Sophie Mathisen

Guest post: Actress Sophie Mathisen

Actress Sophie Mathisen is currently completing her MA in Screen Acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London whilst in pre-production for her first feature credit DRAMA as writer, director and actress. Here, she reflects on her time at the VCA and how actor training has influenced her filmmaking process.

About Sophie Mathisen

Sophie graduated from the Victorian College of Arts with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art (Acting) in 2008. Since that time she has worked as an actress in Australia for the Queensland Theatre Company, Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, HotHouse, Tantrum Theatre, StoreRoom and Playwriting Australia. Awards include CONDA (won, Best Actress, Summer of the Aliens dir. Lachlan Philpott) and Green Room (nominated, Best Ensemble, dir. Daniel Schlusser). In 2012 she was the co-director of Starving Wolf, a writing and performance collective and was awarded an artist residency as part of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority Rocks PopUp, where she workshopped new written works with some of Australia’s finest acting and writing talents. In 2013, Sophie commenced an MA in Screen Acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, working both in front and behind the camera. Sophie has written and directed four short films whilst at RCSSD. Sophie is currently in pre-production of DRAMA, her first feature credit as writer, director and actress.

Sophie’s reflection

My time at VCA was a time of experimentation both personally and professionally. I arrived fresh from high school and left a completely different person. As Richard Murphet told me upon graduation, he had witnessed as many changes in me as different hair colours. The great thing about the school is that it provides you with a safe environment in which to test different artistic models to decide what kind of performer and artist you want to be. Jacques Le Coq said to his first crop of students that he wanted to make artists, not actors and I think that the lecturers at VCA have the same mindset.

It’s encouraging looking to the careers of VCA alumni and recognising we are an extremely resourceful, flexible and fearless bunch of people. The road after graduation is most commonly rocky and I’m always emboldened seeing others taking creative sidesteps in order to continue forward. The desire to create and to be at the forefront of creation outweighs the desire to have an easy life and I believe if you want to get things done, you must be willing to get your hands dirty. Spending months rolling around on the pulse floor certainly makes you unafraid of grazed knees or dirty clothes.

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So far, in the five years since graduation I have worked as performer, playwright, dramaturge, arts administrator, educator, director and manager of an independent arts space. VCA really invites you to make the arts industry the backbone of your life, and I mean that in the best possible way. Leaving college as a part of a community rather than a cohort is an invaluable resource. Suddenly you have a network of provocateurs to push you onwards when you want to retire and comrades beside you to celebrate the successes and commiserate the false starts. It’s wonderful to know that the people on the journey with you at drama school shape you in a profound and lasting way.

I am currently completing my Masters at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Being back in a training context I’ve gained insight into just how high the standard of VCA tuition really is. An environment where technical faculty is balanced with creative scrutiny is rare and makes you unafraid to challenge your instincts and question your motivations. When I contrast my Australian contemporaries to their foreign counterparts, there is a beautiful madness that is inimitable. That spark of creative risk-taking combined with the grit and determination to persist is an alchemic specific to a VCA graduate and something I’ve been very keen to incorporate in my film. Tom Wren (VCA Acting Company 2006) is starring in the film with me and having a shared vocabulary makes the experience of collaboration focussed and rigorous. I approached him very early on with a first draft of the script and could develop it openly without fear of reprisal. In fact, I think being an active part of the process has strengthened his commitment to the project, because often it’s the most enjoyable part.

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The process of coming into filmmaking has been driven by the need to understand a part of my craft that wasn’t readily accessible whilst at VCA. I’ve found that despite my status as rookie when it comes to certain technical aspects I am in possession of highly sought after attributes in the film industry: a strong appreciation for different or alternative narrative structures, an integrated understanding of space and how to manipulate it and of course the ability to discourse about an actor’s process and performance. It’s simply a matter of reframing the tools I have for the application. I engage the camera the same way I would a live audience, and at the end of the day, I believe it’s about having equal parts respect and challenge for your audience. It’s exciting that my approach to the medium of cinema is unlike any of the directors I have come in contact with and rather than shying away from that, I want to delve further into it. I see my difference as something to be explored, investigated and tested. It’s all learning and I have no doubt that DRAMA will be the first of many forays into film.

I have nothing but fondness for the school despite the difficulties I faced whilst there. It gave me the confidence to imagine myself in a number of different roles and approach each one with passion and sobriety. I think about the time I spent at VCA as my artistic incubation period and the guidance and mentorship I received there has been and remains the cornerstone of my artistic practice.

DRAMA will be shot exclusively in Paris in July/August with post-production completed in Australia in December 2013. In 2014 DRAMA will be entered into all major international festivals. For more information on the project please head to www.afilmcalleddrama.com. DRAMA is also on Facebook at DRAMA – Film and Twitter @filmcalleddrama

A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.