19 Dec 2014

Hayley Clark is currently training on our Year of the Monkey course, here she beautifully sums up her first month of training with us.


So it’s the end of term for us Year of the Monkey students, and what a term it’s been! From neutral mask to clowning, stage combat to voice classes: I don’t think I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time in my life, and I’m sure many of my fellow company members would agree. I’ve loved every one of my classes, which is not surprising considering Fourth Monkey’s unique repertory programme is refreshing, challenging and up-to-date, not to mention that we’re working with some of the best professionals in the industry. Want to know more? Let me tell you about life as a training actor at Fourth Monkey!


To kick things off, we began our first term with a workshop on Neutral Mask, led by Will Pinchin, which was arguably the perfect start to our course. How come? The concept of Neutral Mask is that it is a ‘blank canvas’ and sees and hears everything for the first time. This was an amazing way to think about our year of training right from the off. One of our teachers said to us that we should go into every workshop as if we don’t know anything about it and that way we’ll see everything with open eyes. Neutral Mask set the tone for this; if you start afresh, you can only build from there – just like a blank canvas.

Over the first term, our training is timetabled and broken down into a variety of classes, with an element of focus placed on what would be considered the ‘fundamentals’ of acting: voice and movement. We have voice and movement classes every week, both with different goals. In voice, the aim given to us by our teacher Gary Horner was to be able to create and recreate moments repeatedly to allow us to be able to do this on stage, as well as getting the most out of our voice with minimum effort; for example, we’ve focused on elements such as breath, articulation and energy through various exercises in order to achieve this. In movement, we are learning twenty movements that will enable us to become aware of our bodies and allow us to find it easier to convey ideas through physicality on stage. It’s amazing to see how we have progressed each week and what a difference these exercises can make on stage!


Personally, one of my favourite classes from the first half term was stage combat, led by Joe Golby. We learnt at least thirty different unarmed attacks and blocks, from punches and kicks to breaking someone’s neck and gauging their eye out (not literally, of course…). One of my proudest moments of the course so far has to be mine and my partner Sam’s final stage combat routine. We added text from ‘Shrek’ to create a fight scene which was shown to our peers at the end of our class. It was great to watch the video back and see that our techniques were pretty solid after only a few hours of learning the routine.

One of the best things about this course is the variety of working industry professionals that we have the honour of working with and the incredible guest workshops that we have taken part in. The one that especially stood out for me was our puppetry workshop with Tom Espiner, wherein we learnt the basic techniques of puppetry that can completely change an audiences’ perception of a puppet. It is amazing how the simplest everyday action of breathing can make such a difference in bringing an object to life; advice that will definitely stay with me throughout my acting life.


After a whirlwind of a first half term and a week off, we were straight back into classes and started on text with an eye opener of a lesson on Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s text could be considered to be the greatest challenge for an actor and I for one have never been completely comfortable with his work; so enter Sarah Case, Fourth Monkey’s head of voice and you will suddenly find that everything seems so simple. Not because it’s easy, but because Sarah opens up the doors to understanding words, phrases and the dreaded iambic pentameter… Shakespeare definitely doesn’t seem as scary anymore! Director Toby Clarke also enables us to give contemporary text the attention to detail that it deserves, opening up possibilities from what the playwright has given us.


We’ve done so much more than I could possibly write about, but I can’t sign off without saying a little bit about Clown. I think it is true when I say that this is many of the company’s favourite lesson and this is for more reasons than one. With both the legendary Mitch Mitchelson and the seriously hilarious Stephen Sobal as teachers, Clown not only guarantees tears of laughter but is also a massive influence of Fourth Monkey and that is hard to find anywhere else. Before this course, I saw Clown as face paint, squeaky horns and fake flowers, but this term has taught me that clown is so much more than that. It is the underlying truth of every person that doesn’t have to just be comedy; exercises such as standing on stage and keeping eye contact with an audience can create truly beautiful moments that are indescribable if not witnessed. The essence of clown is to just be you, which amazingly is one of the hardest things to do on stage; but if you get it right, you can learn so much that will make you a better actor than you ever thought you could be.


After only two and a half months as a Monkey, it’s safe to say that there’s something very special about this course. From the very first day, I walked out of the room inspired to improve and most of all, ready. Ready to learn, but also ready to enjoy the year that lay ahead of me. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what this is all about? Our creative director, Steve Green gave us some amazing advice on that day. Most notably, ‘don’t be afraid to fail’. That may sound crazy to some people, but for someone who always has been scared of being wrong, it was a massive eye-opener. For the first time, I realised that I don’t have to know everything – if I did, then I wouldn’t be here. You learn by making mistakes and I have lost count of the amount of mistakes I’ve made since I’ve been here. Which, in the words of Will Pinchin; ‘it’s great, it’s perfect, it’s you’. At Fourth Monkey, you are not wrong, you don’t need to be ‘stripped back’ (as some others might say) and you don’t have to be like everybody else, you just have to say ‘yes’. Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face; you can only come out better on the other side.