Navigating London may sound terrifying, and to an extent it is. It’s a massive city, sprawled out on the Thames like a patient etherized on a cloudy, dark table. But thankfully, for those of us temporary residents, the city’s predecessors have given it the best inheritance, the Tube: the most organized possible public transit system. Every morning, I would leave about an hour and a half before the course started so that there was time to get there. The gap that commuting forced into our schedules was a blessing in disguise. Time spent walking through Westbourne Park and Hammersmith on the way to classes provided a much-needed relief from the stresses of conservatory. The park was lively enough to start the day off peacefully and the city loud enough to wake us up.
One of the things you hear time and time again at an acting conservatory is “don’t show, don’t do, just be”, which is really the only acting technique and what separates good acting from the insincere. It is however, just as elusive as it sounds. It takes years of practicing relaxed states of mind and body, as well as careful attention to unselfconsciousness both in the space and in day-to-day life. In the four months I studied there, working between 10 and 12 hours a day, I had probably 4 moments of really good acting. Some had more, others less. Either way, you learn relatively quickly that judging yourself entirely on the work you do is unsustainable in a conservatory environment. Being aware of the product you create is crucial, but the process is where all the valuable information hides.
This was most evident while producing our final show of the term, Much Ado About Nothing. Our director, Helena Lymbery was incandescent, full of positive energy and critical thinking. She had to cut the script to half its length, and to make up for it, she assigned another student and I the task of writing five new scenes starring only our minor characters (Dogberry and Verges) to supplement the script. She set us loose on the plot holes, separated us from the group, and left us to our work. Whenever we came to her with a new scene, she loved it (even if it was rubbish) because she saw the work we were trying to do and pushed us. She was always encouraging while still managing to have a clear focus on the work to do. Because she worked at the National Theatre in devising plays, her training and focus as a director was on the process of creating theatre.
One of the quirks that our characters developed was that they would critique audience member’s posture and give star stickers “medals of honour” to good audience members and each other, but because of a last minute mishap, we weren’t able to use them in the final performance. And I am happy to say that my proudest moments on the course were not our final performance, but when my friend and I were working together to write a script, finding new moments to create visually, and sticking the “medals” on each other. That gap between Helena’s initial spark of creativity and our final performance was the most enlightening part of the course.
Each night, as I headed back to my flat, first on foot, then on the Tube, then on foot once more, I learned to play with the commute. I allowed myself to respond to each plastic bag stuck in a tree, each stranger’s clacking heels on pavement, and the constant male voice repeating “mind the gap” as if it was first time he said it. After all, the gap deserves our attention.
Hannah Pentico is a Senior double majoring in Theater and English who studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in the Fall of ’15.