Spotlight on: W. Steven Lecky
Professor, Dawson College Professional Theatre Program Director,
Wednesday, November 11 to Saturday, November 21st at 8pm
QDF: We at QDF have heard that you have developed your own model for training. What drove you to do this?
Steve: Well I think when we look back at our past we can connect many, many threads. I remember being in productions when I was in school and not knowing what I was doing. I remember encountering a certain amount of frustration about that. Even with valuable lessons in playing objectives and intentions, which for me was a start, albeit an intellectual one, I still felt little or no guidance in the area of how to execute as an actor.
I was also an athlete and I realized that in the athletic world coaches were telling me how to do things precisely. Where to put my feet, how high to lift my knee, exactly what the arc of the ball needed to be for the jump shot, how to pace myself in the 400 meters.
And so, even at that time, there was a part of my brain that started asking why actors were not getting this type of information. Then I started studying musical instruments and singing, and these art forms also had very precise techniques. Yet still, at the acting end of things, I didn’t know how to progress.
So that’s the simple, short answer. I decided I was going to create for actors a practical method – a range of techniques, books and DVDs on technique, called the Vox Method. The Vox Method goes through all the tools that are integral to performance and an actor’s craft, names them, discusses them and sets them down in a comprehensive organization with example exercises and video clips.
The Vox Method is a fantastic tool. It has made my teaching and my directing take off. The actors I work with understand now that there is a right and wrong way to do things. It is not just a matter of one opinion versus another, or worse, one interpretation versus another.
Interpretation is something beyond the tools. Once you have the tools, any interpretation is open to you. Now when I speak with actors and students, we share a terminology, have concrete technical and artistic goals, and we can experiment with and assimilate technique en route to achieving these goals. Rehearsing now is a rewarding, exacting, very constructive process which nurtures both technical and artistic growth.
QDF: What made you aim for a life in public education rather than remaining in a conservatory environment?
Steve: Pure fickle fortune as far as I can tell. You follow your heart. I am an educator and a performance researcher at heart. I realized that early on.
I finished off my Masters in Voice at McGill. I had no interest in pursuing a singing career despite the fact that I had won the so-called “Debut” competition that same year which landed me with an agent. I also had no interest in an acting career. I had done enough of it to know that people felt it was something I could be doing, but I just did not feel it. If you don’t feel like you’re in control of something, then you’re just not going to do it. Life just took me elsewhere.
Interestingly, I had come full circle, though, because I was doing opera at that point. Again the direction was so horrendous and the acting so terrible, that once again , I was caught in the same miserable realization that there was no consistency to the direction I was receiving as an actor and no universally agreed-upon processes for actor training. I’d also taken some ridiculous training workshops at this point that were as expensive as the content was nebulous – gurus praying on the generous spirit and gullibility of aspiring actors.
So at that point, I took matters into my own hands. Research. I started analysing acting again, looking for ways to get singers, for a start, myself included, to act in an authentic way.
At the same time, National Theatre School, invited me to come in and teach in their three year Acting program. I finally had the perfect laboratory. The voice training was broken into singing, voice and speech. I was interested in all three areas, and went in to teach singing, but since my work and research touched on all three areas, eventually I evolved into teaching all of them, and later tying them all into “the acting process” – the title of one of my books. Performance research in voice, speech and acting is such a rare specialization and I had such an interest in it that I became an innovator and people got wind of that. So I was the hot ticket voice trainer for a while. McGill came after me for their drama program. Then Concordia. It was only natural for me to build my career as an educator. Eventually I settled at Dawson College where for fifteen years I was Chairperson of the Professional Theatre Program.
QDF: If you were speaking to a young person in grade nine, who has made the decision that they would like to make a life for themselves in theatre, what would you tell them to do to prepare themselves to wind up here?
Steve: Many actors at the high school level are just imitating what they have seen in film and television, and on YouTube, and do not fully understand what it takes to get “there”. Some are brilliant imitators, and even get jobs on that basis, but we are talking about acting as an art form. I would tell aspiring actors to immediately, seriously, think about moving beyond imitation to try to understand the human behavior that is represented in the text they have in front of them. They need to consider every line of text and ask themselves what it would take for a human being to get to the point where he/she would utter that thought. This then brings them face to face with the real work of the actor – to portray the believable emotional, intellectual , physical, vocal and speech behaviors of a human being.
Actors need to approach actor training from the perspective of training as an artist. They need to do the groundwork that all artists do: analysis, preparation, practice and performance. Actors need to hone their craft every day.
QDF: What would you say to the parent whose child comes home and says, I want to be a theatre artist?
Steve: As a parent, I would support any kind of artistry in my children. When a child wishes to be an artist, that is something natural, and something to be cherished and nurtured. Yes, making a living at it is going to be tough, but we want more for our children than just making a living. We want them to be happy.
When I see the joy that Art brings to people, that has to be encouraged. We can only hope that one day the arts will be supported in a way that is commensurate with their essential value to and impact on humanity.
QDF: There has been much talk in the theatre community about targeting diversity and women in terms of under representation in the field. What is the school doing to support this? Is it something that is on your radar?
Steve: The beautiful thing about Dawson College is that diversity and women in theatre are very present and have been for a long time. We have had an incredibly diverse faculty as well. Dawson is a melting pot that is spectacularly culturally rich and our theatre students embrace a wide spectrum of ethnic and cultural groups. Simply look at the cast of Twelfth Night.
The problem with this particular art form is that it is fifty years behind in generating material that actually complements this cultural richness. And women are still under represented in the standard repertory. We don’t have the playwrights and performance material that we need. But we make adjustments to accommodate. Roles can be gender switched and while Shakespeare is very challenging for someone coming from the Viet Nam, or Lebanon, or South America I have never yet had a student from any group come to me and say that they would not want to, or enjoy doing it. They embrace the challenge. They want to understand all levels of theatre.
QDF: Speaking of Shakespeare, why? Why this play in a teaching institution?
Steve: We have always made it a point of doing Shakespeare, probably because it is a bit like studying the bible in a Christian religious order. If you do not study Shakespeare as a part of studying theatre, then you are missing the fount, the spring, the source of so much of what we do as actors, directors and writers. The genius of the man, assuming it was a man, and assuming that he existed (laughs), just never ceases to dazzle me, as a professional, and as a human being. Introducing students to Shakespeare is an absolute pleasure –the poetry, the word choice, the sense of our humanity, the sense of love, death, sex and human interaction – well he simply has it all.
QDF: Is it the exploration of gender that made you want to do Twelfth Night this year?
Steve: Certainly the gender confusion in this play, and the love triangles that transcend gender even, make this play incredibly interesting to a director. Beyond that, I think what makes me want to do any Shakespeare play is the language, the tradition, and the human issues he confronts. I want to see if students can conquer the text and be brought to a level where they can begin to enjoy, understand and see the depth of Shakespeare, and even carry that message forward. I look at my students as ambassadors to the future of this art form, not only in the realm of perpetuating Shakespeare, but in whatever they do. We are sending out ambassadors.
For me, as a voice and speech specialist, there is also the issue of language. I have noticed in my career that the understanding of words, the control of language, together with a regard for the beauty of speech and great speaking in on the decline. Shakespeare is a key antidote to that trend. In order to do Shakespeare, you have to be able to speak this language in a standard, well-articulated, perfectly contoured, lyrical and literate way. The ability to do this is a gift. Actors are the last protectors of our oratorical skill. Ultimately it is actors who will sustain and preserve our speech and language traditions.
QDF: Like many students in Quebec, I was introduced to Shakespeare as an exercise in English class. I was very fortunate, in that I had teachers that were also performers that loved it. When I hear people say that they do not like Shakespeare, I wonder if this is the reason; they were introduced to it by teachers that did not enjoy it themselves.
Steve: Absolutely. But in addition to great teaching, we know that any script, that is not brought to life practically, stays on the page and loses its punch. These scripts were made to be channeled through actors and so that is how they must be presented. The students need to actively engage in bringing these scripts to their feet.
That is another answer to your question regarding why we are doing Shakespeare still at Dawson. We are introducing Shakespeare to busloads of high school kids, who get to see it jump off the page. They sit in the theatre for three hours and watch their first Shakespearean production. That is amazing.
QDF: When talking to a theatre goer, who goes to see professional theatre, why should they come to see a student production?
Steve: The freshness of new and awakening talents. The energy of youth applied to tradition. When you come to see a school production, you get to see the art of acting in development – breaking new ground. This production was entirely rehearsed according to the tenets and techniques of the Vox Method, an innovative new approach to this art. That should be of interest.
At Dawson we are doing things in a way that is different than what you see in the professional theatres. We are not just mounting a season of plays. We are using plays to delve deeply into the processes and traditions of acting. As a director and performance researcher I do not seek to put on a play – I seek to investigate our art form with a cast of willing, open and eager young professionals . We approached Twelfth Night with clear goals, techniques to grapple with, and projects to challenge the way acting is being accomplished; at the head of the list, a thorough study of the emotional, physical and intellectual behavior of the characters, and how to technically render that with authenticity; then, how to develop an effortless, easy rapport with the language and the delivery of the text.
These young professionals are not thrusting anything at the audience. You can sit in our theatre and feel that you are simply eavesdropping on lives, albeit fantastical lives, that were written four hundred years ago. You can understand the language, enjoy the situations and be touched by carefully executed “moments” of theatre. That is what these kids are capable of doing. It is what keeps me coming to work every day. It is also what keeps our audiences coming.
QDF: Is there anything else you would like your audience to know?
Steve: I think my work and the students’ work speaks for itself. I hope audiences will come and see what we are doing, and that they will recognise the quality of the work. These young people are doing something that is superior, often even to what you are getting in the professional world on many levels. Why? Because they are listening with fresh ears, they trust, they are willing to take risks, and they are willing to explore, innovate, practice and perfect the tools and techniques of their craft to arrive at complete interpretations. The job we have as educators in acting training institutions is to educate these aspiring professionals so that they can take this magnificent art form further.
Twelfth Night is playing
From November 9th-21st
Presented by The Professional Theatre Program of Dawson College