Fine at Fringe - Jake Matricardi with The Gargoyle

Fine at Fringe - Jake Matricardi with The Gargoyle

It's time to introduce you to the last of our 2018 Fine at Fringe winners, Jake Matricardi!

A performer and writer, Jake graduated from the HFAS Full Time program in 2016, and we recently had a chat to him about his debut solo show for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Gargoyle.

Q. Hi Jake! Can you tell us a bit about your show?

 Jake Matricardi (headshot by Dan A'vard).

Jake Matricardi (headshot by Dan A'vard).

Jake: It's a script I've written and developed myself, called The Gargoyle. It's a one man performance about a stone gargoyle who has come to life and lives under a bridge. He wakes up to see the audience watching him and starts to tell anecdotes about his life and his mythical lineage.

Q. Where did the idea come from?

Jake: I wish I could say where the original spark for this specific show came from, but I honestly don't know! I just remember originally wanting to play a monster who lived under a bridge that came out to tell the audience his life story. It has since developed into something quite different, but I hope more interesting and surprising.

Having said that, I have always been fascinated by mythical creatures; the origins of their stories and the symbolism behind them. So I wanted to make my own version of a monster-as-metaphor story. I was originally going to try and draw parallels with my lived queer experience but it has since developed into a more general exploration of otherness and the reasons why we have been telling stories since the dawn of time. I've been writing stories since I was a very young child - certainly much longer than I've been acting - so I suppose I've always been drawn to storytelling as a means of self-expression. The Gargoyle is, among other things, an exploration of why that is.

Q. What was your process for developing the script? 

Jake: Developing the script was largely a solo process. However I deliberately wrote it to be malleable so that when I brought people into rehearsals, the ideas that were thrown around helped morph and change it for the better, so there was an element of collaboration as well. This collaborative aspect mostly took place in the physical scenes that don't translate to text so well.

Q. What sort of physical work did you do in rehearsals? 

 Jake in rehearsal (photo by Danielle Cresp)

Jake in rehearsal (photo by Danielle Cresp)

Jake: I worked with a movement coach, Danielle Cresp, on discovering the character's specific way of moving and holding himself through various weird and wonderful exercises. It raised lots of great questions that have deepened the character's inner life - i.e., having been made of stone for centuries, he's still getting used to his flesh body, so how does this affect the way he carries himself? Spending a lot of time observing humans but not being one himself, how much does he try to emulate their movement and behaviour? 

I also created a playlist on Spotify, and when I'm rehearsing alone I like to put that on, try and turn off all preconceptions and specific story ideas and just move to it, improvising and following my impulses and seeing what happens. It sounds strange, but that kind of exercise has opened up so many pathways that I wouldn't have discovered by just sitting down at a computer and writing. If I look back on writing I used to do as a teenager, some of the most productive and fun moments I had were when I got up and moved and improvised what the characters would say or do. I've always been a fusion of performer and writer, and I think I would struggle to do one without the other.

Q. You were recently in Europe. Did the history there provide any inspiration?

Jake: SO MUCH! I had the show passively brewing in the back of my mind the entire time, and so I found inspiration everywhere! 

The trip was almost perfectly timed, and I completed a solid working draft while I was in London (even though the trip did punch a big hole in my potential rehearsal time, I wouldn't have traded it for anything). 

  The Gargoyle  - poster designed by Jake Matricardi. 

The Gargoyle - poster designed by Jake Matricardi. 

For example, visiting St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague was so inspirational in terms of its grandiosity. There is a scene in my script that takes place in a church, and I will be using the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral as my image because it was such an awe-inspiring monument. There was also a three-metre tall gargoyle on display in the Prague Castle museum and I just stood there staring at it for about fifteen minutes because I was so fascinated by its structure and grotesqueness. Not to mention the hundreds of statues all over the exterior of the building as well. As I was in the Czech Republic for the Prague Fringe Festival, I also managed to see a lot of shows that pushed boundaries and did things I'd never seen before, which has given me permission, in a way, to make something new and unconventional as well.  

Another specific example was the Etruscan Bronze Age statue of the Chimera. I went to the Archaeological Museum in Florence specifically to see it, as I'd seen a photo of it online and wrote a whole scene based on it. It was wonderful to see that statue in the "flesh" and really absorb the way it writhes and screams even though it's a silent statue.

My favourite place in terms of getting inspiration from history and art was probably this open-air mini-museum in the Loggia dei Lazzi, also in Florence, which displays a collection of Renaissance-era statues depicting mythical stories. I loved the brutality of Perseus brandishing Medusa's grisly head and trampling on her body, as well as another hero wrestling a centaur to the ground. The sense of movement and struggle was palpable in these centuries-old statues. It felt as if they could all come to life at any minute, which was endlessly exciting to me and something I hope to infuse into my show.

It is interesting that a bulk of my show in inspired by Ancient Greek mythology even though I never actually went to Greece!

Q. In the training at HFAS, we work mostly with naturalistic scripts. How have you approached working on a non-naturalistic character like the Gargoyle? Have you been able to apply many of the lessons from your HFAS training? 

The training I received at HFAS has been invaluable, and I've found it surprisingly simple to apply. For all the show's strangeness, at the end of the day this creature is just like any other character - a soul with wants and needs, a history, a Who Am I, likes and dislikes, an environment in which he lives that affects him. He feels love, fear, empathy, just like humans do. To use the lingo, his "super-objective" is simply to find connection, and to overcome loneliness, something I think is intrinsic to the human condition. This manifests in lots of talking directly to the audience as if they were a fellow scene partner. As such, the performance depends so much on the audience's responses and the moment-to-moment reactions of the gargoyle in return; a skill I might not have been able to flex without the HFAS training.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Jake! The Gargoyle is playing at The Butterfly Club from September 17 - 23, and you can get tickets by clicking here.  You can also follow Jake on Instagram, where he will be sharing teasers for The Gargoyle, as well as a retrospective of his theatre work over the last six years - @jakematricardi. 

Fine at Fringe - Spinning Plates Co. with Ross & Rachel

Fine at Fringe - Spinning Plates Co. with Ross & Rachel

This week, we're excited to introduce you to the second winners of our 2018 Fine at Fringe program, Spinning Plates Co. 

Spinning Plates are a new Melbourne based theatre and film collective, founded by HFAS Full Time course graduates Jessica Stanley and James Cerche, and we're incredibly excited to be supporting them in their debut production! 

We had a chat to actress and playwright Jessica Stanley about their new company, and their upcoming production of the James Fritz's play Ross and Rachel

Q. Tell us a bit about Ross and Rachel. 

Jessica: Ross & Rachel is a one person show with two voices, a dualogue for one. It is the playwright’s imagining of what may have happened to our favourite sitcom couple ten years after they get together, and wonders - what happens when two friends who get together, stay together? And should they have ever gotten together in the first place? No knowledge of Friends is required to enjoy this piece, though!

This piece first came to my attention when a friend described her experience of seeing it at Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, where it had its very successful debut. Simply from the way she spoke about it and how moving it was, I ordered a copy of the script and fell in love with it. For a year or so I waited eagerly for them to announce an Australian tour, but then at some moment last year had the realisation that I should just do it myself. 

I shared the script with (fellow HFAS Full Time graduate) Faran Martin and she fell in love too, and we had our director. James Cerche came on board to co-produce, and it made sense for James to be on the team because this will be the first show under the name of our own theatre company, Spinning Plates!

Ross and Rachel Melbourne Fringe Festival Jessica Stanley

Q. What drew you to the script?

Jessica: I was drawn in by the way it was described to me because it sounded so impossible – one actor performing two roles at once, so seamlessly and effectively, and the way that two very famous fictional characters had had their ending rewritten. The script is written out as though it’s an epic poem and few sentences are ever completed. It presents such a challenging way of working with text. I’m terrified but so excited to tackle something so unique and non-naturalistic.

Q. You're working with some of your fellow HFAS students to put on this production. What do you like about working with HFAS students?

Jessica: I love working with my fellow HFAS students because we’re all on the same page and speak the same language. There’s an understanding of the way we will go about rehearsals together in a collaborative and curious way, and I know that I can trust every voice in that room to always speak from a place of truth and respect, with the end goal of serving the playwright and the work. I can trust that my director, Faran Martin, will be able to identify what’s working, what’s not, and why, and that she will direct from a place of “Why would you do this? Let’s discover…” rather than “How would you do this? I think you should walk over there and say it like this…”. Because we were in class together for a year, and now run a theatre company together, we have such a great connection that will make rehearsals safe and mutually enjoyable as we continue to learn together.

Q. Tell us about your new theatre company, Spinning Plates?

 James Cerche and Jessica Stanley of Spinning Plates Co

James Cerche and Jessica Stanley of Spinning Plates Co

Jessica: Spinning Plates is a new collective formed by my partner, James Cerche, and me. We met at Monash University years ago, then reconnected at the Howard Fine Acting Studio. We are both a part of other theatre collectives, North of Eight and Goodnight Darlings, which we dedicate a lot of time to and love, but we decided to form a new, smaller collective so that we have a place to put on our dream projects – those plays that we individually have been dying to put on and act in. Spinning Plates is a platform for us to pursue those projects, while remaining focused on sharing strong writing and unique stories that deserve a voice, but also to get ourselves out there in the industry. Melbourne has such a strong independent theatre scene and so many creatives hungry for work; it’s not enough anymore to wait for the work to come to you. Why wait for someone else to stick up an audition notice for your dream role? Make it yourself.

Whomever we are working with at the time we welcome as part of our collective. We are interested in presenting work that will continually develop, expand and challenge our craft, whilst always paying homage to technique and heart. Sometimes we make theatre and sometimes we make film.

Q. We love that after waiting for an Australian tour to be announced, you decided to get proactive and stage the show yourself! Do you have plans to do that with any other pieces? Any dream projects?

Jessica: We have just returned from attending the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. I was invited to attend for one of my own plays, but while we were there we were able to witness some incredible readings of new works, which we are now hoping to be able to bring to Australia for the first time. It really felt as though we were sitting in the room with some future very important and influential young playwrights, and we think it would be exciting to be able to produce their work for them – and for us, because they have written such amazing, complex characters that any actor would love to play with. We were so struck by the depths of research and challenging topics that had been taking on by some of these writers and want to honour that. We also each have a few dream projects on the discussion table; we’re both keen to look at Australian playwrights. I’m a big fan of two or three-handers, and James is really interested in immersive and interactive work. We aren’t in any rush to bring work out continuously; we’d rather focus on one or two works a year and put our heart and soul into them.

 

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Jess! Ross and Rachel is playing at Theatre Works, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival from September 18 - 23, and you can get tickets by clicking here

Click here to find out more about our Fine at Fringe program. 

Fine at Fringe - Lansy Feng

Fine at Fringe - Lansy Feng

We believe that making your own work is one of the best ways to gain experience and build your network within the industry, and we want to give our students every chance of success. That's why earlier this year, we launched the inaugural Fine at Fringe program. Fine at Fringe is designed to offer support to HFAS students and community wishing to stage works during the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

This year, three projects from HFAS Full Time graduates were selected from a pool of applicants, and as part of the Fine at Fringe program, we payed their application and public liability insurance fees, as well as providing them with free rehearsal space, and mentoring and support in the areas of marketing and production. 

In the lead up to the Melbourne Fringe, we'll be introducing you to our 2018 Fine at Fringe winners here on the blog. They will be putting on a diverse range of works, from original scripts to Edinburgh Fringe successes, and we can't wait to see the results of their hard work!

This week, we're excited to introduce you to 2017 Full Time graduate Lansy Feng, and her Fine at Fringe project How I Met My Dead Husband. 

Q. Tell us about your project.

Lansy: This is a one woman cabaret show that I wrote, created, produced and performed in February of this year. The story is about a funeral in 1950, Taipei, Taiwan. Cheun-Jiau, the widow is giving a eulogy for her dead husband and sharing the story of how they met. She is cursed and that's how all these stories are connected and how their fates are bound together.

I don't want to spoil too much, but the main purpose of the show is talking about love, and cherishing the love that's around you. This love can be from family, friends, and even a kind stranger.

Melbourne Fringe Festival Lansy Feng

Q. What inspired you to write this show?

Lansy: I started to write the story last July due to my singing teacher's encouragement. I had worked on it for a few months and was still not happy with the script. Then we started David Coury's Speech and Singing for Actors (SFA) course in October (as part of the HFAS Full Time program) and this changed everything.

After SFA, I was truly inspired and realised how great it is to use my own cultural heritage. I scratched my whole script for the show and started again with the story I wrote for the heritage exercise (an exercise undertaken in the SFA class). That led me to finish the whole script very quickly and I added in 8 different songs from pop, to music theatre to jazz, in English, Chinese and French, plus an original song.

Q. Once you finished the script, what was the next step?

Lansy: I had a test run for two nights at the Butterfly Club in February 2018. 

From writing, rehearsing, making props (ie. a coffin), getting costumes, making posters, advertising, hiring a pianist and technician, to producing and performing this show, I had a really crazy busy two months. For someone who is totally new to this industry, I had an amazing, fun, try not to freak out, stressful journey, and I learnt so much by doing all this by myself.

I'm really grateful that I had a sold out performance on the opening night and also great feedback from the audiences. I'm also really happy that a few people came to me and told me that they were inspired, which is my main purpose in writing the show. 

Q. What did you learn after your run at the Butterfly Club? Has the show changed at all since then?

Lansy: One of the biggest things I've really experienced is that audience is the missing character. When I was rehearsing, I felt empty. It stressed me out a bit and made me think that I wasn't doing well. However, on the opening night when the audience was engaged in the story and reacted in laughter or tears, I felt like that was the best rehearsal ever.

The other thing I've learnt is that stress eating makes your costume shrink! 

Melbourne Fringe Festival Lansy Feng

As for the question "Has the show changed at all since then?" The main story hasn't changed. It's still a work in progress and it will always be. I'm still exploring and discovering new things every time I rehearse and making changes, and I've learnt that that's the fun part of this whole thing. 

 

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about how your cultural heritage has informed the show?

Lansy: The story was inspired by the first few lines of a Taiwanese song "望春風"(Longing for the spring breeze) from the old time Taiwan.

The first few lines of the lyrics are as follows:

 " 獨夜無伴守燈下, 春風對面吹, 十七八歲未出嫁,看著少年家"

They say that a young girl is still not married at the age of 17 or 18 (which was quite old for the time), and she is waiting and looking at this guy she likes. I started from this girl's point of view in the old time Taiwan to build up her story. Taiwanese people talk about fate, and lots believe that things that happen in their lives are destined. People also talk about afterlife and reincarnation and there are lots of folk tales about it. It's these aspects of Taiwanese culture that inspired me to write the show.

Q. How do you approach working on a song? Do you treat the lyrics like a script or a monologue?

Lansy: Besides singing technique, David Coury's synonyms work is normally how I start working on the text. I also translate everything into my first language, which is Mandarin. Although I'm fine with speaking English, my first language still gives me a deeper meaning of the text, and it actually makes me feel much more. Then I vocalise the text in both languages a few times. When I hear it out loud, it makes a big difference. Then I go crazy applying Howard Fine's 8 Steps, and personalising the story of each song. 

Q. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to write, perform and produce their own show?

Lansy: I think one of the valuable lessons is to be humble and try to learn anything you don't know and be grateful to those people who helped you and supported you. Then pass on the good deed to help others. 

As for practical advice, book a venue 5 months before. And when the time gets closer and closer, one day you'll realise you have 2 months left, you will have the moment of "Shit, I've got to get my script done. My ass is on fire!" I personally find that this is the best way to kick my own ass to push myself into doing it. Or I would be still sitting there saying "One day I will write a show and perform it. One day!" Why not start today?

How I met my dead husband Melbourne Fringe.jpg

Lansy's show How I Met My Dead Husband will be performed as part of the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival, from September 20 - 27, at Gasworks Arts Park. You can get your tickets via the button below.

Get updates via the show's Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/HowIMetMyDeadHusband/

Howard Fine in New Zealand

Howard Fine in New Zealand

New Zealand. Known as the  land of the long, white cloud and with its own unique and thriving film industry, we've often had students make the journey from New Zealand to our Melbourne Studio to participate in our Full Time program or Master Classes. In turn, we've often daydreamed about making the reverse journey to bring Howard Fine's training to our friends 'across the ditch'. 

Fortunately, Equity New Zealand recently provided us with the perfect excuse, when they got in touch and asked if Howard would like to make a quick trip to NZ to host a Master Class in Auckland, during his annual trip to Australia in June and July.

Howard Fine Master Class Auckland New Zealand

Over the weekend of July 14 and 15, Howard took the short flight from Melbourne to Auckland to host his first ever two day Master Class with an ensemble of 16 NZ actors at The Auckland Performing Arts Centre. Having learnt and rehearsed their scenes ahead of time, the actors were ready to make the most of their short time working with Howard, and we were thrilled with their openness and work ethic. 

It proved to be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone. Participant Amber said: 'I feel so full and inspired by everybody's passion and craft. Honoured to have been part of this!' 

'I will never forget my experience teaching here. Farewell Auckland. I am deeply touched!' Howard said at the conclusion of the class.

At the end of the New Zealand Master Class the auditors and participants burst in to traditional song to thank Howard for his passion and expertise. Overwhelmed by the emotion and intensity of what they had experienced, several actors began crying which led to Mr Howard Fine himself getting a little dewy eyed. Events such as this fuel the work we do and we are extremely grateful for the wonderful reception we received in New Zealand. The actors were fantastic - passionate, talented and hard working.

The event was such a success that we will be reserving several places in our November Master Class (hosted in Melbourne) for New Zealand actors who have already begun applying to participate.

While this was our first visit to New Zealand, we certainly hope it won't be our last, and we would like to thank Equity New Zealand, NZ Film Commission, TAPAC and all the actors and auditors involved for making this unforgettable experience possible.

Howard Fine Master Class Auckland New Zealand

 

 

Talking Shakespeare with Sally McLean

Talking Shakespeare with Sally McLean

William Shakespeare. These words have the potential to excite and thrill an actor or strike fear into their heart. But actress, director and producer Sally McLean believes that this doesn't have to be the case. Shakespeare can be accessible for everyone, as she has set out to prove with her award-winning web-series Shakespeare Republic, and short film Speaking Daggers. This month, we welcome Sally to The Studio to teach her brand new course, Playing the Bard, which is designed to help actors understand and personalise Shakespeare's words. Sally recently had a chat with us about all things Shakespeare, so read on to find out why Sally loves the Bard, and how you can too!

Q. When did your love of Shakespeare begin?

A. I was one of those kids in school who hated Shakespeare. People often find that unbelievable, considering what I’m doing now, but it’s true. My first introduction to his work was in English class and sadly my teacher didn’t have a lot of patience with kids who struggled with reading out loud. I am mildly dyslexic, so you can imagine how much fun reading Shakespeare out loud in front of a class without having seen the text until that moment would have been! Needless to say, that was it for me – I never wanted to touch the works again. And I successfully managed to avoid his work – until I wanted to audition for drama school.

'I was one of those kids in school who hated Shakespeare. People often find that unbelievable, considering what I’m doing now, but it’s true.' 

I managed to somehow get through the process of choosing and learning a Shakespeare monologue (I chose one that resonated, and wasn’t too difficult language-wise, so that helped) and got accepted into my course of choice - the full time course at the Actors’ Institute in London. And that’s where everything changed. I had an amazing Shakespeare teacher in that course, Phil Peacock, who not only improved my understanding and appreciation for Shakespeare’s works, but also enabled me to transfer that learning to all texts I would encounter there and in my career afterwards. I was also given the thesis topic “Elizabethan Theatre” around the same time, which I was NOT happy about in the moment!! We each had to write and research (in pairs) about a period of Western Theatre history, and all the topics were pulled out of a hat, and I got Shakespeare’s period as mine. But I thank the universe now for that twist in my education, as that was the final piece of the puzzle that changed everything.

The minute I comprehended that this man actually lived and worked in the town I was living and working in - which meant I could visit the pubs he drank in, the churches he worshipped in, walk the streets he walked – he became more real to me and somehow, I suddenly began to understand the language and what he was talking about. It also helped that the Globe Theatre was being rebuilt on Southbank, so I got myself in there to interview the architects and get an inside view on how the plays were performed and what the audiences were like, and the times he wrote in.

'From that moment – I became a convert. I can tell you the exact moment it happened.'

From that moment – I became a convert. I can tell you the exact moment it happened. I had been invited to stand on the stage at the Globe to get a sense of what it would be like to perform there as an actor. I stepped up under the canopy that was still being painted by the artists, turned around to look out at the theatre, where other artisans were hand turning some bannister rails in the galleries, thatching the roof by hand up on scaffolding, and people were walking around with blueprints discussing where the columns on the stage should go and it was as if I’d suddenly stepped back to 1599 when the Globe was first built, overlaid by a modern version of what was actually going on around me. I could feel it all, the excitement of creating something new, something monumental, but also something enormously creative. I can’t explain exactly what happened, but I just knew at that moment I was home creatively.

 Sally in Shakespeare Republic, Season 2

Sally in Shakespeare Republic, Season 2

Q. Your web series Shakespeare Republic has been incredibly well received. What made you want to re-contextualise Shakespeare for a modern audience? Do you think the web series format has contributed to its success?

A. I have been overwhelmed and so grateful for the response the series has got globally since we first began releasing it – not just for myself, but for my whole team. Everyone worked so brilliantly and generously on it and the leap of faith they all took with me is never taken for granted! I guess my need to re-contextualise Shakespeare is driven from that same place – the need to demystify him for people and clear away anything that prevents people from understanding what he was trying to say. Also, I think he’s just a damn good storyteller and his work deserves to still be heard and seen because it still holds lessons for us – which is, I think, the ultimate legacy of an artist – to have a positive on-going impact on the world.

I think the “bite-sized” nature of what we do in a web series short-form format definitely helps with its success. We’re not handing you a full text, just a taste – a chance to focus on one or two characters for a few minutes and reveal a concentrated moment of being human.

Q. What's your number one tip for actors who struggle with or are intimidated by Shakespeare?

A. DO NOT read the works first!! He wrote his plays to be performed, not read. His plays were never published by him and the full works were not published until after his death. He was a playwright, not a novelist. Watch productions with actors and directors who know the language and what they’re doing. Start with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (the film). I think that is one of the greatest examples of his comedies done in the modern era (although not set in modern dress) and you will get just about everything they say, because they all know what they’re doing. Even the actors who had never done Shakespeare before had a good grip on what they were talking about – which was down to the director, Kenneth Branagh. I could go on about the modern parallels in that story, but if you watch it, you’ll see that it is one of the first rom-coms ever written, that also has a darker storyline with the characters of Hero and Claudio. (Light + Dark is a very Elizabethan concept and they juxtaposed the two all the time). Also have a look at Baz Luhrmann’s modern setting of “Romeo + Juliet” on film – again, one of the first tragic romance stories written in the Western Theatre canon and the basis for so many other plays and films since.

'If he were alive today he would have probably started writing for TV Soaps and network TV and then moved onto blockbuster movies.'

 Sally directing on the set of Speaking Daggers

Sally directing on the set of Speaking Daggers

If he were alive today (as my fabulous Shakespeare teacher at drama school pointed out) he would have probably started writing for TV Soaps and network TV (the poems and some of the early plays) and then moved onto blockbuster movies (the bulk of his plays). He wrote about all aspects of the human condition – just about everything – as well as wars and murder and politics and all the other stuff that is still being written about in fictional entertainment today, he just happened to be doing it 400 years ago when they spoke a bit differently.

Q. You once received this review after your performance in an all female version of Macbeth:  "an utterly convincing performance as the old Scottish King, belying the fact that McLean is not only young and a woman, but also Australian.” – Time Out, London. What can you tell us about this performance, and the process of getting into character?

That review always makes me laugh – more the “Australian” bit, as if it was a shock that an Aussie would understand Shakespeare!

So firstly, I need to point out that I was playing Duncan, not Lord M (although that is something I intend to do at some stage, just putting it out there), so it wasn’t as gruelling as it could have been. I came into the production late (I used to joke that I was “Duncan the Sixth” as five other actresses before me had taken the role, then got TV or film gigs, so left the production), so I only had three weeks before opening night to get to grips with it. Luckily I was fresh out of drama school, so I was up for it.

Firstly, we had a fantastic director, Alistair Barrie, come into the production around the same time I did (the original director had to leave as well – let me tell you that the “Macbeth” curse is real … this production was fraught with issues from start to finish!). Alistair (who replaced the previous director) is a fantastic director and also an actor and stand up comedian - and is doing a gig as part of this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival right now – “InternationAl” - his Melbourne Comedy Fest debut, even though he’s been touring and headlining for over a decade out of the UK. Just giving this plug, because he’s still a very close friend of mine, does political comedy and is bloody hilarious!

Alistair really gets Shakespeare and it makes all the difference to a production, which might sound obvious to say, but you really do need someone directing who understands the text and whole picture, is collaborative and has a clear vision of what they want to say with the work. Al flat out told us to not “play it like men”. What he meant by that was to get grounded, find our inner strength, find the masculine within us, but don’t “play the idea” of “masculine”. We all have feminine and masculine traits, so he simply asked us to explore the masculine. There were some very funny rehearsals where he had us walking around like men to get a sense of where the male centre of gravity is – it was VERY enlightening on many fronts! And those two simple techniques worked. I still use that work and advice today as an actor and director when getting people to play another gender.

Trailer for Season 2 of Shakespeare Republic

We used minimal props and didn’t make ourselves look like men, other than wearing pants. I wore my hair long (and it was very long at that stage), with a crown and a robe. I didn’t do anything to make myself older in look, I just had to hold the authority in the room (but I’ve always played older, so it came fairly easily). My voice naturally is quite low in timbre, and with the emotional connection to the masculine, as well as the physical posture, it dropped a little lower without my even thinking about it (having done voice classes continuously also helped with that). The audience couldn’t see me when I first spoke (I was revealed a few lines in), and a lot of audience afterwards would come up to me afterwards at the bar and say they thought I was actually an older man before I was revealed as a female, long-haired, younger red-head!

But it just goes to show if you know what you’re saying and it’s directed well and you have actors who are prepared to do their homework and have a solid foundation in skillset – the audience (and critics) will go along with the world you’re creating. When Duncan died, we had audience members in tears – same again when Lady M died - that was a hell of a thing to see and testament to Catherine’s (who played Lord M) homework and skill, as well as Al’s direction. It was only my second time playing Shakespeare on stage and turned out to be extremely well received critically and I think we sold out the latter part of the season, so it was thankfully a success (against the odds!).

Q. What's your favourite Shakespearean play, character or moment? Why?

A. Oh gosh, this is a hard one. I have so many! I think it’s more when an actor truly connects with what they’re saying and just delivers the most authentic, grounded, connected moment using the text – that takes my breath away. My top five would be Kenneth Branagh doing the “She loves me!” speech in his film of “Much Ado About Nothing” as Benedick, David Tennant doing the “To be or not to be” speech in the filmed version of the RSC’s “Hamlet” and pretty much anything Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart does wins my vote. There are several examples across Shakespeare Republic and Speaking Daggers of exquisite moments from my own cast, but I’m not going to pick any favourites, because there are too many to choose from and I am very lucky with the cast I have - they are a bunch of hardworking, talented actors that I am so grateful to be working with.

If I had to choose one play, it’s between Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing. I love the characters, the storytelling, the fact I want to jump up and say during both plays “No! Don’t do that! It will end badly!!” – I get very invested! Richard III is in my Top 3 for the same reason.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Sally! Sally's course Playing the Bard begins on April 24, 2018. Click below to sign up or find out more.

Meet the Trust - Scott Major

Meet the Trust - Scott Major

Formed in 2017 and made up of people from all areas of the HFAS community, our Board of Trustees is a highly skilled group of individuals who will be working to ensure that The Studio is the best institution it can be. We've been introducing you to members of our Trust over the last few weeks, and this week, we're excited to introduce you to actor, writer, director and producer Scott Major!

Actor Scott Major

Scott has worked extensively in television, theatre and film around the world for the last 28 years. Some of his regular television roles include Heartbreak High, Wildside, Neighbours, Always Greener and Late for School. Film credits include: Envy, He died with a Falafel in his hand, Ned and The Heartbreak Kid. He founded Bathroom Floor Productions in 2004 and his recent theatre work includes All This Intimacy, Both Sides of the Bar, The Fellatio Monologues, Death in a box: one pussy’s tale, The Subtle Art of Flirting, Closer, Terminus and Salt. He has been directing on Neighbours for the last 5 years and is also a director and founder of Poppy Seed Theatre Festival.

We asked Scott a few questions to help you get to know him...

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio)

Hmmmm, I only started acting because I joined a modelling agency in primary school because my mate was a model and could buy the best skateboards. Obviously I didn’t get any modelling work but I did get a TV job on ABC.

I was born in Footscray hospital. Goooooo the Doggies! 

In the early days of Heartbreak High, Callan Mulvey was my rollerblading double and good mate. He ended up going on to play arguably the most popular character on the show, Drazig. 

2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I’m not, I was forced into it. Oh and I suppose that I find acting training extremely important. When I was younger there was nothing like this around so I love supporting and helping grow quality training and the actors of tomorrow. 

3. What's the biggest lesson you've learned through your training at HFAS?

There are so many things that I learnt from working with Howard Fine and David Coury that I could go on for eveeerrrrr. A couple of gems that sound simple but are often missed: "Words are important” and “Don’t judge your character”.

4. What do you love about being an actor?

The stability, the constant work, being respected as a worthwhile part of the working community. Ooops sorry I thought you meant what would be amazing about acting in a perfect world. What to I love: DOING IT!

 Scott at Howard Fine's Melbourne Master Class in 2012.

Scott at Howard Fine's Melbourne Master Class in 2012.

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

Take previous first answer and make it opposite. 

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play? 

There isn’t one role that I would love to play as such. I guess any role that takes me to a different place, or makes me look at the world in a slightly different way. That shines a light on something that may be under explored or misrepresented in the past. Wow I got heavy, sorry.

7. Tell us a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors.

Get out now, I need the work… OR…. Nothing replaces hard work, don’t be scared of doing the work, don’t let your fear of failure stop you being as great as you can be. That and kill all competition. (I don’t endorse this if anyone actually does it, it was a joke.)

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Scott! If you'd like to know more about our Board of Trustees, you can click here, and be sure to take a look at our recent blog posts to meet other Trust members.

Meet the Trust - Jessica Stanley

Formed in 2017 and made up of people from all areas of the HFAS community, our Board of Trustees is a highly skilled group of individuals who will be working to ensure that The Studio is the best institution it can be. We've been introducing you to members of our Trust over the last few weeks, and today it's time for you to meet Jessica Stanley!

Actor Jessica Stanley

Jessica Stanley is an actor and writer from Melbourne, and the current Chair of the new Melbourne-based theatre company North of Eight. Jessica received a scholarship to study at Monash University and while completing her Bachelor of Performing Arts was awarded the Outstanding Year Level Achiever and a Dean’s Recognition Award following her work in August: Osage County, and in her final year worked with director Leticia Caceres on the world premiere of Where in the World is Frank Sparrow? In 2015, she concurrently completed the Full-Time Program at the Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia and a Bachelor of Psychology at Swinburne University.
Jessica's on-screen credits include roles on The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Glitch, and the French-language independent feature, La Souffrance. In 2016, Jessica performed the one-woman show, Ménage, at Melbourne Fringe Festival, which was nominated for Best Performance Award. Recently, she performed in Navy Pier by John Corwin.

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

Eating is pretty much my main passion in life. My last meal on Earth would probably be Carbonara and a Southern Fried Chicken burger, or anything that my Dad cooked.

I love to read - fiction, non-fiction, and plays. I also like to collect children's picture books - Shirley Barber and Alison Lester are my favourites.

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love to play games. Board games, card games, laser tag, whatever. Basically anything competitive, and especially anything where I can betray other people in the game.

2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I'm excited because this is a school that I feel so passionately about, and have ever since I first walked in the door. To be able to help it grow, and spread the word of it to new people, feels really special. As I am also heading the Scratch Nights this year, so I'm really excited to be giving people opportunities to be creative. 

3. What's your favourite lesson you've learned through your training at HFAS?

One of my absolute favourite lessons that I've learnt through Howard is that there are no advanced acting mistakes, and that it's all Acting 101. Learning this over the last few years has given so much more inner peace, humility, curiosity and mental toughness. And as Howard says, 'simple does not mean easy' - it took years for this lesson to truly work its way through my system. I used to really beat myself up if I made a mistake, thinking "Duh, I knew that, I can't believe I made that mistake", but I don't do that anymore. I just don't. 

4. What do you love about being an actor?

That every role exists inside of me. Being on stage means being able to express things that we don't often get to in life. Acting is such a great release, but is also feeds back into my life. The more I've worked on my craft and technique, and different roles, the closer to my true self I feel in the rest of my life. I also love that feeling when you start researching a new role and you fall down a wormhole on the net and find yourself learning all kinds of new things.

 Jessica Stanley working with fellow Full Time graduate Pat Moonie was Howard Fine's 2017 Master Class

Jessica Stanley working with fellow Full Time graduate Pat Moonie was Howard Fine's 2017 Master Class

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

Oh, the way that the industry works! That we've somehow gotten to a point where how many Instagram followers you have is an actual factor in getting a role. I wish that casting was based purely off talent, full stop. Sadly it's so much more complicated than that. Also, that there's so little paid work and funding out there for actors.

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play

I'm not really sure how to answer this because I have a pretty big list! To name a few plays - Macbeth, The Maids, Danny & the Deep Blue Sea, Closer, Blackbird, Medea.

7. What's a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors

Read plays. The more you read, the better you will be at script analysis and understanding empathy for different characters. Stay curious. Do voice work. Do body work. Simple things (but not easy!).

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Jessica! If you'd like to know more about our Board of Trustees, you can click here, and be sure to take a look at our recent blog posts to meet other Trust members.

Meet the Trust - William Lee

Formed in 2017 and made up of people from all areas of the HFAS community, our Board of Trustees is a highly skilled group of individuals who will be working to ensure that The Studio is the best institution it can be. We've been introducing you to members of our Trust over the last few weeks, and today it's time for you to meet William Lee!

Actor William Lee

William is best known for his role as bushranger John Dunn in The Legend of Ben Hall, which received a worldwide release in 2017, and for which he won 'Best Supporting Actor' at the 50th Annual Houston International Film Festival. A competitive horse rider from a young age, William opted to perform his own horse riding stunts in The Legend of Ben Hall, and hopes to do more work with horses on screen throughout his career. At the start of 2017,  William worked on the Bushranger documentary, Lawless- The Real Bushrangers by Foxtel. William is now writing and producing, and endeavours to share stories of his family history, which includes European Royalty, and a prisoner of war in Changi in WWII. William was involved in a sold out season of The Scare at La Mama Theatre in 2013 and was awarded Best Actor at The Brown Paper Bag Film Festival in Melbourne in 2012.

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

  • I’m a middle child and my brother and sister call me 'the favourite'.
  • I almost died on the operating table as a child after falling off a bunk bed in my sleep.
  • I finally got the courage to become an actor while on the Amazon River in Brazil.  I got home from my trip and signed up for my first acting course at the Howard Fine Acting Studio.

 2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I have gone from being too scared to speak in my first class, to being invited onto the HFASA board of trustees. Words can’t explain how amazing that feels. I can now give back to the community that gave so much to me at my most vulnerable time. We are working on creating a space for actors and performers to present their work in a safe and supportive environment, through scratch nights and performance nights which is so damn exciting. The board is made up of students and faculty and we get to help suggest and implement the things that we always wished to have at the school.

 William as John Dunn in T he Legend of Ben Hall.

William as John Dunn in The Legend of Ben Hall.

3. What's the biggest lesson you've learned through your training at HFAS?

I was studying a double degree in Exercise Science and Human Movement and working 5 days a fortnight when I did my first course at HFAS. Laura Gardner said to me, “Don’t wait until you have more time on your hands to improve your work, get good now, because if I know you Will, you will always be this busy...” and she was spot on! Thank god I learned that lesson early on in my career. 

4. What do you love about being an actor?

To be honest I have written 5 answers for this already. I couldn’t choose just one. It's pretty special creating a character or a world that allows others to say, 'hey that's me up there. I totally relate to this character,' and in some cases allowing people to understand that they are not alone in this world through having their story told. It's such a powerful experience for both the actor and the audience. I sure as hell have been moved by other actors' performances and taken home life lessons. 

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

Unpredictable income and not enough hours in the day! I wish being an actor did not involve having a second or third job to sustain a living, although I understand that we all need have other interests and the best thing to do is find the love and passion in your day job rather than resenting it. Who knows maybe it's not forever?! 

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play?

Cowboy, wizard, adventurer. Ok, I know that I have picked three, but who wouldn't? I also see Hugh Jackman and his career which makes me want to get up and sing my heart out and dance, but for now I'm more of a sing in the shower kinda guy, haha. I have to say though, a little bit of this dream was ignited after doing David Coury's SFA (Speech & Singing for Actors) program. I have since gone on to doing some vocal/singing classes incase the dream job did happen to pop up. 

Actor William Lee

7. What's a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors?

I knew I was meant to act. Something always draws me back in. When people ask me for advice, I say, you know it’s meant to be if you can’t stop thinking about it and if you understand that it takes sacrifice and hard work to be an actor. I was scared when reading Howard's book for the first time. He explains what it takes to be an actor and I remember thinking 'oh no, maybe that's not me.' Although as my confidence has grown so has my drive and I can guarantee its not through time alone. It's through study, trusting and understanding the process. I spent 5 years at uni and still didn't feel like an 'exercise scientist' so why should I expect anything less from acting? 

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us William! Be sure to take a look at our most recent blog posts if you'd like to meet more of our Trust members.

Meet the Trust - Sally McLean

We've certainly been enjoying getting to know the members of our Board of Trustees a little more through our 'Meet the Trust' series, and we hope you have too! This week, we had a chat with Melbourne actor and creator extraordinaire, Sally McLean.  

Actor Sally McLean

Sally is an award-winning actor, director, writer and producer whose screen projects have been officially selected for over 50 film festivals internationally. A graduate of The Actors Institute, London, she has appeared in numerous lead and guest roles in mainstream film and television, both in Australia and the UK, and over 30 theatrical productions. Her work behind the camera began with the BBC in London before forming her production business Incognita Enterprises under the Honorary Patronage of Oscar® nominated actor, Sir Nigel Hawthorne . Sally has worked in production for Channel Nine, Endemol Southern Star and others on programs including Comedy Inc., Big Brother, Australian Idol, and the The X-Factor, and is currently the General Manager for Melbourne WebFest as well as the creator, director, producer and ensemble member of the internationally multi award-winning web series, Shakespeare Republic.

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

Oh! Fun facts time! Ok, so …

  • I made my television debut as a singer/dancer on Channel 7’s Good Friday Appeal, aged 12, where I promptly knocked over the music stand of the accompanying live musicians standing nearby during an over-enthusiastic, slightly-out-of-control side step move – on live TV. I’ve been told that you actually heard the Floor Manager swear, as sheet music fluttered around me for the next few seconds and the camera swung wildly away from me to try to avoid broadcasting the ensuing chaos. If the late, great Shirley Strachan hadn’t made the effort to come up to me afterwards and tell me “Don’t worry about it – you kept going, just like a pro.”, I may never have got back in front of a camera again, I was so mortified. Will always be grateful to him for taking pity on a shaken and highly embarrassed pre-teen that day.
  • Aged 13, I led the Moomba Parade as my alter-ego “Bubbles The Clown” (a character I played as a storytelling stand up for most of my teenage years at various large-scale concerts and events at venues such as the Melbourne Arts Centre and Adelaide Fringe). This persona may or may not have been influenced by the Good Friday Appeal incident (if they’re going to laugh at you, you may as well be aiming for that outcome).
  • Finally, I started my theatre career in musicals (so clearly I didn’t give up on the singing/dancing thing either).

2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I am a firm believer in actors training for their whole careers, as hopefully we’re all in this to keep growing and improving and that’s a process that should never stop. I have been involved with HFAS Australia since taking Scene Study with Howard in 2012 and I honestly believe it’s the best training around for actors in this country. Having worked as an unofficial PA for Howard and some of the LA Faculty during their visits here over the years, I know how much effort goes on behind the scenes to make this work possible and I am thrilled to be part of such a fantastic team of actors and creators that will continue to enable this excellent training and these truly wonderful, brilliant teachers to be brought to Australian shores. Plus, I have a lot of friends involved, so it’s a great way to catch up with them all on a regular basis under the guise of work ;)

3. How has training at HFAS helped you in your work in the industry?

I came to audit my first Master Class at a time when I was thinking of walking away from the biz. It had been a difficult few years and I’d started to lose my spark and passion for it. The lovely Rachael Blackwood invited me along, as she was participating, and so I went to support her, really. However, five minutes in Howard’s presence, watching him work, listening to his philosophy on acting and being a creative in general and experiencing his passion and love for the work -  everything changed for me. Over that weekend, Howard reminded me why I do this work. Why I chose to be part of this crazy business and reignited that joy in the work that I’d been missing. I came home inspired and full of new ideas and energy. I then began working with Howard and the team every opportunity I could get and the work started coming in again, ideas for my own projects began stacking up and I came out the other side. I credit Howard, David, Laura, Karen, Marilyn and all the other amazing teachers at the Studio for seeing me through that period and for making me not only a better actor, but a better writer and director. And I will be forever grateful to all of them and Phil and Pat for making it all possible in the first place.

4. What do you love about being an actor?

 Sally working with Howard Fine and actor Mike Smith at the 2013 Melbourne Master Class.

Sally working with Howard Fine and actor Mike Smith at the 2013 Melbourne Master Class.

The people I get to work with. Those amazing, creative, inspirational human beings I get to spend time with on a regular basis. The acting fraternity is made up of so many interesting, fascinating people and I feel privileged to know and work with so many who are also generous, compassionate and so, so very talented. That also extends to directors, writers, producers, casting directors, teachers – you name it. Ours is a vibrant and exciting industry and it’s because of the people and all that amazing creativity they generate and build. The chance to continually grow, continually learn, continually improve – not just as an actor, but also as a member of the human race. The chance to take risks. To step out on the ledge and take that leap into the unknown. And the responsibility of giving voice to those people, issues, ideas that may not have a platform – to hold that famous “mirror up to nature” - so we can all take a look at where we have been, where we are currently at and where we could possibly be going. It is an honour and a privilege to do this job and, I believe, our responsibility to do it as well as we can.

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

I chose this, so I take the good with the bad with as much good grace as I can, as I realise I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do what I love. So, sure, there are downtimes, such as not knowing where the next gig is going to come from and the like, but that’s why I also write, direct and produce. I’m a big believer in continually challenging yourself and if you don’t know something, then finding someone who does and learning from them. Also, having a strong, supportive community around you and a stable home environment, which I’m lucky enough to also have, makes the world of difference. And if all else fails, going for a walk in nature to remember that we are but one small part of the larger universe really helps me get through any feelings of inadequacy or inertia that can crop up all too regularly.

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play

Too many to list here! Anything that challenges me, stretches me and helps leave the world a better place :) My dream project is actually already on the agenda for production, which I’m currently adapting into a TV series from a feature film script I wrote a while ago, set in Scotland, so fingers crossed.  (Although, I’d love to play Claire de Loone from “On The Town” again, now that I’m older and understand her better, just throwing that out there).

7. What's a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors

Create your own work. The phone doesn’t regularly ring off the hook with work for any of us – no matter where we are at in our careers. Creating your own work gives you the chance to take some control back over your career. Do Shakespeare. Take a commedia dell’arte class. If you don’t sing, take a singing. Learn a circus skill. Never stop challenging yourself creatively and never stop learning about this amazing industry we are a part of. Know the history of what we do. It is rich, varied and fascinating and gives us a sense of place in the grand scheme of things, as well as the realisation that we are simply the next links in the chain of the long-standing tradition of storytelling. Lastly, be interested and curious. Never stop learning. And read, read, read!!! If you do all that, not only will you be able to contribute to this biz in a deeper and more impactful way, you’ll also hopefully have a truly fulfilling life – which will only inform your acting work, because it’s irrevocably connected. And have fun!

Meet the Trust - Chris Farrell

Over the next few weeks, we'll be introducing you to the members of our Board of Trustees, (an awesome team of individuals who will be working to ensure that The Studio is the best institution it can be!) and this week, we had a chat to actor, adventurer and world traveller, Chris Farrel!

Actor Chris Farrell

Melbourne actor Chris Farrell has worked on a wide variety of roles across a number of different mediums. Career highlights so far include working closely with Oscar winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, & working on HBO mini-series "The Pacific". Chris is constantly looking to collaborate with a diverse mix of enthusiastic artists regardless of the medium and is ready to take on the most challenging of directions. 

Chris is also a regular student here at The Studio, having completed many short courses and Master Classes. We asked Chris a few questions to help you get to know him:

1.    Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

  • My time on set caring for the wellbeing of follow actors and crew outweighs my time as an actor…I am slowly trying to shift the balance! (Chris works as an on-set nurse on Neighbours!)
  • I am a film nut, with well over 700 DVD titles in alphabetical order and bags and bags of old cinema stubs! Most kids wagged school to get into mischief… I went to the cinema!
  • I am addicted to travel. Outside of the HFAS it’s the BEST school there is – the school of life! Highlights include Mongolia, Iceland, Morocco and trekking over 1700kms across Portugal and Spain

2.    Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I have grown immensely as an actor and person thanks to the environment at the Howard Fine Acting Studio. I have made friends for life and constantly fuelled my passion for the art. To be able to give back and potentially be a part of its growth in helping fellow actors is a tremendous honour.

3.    How has training at HFAS helped you in your work in the industry? What's the biggest lesson you've learned through your training?

HFAS helped me find the confidence I was lacking. It has allowed me to carry myself on set in a way I never previously did. Putting everything I had into the training HFAS provides has allowed me to believe I have what it takes to do the thing I have always wanted to do.

There are too many amazing lessons to name but if I had to say one it would be “Why NOT How”. Get this right and you've got half a chance of truly committing to the character and story.

4.    What do you love about being an actor?

Honestly it’s the challenge. The challenge to truly commit, empathise and find myself in service of a character. The feeling that comes from honouring the writing and having someone explain what a performance meant to them in that moment. It is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced and unfortunately its addictive (run while you still can!)

5.    What do you not so much love about being an actor?

The lack of opportunity. The feeling I have when I see truly dedicated people, who sacrifice and give it their all, suffer. The constant high and lows. The doubts that creep in when I have lost touch due to having to “work” to pay bills. Learning and seeing the “business” side of the industry and how those wheels turn. When you see behind the curtain it can be pretty confronting. That’s why the magic of the classroom is so important.

6.    What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play?

Anything directed by PTA, Aronofsky, Gasper Noe, Steve Mcqueen, or Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Working alongside Daniel Day-Lewis & Michael Fassbender, because I know I would be pushed to depths only masters can safely guide you to! In addition, pretty much anything HBO creates and more recently ‘Black Mirror’. I haven’t been challenged as an audience member like that for a long time. Get on it!

7.    What's a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors

Be present now. Try not to focus on where you thought you would be or where you think you deserve to be. Enjoy where you are in your journey as much as you can. Even if you think things couldn’t be worse, the reality is that they probably could be. Don’t compete – help and learn from your peers. Be honest about your goals and how much you put in. I know someone out there is working harder, getting up earlier, and sacrificing more, so when they succeed, they probably deserved it. Let go in class, feel safe to truly be present with your scene partner or the work itself. Honestly the heights I have reached in class I rarely get to on stage or set. So many other factors make things difficult – that’s why I constantly look to get into a class when I can. The classroom for the actor is like the gym for the body builder. No athlete rocks up to game day without having trained. It's for a reason. Enjoy the ride!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Chris! If you'd like to get to know other members of our Trust, you can read our interview with Mark Salvestro by clicking here and keep an eye out for future interviews in the coming weeks!

Meet the Trust - Mark Salvestro

You might remember that a few weeks ago, we blogged about our new Board of Trustees (click here to read that post). Made up of people from all areas of the HFAS community, including professional actors, directors and producers, The Trust are a highly skilled group of individuals who will be working to ensure that The Studio is the best institution it can be, and that it continues to grow and service the needs of its community. 

Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing you to the members of The Trust, beginning this week with the wonderful Mark Salvestro!

Actor Mark Salvestro

Mark is an actor, writer, producer and founding member of independent theatre companies, Second Breakfast and North of Eight. Mark’s most recent accomplishment is his critically acclaimed one-man show, Buried at Sea, which he wrote, produced and performed. Buried at Sea has toured nationally, including successful seasons at Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe Festivals, and a sold-out Snowy Mountains tour. Mark has trained extensively as a performer in Sydney and Melbourne, and in 2014, graduated from the Full-Time Program at the Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia. 

We asked Mark a few questions to help you get to know him...

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

• I've never had a coffee before...yep. 

• I'm the youngest of six kids 

• I have a pet sulphur-crested cockatoo 

2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I'm excited to be able to give back to the wonderful HFAS community. I moved to Melbourne to take part in the Full-Time program in 2014, and I certainly wouldn't be here still if it wasn't for the supportive, open-hearted and hardworking souls that surround The Studio. 

3. How has training at HFAS helped you in your work in the industry? 

Training at HFAS has refined my work ethic. It has taught me to keep exploring, digging, and questioning everything. This, in turn, has opened up a whole realm of possibilities in my career and personal life. 

4. What do you love about being an actor?

Probably the thing I also loath at times too. The work. The research. The never-ending rabbit burrow of possibilities and discoveries. 

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

The tight budgets I live by each day, and my bank account not reflecting the amount of work I do. It's the risk we take, but it certainly likes to test us at times. 

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play?

Surprisingly they're from a musical: George from Stephen Sondheim's 'Sunday in the Park with George'...but I've got at least 10 years before that one! And Hamlet, of course! Because what actor wouldn't want to sink their teeth into that role?

7. Tell us a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors

Lately, I've started to learn the importance of stopping, breathing and checking in with myself. It's so easy to jump on the fast-paced ride of it all, and forget why we're doing it and where we're going. Make time for this. It's worth every second. 

Thanks to Mark for taking the time to chat with us! Mark's other credits include Lonely People are Always up in the Middle of the Night, La Mama Explorations; Navy Pier, North of Eight; Couch Potato and Fairy Tale News, WIT Inc.; Private Moments: A Double Bill, Anywhere Festival; The Popular Mechanicals, and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. So keep your eyes peeled, because this hardworking actor is sure to be on a stage near you soon!

We have a board of Trustees!

We have a board of Trustees!

The Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia is very pleased to announce that we we are now fully supported by a dedicated Trust. In 2017, we decided to open up stewardship of The Studio and invited key individuals to become part of a leadership team here at HFAS, one dedicated to our ideas and principles.

The members of the Trust come from all areas of the HFAS community, including professional (and award-winning) actors, directors and producers. They are all intimately familiar with how we work, what makes us unique and how we can best serve our community. In addition to being working professionals they are all graduates and alumni of The Studio's Master Class, Full Time and Part Time programs. They are a highly skilled and impressive group of individuals who are committed to making The Studio the best institution it can be. They have the vision and desire to ensure the Howard Fine Acting Studio continues to grow, develop and service the needs of it's community. 

With the help of the Trust, we will be announcing an extremely exciting series of new initiatives in 2018, as well as introducing you to its members over the coming weeks. Stay tuned, there are great things coming!

LA Diary - Aaron Mapleback

LA Diary - Aaron Mapleback

For the next instalment in our 'LA Diary', series, we chat to Full Time graduate Aaron Mapleback, who is making his way in Hollywood. 

Q. What is different about your life as an actor in LA, compared to Melbourne? 

A. My life changed drastically, from living in a relatively safe, secure and simple environment, to a complex beast of an environment. I should explain. In LA, you are met with just as much welcoming kindness but your life also becomes a bit of a chess game, with who wishes to take you for a ride and who is actually real and who they say they are. There are so many more opportunities, but just as there are more opportunities, there are more opportunists. 


Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about making the change?

A. Get a job! As funny as it sounds the most common progression (for most Americans who come to LA) is living in a nice big apartment, then 3 months later a smaller apartment, and then selling furniture to afford another month's rent, then sharing a living room, to facing the street or living in their car. Then most move back home. Why? because LA is ridiculously expensive! As much as you want to do voice and Alexander Technique practice every day and wait for a chance to use your acting skills, you need a job! 

Q. Got a funny anecdote?

A. You never know who anyone is, or who they roll with. The countless times that I've been in a conversation with someone, at some party, and as I get to know them, I find out, "you're best friends with the Franco brothers?" or "Oh you're an executive at this film company?" "Oh, you've won multiple Oscars? That's cool...". This town is full of super normal people that work their butt off, deal with all the difficulties and manage to still have the space for creative expression and to make something worthwhile.
 
I know at The Studio we champion people who make their own work. That is why I love this Studio! Tennesse Williams didn't say "I'm waiting for someone to give me a prompt before I start writing." He started writing and people started coming because they saw it was good. Kevin, one of my best friends over here in LA, when he was 19 or 20 years old he was living in NY Brooklyn, working for his Dad at a seafood shop, surrounded by crime and mobsters. Kevin got an old camera and made a short film and submitted it to a short film festival. Just so happens that Scorsese watched it, and loved it. Kevin won the film festival and Scorsese gave him a full ride to NYU and privately trained him side by side on set. The video he made was crummy quality on an average VCR camera. So I say to you it's less about the quality of the medium and more about the quality of the storytelling. Breaking Bad's first season was shot on film, not a RED dragon monster thing or an Aria Alexa! So just make something! 

Q. What's next for you?

A. My Green Card just finished processing so now I'm able to work. So I shall continue to pay my rent and work my day job, but in every moment available outside of that, I will finish writing a script for a series of short comedies and a feature length animation. Continue assistant producing a few friends' projects and finalise my contracts with my new management. But most importantly, I won't wait for the job to come to me. My advice to you is, do it, MAKE IT! And who cares the about the size of the stage, the cost of the set or the reach of the production. We are in this to act! And finally, you don't need to come to LA to do what you love, Acting is everywhere, and if that's what you want to do, you don't need to cross an ocean to do it. Make a film with your classmates. Just make something!

Technique Tuesday - Making Place

Technique Tuesday - Making Place

Students making place in acting class at the Howard Fine Acting Studio

At The Studio, our students use furniture and props to set up the room or environment in which the scene or play they are working on takes place. This is referred to as 'making place', and it allows the actors to have authentic physical life when on stage. As Howard says, 'it's about learning to be in a room rather than on stage.' 

It can also help actors to explore the world their character inhabits in great detail. In thinking about how the place should be set up, actors have to think about how their character lives in the space from day to day, what their daily habits and routines might be, what personal items, photographs, etc does the character have and why, all of which helps them to develop a richer understanding of their character's life and backstory. 

Below are some short videos filmed at previous Master Classes in which Howard discusses place, and how it can help an actor on stage. 

How to avoid being spaceless on stage. 

What to do at your first rehearsal. 

You may have seen some of these videos on our social media channels on #TechniqueTuesdays, or on our Youtube channel. If you'd like to see more, be sure to subscribe to us on Youtube, or follow us on social media via the links below.  We hope these quick lessons on 'making place' will come in handy in your acting pursuits this week!

Why audit the Master Class?

Why audit the Master Class?

With Howard Fine set to board a plane to Australia this week, and the Sydney and Melbourne Master Classes fast approaching, we're looking forward to seeing two ensembles of actors exploring scene work and delving into technique training under Howard's guidance. 

For those unable to participate in the Master Class, we always recommend auditing (observing the class) as a way to get in on the Master Class action. If you've never audited before, and you're wondering what it's all about, we've put together a quick list of reasons why you should most definitely clear your schedule, and come along as a Master Class auditor! 

 Notebooks at the ready, these auditors are soaking up all the lessons the Master Class has to offer!

Notebooks at the ready, these auditors are soaking up all the lessons the Master Class has to offer!

1. Learn the same technique as some of Hollywood's greats

One of the things we love most about The Studio is that our actors are undertaking the exact same training as actors in LA, including the many Oscar winners, nominees and well-known actors that Howard has worked with, such as Will Smith, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Carla Gugino. Auditing the Master Class gives you the opportunity to gain firsthand insight into Howard's technique training, pick up useful tips about acting technique, the rehearsal process, script analysis and more, whilst also giving you something in common with Will Smith ;) 

2. Pick up acting lessons that you can apply immediately

One of the greatest benefits of auditing the Master Class is that without the pressure of being a participant, you can sit back, take notes and absorb the lessons like an acting sponge. Howard's training is down to earth and extremely practicable (you can see an example in the video below), meaning that even if you're not participating, you will still take away innumerable lessons that you'll be able to apply to your current script or acting project straight away. Just remember to bring along a notepad and pen, because you won't want to miss any of Howard's gems!  

3. 'Audition' The Studio

As faculty member Marilyn McIntyre says to students auditioning for our courses, "you have to audition us as much as we have to audition you." In other words, if you're thinking of signing up for one of our classes, you need to know whether our training and learning environment is going to be right for you. And what better way to 'audition' us than by seeing a class in action? The Master Class provides curious actors with the opportunity to see how a class runs, how students apply the training, how faculty work with the students, explore our facilities, and ask questions of staff and current students. Auditing is the perfect opportunity for you to have a right old stickybeak and see what we're all about!

4. Connect with the HFAS community

One of the things that we're proudest of at HFAS is our incredible and supportive community of actors. Graduates, current students, Full Time students, or those who've done a short course here and there quickly become fast friends within the walls of our theatre, and they're always ready to welcome new actors into the fold. Many of our students return to participate or audit the Master Class, so whether you want to ask a Full Time graduate about their experience in the course or connect with some new actors for your next project, auditing the Master Class is a great way to meet some new acting buddies, because chances are you'll be seated next to one of regular students, and they're always up for a chat!

We hope this provided you with a bit of insight into what an invaluable experience auditing the Master Class can be. Remember, you can audit any or all of the four days of the Master Class, and the 2018 Sydney Master Class kicks off on June 23, closely followed by the Melbourne Master Class on June 28. Click the button below to book your auditing tickets, and we hope to see you there!

LA Diary - Stephen Lopez

LA Diary - Stephen Lopez

 Stevie Lopez at Howard Fine's 2016 Master Class in Melbourne

Stevie Lopez at Howard Fine's 2016 Master Class in Melbourne

Today on the blog, we're pleased to bring you the first in what will be a series of 'LA Diaries'. These diaries will take the form of Q & As with actors from our Melbourne Studio who have spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles, furthering their acting careers.

For our first LA Diary, we bring you an interview with Stephen (Stevie) Lopez, who has acted professionally from a young age, and is known around The Studio as possibly the nicest guy in acting!

Q. Why did you move to LA?

A. As many before me have, and I’m sure many after me will, you come out to America for opportunity; Los Angeles is the mecca for Film and Television.

I’ve worked professionally as an actor since I was 13 years old in Australia and I can honestly say I probably never saw myself making the move over the pond. A few doors opened for me and I took my chances and now I hold a US Green Card and find myself out here in Hollywood. The US film industry is a big and diverse one and I’m here to be a part of it.

Q. What was your first impression?

A. LA is massive! I really had no idea how big the place was until I got here. You really do need to give yourself PLENTY of time to get from A to B otherwise you can find yourself smack bang in the middle of the LA’s wonderful traffic!

Q. What differences have you noticed about your life as an actor since arriving?

A. I guess coming from Melbourne, which I consider a very artsy place, Los Angeles is a very business orientated town. Things can move very quickly out here and networking is a big part of it. I myself have always been more inclined to take class and work on my craft, but I do believe a good balance of both is essential, particularly here in Los Angeles.  

Q. What's next for you?

 Stevie Lopez working with Howard Fine in his 2016 Master Class.

Stevie Lopez working with Howard Fine in his 2016 Master Class.

A. I was fortunate enough to work on the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. From what I’ve seen so far, the film looks fantastic and I’m very exited for it’s release. Since arriving in Los Angeles, I jumped straight into class at The Studio (HFAS LA) taking Comprehensive Technique with the incredible Mr. Howard Fine. I believe Comprehensive Technique is a must for any actor- the class is brilliant. I now find myself in Howard's Monday night Masterclass here at The Studio in LA, which is an absolute honour and privilege to be part of.

20 Minute Master Class

20 Minute Master Class

Today, we're very excited to bring you an extensive insight into Howard Fine's Master Classes.

The below video was filmed at Howard's Melbourne Master Class in 2016, and features actors Philip and Emma Hayden, working on a short scene from Christopher Durang's 'Baby with the Bathwater'. In the video, you will see the actors run the scene once, hear Howard's critique, and then see the actors apply Howard's feedback as they rework the scene. 

If you've ever wondered exactly what happens at Howard's Master Classes, or you'd like to gain further insight into our training, then grab yourself a cup of tea and a notebook and settle in for a 20 minute Master Class with Howard Fine!

If seeing this has made you want to be a part of the Master Class yourself, you can apply to participate or audit Howard's upcoming Master Classes in Sydney or Melbourne, this June/July 2017. Click the button below to find out more.

Welcome to the Blog

Hello, and welcome to the brand new Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia blog.

Here you will be able to access resources and articles that provide further insight into The Studio and our training, including short video technique tips, interviews with graduates and students, articles from faculty members and more. 

Be sure to check back in regularly to see what's new on the blog and leave us a comment if there's something in particular you'd like to read about!

acting class taking notes