4 March 2017. I meet Professor Leon Rubin for the first time. He is casual, relaxed, with a kind look in his eye. I’m a bundle of nerves, moderate courage and my brain overflowing with lines rehearsed over the past couple of weeks. After a quick hello and an exchange of pleasantries and documents, it’s time to show him what I’m made of. Zalfian Fuzi, a social media powerhouse and alumni of East 15 Acting School himself, is sitting beside him, and the two of them poke fun: Zalfian has told Leon ALL about me. Oh boy.
After I finish my two monologues, Prof Rubin asks me to try my Shakespeare piece again, with some direction from him. He says very little, but his words are clear, gentle and I decide to try again. As I start to speak I feel something in me connect, my heart is breaking and I begin to choke on the emotion. He stops me. He’s seen enough. I sit down in front of him and Zalfian. He says, “Welcome to the school.” My jaw drops. I can’t believe it. My life is about to change.
8 February 2018 on a sunny morning at Hatfields, an 18th Century house within the campus surrounds East 15 Acting School in Loughton, and after three flights of stairs, I enter Prof Rubin’s office. His silhouette is relaxed on the chair, and he is flanked by wall to wall of framed posters.
Prof Rubin has been the head of the famous drama school for 10 years, while simultaneously working on his own projects. As I begin the interview, my note-jotting skills are no match for the speed and passion behind his words. He has big plans for the Malaysian performing arts industry, with an eye on the world.
Stephanie Driesen (SD): Last year you visited Malaysia to hold auditions for East 15 Acting School and are doing so this year too. Most drama schools rely on students flying to the UK to audition. What made you feel that you needed to come in person?
Prof Rubin (LR): It depends on (the) demand. If the university receives many applications from any part of the world, then we respond. I would like to be able to visit every year. I’ve also stayed in contact with former East 15 students from Malaysia whom I follow on social media – Dato’ Zahim Albakri, Norzizi Zulkifli, Zalfian Fuzi – all who are doing very well.
SD: Yes, these alumni have been creating very interesting and diverse work. What do you believe sets East 15 graduates apart from the rest?
LR: East 15 Acting School has a few hallmarks. We really believe in pushing our graduates to be bold, enfranchised and be ready to take on the world. We have the most spin-off theatre companies created by graduates. The school supports the creation of these companies by providing training on topics such as company formation, marketing and fundraising. Some companies are funded with the help of the university. Last year, we had over 25 spin-off companies created. We are also the most international school in the UK by far, and we have the biggest theatre directing master’s programme in the whole of western Europe; with 30 directing students at any one time.
SD: How does East 15 Acting School equip its graduates for the changing climate of working in the various emerging forms of theatre, film and television?
LR: It has become very international, that there are so many co-productions and co-financing, that actors can be much more mobile, and in a way the training needs to reflect an international understanding. Most of the countries (in Asia) are very good at local traditions of dance and music but there’s not much highly developed western-style Stanislavski-based training. An actor these days needs an updated toolkit, able to handle many types of theatre and different ways of working on camera. At East 15 we pride ourselves on not only looking at the rear-view mirror when we’re driving forward, we want to look at what’s happening around us and in front of us.
SD: Now, a tough question for you Professor! In Asia, with parents being conservative with their children’s education, and most choosing to encourage more “stable” career paths, what perspectives can you share that would encourage them to invest in more creative fields, namely in theatre?
LR: When you train at an institution like East 15 Acting School, there is a huge amount of work on personal development as well as skills development. We are very conscious of helping students grow and develop their EQ and human interactive skills. It’s an adjunct part of what we do, so that graduates leave not only with a well-honed skill set, but are much more developed human beings, able to interact with greater ease across global cultures. I would say it’s a good rounded education for someone to function in the very fast world we live in. And I think that’s something parents might want to understand.
The other thing is, we have related courses available such as Stage and Production Management, which is a highly employable career. Everyone who graduates from the course goes straight into work. In addition to that, we have a new course starting this year in Creative Producing which is for those who want to produce and lead companies, and we cover management, marketing, fundraising skills, marrying business with a creative input. We also encourage students to create their own work, and not just sit and wait for a job that may or may not come up, and I think that’s the future. It’s not just art, you also need the business skills.
As we conclude the interview, Prof Rubin remarks that one day, with the right partnership opportunities, it would be a dream come true for East 15 Acting School to set up base in South East Asia, with Malaysia as an ideal choice.
I thank him and he makes his way to another meeting, leaving me to admire the posters on the walls. I realise this is a hall of fame: posters from productions he’s directed and produced. Sitting in his office, Prof Rubin is surrounded by his life’s work. His long career spans the globe; boasting Shakespeare productions on the West End and Broadway, and new and adapted works in Canada, China, Thailand, Japan, Greece, USA, Ireland, Chile and Hong Kong.
Only last year he was in the region directing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” in Bali, starring Malaysian talents Razif Hashim and Cheryl Tan.
East 15 Acting School is holding auditions in Malaysia for the following courses; MA Acting, MFA Acting, MFA Theatre Directing, and BA Acting. This will take place on 4 March 2018 at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. To book an audition slot, email email@example.com To find out more about East 15 Acting School, click here!