by Lucy Rennick
Dean Carey’s is not your average classroom.
“Are you on? Are you ready for something to happen?” he asks a class of around 20 students standing in a circle, most of whom aren’t wearing any shoes.
Wide-eyed and expectant, these students are not only ready, but are willing to affect change. And so begins a two-hour acting class at Actors Centre Australia in Leichhardt, a dramatic arts training facility for aspiring actors founded and directed by Mr Carey.
There are no whiteboards here. No notebooks, no uniforms and not a single bad attitude to be found. Instead, a light-filled theatre auditorium with polished floorboards, thick stage curtains, and an air of palpable positivity. No movement is too exaggerated, no volume too loud. Swearing? Hell, even Mr Carey himself throws a few swear words around here and there. At acting school, anything goes.
There’s an inescapable energy flowing through the whole building. It’s electric and infectious, manifest in spontaneous bursts of song and dance emanating from students in the hallways. Following Dean Carey through his school as he stops to greet everyone passing by, it’s clear that he himself is the energy source. He’s effectual and magnetic, with an open spirit reflected in a soft face that’s almost childlike, despite his 54 years. A natural extrovert, Dean Carey is on this earth to be seen, heard and, evidently, to impart wisdoms to young, aspiring actors who may not have had the same kinds of opportunities if ACA had never opened.
He describes the atmosphere at the Actors Centre as vibrant, inclusive, playful, responsible but not indulgent. “We believe in the power of theatre as a transformational agent, for audiences to be reminded of their humanity. We hope audiences walk out of every show feeling better having been involved.”
The school itself is the product of Mr Carey’s experiences as a young actor in training.
“I was taught so badly, with tactics of fear and competition and obligation. The relationship I had with teachers was that they were the experts and we were the idiots, and that was the overarching paradigm we were in. No good creativity can come from that idiot/expert relationship.”
Growing up in the 1960s in suburban Melbourne, Mr Carey became engrossed in all things out of this world, as in television shows like Lost in Space, Gilligan’s Island, Batman and Star Trek. It was escapism in its purest form, a fascination that would eventually provide impetus for a life on the stage.
“I was 15 in this tiny world, living in a boring street in a boring suburb, and I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to be anywhere other than where I was. I wanted to be in an alternate reality.”
In the course of making his alternate reality more concrete, Mr Carey attended the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) after high school, graduating in 1983. He would go on to become a valued member of staff, and eventually take the job of Head of Acting.
His time at NIDA gave him a fresh perspective on education and the entertainment industry as a whole, and with a large bank of knowledge to share at just 27 years old, Mr Carey saw a looming gap in Sydney’s dramatic education and sought to fill it.
“I arrived back from the USA after teaching there in 1986 with the idea of starting an acting school. The way I saw it, there was nowhere for actors to go after they graduated to further their training. The best directors were only working and teaching at NIDA because there was nowhere else to teach. I thought, why shouldn’t actors who haven’t gone through NIDA have access to those teachers?”
As far as teaching goes, Mr Carey has a unique style that reflects both a deep passion for the acting craft and an understanding of just how delicate creativity can be. Having taught all over the country and offering his services overseas at various master classes in Europe and the United States, he appreciates the difference between nurturing creative talent and overbearing direction, knowing full well that while one yields stunning performances, the other can be detrimental to a student’s overall experience in the industry.
“Often you find teachers who use condescension or putting down or shaming. Some people keep their power base by being negative and critical, but it doesn’t mean you get better work from people by continuously pointing out their flaws. I was taught like that. It’s an environment I’d never want to replicate for my students.
Mr Carey says there is a co-creator atmosphere at the Actors Centre. “My students don’t have to impress me; they should always feel free, engaged, and at liberty to express themselves,” he says.
According to Jennifer West, Head of Voice at the Centre, Dean Carey is a source of constant inspiration for the students.
“He has this marvelous spirit that brings things alive. He’s inventive, imaginative and has a particular quality of being able to bring out fresh things in the actors. He gets performances out of these students that I never would have believed were in them. It’s total transformation.”
In the Centre’s auditorium, the lesson is coming to an end. After two hours of running, jumping, laughing, rolling on the floor and engaging with each other on levels they may not have even known about beforehand, the students are anything but exhausted. Mr. Carey blasts music over the PA to signify the end of class, and as if on cue, the students resume their uninhibited dancing while thanking their teacher.
“I love seeing people come to life and shine their light,” says Mr Carey as the actors shake and shimmy their way out of the theatre.
“I’ve always believed that acting is an adventure and that it’s a privilege to be a part of the profession. It’s a lot of hard work, but we may as well make as much of it fun as we can.”