Director of an acting studio

 3 July 2013

Bruce Alexander’s long acting career saw him star in theatre, film and TV productions, including Neighbours and SeaChange. He discusses giving up the spotlight to teach at Melbourne Acting Studio.

"A good teacher must enjoy the slow revealing of that human being, to themselves and to the artistic world, with great patience."

Getting started in acting

Bruce enjoyed a successful career in international theatre, film and TV before starting up Melbourne Acting Studio in London.

His acting career took off after training in Repertory Theatre at the EAST 15 Acting School in the late 1970s, which he supplemented with further study in the US.

When he returned to his native Australia, he became involved in a range of theatre companies, including The Melbourne Theatre Company – and eventually set one up himself.

Beginning to teach acting

“Around 25 years ago, while I was working as an actor, a few fellow actors asked if I could lead some workshops.

"There’s no comparison – I’m far happier teaching than I ever was performing."

“I agreed, setting up workshops with people who were to become the cream of Australia’s acting talent, such as Deborra-Lee Furness and Sigrid Thornton.

“Demand grew, and I found that I was becoming more interested in teaching than I was in performing.”

As Bruce moved from theatre into Australian TV, playing Sergeant Grey in hit drama SeaChange, his fascination with tutoring others became even more entrenched.

Developing a teaching style

Bruce's technical expertise in a range of performing mediums, paired with a teaching style that focuses on how the mind functions in an artistic environment, got him noticed in the acting world.

“The understanding of the human mind and how the brain works psychologically and artistically became more compelling to me.

“I didn’t have the ego to be a ‘look at me’ kind of person. I wanted to know more about the whole process of why we do what we do – and not just where acting is concerned.

“But in terms of careers, there’s no comparison – I’m far happier teaching than I ever was performing.”

Working at Melbourne Acting Studio

“We start at 9am and finish work at 9pm, largely because we’re still establishing the business.

“I teach both group and private classes on topics including film, TV and theatre.

“A lot of the classes are for people who are aspiring to act, or for those who are professional actors but want to learn more.

“However, we also have people come from all sorts of professions, such as politicians, doctors, police officers and lawyers.

“If you’re honest, you will teach for your student and not for you."

“These kinds of professionals want to look into how they can work better publically. They want to find out more about how they express themselves – if they’re doing it in the right way for their specific career.

Bruce’s classes have even inspired some people to change their career paths altogether.

Teaching acting well

As well as having confidence in your ability to teach, Bruce identifies a few key traits that should exist in good acting teachers. These include:

  • understanding how to be selfless
  • being flexible
  • dealing well with other people’s emotions
  • honesty.

“If you’re honest, you will teach for your student and not for you.

“There will always be some teachers who hide behind rhetoric and theory, but if you’re not teaching originally, you’re not teaching honestly. Honestly helps students to feel safe and secure.

“It’s a very large undertaking to be able to teach well!"

Developing skills as an acting teacher

Bruce describes his career in teaching acting as having “started by accident”, since he only began because of requests from other actors.

“My career development from acting to teaching included looking at where students tend to struggle and finding key recurring areas.

“I encourage my students to understand human beings and turn it into an art form."

“I looked at theories and studied these recurring areas, allowing me to form theories of my own about how to address them.

“I paired my understanding of performance with knowledge of the human brain.

“Students often ask me: what’s the best acting book? I always tell them that it’s the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which has every character type you might play.

“For example, if your character has social anxiety disorder, this book is the best way to learn about the details of that condition.

“I encourage my students to understand human beings and turn it into an art form."

Teaching acting to professionals

Bruce’s job differs in many ways from acting teachers in further or higher education, in that the focus is not so much on teaching theories themselves.

As lots of his students are professionals, they often have such knowledge already.

“Siginificant numbers of my students have trained before, but don’t feel that they know what they’re doing.

“I try to help give them control, and with control comes a sense of security in their work.”

Tips for teaching acting

1. Be flexible

"I try to not to adhere to a teaching dogma. Instead I teach in a way that allows me to be acutely aware of each individual in a class, as everyone is different."

2. Understand the student's journey 

"It's a joy to help draw out awareness, skill and professionalism in the training actor.

"But this can come hand-in-hand with that person discovering things about themselves that are potentially difficult for them to deal with." 

3. Be patient

"A good teacher must enjoy the slow revealing of that human being, to themselves and to the artistic world, with great patience.

"If you can't embrace human foibles as part of the job description then patience could be quite difficult to sustain.

"In general, people are wonderfully complex and do possess the desire to do well and be supported.

"Teachers should, in my opinion, consider the many facets of the person studying. They shouldn't think less of someone if they struggle in some areas, as long as they are making their very best, genuine effort to learn."

4. Be enthusiastic

"You should have indefatigable enthusiasm, both for performing arts and for the development of the students equally.

"This will allow you to create an inspirational environment where people can be inspired by what they do and by other people’s work."

For more information about Bruce's classes, visit Melbourne Acting Studio

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