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Sport or art? The Swiss
ball can be both
Neil Whyte (above) started in the gym, and
wound up on the stage. Now he’s the world’s
premier Swiss ball performer. Just ask YouTube.
If it involves leaping between, squatting down
or pushing up on big colourful balls, he can do
it better than anyone. He holds three Guinness
world records, and is soon to attempt a fourth.
As a personal trainer, Neil was among the
first in Perth to adopt the Swiss Ball (invented
in Italy, perfected by the Swiss) as a tool to
improve balance, core strength and back pain.
“Then it became an artistic performance tool
for me,” he says. “I started doing some shows
around the place – half time at Wildcats games
and sports medical conferences – and it landed
me on TV networks around the world.”
He’s become one of the 50,000-odd people
each year seeking the chance to bag a Guinness
world record. Only 1000 or so get selected to
try, he says, and then you’ve got to actually pull
it off. Neil heads to Italy in April to make his
latest attempt: squat jumping across ten balls in
the fastest possible time.
“I’m clocking at about nine or 10 seconds,
less than a second per jump,” says the man who
rates Swiss balls as the best way to maintain both
physical and cognitive health into old age. But
he’s a performer at heart. “I won’t do the jump
in the fastest time I can, because all the other TV
networks will ask me to go on their shows and do
better. I have to leave a bit in the tank.”
Will Smith’s kids are regulars. Kiefer Sutherland’s
are g oing this year. Debra Winger, Carrie Fisher
and Magic Johnson have all sent their offspring
to the prestigious French Woods summer camp
in New York. This year, Perth siblings Fern and
Wayne Nicholson are g oing too – to teach the
sprogs of America’s acting elite. The pair are
co-founders of the new Nicholsons’ Academy of
Screen Acting (NASA) in Perth – “for the actor
who really wants to strive”. With its future in
mind, Fern is sharpening her schmoozing skills
for the Stateside encounter in June.
What’s in store for you at French Woods?
It’s a three-month camp, and it’s huge. There’s
400 teachers and 700 kids. They teach horse
riding, water skiing, modelling, costume. We’re
teaching theatre and film, which is the main
component. It’s busy. We only get two days
off every three weeks, and every three weeks
we do 13 to 16 shows, where all the celebrities
come to watch their kids.
Whose kids do you really want to teach?
Steve Buscemi, Forest Whitaker and Jon Landau
are all on the wish list. Ultimately it’s about
making contacts so we can start building an
industry in Perth. It would be a dream to get
a celebrity to come and do some stuff for us
at NASA. We’re g oing to grab any opportunity
that might come up.
You nor mally teach adults. How will
this be different?
Imagination. Children are fabulous with that. They
have this amazing gift of being able to see things
that aren’t there. Imagination allows the freedom
to flow. Actors need to stop taking things so
seriously, and remember why they’re doing what
they’re doing. Kids are not afraid. It’s only when
we get older that we start to put up walls.
What do you expect to bring back
from the experience?
I’m excited about meeting the other teachers,
and learning about the kids’ dreams and
ambitions. I’ve also made arrangements to
visit the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute
and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New
York, to chat to their teachers and look at their
classes. They’re mentors for NASA, so I’m
really looking forward to bringing some more
knowledg e back home.
French Woods camp in New York is the place to be in
summer if you’re the child of a celebrity. Now two Perth
acting teachers are joining the staff, to train the next
generation of movie stars
Fern Nicholson is heading Stateside
to train acting’s up-and-comers.
words Megan Anderson
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