As a Visiting Professor of Performing Arts and Emeritus Chancellor of the university, Sir Patrick Stewart has a lot of ties with Huddersfield. The pièce de résistance of his recent visit however, was the masterclass that he held in the Sir Patrick Stewart building for a group of second-year drama students. As part of the class, three groups of students performed excerpts from plays that they will present as part of the Second Year Drama Festival in May.
Sir Patrick’s influence and direction was immediately apparent as students were encouraged to try subtly different techniques and approaches to their parts. Sir Patrick provided his own directions from his studies of the scripts before the class. One of his biggest tips for the students was how important it is for actors to make changes and respond to direction, saying, “We must jump into the deep end of a new idea and inhabit it completely”.
He also imparted some golden rules, such as a prohibition of what he termed “demonstration” when actors flagged up their feeling or thought too hard about their lines. “Never think about what you are going to say, but think about your feelings and experiences,” he stressed. He also focused on the importance of experimentation during rehearsal; “I wish I could have worked with you for six hours! What I have seen is really good and very encouraging”.
We must jump into the deep end of a new idea and inhabit it completely.
Sir Patrick also visited various research labs and met presidents of international societies before undertaking a question and answer session to a full lecture theatre of students, where his latest outing on the big screen, Logan, drew much attention. Students were eager to ask questions on topics that included the process of selecting and rejecting film roles, the most challenging parts he had played, changes that he had noted in the film industry, and technical issues such as his approach to voice-acting for animated films.
Sir Patrick said that he sought parts that presented new acting challenges. For example, he was currently considering a role as a deeply introverted musician. For a stage actor this would be a considerable challenge. “How far inside myself can I go in creating this character, and yet still make an impact?” he said. He was also asked why he returned to the role of Professor Xavier in current blockbuster Logan. “It was the story,” he said. “Logan is unlike any other X-men movie. Tonally, it is very different.”
He described for the students the challenges of making Logan, in which Xavier suffers from dementia. The Mississippi location was infested by hordes of insects attracted to the lights during the night shoot, which included Xavier’s death scene. “But dying is easy on film. It’s all about breath control. On stage, however, you can be ‘dead’ for 20 minutes!”
Sir Patrick Stewart can be seen in Logan, currently on the big screen, and will be opening the new season of Have I Got News For You as host.