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Recent WAAPA graduate Natasha Vickery is the fortunate recipient the 2018 Equity Foundation Gristmill Internship. Observing the pros at work on the set of a new ABC comedy gave her a priceless insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

Gristmill Internship

 As much as WAAPA prepared me for the experience of a working set – and what a great job they did! – there is nothing quite like the real deal. In a small business park in the middle of Clayton, Victoria, I got to watch masters at work. For a week, I had the opportunity to look behind the scenes on the set of comedy series Back in Very Small Business.

As soon as I arrived, Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope took me under their wings and made me feel welcome. They insisted I ask them as many questions as I wanted – such a generous offer considering how busy they both were. I got to sit and observe, chat to actors and crew, and generally soak up the experience of being a working television actor.

The most important lesson I learnt was relaxation. It is crucial that the actor is calm and focused, ready to play and deliver. Without a doubt, Robyn and Wayne created that atmosphere for their cast. Even when things were a little tense and time was running out, they kept their cool, laughed, made jokes, supported and encouraged. Everyone in film and television works long hours, but for actors, the days are both long and inconsistent. You can spend hours waiting around for the next scene, and you’re expected to snap into action when called upon. It was so beautiful for me to witness both new and experienced actors switching on with ease and playfulness. They knew they were safe.

I noticed that the best performances were executed with clarity and truth. In comedy like this, I saw there was always room for subtlety, but the clearer the choice or intention, the funnier the gag. The truth of the situation or character is always funnier than playing the joke. If the truth disappears, so does the story.

Robyn was nimbly jumping up from her chair, whispering in actors’ ears, keeping her story on track. When I asked her whether actors should make different choices, she made it very clear: make offers, try new things (within reason), but always serve the scene and the story.

I was so relieved to see actors making mistakes. My biggest tip to new graduates is not to be scared of forgetting a line or getting something ‘wrong’ – it’s no big deal, everyone does it (even the best!) and it actually makes the experience much more fun all round. The trick is to pause and repeat the line.

Another big lesson was in preparation: lines need to be learnt and choices put in place. Time is precious, and even though mistakes happen, being on top of things makes everyone’s job easier. The more prepared the actor, the more opportunity there is for play – maybe some improvisation, if you’re lucky – and exploration.

Being on set with these wonderful people was like being part of a big family. I was told by many cast and crew members that this kind of dynamic was rare, and that they felt lucky to be part of it. I am extremely grateful to Robyn and Wayne for their generosity and infectious passion, and to the gorgeous cast and crew who taught me so much. A huge thank you to Gristmill, The Equity Foundation, Media Super and Showcast for this opportunity, and also to the caterers. That food really was as motivating as promised.

Natasha Vickery graduated from WAAPA in 2017. She was selected by casting director Nathan Lloyd and Gristmill directors Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler from more than 70 applicants. This intership is proudly supported by Media Super. 

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