As a fan of Josh O’Connor’s work, it pains me to say that I felt a little let down by his masterclass with Andy Apollo. The event is entitled ‘In Conversation With…’, which suits the event better despite overall being labelled as a masterclass. Ultimately, it was a chat between two friends from drama school, which offered an insight into the world of acting, but was not what I had bargained for. So, I think we should begin asking ourselves: who are masterclasses for?
O’Connor, in conversation with Apollo, did cover some topics that I think will resonate strongly with many aspiring actors. He offered a unique perspective on acting as a difficult profession which can lead to a confused sense of self. O’Connor discussed the importance of self-care within an industry that is often detrimental to mental health, stressing that mental health is as much of a tool as voice, dialect and physicality. He also shared his experience with dyslexia and how the arts represented a mode of thinking which celebrated his natural way of ‘working stuff out’. These are undoubtedly interesting and nuanced reflections about the realities of the arts.
However, O’Connor’s experiences–while I have no intention of undervaluing them just because I don’t relate– will not resonate with as-yet-unprofessional student actors. Neither will a discussion on what changes in your life after you win a Golden Globe. Despite the very real positives I’ve described about this masterclass, it was not truly in line with other areas of NSDF which seek to educate, advise and bring students into the discussion. Therefore, this masterclass didn’t seem to be for participants in the same way as other masterclasses, performances and workshops. This made me wonder something I feel almost guilty asking: was this masterclass for participants, or to provide the festival with a ‘big name’?
Tamsin Greig’s masterclass with Simon Godwin, for instance, signifies the complete opposite for me. While it was led by the pair’s dialogue, it was influenced and in consistent exchange with student participants asking questions and typing written responses. This also felt like a chat between two mates, but one which invited us in. Of course, there may be fair reasons why O’Connor’s masterclass was pre-recorded and I do not know how he was briefed beforehand, and therefore my argument is not directed at him or any others hosting these events. Instead I want to redirect my question to NSDF itself: are pre-recorded masterclasses useful to participants, if we are who they are for?
What I’ve gathered is that masterclasses are valuable when they open up a dialogue between participants and ‘big names’. When this is the case, masterclasses are for us, or maybe even for everyone. They are insightful, provocative and educational. But when this dialogue is removed, who are they for and who are they in exchange with? Yes, ‘big names’ are exciting and hugely helpful for publicity, which I don’t position myself against, but my questions still stand. Are masterclasses for the participants rather than for the festival’s image, or am I getting that the wrong way around?