700, either upfront or in instalments prior to the end of study. Unlike university-affiliated drama courses, The ACA is completely independent, and operates without government or private sponsorship support, and while the school is therefore completely autonomous and self-sustaining, this also means there is no government loan scheme in place within the school to allow students to defer payment, so the up-front financial commitment is considerable, and means that socially or financially disadvantaged students may be unable to take up the opportunity to study there. The school is looking to rectify this, however, and is currently preparing an application to set up a government loan scheme to assist students with school fees. While there is no guarantee that this application will be approved, staff are hopeful that a loan scheme will be available for students within the next 2-3 years.

The Actors Centre It's clear that the school marches to the beat of its own drum, and this is true in the way students are encouraged to create their own work as well as well as working in the more traditional audition-process approach upon graduation. Anna Martin is preparing to roll up her sleeves and get to work:

“I'm hoping to put an independent theatre show on by the end of the year. I want to have a project that I could look forward to working on straight away after finishing study. And I'm looking forward to cutting my teeth on a TV drama, perhaps in a guest role. And I want to be a jobbing actor - I want to keep working as often and as frequently as possible.”


For further information about Actor's Centre Australia, click here»


Images:
Top Right - Patron, Hugh Jackman at the
ACA 21st Birthday Celebrations
Bottom Right - Actors Centre Australia

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