The key to playing a successful concert is holding your audience, but few musicians have any idea how to behave on stage at all. We report on a unique way of increasing on-stage confidence.
"AN ARTIST IS either dangerous or dead" is quite a bold statement to make, but it's one which lies at the heart of the work of the Actor's Institute in London. Now, you may justifiably cry: "What's a feature on acting doing in this magazine? I'm a musician / programmer / engineer / producer / shopkeeper (delete where applicable), not an actor". Fact is, however, that the Actor's Institute runs a weekend course called The Mastery which has led many people to take a remarkable jump in their creative and performing skills. Because, as far as the Actor's Institute is concerned, every form of professional communication stands or falls with one's mastery of those skills.
"Yes, The Mastery is definitely suited to musicians", says Lynne Lesley, who's director of the Institute, and who also leads Masteries. "It hands people a lot of techniques to improve their performance. We try to make people take risks and stimulate them when they're face to face with an audience. That's very important for musicians, because they have, even more than actors, the possibility to react to what's going on in the audience, to let themselves be led by that energy.
"The point is to learn - not to recreate what happened yesterday, but to be creative in the moment. That means taking risks and it puts the artist in an exciting and dangerous position, hence our 'dangerous or dead' slogan. But really, the same applies for everyone who's dealing with people."
The Mastery, which includes individual presentations, prepared pieces, emotional exercises, improvisation and group work, was conceived by the American actor/director Dan Fauci ten years ago in Los Angeles. The explosive workshop, originally created to improve the performance skills of actors, soon proved successful with all kinds of people - secretaries, managers, teachers as well as artists — and led Dan Fauci into founding the first Actor's Institute in New York.
Now, almost a decade later, there are Actor's Institutes in London, New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Paris. The London Institute is now also running courses in the Netherlands and Germany, too.
Today, the official "purpose of Mastery" is given in the program books as: "for you to discover your own creative power and your ability to be moving and inspiring". Pretentious wording, perhaps, but the aims are worthy enough.
All Mastery leaders are intensively trained by Fauci, and Lynne Lesley is one of them. When asked what the Mastery's secret of success is, she answers: "I think one of the reasons is that we have no 'method'. We bring people on stage and work with them, there and then, from where they are, and encourage them to take the risks they are willing and ready to take. That's why the workshop can be attended by both amateurs and professionals. We don't judge, and say: 'this is good or bad'. All we care about is that people discover a bit more who they are and what they're capable of.
"In that sense it's a clever workshop. On Friday we ask people what they want, on Saturday they get what they want, and on Sunday they get even more, things which they didn't expect. So they always come out winning."
As a leader, Lesley has also had a lot of experience in working with musicians. Is there anything she finds striking about their attitude to performing?
"Yes. One of the things is that musicians are usually very much focused on their technique. Sometimes it's almost as if they're hiding behind it, or behind their instrument. I know technique is important in music, but from the moment you go on stage you should be able to forget about it. The technical problems should remain in the rehearsal room. In The Mastery we're dealing with the next step, which is performing."
Which is all very well, but hardly an objective assessment of The Mastery's appeal. Sandra Turnbull, who's been managing the Eurythmics with her husband Kenny Smith for the past four years, took the course a year ago, and says it made her look at her whole life in a more creative way. It changed her attitude to managing, and gave her an abundance of energy.
To that, she adds: "I'm working with some up-and-coming bands now like State Of Play, and recommend The Mastery to them absolutely. It gives a performer a mini-version of what happens on stage, with the possibility to experiment, take risks and get a second chance. The feedback from the audience is invaluable there.
"While you're doing it, it feels monumental, like a bang on your nose, but afterwards it's very subtle and gives you a chance to step to the side and look at what you're doing."
Phoning around to other people who've done The Mastery creates a rather unreal picture. Not a bad word, just lyrical enthusiasm.
Take Linda Lou Allen, a professional singer and comedienne for more than ten years: "It was very stimulating, it taught me to look at my work from a different angle..." Or Nigel Watson, songwriter and drummer with Three Mustafas Three: "Mastery helped me to break several bad habits which kept me from doing my work. It put me right in the middle of a flood of creativity."
Let's leave the final word, then, to Lynne Lesley. "I remember what it felt like when I was a little girl and managed to cycle for the first time without those little wheels at the side. That was very exciting, and I think a lot of people who've done Mastery feel like that afterwards."
The Mastery is run once every 3-4 weeks by the Actor's Institute, (Contact Details)
. Cost is £115.