Helen Howard and Michael Futcher offer acting coaching services across a range of media, both solo and as a team, including feature films, television, stage productions and tertiary acting courses. They also coach privately, specializing in working with students preparing to audition for NIDA, QUT, WAAPA and other training institutions as well as with professionals who wish to hone their skills. Each service is tailored to suit the project and the individual. For screen, stage, and in private, they bring their wealth of experience to assist actors and directors with challenges in the physically, emotionally and technically demanding areas of their work.
Helen and Michael’s film and television coaching credits include: The Family Law, Flammable Children, Mental, Slide, Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Ruins, Answered by Fire, Jeopardy, Peter Pan, Misery Guts and The Sleepover Club. They have also worked as drama/dialect coaches extensively with Queensland Theatre, La Boite Theatre Company, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Griffith University, University of Southern Queensland and with many private students throughout Queensland and Australia.
“Generous, helpful and knowledgeable. I was so fortunate to have Michael and Helen as my acting coaches. Under their warm guidance, I was able to develop the skills required to transition smoothly between scenes whilst filming The Family Law. They were always willing to go out of their way to provide extra support. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with them again.” Trystan Go (playing Benjamin Law in “The Family Law” aired on SBS, 2015)
Whilst workplace-based projects are usually in the support of child artists, mature actors and singers can also benefit from independent advice and an “ideas and resources bank” in the shape of a friendly, confidential assistant both at work and in private. For screen projects, Helen and Michael work very closely with the director to fully encompass and understand the vision behind the story-telling, and the scale of assistance and support the director requires. They believe strongly in a unified approach, and in the imperative that their work facilitates and enhances the director’s primary relationship with the actor, a conduit which must always be the first consideration in any supplementary work on or off set.
QUT, WAAPA, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY and NIDA audition coaching.
Michael and Helen offer one-on-one sessions, focussing on preparing students for tertiary drama course auditions. Whether it is a series of sessions or a one-off practise before the big day, Michael and Helen will tailor their work to the needs of the individual.
Michael and Helen offer personalized screen test coaching for a range of ages, focussing on developing naturalness in delivery, spontaneity and a relaxed screen presence. Through working on set and in auditions with a variety of film and tv directors as well as casting directors, Michael and Helen offer the student invaluable insights into what is expected of the auditioner in a screen test, and how best to prepare for one.
At their home studio, Helen and Michael offer a comfortable environment for actors to refresh their craft or to eradicate blocks, be they in the realm of script/text analysis, physical stiffness and lack of connection to the material and reduced emotional access, or more obscure issues, requiring investigation, which adversely affect the actor’s ability to function or to secure employment. They use exercises and apply concepts gleaned from their own work in the industry, with the overall goal of facilitating a sense of authenticity for the actor, a sense that their potential is being tapped naturally, so that they can embody characters without crippling self-consciousness intervening. Every actor is different, every challenge unique, and Helen and Michael personalise their approach to assist the actor to improve their craft as well as diagnose blocks, and to offer effective techniques to deal with them.
Whilst her skills were honed at schools and universities, conducting acting workshops, writing workshops and directing pieces, Helen began to coach actors professionally whilst on the set of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Having been employed to coach actors requiring accents for the story, the producers perceived a need for a very young member of the cast to have a guide and mentor in their first role in a major feature film. The result was the development of camera technique exercises for very young actors, and an overall approach with shortcuts and fun tools to employ when time is short and tension high. Helen forged a very happy and productive working relationship with the young actor, and a trusting, positive connection with the director, Michael Apted, and producer, Mark Johnson. The young actor continues to work in the industry alongside continuing with regular education.
Helen began working with the Slide team very early on, at audition stage. The producers were creating an exciting multi-platform comedy drama series about teenage “first experiences”. The group auditions were challenging and exciting, with approximately 600 young hopefuls coming before the panel in one day. Helen ensured that every voice was heard, every face seen, and every chance was given to the actors to impress the producers. The next step was working with director, Shawn Seet, and the short-listed actors, preparing scenes and interacting during takes to stretch them and explore the material in a relaxed, but exciting session. Shawn Seet handed a large percentage of the rehearsal period of 2 weeks to Helen, whilst he was busy with pre-production and auditioning more cast members. He wanted a core cast of actors who were ready for the challenges of the script – that when the characters walked onto the set they would change its energy, explode expectations; through improvisation, discussion, and acting exercises, the actors (ranging in age from 18 to 22) lost any inhibitions, found their own unpredictable sparks and started to trust one another in the work, and to own it. During the shoot, Helen was a full-time on-set presence, forming a resource for actors and director, and a conduit for the high-energy input of all parties, and acting as a consistent link as new directors, Garth Maxwell and Tori Garrett, arrived to take over their episodes.
Having worked successfully with P J Hogan on Peter Pan, in 2002/3, as accent coach, Helen was delighted to be called in, now as acting coach, during pre-production, to assist with the final casting and coaching of the five extraordinary young sisters in this quirky, comedy drama feature film. From 12 to 17, the young actors were encouraged to let loose their imaginations on their characters and their world – so Helen’s job was to stir them up, help them discern when to be calm, to be unrestrained in scene work, to explore the possibilities in their character’s psyche, and mine the script. Helen also found it important to thread through the work the concept of respect for the wider crew and their responsibilities, without allowing the young actors to be overawed by the sheer size of the operation, including people and equipment, which can be overwhelming on set. This approach facilitated a sense of unity with the whole production for the young actors, that they belonged, and were part of the environment. Again, the presence of an acting coach who is serving both director and actor, assists with meeting deadlines as well as the demands of the story-telling, by preparing the actors prior to shooting a scene, by improving communication and generally enhancing the experience on set.
In 2016 Helen was approached by Stephan Elliot (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) to work with a young actor he was interested in casting as his younger “self” in a semi-autobiographical film about neighbouring Australian families in the 1970s. Chatting on the phone about the story to be shot, and sharing similar mad-cap, life-altering experiences from in her own childhood in the UK, Helen knew instantly that she felt an affinity with the project, and Stephan, and readily agreed to work with the 14 year old actor. To their mutual surprise, it turned out that Helen had appeared with the actor in a play only months before, and had a deep respect and admiration for him. Everything seemed to fit. A 3-hour session with the very promising young actor resulted the following week, and a tense period ensued of wondering if their productive work had “freed him up” into a released and ready state for his call-back with Stephan. Helen had worked with the actor on a connection to the material on a deeper level, a sense of surrendering to it, owning it, without any (quite normal!) self-consciousness of his own creeping in – which might cloud the very same quality in the character. To her delight, Stephan phoned to say that the call-back had confirmed his confidence in the actor, and so the role was filled. Helen was invited to assist Stephan in an intensive two-week rehearsal period in a warehouse, now transformed into a temporary film studio, putting young auditionees and cast through their paces, and honing their ensemble skills, and camera techniques, ready for a fast and demanding shoot. This work also involved helping to form family familiarity for these first time actors, with their on-screen parents, Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Radha Mitchell and Julian McMahon – playing, using theatre games and sometimes lunatic long-form improvisations. The generosity of the experienced and gifted senior actors combined with the audacity and energy (not to mention talent) of the young ones, resulted in hours of creative fuel for Stephan, and much satisfaction for Helen in helping to facilitate the connections in the team. Charismatic and unpredictable, Stephan proved to be an inexhaustible fount of creativity, demanding and generous, humane and yet wickedly humorous with it – and Helen felt that in him she’d met another inspiring director whose trust in her ability with actors set her free to be an asset to the project; his instinctive and developed skills taught her many new things, and upheld other principles in her own practice – perhaps most resoundingly “to thine ownself be true” (not, of course, how Stephan would express himself, but very much his message!). Once on set, Helen made regular appearances to help support the burgeoning confidence in the younger actors. She awaits the release of the film with eager anticipation!
As a seasoned theatre director, Michael’s experience in script analysis and in assisting actors to build their character is extensive. He has spent thirty years conducting acting classes and workshops for children, students, adults and professional actors, devising and applying exercises and games to release their creative spark, their confidence and potency as actors. Like Helen, he conducts private sessions from home as well as being available to coach actors on screen and stage.
Michael enjoyed the double duty of playing a father to a main character and coaching the eight young stars, and many co-stars, in this globally successful teen series. For young people employed for months on a busy rehearsal and shooting schedule, the endurance required might be their first exciting but overwhelming experience of the potential demands of the job they love to do. On set life can be punishing physically, mentally and emotionally, and a more experienced, trusted person on set to guide them is invaluable. Michael worked with several directors during the shoot – ensuring a happy, smooth-running timetable for the young actors, as well as allowing them to bring their roles to vivid life.
This powerful television drama posed an enormous challenge for writer, director and actor, not to mention the entire crew, bringing to life the struggles in East Timor during the turbulent period of the elections of 1999, where some of humanity’s darkest, rawest human experiences and emotions were displayed. Michael’s task was to assist first time adult East Timorese actors to tell their characters’ stories without self-consciousness, with the same emotional freedom expected from seasoned actors, and to do so safely and imaginatively. Barely a single member of the Timorese cast had not been touched in some way by the tragic true-life events portrayed in the story, and great sensitivity had to be applied to this very different type of acting coaching assignment. What eventuated during the shoot was an extraordinary experience for all concerned, and Michael was bowled over by the talent of the Timorese cast who rose to the occasion with grace, creativity and courage.
Michael worked in league with Helen on this new comedy drama, screened in January/February 2016, and in June/July 2017 on SBS. Their roles consisted of, in the first instance, working with auditionees in the call-back stage of auditions for the major roles, then in rehearsals working with the cast and directors Jonathon Brough, Ben Chessell and Sophie Miller on developing a family rapport through improvisations, games and character-building exercises. Before and during filming however, Michael and Helen’s primary responsibilities lay with preparing the younger members of the cast for their scenes every day, and inspiring in them a sense of fun and confidence from which they were ready for anything! This remarkably hard-working and talented group of young actors distinguished themselves each time they were on set, and were an absolute pleasure to work with.