I am excited to share an interview with my friend Jenn Tan, a third-year student in the Performance Acting program at Ryerson! The acting program experience is quite different from the majority of other programs at Ryerson, and she was happy to share more information about it with you all!
Please note this interview took place prior to classes being shifted to online learning.
How would you describe the Performance Acting program?
“It’s a conservatory program, which means that most of the work we do is done on our feet. The program is more workshop based as opposed to sit-down lectures and note-taking. It trains your voice, body, and mind through acting, voice, movement, production, music and performance history classes. You learn not only how to be a good actor, but how to be a good person. You are exposed to a lot of challenges that you would be exposed to in real life, but you start with the basics before you get to more challenging aspects.”
Can you tell us a bit more about what these courses are like?
“In our acting classes, we learn scene studies and techniques that help us gain experience with the different types of acting. We are placed in small groups and work on small scenes that we get to perform at the end of the year or end of the semester. We don’t perform much until we put on our Shakespeare show in the second year, as the first year is more focused on the basics. Most of what we learn is training for live theatre performances and less about film acting. The production classes teach us a side of the arts that is outside of performing. We get to learn a little bit about lighting, stage design and even the logistics of how to write and apply for grants.
Our voice classes train our bodies to find our most authentic voices. We do a lot of warmups, work with text, focus on breathwork, and articulation. We also have music classes that are combined with the dance program. We prepare an audition piece, but we also learn a lot of choral singing, harmonizing, and basic theory on how to read music. In movement classes, we focus on a lot of techniques including the Alexander Technique, Laban’s Efforts, and circle work where we do exercises to work the inner core of the body. Everything in this class is focused on training our bodies, and a lot of improvising between the whole class occurs.
Our history classes teach us the history of theatre, and the classes are combined with Performance Production students and the Performance Dance students which are also part of the School of Performance at Ryerson. We learn to write pitches which is very important in this industry because in most of the work we do after we graduate we will have to ask for money. We also have a Creative Performance Studies class which is also with the dancers. One of the great things about this program is that not only are we focusing on training ourselves, but we are also learning how to work with other disciplines. Each semester we get into a group of five to six people, with a combination of dancers and actors, and we get to create a piece based on a theme and present it.”
What’s a common misconception of your program?
“A common misconception is that we perform shows a lot. Some people think that you come into the program and that you’re going to start acting and doing plays right away, and that’s not true. We have to start with the basics and break down everything. Our first semester we didn’t even talk for a whole five weeks. It was for this thing called the zone of silence where we learned how to work with our impulses and react to things without using words. I think people think we put on a lot of shows, but that’s not true until our final years in the program.”
What has been your favourite course?
“My favourite course was our first ever acting course, and the one I just mentioned called the zone of silence. People either love it or hate it, but I loved it because I’m a very intuitive person, and I like to act a lot on my impulses. This class challenged my intuition and improvisation with other people. I dug deep into things that I was really scared of, and I felt afraid in every class, but I loved it!
Another thing I enjoyed was the psychophysical work we did with our senses. We learn how to make imaginary circumstances real to ourselves. For example, in our first class, we had to figure out the weight of an imaginary coffee cup, and get to the point where we could smell it or taste it by creating a world in which we can feel that it’s real. It’s crazy, I’ve broken and healed my heart it in that class so many times. I’ve felt imaginary rain and tasted lemons without there being any lemons. It’s definitely a very interesting course.”
What is the application process for the Performance Acting program?
“The program only accepts 20 to 25 people each year and has an audition process. Prospective students have to prepare a classical monologue, a contemporary monologue, and a three-minute piece, where they can perform a play in three minutes or just showcase themselves in three minutes.”
Why did you choose the Performance Acting program?
“I chose the program because I love acting and I heard really good things about it through word of mouth. It’s considered one of the better programs in Canada for acting, and it has a reputation of being more challenging compared to the other schools I was looking at. The professors that we have are working actors still in the industry which is very important because I want to be trained by people who are still in touch with the industry. I like that we are constantly on our feet instead of in a book. To add, the school only accepts a handful of people, and I didn’t want to be in a program with a large number of students. I wanted more specific work with a smaller amount of people as opposed to generalized work with a lot of people.”
Are you happy with your choice?
“Yes, very much so! I really love my class and Ryerson as a whole. I’ve met a lot of really cool people in and outside of my program and work. The program has been challenging, and it’s pushed me a lot in terms of who I am as a person and who I am as a performer. I’ve made a lot of discoveries about myself thanks to my professors, but also my peers.”
Outside of class what are you involved with?
“Some of my friends that I work well with in the program and I have created a theatre company, and I am one of six artistic directors for the company. This is very exciting
because it could lead to potential work outside of school, but it all started from this program. We’re taking lessons that we learned from our classes, like how to write pitches and utilizing them for our company. We’re called Precipice Productions and we would love it if you checked out our website and Instagram.
I also work on campus at the Student Learning Centre (SLC), and it’s a great job because it caters around my schedule which is very hectic. The Ryerson acting schedule has very long days, with some days going from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with extra rehearsals outside of that. It works me, but luckily my job at the SLC lets me work outside of those hours. I’ve met a lot of great people at work outside of my program, which is super refreshing.”
What is something you are proud of from your time at Ryerson?
“I am very proud of my first-year scene study! I think I made discoveries up until the end of the open rehearsal. It’s not called a performance because ‘it’s never really done.’ I liked the character I was given which was Amy from the play Tape by Stephen Belber. She was a powerhouse woman, lawyer type of deal. I loved the challenge of that character, and I found a lot of power in myself in the scene. I also got to play with my scene partners which was interesting. It was a process that was very frustrating at times but very rewarding in the end.”
How would you describe Ryerson to someone who was thinking of coming here?
“Ryerson is in the heart of Toronto. It’s a great location for everyone really, not just artists but entrepreneurs, business people – everyone. The campus itself is quite small, but it’s actually beneficial because you can get around easily. We also have really good resources that are provided to us, and the Student Learning Centre is a great place for studying.”
What do you wish you knew about your program when applying?
“I wish I knew how mentally and emotionally draining the program would be so I could prepare myself for that. This program constantly challenges me on an emotional and physical level. I’m constantly being faced with my biggest fears and insecurities, and I’ve had to learn how to work past them. It’s such a vulnerable place that acting students are at every day, and I wish I had taken better care of my mental health before I jumped in, but I am doing that now as Ryerson offers a lot of great services for students.”
What’s next for you after graduation?
“After I leave Ryerson I would like to find an agent and audition around and start working. I also would like to continue with Precipice Productions. We want to produce and make our own work while building a reputation for the company. I might continue taking extra classes here and there if I feel like I’m getting rusty. I also hope to just explore Toronto more. I live in Toronto, but I walk the same streets every day because of the lack of free time I have while in university. Once I finish this program I want to see what city life is really like and go further outside of the heart. Overall, I hope to keep meeting people and network!”