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Clem McNabb | February 28, 2022

“To be a good actor, you have to live a full life.”

In Drama School, the question of what it means to be a good actor ultimately becomes an inquiry into what it means to live a fulfilling life. It’s a question that Alistair Ward, the creator and star of the play, dives headfirst into in his first play under newly created Melbourne production company, Pansy Productions.

Drama School follows the lives of a group of seven friends studying acting at a school in New York. The audience is immediately thrown into what it means to be a young actor at university; the cattiness, the self-obsession, and the ambition. Ward isn’t afraid to let his characters be blatantly narcissistic, temperamental, and vain – which is what makes it so delicious to be a part of. The dynamics within the group are immediately apparent and almost archetypal; the gorgeous and confident blonde (Riley), the practical and humble Australian (Nick), the Rachel Berry-esque overachiever (Sarah), and the down-to-earth stoner (Dean). However, the reality of their pursuit, and of their love of acting, becomes apparent in the most earnest moments of the play, such as Nick’s monologue in the beginning. His captivating performance and the endearing calls for “line” bring into focus what the group of friends are trying to achieve, and explores acting in its simplest, rawest form.

The introduction of a new student (Jay) acts as a vehicle for the audience to uncover what hums underneath the confident, ambitious exterior of the students. Jay is unassuming and quiet, the perfect conduit for Ward to let his characters show an uncharacteristic vulnerability. Her questions about the lives of the young actors and what it’s like to ‘make it’ in the acting world are the same questions that we need answered, and provide the perfect opening into the stifling nature of never-ending ambition. The group’s tensions arise from the different ways they deal with the intensity and stress of being young actors; Dean and Riley want to party, Nick and Jay want to study, and Sarah brings much needed comic relief with her monologues about their futures.

The tipping point of the group’s tensions comes with Riley’s breakdown as she finds out she has lost her place in the year. Her breezy, glamorous outset is broken and suddenly the cast of characters begins to unravel too. Riley’s sudden vulnerability is one of the strongest moments of the play, and truly jarring for the audience to witness. The heightened pressure following Riley’s departure sends the group, and particularly Nick, into a neurotic overdrive. The climax of his frenzy occurs during his reckoning with Riley and his breakdown before auditioning. The audience is allowed to finally see through the thick, convincing ‘good boy’ persona that Nick equips, peering in at his vulnerabilities and the ambitions that lead him to neglect Riley, and obsesses over his own prospects instead.

The tonic in this climax comes in the form of Dean’s utterly charming monologue to Nick. Dean liberates the audience from the whirlwind of anxiety and ambition with his words of wisdom – ‘just enjoy this’, he tells Nick. It’s perfect advice, and advice that every creative person should memorise. Nick, and the play, are finally able to take a deep breath in, and relax. The group of characters that we really have come to love are sent off with a goodbye that embodies Ward’s obvious love for his own drama school experience, and his empathy for young creatives everywhere.    

Drama School, like Ward intended, is at times stifling in its interrogation of ambition and anxiety. However, its penchant for comedy and its truly relevant wisdom created an environment that I didn’t want to leave once the stage lights had gone down for the last time. There is a genuine fondness for these flawed, vulnerable characters that the play cultivates, which I couldn’t shake, and didn’t want to.

Despite COVID challenges, Drama School; a play, ran 3rd – 6th February 2022 at Mc Showroom.

What happens when one of the most prestigious acting schools in the world decides that their students need to compete to stay in the program? Drama School: a play gives an insight into the lives of aspiring actors vying to succeed within a competitive and cut-throat industry, desperately trying to keep their dreams alive. With a diverse cast exploring healthy male friendships, queer relationships and mental health struggles, these twenty-somethings are on their path to learning that it’s okay to ask for help in a world that has you competing with your peers.

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Clem McNabb

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