The starting point of NÄTY’s teaching is an appreciation of the actor as a thinking, creative artist.
We see the acting profession as a constantly changing process that gains new forms and changes throughout its life.
NÄTY provides training and teaching for two classes at a time. This means that student selections take place either every two or three years. The next entrance examinations will be held in the spring of 2019.
The University of Tampere is, alongside Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy, one of the two universities in Finland engaging in academic actor training and the research of the performing arts. NÄTY’s teaching emphasises the actor’s independent thought, a multisensory approach, diverse, internationally oriented professional expertise and the capacity to articulate one’s own work in different kinds of contexts.
NÄTY’s presence at the Faculty of Communication Sciences and a socially oriented multidisciplinary University offers acting students a unique learning environment, and joint studying with the students of other degree programmes forms a part of actor training. The new Tampere University, which will be established as of 1 January 2019, will expand the cooperation even further, thereby diversifying the learning environment and strengthening the societal impact of the degree programme.
Teaching and performance collaboration
NÄTY’s teaching is enriched by diverse collaboration with various educational and art institutes. Together with the most significant educational institutes – Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, and Tampere University of Applied Sciences – we implement a number of joint courses on both Bachelor’s and Master’s levels.
The courses, performance projects, teaching and student exchanges, and festivals organised in cooperation with international universities also offer our students new approaches to learning and acting. In addition, the studies include working and peer learning with professionals from the performing arts and films. For example, the studies for the Bachelor’s degree include performance productions, while the studies for the Master’s degree include a lengthy training period that takes place in professional context.
The diverse acting profession
The profession of an actor requires very special skills and know-how. At NÄTY, the student accumulates the skills and knowledge they will need in their acting profession through meetings with professionals, watching performances and the visits and lectures delivered by experts. At the same time, the actor learns to identify their own place within the changing field of operations and society, and to develop a strong and diverse professional identity.
The Big Stage is a joint course implemented every two or three years as a collaboration of NÄTY, Aalto University and Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy. The extensive course covers 10 credits. The most recent one was organised at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet in May–June 2017, with material including Punainen viiva, the play based on a novel written by Ilmari Kianto and the libretto composed by Aulis Sallinen based on it. During the course, work groups consisting of the students of various forms of art designed and carried out several shorter and one longer (approximately 30-minute) artistic rendition of the text provided. Its introductory week included a great number of discussions, lectures and visits from international artists.
Due to practical reasons, the contact that an individual actor student has with big stages within their basic studies phase can easily remain thin. The Big Stage course allows for a deeper practical experience of the reality and opportunities of large-scale main stages. In terms of acting, the course familiarises the student with the working conditions of a big stage – its production methods and structures, technical equipment, design process and the contents of various sub-segments – and, on the other hand, encourages them to examine the constraints that a big stage area imposes on expression and the opportunities it offers with regard to them.
The moving and dancing actor
The art of acting is thinking with one’s body and through one’s body, requiring an awareness of the possibilities of the actor’s own body and its relation to the world. An actor senses and observes their body and their environment, creating meaning for their observations by naming and taking action, dancing.
In addition to action, movement, to an actor, represents primarily the creation, use and conceptualisation of physical knowledge. As the actor’s spatial and kinesthetic awareness and understanding increase, so do their skills and readiness to act in the many different kinds of changing contexts of theatre arts and the applicable tasks.
The actor and the text
A text is an actor’s central working material and tool. When encountering different texts and when writing themselves, the actor students learn to analyse, organise, edit and interpret the written material. They start to recognise different types, genres and styles, thereby learning to create independent artistic interpretations in their own voice, alone and in a group.
The texts used in NÄTY’s teaching vary – depending on the course, area of expression and phenomena being studied – from plays of different eras in monologue or dialogue form to documents, prose and lyric poetry, in addition to which the students themselves produce the texts they perform.
The actor’s dramaturgy
The teaching aims to strengthen the performance of each actor student and to support them in finding their own artistic voice and in building their professional skills. The teaching is based on the idea of special characteristics of an actor’s physical thinking which, when acted out, appears as the dramaturgy of the actor.
The dramaturgy of the actor is the artistic composition practised by an actor, which occurs in relation to various kinds of materials, media and techniques, by examining them and being influenced by them.
The actor’s voice and speech
The voice and speech of an actor serve in many tasks. They are used as a means to think through and physicalise a text and render it personally on the stage. However, they are also an essential part of the actor’s sense of being present and their self-esteem. Voice and speech are used to love, lure, argue and demand.
A voice resonating within their body deepens the actor’s physical observation and self-knowledge. At the same time, a versatile voice lending itself to many uses expands the actor’s physical reach: an intimate voice caresses, screaming shakes the whole body and a strong voice carries its message across, all the way up to the back row. When the audience feels the touch of an actor’s voice, they can resonate on the same frequency, which enables identification – the physical encounter of the actor and the member of the audience in the theatre.
The actor, singing and music
NÄTY’s teaching in singing and music aims for an actor with a diverse appreciation of music, and a singing and vocalising actor exploring with and trusting their own voice.
The teaching of singing helps each actor student to observe their own being as a singer. A knowledge of their own voice helps the actor to learn the singable parts rapidly in different kinds of productions, both individually and in a group. The teaching employs various kinds of musical notations and sheet music and familiarises students with the different forms and opportunities of improvisation. The area covering singing techniques covers a wide array of singing techniques and approaches to singing, such as free or limited improvisation, ethnic singing styles, CVT (Complete Vocal Technique) and Estill.
The music teaching focuses on aspects relevant for the actor: the history and theory of music, the internalisation of the composing and arrangement process, music recording, information sources and performance arts. In addition, the student will be familiarised with different instruments, thereby learning to compose music and to create or arrange a comprehensive sound scenery for performances. Students will also be introduced to musical theatre and musicals, learning how to outline the role of a singing actor in different kinds of performances. The Master’s degree studies allow the student to deepen their knowledge of some area of singing or music, such as the mastery of an instrument or singing technique, the singing of musicals or melodies and the composition of music.
Acting in a foreign language
The idea behind acting in a foreign language is that a strange language alienates the actor from some of their preconceptions related to speech, acting and the use of their body. When the known meaning of a word does not limit vocal or bodily expression or the student’s conception of themselves as an actor to the customary extent, the student is emboldened to try more physical and imaginative acting and voice control.
Acting in a foreign language is the most long-standing permanent feature of NÄTY’s pedagogical thinking. Its teaching was initiated in 1995 by Hanno Eskola, who was NÄTY’s lecturer in acting at the time. Ever since, each class of actors has performed either an entire play or parts thereof in a language of which they have no previous knowledge. So far, the languages acted in at NÄTY include Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and Udmurt, in addition to Finnish. The research of the processes resulted in the doctoral dissertation, A Strange Tongue in the Mouth, of Tiina Syrjä, a lecturer at NÄTY, in 2007. Her doctoral dissertation examined changes in students’ use of their bodies and voices, the importance of voice for an actor’s bodily awareness and body image, as well as the emphasis on the material and musical significances of language when acting in a foreign language.
The actor and telepresence
Telepresence is applied in NÄTY’s teaching for a number of reasons. Firstly, the use and research of telepresence in the performing arts has increased steeply in recent years. Secondly, universities are subject to an increasing volume of demands concerning internationalisation and sustainable development, also in terms of the arts. It is these demands that telepresence and other research and practical experiments related to e-learning seek to fulfil.
Telepresence can be defined as creating a connection between people in premises distant from each other by technological means, achieved through a high-quality, life-size video feed and high-quality audio. Teaching acting by means of e-learning is extremely challenging, given the special characteristics and volume of face-to-face teaching it requires. In most cases, actor training requires the physical presence of the teacher and the student. The teaching is functional, and demands a connection between space and time.
In cooperation with Coventry University and Centre for Practise as Research in Theatre, NÄTY has launched an investigation into a variety of telepresence technologies, to improve the digital methods of teaching theatre arts. The Coriolanus Online course, implemented jointly by the University of Tampere and Coventry University in 2016, linked online tools to various learning situations. In this course, the students’ communication and scheduling was based on a secret Facebook group, in which the students also got to know each other and the goals of the course. Adobe Connect software provided the possibility for mass lectures. The rehearsal of scenes and working in small groups took place in “virtual rehearsal rooms”, the design and implementation of which were the biggest challenge of the project.
When the practices of acting are understood and organised primarily as physical and sensory action, various digital environments can offer the actor student operating environments that limit the world of their experiences in a new way or even disturb it. In such cases, the student can focus on, for example, examining a certain aspect of their expression more carefully.
My learning path
Class of 2014–2019
When I started my studies at NÄTY in the autumn of 2014, my understanding and expectations with regard to actor training and being an actor in general were fairly different from what they are now. I thought and hoped that, for five years, I would act as a receptacle for everything I need to know in the acting profession, and after that I’d be ready. I failed to see enough value in an actor’s own thinking; rather, I thought of an actor principally as the implementer and embodiment of someone else’s (the director’s) ideas. I expected to be shaped into an as-diverse-as-possible and flexible actor who can adapt to any kind of role whatsoever.
I’ve always been very performance-oriented and a straight A student, due to which I was very impatient and hard on myself at the beginning. I was surprised and even a little disappointed for not being fed one absolute truth, trick and stunt after another by an outside source, even though I felt like I needed them at the time. Instead, we began to approach the art of acting from within – through ourselves, our own bodies and thinking. It was an interesting, but at the same time hard, time of me coming face to face with my own incompleteness and insecurities.
Our first course, Introduction to the Art of Acting, concluded with every one of us planning and directing a little performance of their own. We were supposed to draw the script of the performance on paper, from where it was projected to the background during the performance. I think of this as an excellent example of the direction that our training had taken from the very beginning. The focus has been on our own stage thinking and the dramaturgy of the actor, as well as their analysis and articulation out loud.
I began to enjoy my studies once I got over the initial shock. I realised that I’d get a lot more out of the teaching when I keep an open mind towards it and am active myself. For example, I found the weekly chi kung exercises really difficult and frustrating at first. Even so, I’ve continued to practice it persistently and tried to revise my attitude towards it, and have subsequently found it to be a really useful tool for relaxing both my body and mind. The lessons on singing, dancing, chi kung, the Alexander technique and speech, as well as playback theatre have remained in our curriculum throughout our studies. For me, they have been important avenues for exploring my own voice in both a concrete and artistic manner.
With regard to my first-year studies, the ones, which stand out, include the course on intellectual self-defence, in which we reviewed the basics of critical thinking, as well as documentary theatre, acrobatics lessons and the Chekhov-encounter workshop. The most extensive course during the second year was implemented in cooperation with the TTT-Theatre. I was in the musical Mestaritontun seikkailut, in which I had the chance to rehearse being on the big stage and the production of a musical and children’s theatre. The most memorable courses in the second year included Marc Gassot’s workshop on make-up, the Shakespeare course in cooperation with Coventry University and Sonya Lindfors’s SWAG LESSONS, where I learned a lot about otherness, an awareness of my own privileges and the significance of representations in art. The second year ended in a monologue course during which we worked on a number of different texts.
At the beginning of the third year, we travelled to Udmurtia to study acting in a foreign language. Later we studied popular art, musicals and the representation of gender on stage. Before the Christmas break, we also had a two-week intensive course of the Chekhov technique. We also studied flamenco, the dialects of Finnish and the analysis of drama over the course of the year. In the winter, I was on a student exchange in Tallinn for a week. I attended a course on commedia dell’arte. And in the spring, I worked on theatre in Helsinki for my Bachelor’s and on my written Bachelor’s thesis. I’m now past the Bachelor’s phase, and this autumn, our class will disperse in many directions as part of our work experience. It feels scary to realise how fast this time at school is going, but at the same time, it is inspiring me to study even more intensively in the next two years.
It’s difficult to form a picture of your own learning. I’ve often felt like I haven’t learned a thing during my studies. On the other hand, I’ve started to notice some development in myself over the past six months. I’ve realised that I’m slowly starting to trust my own experiences and feelings on stage. I understand that, as an actor, I am often in the position to have information about a work that only an actor can have. I have the courage to speak my mind if I deem something questionable or difficult, whereas before, I would have swallowed my concerns out of a fear of getting the reputation of a difficult actor. I’m also getting continuously better at having the courage to show my insecurity, poorness and ignorance, and I’m slowly starting to get rid of my performance-orientation.
These past three years have taught me to be kinder to myself, and others as well. No matter what happens, each one of us makes or will make mistakes, and you should also have the chance to make them, especially during your studies. I think that the University should be a place of no pressure, where you have the peace, space and time to try different things and study different matters. When you have problems and make mistakes, the most important thing is to discuss and open them up afterwards, without judging anyone.
NÄTY trains autonomous actors who think for themselves. The central idea is for every actor to create their own theatre. While this inspires me, I’m also scared about the responsibility it entails. At the moment, my ideal actor is someone who retains their integrity and is not afraid to speak their mind. They trust their own thinking on stage and function as a content producer in performances. Instead of aiming to please, they are uncompromising in their art. My ideal actor is constantly engaged in continuous work to bring down power structures that oppress (female) actors. They are conscious of all the choices they make in relation to their work. They can justify their work from a social perspective and are aware of the context in which they perform. They are an artist who is treated as an equal member in work groups and who can stand up for themselves.
So there’s a modest goal for my studies for the Master’s! My studies have resumed, so I’ll face them fearlessly and shamelessly and, on every day, again wondering, questioning, renewing myself and others, dismantling the harmful, listening, challenging, receiving, giving, getting influenced by and influencing and, above all, asking why, how and for whom am I doing what I’m doing?
My learning path
Class of 2011–2016
I applied for and was admitted in to NÄTY in 2011, when I was a second-year student of theatre at the Lahti Folk High School. I think the entrance exams emphasised practising various tasks and they gave a good picture of what the studies would be like.
The first year included the acting work lessons of Hanno Eskola, the key content of which was to work on bringing various source materials to the stage. We prepared small performances, “clown versions” on the basis of art exhibitions, poems, plays and performances. The way I see it, the goal of Eskola’s teaching was an autonomous actor with the ability to independently infuse their acting work with thinking and an interesting, energetic presence. The first year of studies also included playback theatre, the Alexander technique, tai chi and singing and speech lessons. The playback theatre and Alexander technique taught by Tiina Syrjä continued throughout the five-year studying.
With regard to our class, the second and third years included numerous projects. Ari Numminen, a lecturer of dance, directed the dance work Meren yllä monen värinen pilvi for us, due to which our class practised movement and dancing for a long time, fairly intensively. The following production was an adaptation of Tohvelisankarin rouva directed by Hanno Eskola. It was performed in Mandarin Chinese. During the rehearsal process, we studied the kind of acting, energy and presence a foreign language inspires in the performer. One of the most memorable experiences of my years as a student was the performance of Tohvelisankarin rouva in the city of Guangzhou in China for an audience of 1,200. They applauded almost every line we uttered. The third year began with the performance of Jerusalemin tanssi, directed by Yrjö Juhani Renvall. The work concerned a revivalist movement which influenced the Meänmaa region in the 1920s and 1930s. Jerusalemin tanssi was followed by a performance of Ollin oppivuodet at a children’s theatre. Eskola directed, while Arla Salo-Pursiainen, a lecturer of music, composed the music. The third year culminated in the writing of our respective Bachelor’s theses and the Bachelor plays, implemented in cooperation with the Theatre Academy. I was involved in the performance of Kahdeksan askelta pituussuuntaan, kolme poikittain, written and directed by Susanna Airaksinen and performed at the Theatre Academy.
In my opinion, the studies during the first three years emphasised our own relation to our bodies, expression, the use of voice and customary habits. The continuous examination of oneself and one’s own performances was extremely stressful at times, especially when it didn’t seem to relate to anything. In their work, an actor is always in a relationship with the audience, which is when the work sits within some kind of goal-oriented setting. During a long period of studying in a small school environment, however, you easily lose sight of the goal, and developing oneself starts to feel self-purposeful and frustrating. On the other hand, I also perceived my studying in relation to the group and my own class. The stage work shared with others, helping, learning and failure stole the attention from oneself and made the studying meaningful.
The professorship of Yrjö Juhani Renvall came to an end after my first three years followed by Pauliina Hulkko as a professor of NÄTY. All of the teachers, with the exception of lecturer Tiina Syrjä, also changed. I think of our class as privileged in the sense that we had the good fortune of experiencing two entirely different training methods, which nevertheless fell neatly within the same continuum in our case. In the summer between my third and fourth year of studies, I also participated in the Big Stage course implemented for the TTT-Theatre, which was a joint course with the students of the Theatre Academy. During the same summer, I also worked at Meriteatteri for the first time. Meriteatteri was established by my sister, Anni Mikkelsson, in the municipality Rymättylä, which is the location of our summer house. My colleagues included other NÄTY students from my own class and the class ahead of us.
The most memorable aspects of my final two years at NÄTY were the courses led by Pauliina Hulkko on the dramaturgy of an actor, documentary theatre and the dramaturgical encounters of text and body, as well as the Hipsterit production directed for our class by Hulkko, in which I acted as the director’s assistant. In addition to these, we had the Let’s Talk Politics evenings prepared by the students themselves and implemented in cooperation with the students of the School of Communication, Media and Theatre. The evenings were a combination of panel discussions, theatre performances and a joint discussion event. From a purely personal perspective, I was also influenced by the singing and music teaching of Sanni Orasmaa, Marc Gassot’s course on mimes, make-up and clowning, and my work experience in the Rechnitz – Tuhon enkeli performance of Jalostamo-kollektiivi.
The final two years did a fine job in complementing what I had learned during the first three years. The emphasis during the final two years was on the actor’s ability to verbalise their own working and thinking. When you can talk about your work, you have a better chance to influence what you do, who you do it with and for what reasons. A knowledge of the concepts and history of your own art also helps you to find environments and productions that interest you.
In the summer following my graduation I immediately continued theatre work in the manner already familiar to me – in other words, with our own Meriteatteri group. We organised a Meriteatteri festival in Rymättylä, in which we performed all of Meriteatteri’s earlier productions. Together with my classmate Ella Mettänen we also directed and wrote a children’s theatre play for the festival, in which we also acted. The next winter we recorded, produced and published the Lähtökäsky album with Meriteatteri. It contains pieces composed for the performances.
In the autumn, two of my classmates and I found our way to Third Space’s The Legend of the Tiny Bone production, which was performed at Turku Cathedral. In the spring of 2017, I started work in YLE’s traditional Christmas calendar show (Joulukalenteri), which was filmed over the year at Ylläs and Tampere. It was my first camera work on a larger scale and provided me with genuinely valuable experience in a traditional format. Most of the filming took place in the spring, overlapping with the rehearsals and performances of Meriteatteri’s Maailman Meri production. Maailman Meri was Meriteatteri’s first production that had its opening night in Helsinki, at the Korjaamo Culture Factory. In the autumn of 2017, the production was set to visit at least the Lainsuojattomat festival in Pori and teatteri Vanha Juko in Lahti.
In the spring, my sister and I were appointed artistic directors of Ylioppilasteatteri and, as I’m writing this, at the beginning of September 2017, the rehearsals of new productions at Ylioppilasteatteri have just begun. I don’t think I would have had the courage to apply for the position of artistic director without the teaching I received at NÄTY. An actor is at the centre of a theatre, and the diversity by which they perceive their profession has an enormous influence on what we see on the stage. It is my experience that NÄTY produces stage artists who know how to seek a path in the theatre business that suits them and who have the tools to work there.
My learning path
Class of 2006–2011
NÄTY’s entrance exam was more of a lengthy and odd workshop than a brief visit in front of a panel. Even at that early stage, it became clear that NÄTY devotes time to the skill of rehearsing, and values it, too. This is particularly true with regard to the art of collaboration and its rehearsing – theatre is, after all, essentially group work.
The lecturer of acting work at the time, Hanno Eskola, emphasised how important it is for actors to get out of their comfort zone and engage in something new and strange. This was a good challenge. For me, the five-year training was indeed based on becoming familiar with the strange.
I learned that you can observe your own thoughts, emotions, prejudices and reactions as something alien and separate from yourself. I learned that all strays from the right path, smudges, mistakes and blunders on stage (or in life) are rather something special in me than a source of shame. At NÄTY, I learned that the secret of independent artistry with a voice of its own lies in solidarity and cooperation. I learned that the work can be thought of as continuous rehearsing, a contest with yourself and others. I learned that “new” or “alien” are not something to be feared, but an opportunity that can open up new worlds.
In other words, studying, for me, translated into a very comprehensive exercise of getting to know myself, which was (and still is) a process involving both pain and pleasure. This familiarisation with oneself was, when studying in an environment such as NÄTY, both a privilege and a necessity, in terms of the acting profession. I learned that an actor is a creature of society as much as the rest of us are. An actor’s art gives them the opportunity to observe and be amazed by this existence of ours. Therefore, everything I choose to carry with me and set on the stage – words, talk, gestures, acts – have an impact on the surrounding reality, whether I want them to or not. This is why it’s important to analyse what I represent and which issues and values – such as gender equality – I support with my perception of the world when I’m on stage. The stage is a setting for negotiations on the ethics and morality of life. I believe that actors working as both freelancers and in institutions can carry this responsibility in their various work assignments. At NÄTY I learned that you must be brave and active in introducing topics of discussion.
The key word for me was the sustained nature of the studies. The continuous studies, such as the Alexander technique or tai chi/conscious movement seminars, which continued throughout my five years of studies, were ideal tools for improving self-knowledge and hearing your own voice. A person changes a lot over a period of five years, due to which it is extremely important that the educational institute guarantees time for stopping and listening. NÄTY’s small size furthermore contributed to having time to concentrate on collaboration with teachers and other students. When a teacher has the time to pause by the questions of a student, the operating model is passed on and will be visible in the actor’s professional life as commitment, the contribution of time and the courage to pursue the not-so obvious paths into your own work. I still remember how a guest lecturer, after watching our class rehearse for a while, remarked that the teaching at NÄTY doesn’t only focus on what theatre already is but, first and foremost, encourages the students to seek out what it could be.
In our acting classes, we often rehearsed clown versions of the synopses of classic plays. Even on the level of mere images, clowning gave way to an uncensored approach among us and dropped away unnecessarily serious performance-orientation. The results were more interesting. I found this interesting, completed some additional courses on clowning in the summer, and finally formed it into a tool that dissects my acting work (the wondering, approving and spontaneous clown state of mind). Following my graduation, I have worked as an actor in the city theatres of Rovaniemi and Joensuu, in freelance groups from the Sami native region to Helsinki and Berlin, in solo and ensemble performances, of which the most notable one was the P*lluralli performance event, and as a hospital clown across Finland. At the moment, I am enjoying the security provided by a three-year grant, still focusing on all that theatre could be.