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  • Writer's pictureSara Gauci

A Conversation with Gianni Selvaggi (Part 2)

Photo by:Emma Micallef ; Production: Glitter Punch

Let’s jump into the second part of my conversation with Gianni Selvaggi. We continue from where we left off last time; talking about the Maltese community and the importance of keeping in contact with one another in London.

This time, Gianni and I talked about the student community, the difference between training in Malta and training abroad, and things he keeps as daily reminders while studying at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

What about your course cohort? What is the student community like?

It has definitely been very exciting to meet and work with likeminded individuals from various backgrounds. Even in the hardest moments, we’ve managed to have a lot of fun but still maintain a professional environment; but most of all, you must carry your weight. It's also a new setting, so you need to be prepared to have patience and to be open to new characters. Everyone learns at a different pace and each of us brings a different level of experience to the room, so you need to be respectful and aware of that. “It’s really just about being open and ready to adapt. That and being humble are the most important things, as they are in life. Just keep yourself level-headed and focused on the work that you're doing."

While you are there for your individual training, you cannot disregard the cohort. You support them and they support you, especially in times you least expect it, that's the beauty of it. “Sometimes one's actions can impact someone’s training. In some cases very positively and in other cases, unfortunately, in a negative way. ”

So keeping an active and open conversation with one another, listening to and receiving from others are key to building the trust you need for the cohort and the learning structure.

How does training in Malta vs training at Mountview Academy compare to you?

In the local theatre community, we have many passionate people with knowledge and experience in their respective fields who are readily available and accessible to communicate with. We also have various platforms to gain experience through our exposure to stage performance here, which is a great advantage. We are able to work with different production teams, in different theatres and spaces, and experience different kinds/sizes of audiences. We have access to this, whether it’s amateur (student festivals), semi-pro (production companies), or professional (mostly operas and film sets), it is still experience that you can learn from.

On the other hand, I don't believe that we have a facility or institution here in terms of a Monday to Friday 24/7 actor training environment; it isn’t here. In saying that, we do have a great educational sphere with many schools that offer various learning programs, that get students going from a young age. It's also great to see that we are no longer looking at the performing arts as just a hobby, yet there are no tiers as to how trained you are; we are all simply dumped into the same bucket.

Getting into community theatre abroad is fine. But in terms of the spaces itself, sometimes they’re just church halls or multi-purpose rooms.

"At Mountview, we are guided to focus on the actor as a whole. Aside from your theatrical knowledge, the two main instruments are your body and your voice. Certain techniques are explored that help you correctly use and sustain your tools for a very long time. It’s all helpful towards developing particular characters you are working with. Finding your comfort zones and finding your range, then what to work on to extend that range; both through movement and voice. Throughout our training, we have experienced different forms of practices that one can uphold to enhance their range. It's been really interesting to see how one unit is built on another; expanding on the skills we've obtained at the beginning of the year."

Something which Gianni pointed out that is covered at Mountview, which I have never heard of in practice locally, is having an intimacy coordinator; for, as an example, handling stage kisses.

"The intimacy coordinator steps in and works with the director to choreograph the movement of each actor. Especially after the MeToo movement, we’ve seen a positive shift in actor safety and protection on stage when it comes to physical interaction. It’s about making sure that both actors are comfortable, they talk it out and go through the steps, making sure that each one has consent for how and what is being done. We do not really see this in Malta. At least, I haven't experienced this and it is definitely something that needs to be discussed. Many a time, locally, stage intimacy is either cut from the script or, in some cases, performers are put on the spot and told to just 'work it out' between themselves, which is rather unsafe and unpleasant."

Side Note: This main question alone is one that can be used for many discussions, and as Gianni and I found out, it can go many ways. Here, the main points are summarized and pointed out.

What do you keep telling yourself as you attend college?

“It’s not just one thing. You kind of make a checklist that you need to keep reminding yourself of. I keep these pinned in my locker and look at them from time to time. Throughout your training, there are moments where you question your ability.

"It's natural since the training programme wants to instil a certain level of discipline and a structured way of learning things.

“I’ve had a few moments when I felt down thinking I wasn’t doing a good job. But it’s part of the ongoing process.”

1. It’s a process, let it happen. Don’t doubt yourself as much. If you’re doing the work, and you’re feeling it, that’s good. It’s part of the learning process

2. Don’t feel like you’re inferior to anyone, but then don’t feel like you’re better than anyone. Everyone has their own strengths; everyone has their own weaknesses. Everyone has their own way of learning.

3. Be ready to adapt and accept. You need to be welcoming and open-minded to a bunch of different characters from different countries, walks of life, and upbringings.

4. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Being yourself is what got you into the school. They want to see more of that and expand on it. All this while being respectful and humble throughout. Showing off will definitely bite you in the ass in this environment and no one wants to work with a diva.

5. Be humble. One of, if not the main thing you should always be. You do get tired and feel like giving up, but you get through it. Don’t lose the enjoyment over the way. Enjoy the experience. Accept the people around you.

6. The feedback you are given is for your own benefit. Practitioners and tutors really are there to help and educate you. Don’t take anything to heart. Take it away, reflect on it, and build from that something that you learn from and what works for you.

7. When you graduate from your course, it doesn’t mean that you finished your training. If you’ve never had training before, this is where your journey begins. If you have had training before, this is where your journey continues and definitely not where your journey ends. Training should remain constant. The moment you think you're a 'finished product' is the time you should stop performing.

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