Janis McGavin on Being an Actor

Last week, I managed to catch up with Janis McGavin, actor, currently on tour around Australia with Monkey Baa in Thursday’s Child. Janis trained with Being in Voice for two years before being accepted into WAAPA. She graduated from the program two years ago, and has since been working as a stand-up comic and professional actor, based in Sydney.

Janis took time out to chat about how she got into acting, and the journey she has been on since going to drama college.

She was battling with a nasty dose of pharyngitis, (throat infection) one of the perils of  the hard-working professional actor when constant travel and late nights take their toll.  I was happy to recommend she start working on the vocal function exercises, which won’t cure an infection, but which can keep the fitness levels up so that the infections don’t last as long.

Janis was too modest to mention it, but actually Thursday’s Child is not ABOUT Tin, the title character. It is actually about Tin’s sister Harper, (played by Janis) and how she and the rest of her family deal with the challenges of growing up in circumstances of great poverty and hardship in rural Australia.  It is a beautiful play, beautifully produced and with excellent performances throughout.  If this play comes to a theatre near you, don’t miss it.

And now, here is your podcast:

The HERO challenge

The new sessions of The Acting Class began on Sunday morning, with the first of the six Archetypes we will be exploring – one per class.

What is an Archetype? Well, first let me acknowledge that everyone who works with some principle involving Archetypes will do it differently. I begin with John Wright’s Masks of the Archetypes approach, and then play with it my way.

You will do it differently. That is because Archetypes are just ways of being human, ways of recognizing certain ‘types’ of people, ways of recognizing certain aspects of our own ways of being. There is no such thing, in the world, which can be identified as being an actual Archetype, and there is no such person who can, either. You can be a hero, huntress, child, fool etc, but that just means you are manifesting qualities which are recognizable from our mutual idea of what we understand as Hero, Huntress, Child or Fool. These are ‘types’ which occur in the folk tales and songs of cultures throughout the world.

Batman is a hero, just as Hercules, Sigurd, Beowolf, Calamity Jane, and Cathy Freeman are all heroes, real or imagined. Actors are heroes (NOTE to our American colleagues, here in OZ we are non-gender specific with the word ‘actor’).

A hero is an individual who behaves heroically, or does something heroic, and thus we call him a hero, or her (more usually) a heroine. The Archetype, Hero, has become manifest in them, and we recognize the qualities of Hero, and so we call them heroes. Note where I capitalize, and where I don’t.

So, having spent some time on Sunday exploring the physical experience of embodying Hero-like movement qualities, I have challenged the class to practice the exercise, to spend as much time in the coming week in Hero body as they possibly can.

This morning, I went out for a morning walk, before the heat settled in. As I headed down through the streets of Milton, along Park Road to Coronation Drive and back up Cribb Road, I challenged myself to move into Hero movement qualities, feeling the power in my legs, finding myself looking up and out as I walked (instead of my customary watching the ground). My shoulders dropped back, my chin tucked in and I noticed the impulse for propulsion forward in space now very definitely came from my centre of gravity, which was slightly higher than usual, somewhere round the solar plexus region.

It felt pretty good, I can tell you!  Then it lapsed, and I had to focus to regain the sense of equilibrium, it drifted, I brought it back – and then I realised just how much this way of working is analogous to Fitzmaurice tremoring. Just as the tremor is the body’s response to being placed in an impossible dilemma – the muscles begin to shake, and the breath flows in and out at its own pace – so trying to embody an Archetype is an impossible situation, brain and imagination struggle to make sense of the task of achieving an impossible goal, the body responds as best it can and then the magic happens…

The moment you feel LIKE a hero, it seems as if you’ve lost it. Here you are, all Heroic, and yet you’re being asked to do something absolutely ridiculous like hop on one foot, or remember and speak lines. You feel insecure, the only thing you are sure of is that you are ‘wrong’. In fact, you are absolutely on track, because what you feel is what your particular Hero is feeling, i.e. ridiculous. But you want to be Heroic, and sensible, and so you feel embarrassed, even a sense of failure. WOW!!! How cool is that? A hero who is embarrassed, who feels like a failure?

Your task, now, is to keep working to become more and more familiar with the physical movement qualities, to practise BEING in those qualities (just as you would practise speaking in a new language, or a new accent, if you want to become really skilful with it). I’m sitting here at my desk, realising that I am slouching, so I’ve now drawn up my spine, acknowledged my handsomely ridged brow, strong nose and firm mouth, my furrowed cheeks and my cleft chin, and Boy, am I going to defeat a few evil armies before bedtime?

Of course I shall.

Open Slather

I’ve just removed the password protection on the handouts, and video demos. Having thought about it long and hard while I was away, I have decided that I would much rather everyone had access to these, and that people actually made use of them.

Of course, you will get much more from the exercises if you do them under supervision, with a teacher or trainer whom you trust.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to chat about any of the exercises, or to enquire about matters to do with actor training, or voice coaching.

The fate of June Bloom

There are some pretty cool tools out there on the world wide web, including Wordle, which creates a 'cloud' from text you enter into it. Following the example of Canadian actor Kris Joseph http://www.krisjoseph.ca/, I extracted all of June’s lines from the script, and entered them into the Wordle. Here is my cloud:

Wordle: The Fall of June Bloom

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"Deep Voice" is coming to The Acting Class

Just back from my trip to the States, I managed to sleep from 8 pm till 3.30 am, so here I am…

And I am inspired!  So much rich inspiration at the VASTA Conference in New York, catching up with the work of Kristen Linklater, Catherine Fitzmaurice and Patsy Rodenburg,(in workshops) and Arthur Lessac (4 weeks short of his 100th birthday) gave a totally wonderful, political and joyous Keynote speech. He actually danced down the aisle to receive his Lifetime Honorary Member plaque!

I collected my copy of the latest Voice and Speech Review, dedicated to “The Moving Voice”, and an article by Marya Lowry has reminded me just how far our voices will take us, inwards and outwardly, if we allow them the space and size of our imaginations. So –

Not only will be working on our Archetypal qualities, physical and vocal, but they will be HUGE. We will be playing with some of the lamentation work I did with Marya six years ago, Frankie Armstrong’s Voices of the Archetypes and the Roy Hart work I have done with many wonderful teachers and performers over the years.  There will be much laughter, and many adventurous explorations.

And in a day or two I will report on the performance of The Fall of June Bloom which I gave at the conference with my amazing co-actors, John Graham and Micha Espinosa.  Suffice it to say, for now, that it was very well received…

See you Sunday week!

June Bloom at VASTA

June Bloom at VASTA

Jerome (John Graham) and June (Flloyd Kennedy)Jerome (John Graham) and June (Flloyd Kennedy)
watching Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

watching Shakespeare in the Parking Lot