Finding The Right Acting Class
Posted on: January 10, 2012 in category: Steve's Blog
So, the new year has got you brimming with motivation. You're focused, engaged and you want to get in a class. But how do you find a class that's right for you? Before you go spending all kinds of money on classes that over-promise and under-deliver, here are some tips that might help.
THE RIGHT TECHNIQUE
Acting teachers are often guilty of desperately clinging to the validity of the technique they teach. When you stake your honor and your mortgage payments on one technique, you're probably not going to be super objective about it. You may even talk smack about another technique in order to build yours up. But let's be clear- there is no one, correct way to act. Every actors responds best to a different technique (or an amalgam of a few). No technique can guarantee that you'll book work or be a brilliant actor. If a teacher tells you that her or his way is the only way, walk away. You should probably investigate every techniques and discover which one resonates with you. More than likely you'll take little bits of goodness from a number of different techniques. Take what you like and leave the rest, as they say.
THE RIGHT TEACHER
1. If a teacher says she or he can make you a star, you're being lied to. If a teacher says she or he can make you a brilliant actor, you're being lied to. No teacher can turn you into Meryl Streep any more than a basketball coach can turn you into Kobe Bryant. Like a trainer at a gym, a good teacher shows you exercises and a form that allow your pre-existing talent- your unique voice- to emerge and thrive within a world of a play. You have the tea and a good teacher shows you how to craft a cup to pour it in. Yes, some teachers have access to agents, casting directors, etc, but those people will only consider you if you're talented and look the part. When it comes down to it, any claim other than "I can show you how to discover and express your own voice in unique ways" is over-promising.
2. A teacher should let you audit one class for free so you can get a sense of the class and decide if it's a good fit for you (audit a number of different classes before you find what you like). If you have to pay up front, it may not be kosher. I can think of one teacher I know who makes you pay to audit but I think it's bad form and if I were you I'd ask to check the class out for free.
3. When you're in class, your teacher should be a teacher, not an actor. Yes, it is remarkably helpful if the person with whom you are studying is, or has been, a working actor. That practical, on-the-ground knowledge is very useful. But when teachers are teaching they need to remove their acting hat. It should not be about them; their ego, their technique, their disappointing career, whatever. You don’t pay a teacher to indulge her or his ego, career or anything else for that matter. Teachers are there to train you. Nothing else. Anything that a teacher does in class should be in the interest of training you to be a better actor.
And while we're on the subject, great actors don't necessarily make great teachers. Michael Jordan is not Phil Jackson. Jerry Rice is not Vince Lombardi. Wayne Gretzky is not Scotty Bowman.
4. Assume that any good teacher will push you. You’re wasting your money if your teacher isn’t pushing you to be better. This doesn’t mean that you should ever feel physically unsafe or be humiliated in class (see #3 above). But you need to be pushed. The type of profound progress needed to succeed as an actor is never achieved within one’s comfort zone and a teacher should take you to a place of discomfort and do it with nothing but care and your progress in mind.
5. Don’t assume that a teacher is competent simply because she or he has a connection to Strasberg, Hagen, Meisner, etc. “She studied with the guy who studied with Strasberg!” It’s really quite meaningless. Those great teachers taught a lot of folks and being at the foot of a master teacher does not mean that person has the same gift for teaching that the master possessed. Even if all the knowledge of the master teacher is transferred to a pupil, there is only one Sanford Meisner. Each teacher is her or his own person with her or his own history, sensibilities and intuition. Find a teacher that works for you, challenges you and brings out the best in you, regardless of their lineage.
MAXIMIZING YOUR TRAINING
1. You mustn't wait to be taught. It's not enough to sign up for class, pay and attend. Be an active student. Choose to take risks- risk screwing it up, risk saying and doing the wrong thing, risk not being enough. And pay close attention to the other student's work. Often times you can learn as much by observing them as you can from being on stage yourself. Don't check out when you're back in your seat.
2. Avoid Guru-ism. Understand that your goal is not to please the teacher. Your goal is to grow as an actor and a human being. It's not about the teacher, it's about you. Don't turn your teacher into mommy or daddy, give up your power (as we actors are known to do) and strive only to make them proud of you. All that tired, old stuff keeps you powerless and does nothing to further your craft or your career. And if you find a teacher who encourages such behavior, be wary.
3. Engage in the community of artists in the class. I'm not saying you have to be pals and go out for drinks with the actors in class every night, but it might not be a bad thing sometimes. There can be a community in a class that allows actors to talk with one another about the process and the business, to collaborate, commiserate, etc. Be open to it.
All that said, don’t hesitate! Sure, take some time finding a class that resonates with you. But start training as soon as you find one. It's imperative that you keep your skills sharp, stay engaged in the work and keep growing as an actor and a person. If you're not on stage or on set, you should be in a class.