Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – BA Acting
By Harri Pitches
This is the second installment in a serialized account of a First Year BA Acting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). It is a first-hand account of the experience of embarking on the rigorous and holistic training offered at that institution and intends to provoke responses from students who undergo such training, or those who teach them.
The End of the First Term
As I come to the end of my first major ‘chunk’ of time at the RCS, ready to throw myself into the challenges and renewed excitement that 2017 at the conservatoire will doubtless bring, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned, and how I’ve found the whole drama school experience so far. The question everyone has asked me since I’ve been back in my Yorkshire hometown for the Christmas holidays has been ‘Is it what you thought it would be?’ The answer to this is not as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
At the start of my training way back in September (which both feels like yesterday, and several years ago!), I was struck by the RCS’ focus on individuality, on a historical perspective in our actor training – on building us to be thinking actors, aware of the history of our craft and how this historical awareness can inform the choices we make as 21st Century actors. This felt incredibly fresh and exciting, and I still firmly believe that this historical, individual focus gives us (the class of 2019) a massive depth of understanding to our work that bleeds into all our classes. This is perhaps the most exciting thing I have discovered being at the RCS. Everything is connected, and everything is relevant – nothing I have learned is ever only applicable to one area of study, rather our Voice work informs our Movement work, which in turn is informed by our work in Acting classes. These three core disciplines of the course are so closely interwoven that our development as actors feels almost imperceptible – it was only at the moment when we were tasked with finding scenes to perform at the end of the year and getting stuck into a real script for the first time in the year that we realised both how far all these disciplines interlinked and how far we had come since our first steps in September.
Having said this, it does raise one thing I have found difficult this first term – it is often very difficult (and I speak only from personal experience) to know how ‘well’ – if there is such a thing – we are doing, and how we are progressing. There is very much an air of ‘all in good time’ taken with us in the first year – we were told in September that this year was about ‘nurture’, and perhaps this explains the reluctance to quantify our progress as young actors by introducing things like grades to us so early. We are, after all, from a huge variety of different backgrounds and all learn in different ways, and have of course, barely scratched the surface of all that we will learn over the next two and half years (gulp!) To try and put us into boxes so early would both be counter-intuitive to our development and go against the whole ethos of the RCS – it’s all about catering to our individual needs to help us grow and progress in the best way for us. So, while this ‘hush-hush’ feeling about telling us how we’re doing can initially be a little frustrating, I can absolutely understand the logic behind this decision. Who knows how this will change as we move on with our training in 2017?
I should also address fear. It is perhaps one of the biggest, most widespread clichés about drama school – being afraid, specifically being afraid of not being ‘good enough’, and being afraid that everyone else will be better than you. As a student at the start of my training, I felt, like I’m sure all of us felt, that of course I wouldn’t worry about being good enough, of course I wouldn’t worry that everyone was better than me – after all, my level-headedness must in part be the reason I got accepted in the first place… right?
Oh, how wrong I was. The reality is, so much of what we do requires so much of who we are, and giving all of ourselves so willingly is, at first, nothing short of terrifying. We deal with very emotionally heavy scenarios in Acting classes, with a focus on being as natural and realistic as possible in these scenes. As a result, regardless of whether or not we can relate to the emotional trauma in a scene, we bring our own baggage in an attempt to relate and thus be more natural. This is both destructive emotionally, and doesn’t always deliver great acting results, and is made even worse when you see your peers acting the death of their first-born child as naturally as blowing their nose and feeling fine afterwards. It was thus extremely helpful to be reminded that we didn’t have to get it right first time, and indeed, that there never was any ‘right’ to begin with – there is only interpretation, and different levels of truth. The environment is also incredibly supportive. I feel completely relaxed and safe to play surrounded by my peers on the course – everyone is strikingly mature and always deliver constructive criticism rather than scathing opinions of your work There are no words to describe how important this is in creating an atmosphere where you’re able to take even the most difficult concepts and emotions and play with them. Again, it was only towards the end of my first term and after being told to ‘Go Wild!’ all term that I actually did relax and lose the fear of failure that I’d had all year. After all, that’s what this first year is for – to make mistakes and learn from them, and while that’s a little harder than anticipated in practice, through perseverance and not thinking about everything so much, real work and great acting can begin to come out.
So, this has been my first term! It has not been easy. Again, this is something that you always hear and dismiss before you actually start your training, and it’s only once your training is in full swing that you fully appreciate just how hard it all really is. It’s also been the most exciting, fulfilling, and simply brilliant four months of my life. Nothing at all compares to the feeling you get when you just get it, and once you do, you absolutely fly. With all this in mind, I look forward to 2017 and the challenges it will bring with renewed confidence and a more open mind than ever before. Bring it on.