Gemma’s Rules

Posted on September 7, 2010


Last term I had a spell during which students at several different drama schools were unwilling or unable  to learn lines.  These were students who want to be professional actors and who were paying for expensive training with that goal in mind.  It rendered several lessons completely unworkable because not a single student had learned the monologue I had set them. It was around 50-60 seconds long, depending on how fast you delivered it and I had given them 5 weeks.  I don’t think it was too much of an ask.

When asked why they hadn’t prepared and learned the lines as requested, far from apologising, many of the students became rude and, in some cases, aggressive.   They were completely unused to being challenged about unacceptable behaviour.   It’s true, I won’t let standards slip in my class- but I don’t consider myself particularly strict; although I seem to have developed a reputation as a strict tutor. It set me thinking about whether I do indeed rule with a rod of iron or whether I am too lax.  I always respected the teachers at school who managed to forge a delicate middle ground of a seemingly laid back classroom but at the same time, absolute control and authority. It’s a very difficult thing to achieve.  I think it’s mostly done with charisma.

I worked out that everything I require of students boils down to three things.  I have set them out below in a charter that I might well print off and give to students in their first lesson with me.

Gemma’s Rules
As a tutor, I am firm but fair.  I really am.  Like Mr Mackay from Porridge.   He had two rules; I have three.  They are very simple…

1. Try hard. Work to the best of your abilities, whatever those abilities might be.  Acting might be your strongest discipline or your weakest.  I don’t mind one jot as long as you can leave every class and say, with your hand on your heart, “I did my absolute best.”

2. Be prepared. By prepared, I mean turning up on time, with all lines learned, wearing appropriate clothes and all materials (script, paper, pen etc) at the ready. Just as you would be expected to do in any professional rehearsal.
3. Be polite. To each other and to your tutors.  This means being quiet and listening when your peers are working, listening to instructions, taking onboard constructive criticism in a mature fashion, apologising when you’ve not stuck to the first two rules and being a generally considerate and delightful person.  Being an actor is as much about attitude as it is about talent.  You can be very talented but if your attitude stinks, people won’t hire you.

If you stick to those three simple rules, we shall get on like a house on fire.  I never ask more of students than would be expected in a professional rehearsal room or casting.

Also, a quick word on excuses.  I understand more than anyone that trains can be delayed and some things are out of our control.  Some excuses are absolutely valid, I appreciate that.  But be aware, I have been teaching for well over a decade now and consequently I have heard every excuse under the sun.  I can spot made up excuses a mile off. Also, you’re not doing yourself any favours if you excuse yourself from hard work all the time.  Your training is expensive and it will flash by, believe me.  You should be wringing every last drop out of that training. The business is hard work.  You often have to learn several different sets of lines at once.  That is a reality.  Your training is only representative of the business at large.  If you make excuses for not learning lines etc in a professional scenario, you won’t work.  Test yourself now, so you’ll be prepared later.

Posted in: Tutoring