By Budi Miller
Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne is moving into a new generation of Actor’s Training. We have taken the current Theatre Practice degree and divided it into a BFA in Acting and a BFA in Theatre. With the competitive nature of the entertainment industry, we feel it is our obligation to equip our students with the mastery of skills applicable to contemporary theatre and film.
As the Senior Lecturer Head of Acting, I am interested in a virtuosic actor. My definition of a virtuosic actor is a performing artist who does the common uncommonly well. This actor is a master of the human experience. They are humble & generous, vulnerable & empathetic, physically & mentally fit, disciplined & passionate, imaginative & diverse, as well as ethical & political.
The new BFA in Acting is vigorous three-year conservatoire training. The first year is focused on developing the body, emotions, and imagination. All first year classes are shared between both BFA Acting and BFA Theatre. Both first year cohorts will train in voice, movement, martial arts, accent & dialect, choir, mask work, elements of the imagination, and contextual studies.
This is an essential part of our student’s development. We will lay the foundation for what we believe to be the primary skills that will make the world’s leading actors and theatre makers. At the completion of their first year of compulsory practice based training, acting students will prepare scenes from Australian playwrights, while theatre students will adapt characters from an Australian short story.
In their second year, students will split into their degree majors. Acting students will have master classes in developing and performing characters from Anton Chekhov’s plays. They will do a full-length studio production of a Shakespeare play, using Shakespeare’s canon to investigate elements of transformation through gender, race, class, and power. They will train in clown as a vehicle to awaken the un-socialized self and removal of the public persona, study the principles of commedia dell’arte and have stage combat training in weapons, learn to work and create characters in a motion capture studio, as well as, develop their microphone skills in a recording studio.
Second year acting students will collaborate in a film project with second year film students from the VCA Film School, transfer their clown training into creating characters and scene study with Samuel Beckett plays, master their American accent in a YouTube verbatim project, and finish the year with a fully produced production of an American play. All contextual studies units work in tandem with the second year’s studio training to keep students reflecting on their relationship and participation in the local and global communities.
During their third year, acting students will determine their archetype and branding positioning within the performing arts industry. They will study film genres; master their audition techniques, cold readings and self-tests; create websites and social media platforms; and an industry standard professional film reel. Their acting training will focus on sitcoms, table reads, and advance scene study including their combat training, which finishes with firearms. Their voice training focuses on audio books and animated voices. They will continue working with the VCA Film School third year class performing in their short films. The whole cohort will finish the year off with a major theatre work with an acclaimed director, and an acting industry showcase in Melbourne and Sydney.
With such an ambitious curriculum, we seek only the best candidates for 20 spots per year, and as part of our mission to diversify our student body culturally, we have changed the audition criteria. We have updated the contemporary monologues to a list of plays and playwrights with characters to reflect the multicultural communities of the University of Melbourne and its city. Now students will also get to choose contemporary monologues spoken by Aboriginal, African, Asian, Indian, Latino, and LGBTIQ people. Our classical Shakespeare monologue list is non-gender specific giving applicants the freedom to work with the strongest text for them to embody the playwright’s imaginative given circumstances. The message that we are sending the world and the next generation of 21st century acting students is that they are welcome at the VCA.
Budi Miller is Senior Lecturer, Head of Acting at Victorian College of the Arts University of Melbourne. He is Co-Artistic Director of The Theatre of Others and a founding member of FullStop Theatre Company. He is an UNESCO designated master teacher of mask work. He has been an actor-director-writer-teacher in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Australia, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia since 1992. He is the first African American ceremonial mask dancer of Bali and is the Southeast Asian and Australian Regional Director of the Fitzmaurice Institute. He coached Michelle Williams for her Academy Award nominated performance in Ang Lee's film Brokeback Mountain.