"The Messiness of Creation" - Looking Back at Term 3 of Training at Toi Whakaari
I’ve come to the end of my third term here. It has felt both very quick and slow.
My class has just come out of one of our major assessments of the year, Scene Unseen, which is a month-long project that tests your working process and character. I struggled a lot in this project. Without getting too specific for you guys - Scene Unseen requires you to devise a scene of a popular text and you’re not allowed to watch any recorded performances/film adaptation of the play. You have to create your own perception of the character from the text.
We had a lot of guidance in the task from our tutors which led us to specific tasks in order to create character/scene but I struggled a lot with character. I was frustrated because I didn’t know my way into character – I felt physically restricted by my traditional 1700s costume and I didn’t know how to approach her. I got more frustrated until the third week when we did showings. I did a showing of some text I had just scrawled mindlessly the night before and it wasn’t until somebody pointed it out to me did I realize that I had found my character – through text. I still had trouble with her and the scene though but things became a bit clearer in the last day (thankfully). Still nowhere near perfect but it came together and I learnt a lot about my approach to character, my working process and possible alternatives and above all, to know how to filter information/feedback/advice when you are getting so much of it from different people. A lot of us were getting confused because we didn’t know who to listen to and whose voice was useful to us but I guess it’s about listening to yourself and acting on your instincts.
I’ve been feeling a bit less stupid about speaking up in class which is nice I guess. I’ve felt more confident about speaking up/giving feedback after a discussion I had with Heather. She said that the way that I work in class is often unhelpful as I, consciously or otherwise, separate myself from the group (physically and mentally) and therefore struggle to connect with my class, the tutor and the work. She challenged me to speak up more often and to physically put myself amongst the class. This shift in my behaviour so to speak has caused me to think more on my feet and bring more of myself forward. I’ve felt a change in myself and I really don’t care if nobody else has. I am quietly radical.
Quietly making changes in myself is something I have been working on for a while. In the way I work and listen and absorb and function. I think it’s important to continue to grow and change and I have learnt over the year that I don’t need somebody to celebrate it for it to be valid (something I’ve reiterated on this blog multiple times I think).
Something else I’m also thinking about is how I use my independent practice time. This week was the Festival of New Work and people were standing up and testing really strong pieces of work across all disciplines. I only put up some writing I had done and now I am really inspired to go on and keep creating. A visitor to the school described our process as something they are familiar with in their line of work called “the messiness of creation”. I thought this was a great way to encapsulate a lot of what devising and testing is. Going to have to keep this in mind as my class goes into solos after the holidays (ohhhh my GODDDD SOLO SHOWS WHAT?!?!) Keep creating and keep your ego on a hook. Xx
hi um, i am in my last year of college and considering applying to toi whakaari, ive left it pretty late to be honest and didnt attend any of the open things in the holidays but honestly i cant imagine a life without acting and i know it will be the thing that makes me happiest, i dont know anyone going there but can you give me a run down on like the audition process and what it is like there? i am terrified to pursue this as i just dont have anyone to talk to about it thanks in advance
hi! if it’s any consolation I think I left it kinda late last year too. I really know where you’re coming from in terms of really /having/ to do acting so I’d suggest to get onto it! :—)
okay well I’m originally from Auckland so that’s where my audition was held. if you’re not from here, basically Auckland actors are pretty intense so I was trying to not let that get to me. we started with warming up to each other through introductory exercises, then we did ‘action’ work with acting tutor Jonty in relation to the monologues we were presenting. I don’t know if you guys are doing monologues again this year apparently that’s changing? but anyway~~
we presented both our monologues in front of the rest of the audition group and then we were given direction and had to adjust our performance in order to respond to it on the spot (a lot of what we do at Toi Whakaari). so I really prepared hard for that audition by getting concise on the pieces I chose to present and working really hard on them!
the second round was held in Wellington at Toi Whakaari over a weekend and so for me that was about relating the way I work to other people and working hard without sinking into the background. the second round was really intense for me because it required me to be constantly aware of the way I was coming across and the work I was doing and that people were watching my every move.
I don’t know what you’re really asking by what it is “like there” because there’s a lot to consider. I struggle a lot at Toi Whakaari but I do really love it here and find a lot of value in my education and in the way I relate to others. I am coming across something new in myself everyday and I get to do what I love all day everyday which is thrilling and scary and intense.
I know what it’s like to have nobody to talk to about it so please feel free to keep in touch about how you’re finding the process and if you have any more questions xx
Change and Growth
Today we had a practice process meeting in which we talked about how our classmates’ work has been affecting and helping our own learning. One thing that I heard multiple times as a feedback for me was about the way I am personally (which is why this feedback affected me so much, because it was about me and not the work).
Basically somebody said that what has helped their learning is that I am unashamedly “unapologetic” about the way I present myself to people – that I don’t care about offending people and I react honestly and publicly and I let emotions of anger and frustration be seen.
Another person said something in a similar vein of that them watching me be frustrated with myself and work through that in front of people allows them to access those feelings and do something similar that works for them. And I guess that helps me because it affirms something in myself – something to do with being honest to myself because I can sometimes self-doubt that when it seems like I’ve offended somebody. I never do any of this out of malice. I just want to be honest and provide something constructive.
I think the piece of feedback that really affected me though was when I spoke to the tutor leading the session about the idea of self-identity and the fact that, for me, it’s always growing and changing so I get scared around the idea of somebody having a particular perception of me in a certain light or whatever. And so somebody in my class said (this is kind of paraphrashing) “Earlier in the year, I would look as you as a ‘what-not to do in class’.. because of the comments you made and your reactions just made me go, oh my god why is she doing that? Because I come from a background of being a very good student but I just had to learn to let that go. But I see that change in you, becoming more in the class.”
I guess what got me about that statement was that this was somebody I really admire telling me that they saw me as a how-to-not-do-it. And I was really hurt by that idea. But it’s nice to think about the fact that people recognize that I am constantly changing.
I think change and growth is really important. And is really important to acknowledge. So when she acknowledged that publicly I became really emotional because a lot of what we think about each other goes unconsciously unspoken. I want to keep growing as a person and an artist, which is important for me personally, but there is a part of me that will always want to give people a full update/refresh just to say “hey, I’m not that awful anymore.” I don’t know but it’s something I’m thinking about more.
“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago.”
The Role and Politics of Race
I don’t think about my race on a daily basis. Like, I’m reminded of it by casual racism I experience day-to-day but it’s not something that stays on my mind, is what I’m trying to say. But lately it’s been a subject of discussion around my training.
I (along with other pacific islander students) was emailed the other day about how the “political nature” of my attendance and “what it means to the school cannot be ignored”. Which, if I’m being honest, feels like a bit of a bummer. It’s hard not to be annoyed at the fact that everything I do has to be political. And whilst I’m not personally in touch with my culture at all (never have been, it’s associated with a side of my family I’ve never met), I know that I’m holding a lot of people as both a pasifika female and the only pacific islander in my acting class.
The school has begun watching me more closely since my classmate, the only other pacific islander in first year acting, dropped out. So I’m like, the face of pacific islander potential which is kind of weirdly gross and way too political for my liking.
I know that my race will always be a part of who I am and is important for my work, which I am not ashamed of or trying to hide, but sometimes it feels like I was only accepted into the school for the sake of diversity rather than talent (even though I worked my ass off to be here). I hope that isn’t the case but, as was stated in the email, my race and the role it plays in my attendance here “cannot be ignored”.
All this being said, I am honoured to represent my race by coming here and working hard everyday. And I hope my being here opens the doors for other pacific islanders to come to Toi Whakaari in future, because I know that the school is watching me closely and I don’t want to mess this up for anybody else, let alone myself.
Beginning Semester 2 at Toi Whakaari
In about 9 hours I will be back to continue my training at Toi Whakaari.
This half of the year, to my knowledge, is more about applying skills from the first semester in creating two solo shows (one within context and another a product of our own creations). This is something my class has been super nervous about since the beginning of the year but the fact that we begin to develop these shows within the next few weeks is both terrifying and exciting, particularly because I remember watching the first year solo shows last year and now being there is crazy.
Speaking of which, we have like 40 prospective students coming in this week to observe our classes. The idea of playing role model is so crazy to me because we still feel very much new even though we’ve spent the better half of the year here as students. Which is weird because I remember being in their position, being very nervous and intimidated but curious.
Curiosity is something that I need to remember to keep playing with this semester! Creating working questions and exploring different answers and not being scared when I don’t get an immediate or clear answer.
Will keep you updated. Nervous and anxious but excited and feeling grateful! Xo
Thanks so much for answering my questions :) If i see you at the open week can i come say hi or would that be weird?
No problem! Totally come say hi :)
Dooes anyone have any advice for a small town girl travelling to a big city by herself with no one to meet her? i’d really appreciate some advice! [im going for 4 days to wellington, new zealand and staying at a hostel all by myself :)]
Yes! No doubt we will meet at some point during the week so hello in advance! Just responding to this text post because when I was in your position I had nobody to offer me advice.
- Pre-plan your transportation to and from the school. Last year I took a taxi to the school (expensive) and tried to walk back to my hostel and got super lost!
- Find things to do outside of visiting the school. Since you will be there for four days, there is a lot to see ands do in Wellington and is totally worth checking out
- Make sure you know your budget like for buses and food and tickets to shows and stuff! Plan how much you have to spend, on food especially (the days at Toi are pretty long and food is a must)
- Make friends with the people you meet during your tour and stuff so you have people to hang with outside of the school! If you get through to audition callbacks these friends will be invaluable
“A lot of crying and a lot of kissing”: A Reflection on Term 2 at Toi Whakaari
The last seven weeks has been the longest, most stressful and difficult weeks of my life. But in saying so, there has been so much learning during this time.
We had our first year collaboration project take place this term (performance whakapapa) which in itself was a huge challenge. We were put in groups corresponding to a specific theatre form of an historical period and to make a 20 minute show derivative of the principles and conventions of that theatre form. We had 5 actors, 2 costume students, 3 management / technology students and 1 design student. Our biggest challenge was out of class scheduling as the management students were required to work on the third year production and were barely available. Aside from this, there was a general disinterest among the actors, aside from myself and another female actor, who seemed to be organising the whole showing. These differences in priority were so frustrating because I honestly just wanted to everybody to care about the work we were making but you can’t just make your company care. You have to do the work yourself and hope the others fall into place eventually. I found myself organizing people, rehearsals and work way more than I wanted to and sometimes fell into that bitchy leader mode. Worst thing about that was that it was the only way to get through to people being lazy and I’m sure they hated me for it – but we got the work done in the end.
We ended up putting the show together in two hours on the Sunday before the Monday performance. Ironically, most people agreed that it was the most powerful performance of all the groups.
Over the seven weeks of this term, we had 5 different tutors. That’s a lot of adjustment and a lot of change, not only in what you’re learning but how you’re learning. All of our tutors (Brita Mcveigh, Miranda Harcourt, Jon Hunter, Vaughan Slinn and Christian Penny) require different things from us and so that adjustment (in terms of what to focus on and the offers we bring) alone has been both difficult and beneficial for us as training professionals who will (hopefully!) be working with a range of directors and coaches with different styles.
We also worked this term with our movement teacher Chris Jannidies in regular morning classes to create movement solos and with directing tutor Brett Adams in scene study, a class where we break down, analyse and work on specific texts. That’s a lot of adjustment and definitely requires a shift in energy and tone and context.
I’ve struggled particularly with my classes with Christian Penny, who is the school’s director and is wonderfully energetic, passionate and honest. He has been teaching us about PLAY through games and improvisation exercises. I have struggled with this because I often can’t figure out how to find validity in my offer or sometimes to even find an offer to make in the first place. Also, Christian sees a particular “thing” when he’s watching us work that I can’t yet understand or SEE and I don’t know how to make myself see these things. He says it is about time and exposure to work and listening to him but I get frustrated because I want to be able to see what he does. This block of work has been a huge amount of learning through its difficulty and I am grateful as always. Being inside of the work with Christian excites me and it is thrilling to watch my classmates work with bravery and risk.
We had to have a class discussion about our class culture and not being overly polite with each other – calling each other out on things and offering better critique. In order to better our learning as a group and being honest and real with each other, otherwise you’re not only hindering your own learning but theirs too and that is unfair. There was a lot about that discussion that I didn’t understand but I know it was valuable and our class is constantly improving.
Everyday when I wake up and I walk to morning warmups with Kanye blasting through my headphones I am grateful. I am grateful and blessed to be working with passionate people and I am both anxious and excited for the next semester to begin – even though I am thoroughly enjoying this break and its lack of early morning alarms.
For some unknown reason, success usually occurs in private, while failure occurs in full view.
Jill Shalvis, The Sweetest Thing (via observando)
I've been reading your blog and i have to say that i relate so much to you. Is that weird? oh well. but the thing is, i'm always comparing myself to others in my drama class. i feel like im not good enough. what scares me is that if i go on to do performing arts/acting, those feelings will be 48990x worse! And im a naturally shy person but i love drama! I really want to go to toi whakaari or NASDA, but im totally feaked out that if i get in, i wont do well 'cos i constantly need reassurance
hi! no that’s not weird.
honestly, i am in the midst of this course and i (and many others in my class) are still experiencing those feelings of not being good enough! i think that they’re natural unfortunately since new zealand has this tall poppy culture where we cut ourselves down so much.
it’s not that you won’t do well if you get in, i think (for me anyway —) that it’s about reminding myself that i got into the school, that i’ve earned my place, and to be content in knowing that. those feelings will come and go but it’s all part of growing that confidence as an emerging and growing artist.
it’s 100% worth auditioning, i didn’t think that i’d get in to any of the three schools i applied to but they all accepted me so you never know!