These days, the idea of a film and theatre school conjures up images of students randomly bursting into song and dancing around the cafeteria, thanks in a large part to the likes of ‘High School Musical’, ‘Glee’ and the cringe-inducing British attempt, ‘Britannia High’. And it doesn’t help that the Danish school in question, the Holberg Film and Theatre School, which was established in 1995, is situated in an old chocolate factory.
However, the ridiculous notion that this might be another fictional school is dissipated within seconds of meeting the half-English, half-Australian new headteacher of Holberg, Stuart Lynch. Here the former students don’t do kids’ stuff, they appear in ‘Forbrydelsen’. This school is serious.
Lynch is charismatic in the truest sense of the word, and when he speaks you want to listen. Alongside Malene Beltofte Olsen, in a classic Danish partnership of art director and producer, they have a clear and direct vision regarding the future of a school that already has an impressive reputation. Being the first pure method acting school in Denmark for film, theatre and television and the largest independent school of its kind in Scandinavia, it’s an impressive history to uphold.
Method acting has a reputation of its own. It makes many think of Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most famous method actors, who on the set of his most recent film, ‘Lincoln’, insisted that everyone called him ‘Mr President’. At Holberg, the Stanislavski’s system is followed. It requires actors to draw upon authentic feelings for their performance by finding a character within their psyche. Understandably, it can be quite emotionally draining. The school also has a classical side to its training though. There are lessons every day on voice and body presence. Lynch believes that “strong internal training allows for a strong externalisation onstage”.
Lynch was headhunted for the role, fresh from working with professional actors and street children in India, and he is quick to make it clear that certain things about the school will be changing. “I wouldn’t have taken on the role if I didn’t feel that I could make positive changes to the school,” he contends. Most critically, Lynch will be exposing his students to live audiences from an early stage in their education. This, he believes, will empower them and give them the chance to learn how to engage with an audience.
As well as early exposure to a live audience, Olsen is keen to discuss another addition to the syllabus: business classes. As a former student of the school and an employee for the last three years, Olsen has the advantage of seeing both aspects of school life. “Business teaching was lacking when I was a student here − any talk of it felt like selling out,” she says. The new lessons will stress the importance of understanding the business side of show business, how to fundraise, apply for arts grants, networking and how to make connections. “This knowledge isn’t selling out but empowering,” enthuses Olsen.
The subject of power comes up again and again throughout our meeting. At one point the conversation is sidetracked into a discussion about gender inequality and the revival of feminism in topical conversation, due in large part to a recent spate of high profile news stories. Lynch is keen to foster an atmosphere of gender equality at the school, although this is less of an issue in Denmark than in other countries. I think it would be fair to say Lynch is a feminist, but his ideas on power go further than this.
The three-year course will teach students to own their sense of power; skills such as public speaking are often underrated, yet are still relevant to many jobs. These days nearly everyone is an amateur body language analyst, and so body position training is also a life skill. Lynch gives an example of one student who is now a police officer, pointing out that voice projection is a required skill for the job. Realistically not every graduate of the school will go on to be an actor: not through a lack of talent, says Lynch, but because “acting has to be a calling”.
It isn’t just prospective actors who have benefited from Lynch’s training. Politicians have also profited from his acting and public speaking training, although Lynch is far too professional to give me any names. Of course Holberg isn’t the only acting school in Denmark, as it faces fierce competition from Statens Scenekunstskole.
“Statens is a great school with great teachers, but I really want to produce graduates who can give those pupils a run for their money,” contends Lynch. “I want to build the reputation of the training here so that at auditions the competition feel nervous.”
Lynch has only been in the job for a little over four weeks, so it will take time. But from September, his new vision will start to take shape. Watch this space!