Actors need a place to practice, not to search for the cure. A shortstop fields thousands of ground balls, focusing primarily on footwork. As the playoffs begin, the fans wonder why she is now able to make that long throw across the diamond on a rope. An injured dancer returns to the company uncertain if his body will hold up. Two years of Alexander Technique and a stretching regimen leave the company wondering why he left in the first place. We watch the game or the performance and are treated to grace under pressure and seemingly effortless ability. We do not see the bobbling, the bleeding calluses, the bruises, the errant throws, the hard eyes, the bound tension, the held breath and the self loathing.
Now what about actors? We show up and good for that. With the best of intentions we develop habits, many of them involuntary. Some give us a career, but we wonder why we’re not having as much fun as we used to. We seek spontaneity, but get onstage or to set and perform exactly the way we did at the kitchen counter. We feel this problem is unique to acting. We are unable to see similarities between art forms, only differences. Actors, like every other kind of artist, are growing, changing and need to practice. It’s amazing that we think we don’t need to.
First and foremost, acting is embarrassing. It’s way better when it is. We need a space to break patterns and habits, to stop worrying about whether it’s polished enough, to develop new points of view, to know not just know what the characters want, but why they deserve to get it. I believe breath connects us to emotional and physical impulses and that cannot be emphasized enough. I believe in comprehensive script analysis and working moment to moment to achieve visceral objectives. In front of the camera and onstage at The Dirt, this pursuit is not sacred and is full of silliness and joy.
The Dirt Underneath has been open for business since 2014. Working actors at the top of their game are practicing here year round. I taught and trained at the Professional Actors Lab for nine years, two at Equity Showcase and conduct workshops at Bishop’s University. As a young man I trained at Bishop’s and Studio 58 in Vancouver. I direct, act and continue to study in Toronto. Actors need a place to practice. To dig in the dirt.
“Working with John over the years, both privately and in class, has been (as John would put it) ‘a blast’. His approach to a scene or character is always with a sense of curiosity, and humour, using his knowledge of life and work to lend empathy and insight. He has both deepened and brought a sense of ease to my work and how I approach it. I believe learning comes through doing; coaching with John provides the forum to explore a scene a variety of ways, providing me with options, layers, and the readiness I need to go into any audition or set feeling prepared and ready to play.” Natalie Brown/actor (The Strain, Cracked, Sophie)