Well, to begin, what I find particularly interesting about writing this article, is that I have absolutely no idea where to begin. For that reason, this may be a form of mental excretion that I do hope aids the people who are looking for something. There was a template… but I’ve never been one to follow an outline… so let’s just try for it, and hope I hit a home run.
History of the Beginning
To begin, I started acting when I was but a lad. Granted, I’m still very young, but when I say “lad” I mean under the age of five. I still recall being six years old, on stage for the first time as Moses in some school play. Thus, I was bit by the thespian bug.
I’d continue in my pursuit of acting, meeting with both failures and success until 2003.
Of course, this single weekend would change my life forever.
My friend, to my chagrin, dragged me to an anime convention. Of course, this single weekend would change my life forever. I was formally introduced to the world of voice acting by an actor by the name of Scott McNeil. He and I became fast friends, and over the years we would speak regularly. It was he who put the idea in my head that I should focus on voice acting, since I had an interesting vocal range for someone who had never considered it as a career (truth to be told I never thought that it WAS a career).
At the time, I was in school to become a computer programmer… which I was becoming increasingly bored with.
Then came a fateful day, in May of 2005. The 30th to be exact.
Scott had just finished a convention in Toronto and he and I were hanging out downtown. He said to me, “Ben, come out to Vancouver, and check out this school that Michael Dobson used to teach at. Apparently it’s awesome.”
My response, “What?”
He looked at me and said, “Pack your bags and just go, no more questions.”
Within 2 weeks I had applied, auditioned, and was accepted into the Acting Essentials program. I was aided by a lovely woman by the name of Nicole, who to this day, I think of and smile.
Come the beginning of August, off I went to Vancouver. Leaving my entire life behind me to start a journey.
To explain the beginning of my experience, I need to explain a little of who I am. I’m a friendly approachable person, who is somehow still closed off and private. Aspiring actors, DO NOT BE LIKE THIS! Be open, go on adventures, don’t stick to yourself.
Orientation came, and I met 3 great guys, we all hung out, and shared a laugh.
Then school began.
VFS – Acting Essentials
The first thing I quickly learned about the school, was that it was nothing like the logistical mind and machinery of Computer Programming, or Psychology. The requirement wasn’t to just do the work, one had to be there, one had to give their all, and one had to “step away from the comfort of hugging a tree and walk out onto a branch”.
It almost seemed to be a curricular requirement that all students have an emotional breakdown at some point during the first semester.
In a way, VFS was like high school. There were cliques, there were weird rules, and there were awkward moments. I was 20 years old, and I felt as though I had just begun puberty. It almost seemed to be a curricular requirement that all students have an emotional breakdown at some point during the first semester. While not all of the students in my class had one, nearly all of us did. Mine came in text analysis, when speaking candidly about my family, and religion, and the teacher stripped me apart, calling me out on my own protective stances.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the teachers. Brilliant in their own right. Each of them, open, intelligent, working, and stubborn. If I really tried, I could name one as a favourite. I could even name my second favourite, third, and so forth. However, they were all wonderful. Each addressed the issues they personally experienced as an actor, and tried to prepare us for any situation we would come across.
The classes were meant to build us as actors, while stripping away our protective walls, and force us to recognize ourselves. At the same time the classes were a little strange. Voice class, seemed to be a movement class, but focussed on breath work, and finding our voice from within.
My closest friend in our class of 10 was easily a boy by the name of Bryan. I’ll never forget his reaction to voice class one day. He stated that he hated the class, didn’t see the point, and stormed out. To my knowledge, the teacher accepted this, and looking back, I see that he had found his voice, and that would prove to be an important event.
For movement class, we had two teachers. One made it seem like an aerobics/tai-chi class, while the other made it what I was expecting (more concentrating on how our bodies felt). Both were interesting techniques in allowing the students to recognize their core, and move from within.
Text analysis was breaking down the text, learning the basics, and figuring where to start from as a character. It was also the fateful class in which I broke down. By the way, I don’t look at the break down as a bad thing, and if and when you have your own, be open to what you’re feeling. Look at yourself from outside yourself, if you can, and realize what it is you’re feeling.
Acting, Audition Techniques, and On Camera Acting, were all similar and yet different, we learned the different styles for acting, and what to expect in different scenarios.
With all of these full time courses, there was a mountain of work.
We were thrust into the meat of things almost immediately. Memorizing lines, scenes, poems, plays, lyrics, sonnets, etcetera. Even in single classes, we’d begin by memorizing the lines of one scene, just to be thrust into another scene moments later.
The work required thought, energy and perseverance. Most of all, it required trust. One had to trust their acting partner. Either give each other everything, or fail at the scene. Trust them, trust the teacher, and trust the class.
The workload was heavy, it was dense and it was annoying. It challenged our brains, spurred our creativity, and drove us to madness.
Personally, I grew ill, not of the work, but physically. I was struck with insomnia, to the point where I was getting under an hour of sleep a night for nearly two months (I’ve had insomnia in some form or another from the age of 11, shown by the fact that I’m writing this article at 2 am).
A teacher wrote me a note expressing his worry for my health (I still have that note).
I must say though, that in this, the school proved to me how much they care for each individual in this program. A teacher wrote me a note expressing his worry for my health (I still have that note). He insisted on making sure I was eating okay, which I wasn’t, getting home okay, and working to try and get healthy again. The program co-ordinator called me to his office, and expressed his worry.
What I’ve also failed to mention, is that while I was there, I was starving. Nearly literally. My closest friend in the program was a guy by the name of Orion. He and I went through a short period where our single meal per day was a cup of Instant Noodle Soup split between us. Not to mention having no clue where our rent might be coming from or where we could shower. He had an apartment with community showers, and in the basement I was staying, the water heater exploded, so I showered at his place a few times (Not to mention on my last day living there I found a dead racoon in my ceiling. Actually, I think Scott found it… or I found it while he was there… something like that). Living in squalor isn’t as bad as you think, but I definitely don’t recommend it.
That being said, here is my advice to anyone who wishes to attend VFS.
1) Give it your all: Don’t hold back, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.
2) Don’t be embarrassed: Even if someone laughs, chances are, they’re embarrassed because they don’t have the courage to do what you’re doing, or you’re impressing them.
3) Sleep: It’s important, far more important than going out and having a good time.
4) Go out and have a good time: While it’s not more important than sleep, do it, or you’ll burn out.
5) Make friends: That explains itself.
6) Listen to your teachers: They honestly care about you.
7) EAT: MY LORD, EAT!
8) Be patient: As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
9) Trust yourself.
10) Ask your questions: Even if they seem stupid.
and lastly LEARN LEARN LEARN!
Now that I’ve given you the rules, I’ll tell you who should attend the program…ANYONE who wants to take acting seriously.
Now that I’ve given you the rules, I’ll tell you who should attend the program…ANYONE who wants to take acting seriously. If you’re a fly-by-night actor, or it’s “kinda what you wanna do”, then go away, this isn’t for you. This is for the serious minded. If you think you have what it takes, this program for you.
I’ve since returned from Vancouver to Toronto. I attended the Humber Acting For Film and television program, which is an entirely different story. I joined ACTRA, work professionally. Now, I’m a writer, creating my own work.
Neil Dainard said to me once, “I pity the actor who sits around waiting for his phone to ring. A real worker, makes his own.”
You can check out my current project at thedarkcomedy.com.