By John Patrick
The obvious and unusual suspects of competition
There is competition between acting and vocal integration pedagogies. I have myriad memories of teachers cringing when they would hear another acting teacher’s name or the use of language from a different approach. Some would handle these moments with more grace than others, but often it was made clear that what we were learning was the best, most effective method, and the others were perhaps slightly misguided. I have witnessed one phrase like “vocal production” or “vocal release” send my teacher into a 30-minute dissertation on the evils of such nomenclature. Well-meaning guides have told me that Knight-Thompson speech work is “heresy” and that Skinner is the most delectable way to hear expression articulated. Some teachers have told me that if you like to roll around the floor for years on end while imagining your voice is a tree in the wind, go do some more Linklater; “Tremors and Fitzmaurice … don’t get me started.” But the favorite advice I received was when I was told that “If you really want to learn how to bark on top of tables, then go to Yale Drama School!” I’m not even sure what that advice meant. Here are all these derisive references to some of the most commonly used approaches in vocal training, each proven to be effective in their unique ways for particular people, and yet many of the references are filtered through the desire to diminish other’s work and elevate one’s own dogmatic beliefs. What inspires this phenomenon if not competition?
There is competition amongst artistic teachers within departments and studios, between studios vying for students in a city, and between countries and styles of training. In the hierarchical structure of teacher training consortiums, I have witnessed in my colleagues a desire to be certified at a certain level, and to then be sought after by students based on the newly acquired experience and skills that that certification level projects. Opportunities within that consortium for these precious experiences might seem scarce, so positioning oneself for said opportunities is essential for success. Getting the best job possible against other applicants involves acquiring the right CV fodder through winning the very opportunities that will make your dossier pop out of the pile of those fellow competitors. So this “Me vs. Ghost Applicants” mentality sets in, and from my experience, creates actual physical tension: it feels very narrow and tight in the chest.
There is competition between professional actor training programs, of course. I remember being on the MFA audition circuit as a prospective MFA candidate. When I would mention the other programs I was interested in, some programs would launch into a spiel about what made their program far superior to the other programs I was considering. It was exciting to feel like someone might be fighting for me and therefore it had quite an effect on my decision. It appealed to a sense of competition in me that was already well developed and easily exploited. So this approach is actually effective in recruiting students who are innately attracted to competition. They may or may not actually be a good fit for the specific program, but the competitive nature in the wiring of both parties has been revealed at the very least.
I have learned much from watching my current colleagues resist engaging perspec- tive students in this way, and I find it inspiring and equally effective. My colleagues speak to what we know we do well and what makes us unique. We speak about the other programs as “our friends and colleagues” and then let the chips fall where they may. This style of recruiting is devoid of the competitive language that can pressurize the situation. This way we as recruiters and the students can look at the potential fit with as much objectivity as possible in a very subjective circumstance. Therefore, it would seem the very structure of actor training has competition woven deeply into its different administrative structures, training, and vernacular.
This is an excerpt from an article published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group in the Voice and Speech Review, 8:3,on Oct. 30, 2014.