This week wraps up my six-month stay in London, and five months of volunteering and studying with The Mono Box team. I landed here on Christmas Eve 2016, a year and a half after taking my first acting class in my hometown of Los Angeles. The plan? To immerse myself in as much training, play-reading and theatre going as I could in my short time here.
Wait wait wait...Okay that’s cool but why would you LEAVE LA to come to London to act? Don’t actors WANT to go to LA?
I got this question within my first two weeks here, from another actor. And have probably gotten it on an every-other-week basis ever since. These started conversations on how different acting is in the two cities, the great things and the pitfalls of each place.
Here’s a rough idea:
Acting work and training in LA → commercials, television spots, film. a lot of short courses in audition technique and screen work, improv-heavy, scene study.
Acting work in London → theatre, commercial, television spots, film. drama school and short courses with a larger emphasis on stage.
I have a theory. Film and TV are the biggest industries in LA, and that shapes who moves there to work, and how people navigate working in the arts. London seems the opposite: it has a long-standing culture of performance, theatre and the government’s investment in it shapes that part of its industry and therefore how people engage with it. People move to Los Angeles from all over to get on television, whether that’s commercials, shows or film, and to make money doing it. “Don’t worry about film and theatre anymore”, one coach said to us during class, “television is where the money is. Look at the budget for Game of Thrones!” Although this isn’t the consensus in LA (thank GOD!), coaches, agents and managers have repeated this. The coursework focuses on the industry needs, so a lot of training involves screen acting work. While drama school is still popular for actors in the UK, Los Angeles emphasizes short courses in acting rather than drama school. CDs in LA often do not know how to translate a drama school curriculum when looking at an actor’s resume/CV. Rather, they want to see that you’ve studied with the coaches they are familiar with and whom they trust to. In London, theatre has a stronghold that shapes the way actors train and work. Theatre demands a different type of performance, and the lengthier theatre process combined with the UK’s investment in theatre makes acting feel much more communal. “Everyone goes to NYT,” another Mono Boxer told me, “It’s just what you do. We have friends from there and we still work together sometimes.” (ahem, hey Joan and Polly!)
Overall, LA seems to focus on industry while London leans more toward mastering craft.
In LA, we play the industry game. Each new pilot season, some actors create show bibles of each new show that comes out, the casting directors on them, work that those CDs have done before and what “actor types” they tend to go for. Actors are trained to know our type -- “young mom”, “student”, “young lawyer”--and some coaches even give us a personal logline so we’ll know how to sell ourselves. A lot of acting in LA acknowledges talent as being on equal par with relationship-building and ability to navigate the industry. Each class I’ve taken has been laced with industry advice. “The CD will want to see THIS in the audition room!” It’s awesome to have both rolled into one. Alternatively, it can make the acting experience in LA a bit less personal and all the more competitive. The craft is for the CD. Coming to London, however, was the perfect opportunity to focus not only on an audition room, a relationship with a casting director or figuring out my personal brand in the midst of learning how to act. It was a chance to learn how to act. Period.
That’s where The Mono Box comes in, AKA my Tuesday night home for the past five months.
From the beginning of my first speech surgery in January, to European Week workshops in movements and improv, to Hazel Holder’s voice masterclass, I started to love performance in a way that I hadn’t before. The Mono Box hosts people of all ages and experience levels. Some are auditioning for drama school, just finishing up or have not been trained formally. There’s an understanding among the Mono Box team, workshop leaders and attendees that performance is vulnerable, and requires a safe space for people to fully open up and express themselves. “JUST PLAY,” Jaime Mears announced during our workshop, which was appropriately titled ‘ImPLAYvisation’, “don’t worry about being funny or right or perfect. PLAY.”
And we do. Everyone who contributes to The Mono Box knows the end result of our training is important. We still want to master our craft and create the best performances possible. But the space emphasizes more of how we can let go in order to let ourselves reach that end goal. It gives us the freedom to try something, get it wrong, try again, get it wrong, and then try again to realize that there’s no one way to get it right. A lot of good acting courses will do this, but the culture of play, safety and experimentation is something so specific to The Mono Box that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. The past five months were the most fun I’ve have as an actor, and I know I’m a better performance, and more confident, aware and thorough performer because of it.
Now, excuse me while I pack and figure out what to do with my Tuesday nights.