Studying performance makes you better! A former student’s view

The guest post below was written by one of our former students in the Theatre Studies program at Western; it was written as part of a showcase of work by Theatre Studies students published in Western News, our on-campus weekly, to celebrate the official launch of our program on 3 March 2016. You can read the other – equally thoughtful – student pieces here.

By Jonas Trottier

In a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, Alan Rickman gave advice to aspiring young actors. He stressed the importance of exposing themselves to art, ideas, and current events in order for the young artist to form for themselves opinions on the world.

These are the things that I think have most benefited me in my journey as I’ve gone from undergraduate study at Western into a fine arts-based acting program at George Brown Theatre School in Toronto. The ideas that I was exposed to both in and out of the classroom as a student in Western’s Theatre Studies program have provided me with a broad intellectual foundation and a balanced, thoughtful perspective, both of which now inform my decisions as an actor and creator of theatre.

When I remember the political and social activism of my peers at Western, the creative, refreshing interpretations of texts on offer in scene studies for our classes, and the original performance interventions we made (here I think of the brave performances I witnessed at Purple Sex, a sex- and race-positive showcase that happens each March on campus), it is abundantly clear to me that all of those things have helped shaped my view of the world.

They have helped me to see and understand the world from the perspective of those on the margins.

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(Purple Sex is a student-driven, feminist, critical race, and queer-positive performance fundraiser that takes place every year at Western.)

Having this kind of exposure to alternative ideas, identities, and experiences of the world, and being able to see things from perspectives which may be very different from my own, is indispensable to my work as an actor. Empathy is the actor’s greatest tool. Without it, it is impossible to look at a script and see not simply how a character must act but also the incredible range of truthful ways in which they might act. To be able to see these possibilities and weigh them against each other in order to make choices that will create the most compelling piece of theatre is what sets great actors apart from those who lack the means to make these analytical choices.

In addition to this exposure to different worldviews, I benefitted so much at Western from learning about a wide array of theatrical conventions that stand apart from contemporary stage naturalism (the most common convention on display in mainstream theatre in North America). This has helped me to keep an open mind about the form theatre can take, and what different kinds of forms mean on stage. From the techniques of Brecht’s Epic Theatre to more esoteric forms such as Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, having a knowledge of a range of historical and contemporary techniques allows me to make good choices about which form or technique can most effectively help me achieve the desired effect for a piece of my work.

In looking back on my time at Western and thinking about where I am now in my journey, as well as where the Theatre Studies program at Western is going, I experience an interesting feeling of internal conflict. While I am infinitely happy to be doing the work I am doing now, a small part of me wishes I had had the opportunity to spend more time at Western and further my academic exploration of theatre and performance by taking some of the program’s ever expanding offerings. For now, I’ll continue to immerse myself in the practical side of the theatre, and just maybe use a book list or two, borrowed from my teachers and peers still at Western, to guide my ongoing personal investigations.

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JONAS TROTTIER graduated from Western in 2015 with a minor in Theatre Studies and is currently studying Theatre Performance at George Brown Theatre School in Toronto.

 

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