A Tough Act
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Duration: 10 x 22 mins
TOUGH ACT is the first series to see inside Toi Whakaari, New Zealand’s top drama school. It follows the 2005 intake of students as they embark on their first year of a three-year acting course.
For the first time, our cameras follow the lives of the 22 students, all in their early 20s, at the Wellington-based school. Toi Whakaari has a reputation for training some of NZ’s top acting talent, and this is a rare insight into its often unusual methods of turning youngsters into stars.
It all starts with the highly competitive auditions. Hundreds of youngsters from all over NZ, and from all walks of life, apply – but there are only 22 places. While some stand out as having star potential, others clearly don’t make the grade! At the recall weekend, 48 are put through a series of gruelling workshops, as the tutors try to decide who’s got the star quality they’re after.
There’s elation and tears as the final letters go out – some face the bitter disappointment of rejection, but for those who’ve been accepted, it’s a chance to pursue dreams of fame and fortune. As they head for a new life in Wellington, many are leaving home for the first time. Little do they know the tough challenges that lie ahead and that will test them to their limits...
The 22 trainees are a diverse group – there’s a former lawyer, an auto-electrician, a computer programmer, a Sunday school teacher, and two children of well-known actresses. One of the students is hoping to make a fresh start after growing up in an environment of abuse and alcoholism. Another is determined to make the most of a second chance at the school after being kicked out once before.
Our cameras follow them through their first year of training, as these budding stars get to grips with life at the school. As they go through voice, movement, acting and singing classes, the tutors push them hard physically and mentally. But the constant scrutiny proves overwhelming for many, and the students’ inner fears quickly surface. Tensions spring up within the group, as they jostle to prove themselves whilst adjusting to the pressures and extreme tiredness.
In the mid-year assessments, the students are told some brutal home truths. Several are disciplined for laziness and bad behaviour. For many, it’s a big wake-up call – and one student’s future at Toi Whakaari hangs in the balance, as the tutors question whether she really wants to be at the school.
As the year goes on, the intense environment of the school means that the students inevitably form intimate relationships, both as friends and as lovers. And juggling a social life with taking on part-time jobs to pay their way all adds to the pressure. The training also intensifies as the tutors push them to hone their skills as actors.
At the end of the first year, it’s clear that many have changed – physically and emotionally. Some are already starting to look like future stars, and are still excited about their dreams of making it big. But others still have a long way to go of they’re to ultimately succeed in a tough industry that relies on talent, looks – and a lot of luck!