Course syllabus





Course outline


Times: Mondays 10-12; Thursdays 10-12


Place: Drama Studio, Room 325, Arts One Building 206


Convener:    Dr Emma Willis

Room 639, Arts 1 Building EDWS






“In your choice is your talent” – Stella Adler


“There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are,

and the one we have in common” – Jacques Le Coq


“In order to effectively evoke the inner life [of a character], it is vital that actors spend an equal amount of time developing the vehicle for this expression, the physical skills of a flexible and evenly produced voice, a supple and strong body, musical rhythm and controlled, relaxed movement. Equally important is an inquiring mind for history, politics, psychology and culture. It is easy to see why most teachers refer to the acting profession as a lifetime of learning” – Arthur Bartow, The Handbook of Acting Techniques


“There is no such thing as talent, only its manifest lack” – Jerzy Grotowski




During this course we aim to:

  • Help you discover and develop your faculty and power as an actor
  • Help you learn to treat and tune your body as the actor’s instrument
  • Expose you to a range of performance techniques and exercises that you can use in your own practice
  • Develop your own observational, storytelling, and creating skills as an actor.


While one semester of classes can only provide a taste of acting training, this course will introduce you to practical skills that you can continue to employ in your own work outside of the classroom. Even if your long-term interest is not in acting – rather, say, writing or directing or designing or criticism or teaching – it is important that you gain some insight into what actors do and the ways they might do it.


The course is divided into units led by specialized tutors:

  • Improvisation 
  • Voice and Singing   
  • Movement  
  • Creation
  • Character and Scene Study


The work is focused on YOU as an actor and performer – discovering and understanding your raw material (body, voice, mind, spirit) and developing it in ways that enhance your strengths and faculty as an actor and begin to identify and overcome your weaknesses.

The course ends with a solo performance. The shape of this solo is given to you and is the same for everyone. The idea is for you to bring your own interpretation to the format of the solo. It is a chance for you to combine some of the skills you have encountered in the course with your own existing strengths to show yourself as a performer. The emphasis is on the actor as a creative being, rather than training in the interpretation of roles and characters from existing texts. Classes will investigate what sources and resources actors draw on for their art and craft. Hopefully by the end you will have found some of your power as a performer and be able to recognize the value and quality of the work of other actors.



Week 1:

Mon: Introduction (Emma)

Thurs: Improvisation (Murray Edmond)

Week 2:

Mon: Improvisation (Murray Edmond)

Thurs: Improvisation (Murray Edmond)

Week 3

Mon: Voice (Rachel Nash)

Thurs: Voice (Rachel Nash)

Week 4

Mon: Voice (Rachel Nash)

Thurs: Voice (Rachel Nash)

Week 5

Mon: Movement (Claire Bishop)

Thurs: Movement (Claire Bishop)

Week 6

Mon: Movement (Claire Bishop)

Thurs: Movement (Claire Bishop)

Week 7

Mon: Creation (Nisha Madhan)

Thurs: Creation (Nisha Madhan)

Week 8

Mon: Creation (Nisha Madhan)

Thurs: Creation (Nisha Madhan)

Week 9

Mon: Character and Scene Study (Murray Edmond)

Thurs: Character and Scene Study (Murray Edmond)

Week 10

Mon: Character and Scene Study (Murray Edmond)

Thurs: Character and Scene Study (Murray Edmond)

Week 11

Mon: Rehearsal, no class

Thurs: Presentation group 1

Week 12

Mon: Presentation group 2

Thurs: Presentation group 3





It is very important that you come to class in clothing that allows you free, unrestricted and unembarrassed movement. Jeans and skirts are not suitable. At the same time, the body should not be hidden by bulky clothing and hair should be kept tied back from the face. Expect to work without shoes or socks. Do not wear rings or watches or jewellery as these can be dangerous in movement work. Such items should be carefully stowed in your bag and your bag should be housed INSIDE the Studio during classes, because bags left outside in the corridor or green room are vulnerable to theft.




It is vital you are on time for a class like this, especially as participation is part of assessment. In this kind of work the whole class relies on you and vice versa.  If possible arrive at class just before the hour, get yourself ready, placing shoes and bags tidily. Clear the floor space if necessary and sweep the floor if it is not clean. After this, begin your own physical and vocal warm-up, regardless of whether your teacher has arrived. Regular practice is vital for performance training: ‘If I miss one day, I notice it; if I miss two days, my fellow actors notice; if I miss three days, the public notices.’ Good habits of concentration are vital for performers. You can learn as much by watching

your fellow classmates’ performances as by doing your own; but you see nothing and you take in nothing if you are talking to the person next to you. Such practice extends to rehearsal work. It is also important that performance work in the class by everyone and anyone is respected and is not discussed frivolously outside class – what goes on Drama 302 stays on Drama 302. You may, of course, write in your workbooks thoughtfully about what you have observed. And please, no food in the Studio space.


You will need to inform Emma ahead of time of any circumstances that prevent your attendance. 




Classwork: 40% (Improvisation plus Scene Study/Acting/Voice/Movement)


Workbook A: 10% (Friday 12 April)

Workbook B: 20% (Friday 7 June)


Solo Performances: 30% (Thursday 30 May; Monday 3 June; Thursday 6 June)





The workbook will be taken in for initial assessment (Workbook A 10%) in Week 6, Friday 12 April; then a final assessment (Workbook B 20%) at the end of Semester. It must be handed in to the Arts 1 office no later than Monday 10th June (after the final presentations).


You are required to keep a workbook to record your observations, discoveries, research and self- reflection as you progress over the course.

A record of your class work:


In practical classes a lot of the feedback is immediate and your workbook will be used as the place where you monitor your own progress. You should keep a detailed account of the exercises introduced in the class. You also need to engage in critical self-analysis in regards to your reactions to and discoveries about the work in class. If you find something challenging, that’s a great opportunity to discuss why.




You may also comment on the work of other students where it provides you with revelation and insight. If learning were just a set of rules, then we would never need to meet as a class. But seeing what others do is often the chance for any of us to understand ourselves. Include these kind of observations in your workbook.


Your Own Day-to-day Research:

I expect students taking Drama 302 to see as much theatre and related works of art as  they can – film, painting, sculpture, music, concerts, performances of all kinds – as well as reading as much as possible in and around the theory and practice of performing. Seeing performances is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on performance craft.  Please record your thoughts on what you connected with and the success of the craft on display.


If you are involved in a theatrical production during the semester, I would be interested in reading about your process and journey, and any ways that your work in Drama 302 informs that project.



Feel free to use diagrams and drawings and paste or copy in relevant material in your workbook. Your writing can be typed or handwritten – but be as LEGIBLE AS POSSIBLE PLEASE! Keep the focus on your own discoveries, difficulties, and developments. You should write with your future self in mind – so you can use what you have recorded in your workbook for future practice and projects.




Your interpretation of the following scenario will lead to your creation and performance of a five (5) minute solo:


After a long journey, you arrive at a room from your past, a room which was important to you.


How will you enter the room? How will you go in?


Inside you rediscover this room. Nothing has changed.

Everything is as it was.


As you explore this room, something triggers a memory in you. You are transported into the past, which comes alive for you again.


Then, at some moment, the present reasserts itself. You leave the room.


This exercise should not be more than 5 minutes long.


Without being prescriptive, feel free to make use of as many performance aspects from your semester’s work as possible - voice, speech, song, acrobatics, movement etc - without merely presenting a bag of tricks.


The exercise offers an opportunity for you to bring to life the real world and the world of the imagination in a short moment of experience.


You may use props and set if you choose, but you may find that there is greater freedom for the real and the imaginative to come to life if there is just you and the space of the stage.


*This exercise is based on one used by Jacques Lecoq at his International Theatre School in Paris.


The assessment will be based on the following criteria:


  1. The quality of the concept, intention and preparation
  2. The quality of the execution
  3. Development of individual performance qualities



Some Pointers for the Solos:

We will not be teaching you how to do your solo. That is your challenge and your task. The classes will not be drip-feeding you with material that you can recycle into a solo. That is not how training works. But there will be many times in class when you are asked to perform alone and also with others. Keep track of these experiences in your Workbook. The solo is a chance for you to transform some of the things you have learned and encountered into your own individual creation. I strongly advise you to start thinking about your solo EARLY. Read the exercise slowly and carefully. It is your text. Use your Workbook for jotting ideas, making sketches, writing lines, drawing choreographies etc. You can BOOK THE STUDIO for your own preparation. You might like to work alongside a partner, sharing your ideas, showing each other work, giving each other feedback. If you do this, work with someone you know and can trust.


Below are some things to think about in relation to the solo:


  • The Story: What journey will you take the audience on? What change and discoveries will occur within the 5 minutes? (Note: Your structure does not have to be linear)
  • The Style: How you will tell it – think about pace, space, tone, techniques, staging etc
  • The Intention: As well as ‘telling a story’ and ‘making a performance,’ the why of your solo should be clear and Why is this something you need to tell? And what will the audience take away at the end? NB: What an audience takes away does not need to be a ‘message’ – often it is a question that leaves them thinking.



The Presentations:


The solo presentations will be assessed by a small panel, made up of some staff who have taught you during the semester and others who may not have seen your work. Marks will be taken off for exceeding the 5-minute time limit – it is part of your task to create a performance that fulfills the 5-minute time requirement.



40% of your mark will be based on your work during each of the four sets of classes – improvisation (plus scene study), acting, voice,  movement – 10% each.


Tutors will be looking at the following aspects of your work in class:


  • Punctuality and attendance (turning up on time is the bottom line)
  • Collaboration (working with others)
  • Commitment (your application to class tasks)
  • Excellence (level of competence achieved in particular areas)


Most class feedback will be delivered by tutors in direct response to exercises in class. Please take note of what is said in response to your work. Learning and feedback are an accumulative process. So, the process of doing, then listening and noting, and then reflecting in your Workbook, is a cycle you should set up early. Avoid micro-managing yourself. There will be good days and bad days. Don’t over-react to suggestions or criticism; don’t become fixated on seeking praise. We all feel these things, we are all nervous and anxious, we all want everything to work immediately. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your tutors – their feedback is always designed to guide you. What matters is your progress over time, the direction you are finding, the moments when you discover something that neither your tutors nor classmates might notice at first. Acting and performance are not easy and anyone involved in these things for some time becomes aware of this and respects the work of others.


Scene Study:

We don’t do much work on text as such in this course, where the emphasis is more on ‘you as the text,’ as in Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares. However, in Week 11 (9th & 11th October), we shall spend two sessions working on short scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I shall hand out copies of these scenes in good time. But before that, if you have not already, READ THE PLAY, and if you have already, READ IT AGAIN.




Generic information


  1. The University’s Statement on


The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a

student submits for grading must be the student’s work, reflecting his or her learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced.  This requirement also applies to sources on the world-wide web.  A

student’s assessed work may be reviewed against electronic source material using computerised detection mechanisms. Upon reasonable request, students may be required to provide an electronic version of their work for computerised review.


For more detailed information, see the University’s guidelines on the conduct of Coursework at



  1. Complaint Procedures


In the first instance, students or the class representative should take any concerns they have with their course delivery or assessment to the lecturer or tutor or convenor concerned. Students or staff may approach the Mediator’s Office or the Student Advocacy Network at any time for assistance. In the event that the matter is not resolved satisfactorily at an informal level, students or the class representative should approach the Head of Department with a formal statement of their complaint.


For more detailed information, see the University guidelines regarding Student Learning and Grievance procedures at:


AUSA also offers advice on grievance and harassment issues. See the AUSA website’s ‘Need Help?’ section for further information.


  1. Other sources of information and


Announcements and Resources for this paper will posted on CANVAS by the Convenor. The majority of classroom teaching is being done by outside professionals and they do not have access to CANVAS. Communications outside the classroom, first and foremost, should go through the Convenor. The University’s policy is that all communication with students is via their university email address—please check your university email address regularly.

Course summary:

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