The BGB Blog

Industry News and Insights from Risa Bramon Garcia & Steve Braun


The Power of ‘Abandon Script’!

Posted by Steve Braun on April 03, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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By: Will Doughty

Improvisation training is the first thing any commercial agent and casting director will tell an actor to get on their resume. We knows this. Recently improv has started to flood into mainstream Television and Film. Starting with Waiting for Guffman and continuing with any Judd Apatow Production. Today actors flock to get training at multiple improv schools to “get it on the resume”. It’s fun for awhile; then the inevitable question occurs, “How will this help me?” “Practically speaking, how is this going to book me a job? I’m an actor, not an improviser! I’m not getting paid to perform a 15 minute set at 11pm on a Thursday. How can improv help me book television work or a role in a movie?”

For 16 years I’ve been asking that question while training and performing improv. I am dedicated to answering that question. I’m obsessed with improv and love scripted work. At the BGB Studio, Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun gave me the opportunity to try something new. The Missing Link. The answer to the question, “How will this help me?”.

Below are 7 reasons how improvisation is vital training for any actor. (no late night show required)

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1) Listening: It sounds so simple and we all do it. Or do we? Improv demands that you redefine HOW you listen. How deeply do you listen with your full being? In improv, it is a MUST. There is no script. What your scene partner does and says is the most important thing in the world. My first couple of improv shows were a blur of scene partners’ mouths moving while my brain shouted, “How are ‘watermelons’ funny?!” The moment I stopped thinking and started listening, the “head noise” disappeared. I could hear words coming out of my scene partner’s mouth and I was able to play with their line about watermelons. Listening helped me slow down, open up to others, and respond honestly. Who knew?

2) Choices: This is one of the primal “muscles” you possess. In this town your “choice muscle,” that part of you that expresses your unique point of view should be in peak state. We know that the competition is stiff and ultimately what separates talent from the crowd is the ability to make clear, committed choices. When there is no script, no blocking, no props, you MUST make choices. This muscle grows to Olympian strength when working out without a script on a regular basis.

3) Truth: Truth is the ONLY thing people are looking for when casting. “Do we believe you?” “Are you being truthful?” It is my deep belief that Improv is not just for “being funny,” for “comedy,” or for figuring out a “button” to an audition. It is the path to finding your truth. When you are in a scene and you are reacting from your truth, you will have a massive effect on a room. More than any pre-planned line delivery or trick out there. I have seen audiences burst into uproarious laughter, or shed tears when watching someone speak their truth.

4) Confidence: After getting past that initial panic attack of getting on stage with nothing but yourself and a scene partner, Improv ignites a fire that has been waiting dormant inside. That fire is confidence. You walk onto a stage, or into any casting room and are ready for anything to happen. You forge nerves of steel and can jump into any given circumstance with all of your heart and soul. “Bring it on!” you will cry. “I can do this on the fly, now I have words? Watch out!” I can’t tell you how awesome a feeling it is to command a stage. The best feeling is standing on stage in front of a packed house waiting for something happen and making it all up on the spot. This is a huge confidence builder.

5) Freedom: Anything can happen in an improvised scene. ANYTHING. Embracing the infinite possibilities enhances your imagination. You start to grow wild with ideas. You feel the shackles of “doing it right” drop from your mind and you are able to enter every scene with wild abandonment. That freedom permeates your scripted work and you begin acting with text as freely as you would when improvising.

JJJ-KW5fTXDrcwdcDtu2438tjyADNS7bSv_0D3LXtHg6) Presence: “This actor has a commanding presence.” Presence is what everyone casting director to wants you to have. How do we develop a commanding presence? Improv. Seriously. Improvised scenes force you to stay present with your scene partner each and every moment of the scene. You have to slow down and listen (there it is again) with all of your being. When you do, the result is a commanding presence. It’s a beautiful side effect to the improv medicine.

7) Relationship: When you have nothing on stage but another actor, guess what happens? You connect with the other person. Magic right? By doing so, you create a relationship. I’m not talking about: Doctor/Patient, or Boss/Employee. I mean you find out HOW the two of you feel, think, and speak to each other. How you relate is in the details, and everyone relates differently. How I relate to my mother is different from how I would relate to a nun. I have a very different relationship with each one. I’d feel safer cursing in front of a nun, FYI. When you improvise you develop the knee jerk reflex to always make the scene about the other person. See what happens when you make your next audition all about the reader.

Improvisation offers the kind of practice that directly relates to success on stage, on set or in an audition room. There’s a reason why you need it on your resume. It’s the kind of work that allows you to show up fully, listen intently, want desperately, and make strong, truthful choices that affect people.

Will Doughty teaches Abandon Script, an improv class for the scripted actor, Sunday mornings at The BGB Studio. Click HERE for more info on the class!

How To Know When It’s Time To Give Up Acting

Posted by Steve Braun on March 12, 2014  /   Posted in Wellbeing

By: Steve BraunSad Clown

Your ship hasn’t come in. While it feels like you’ve been at this for a long time, you don’t have much to show for it, especially compared to that actor who you came up with and who now has her own TV show. You’re starting to doubt the choices you’ve made. The reality of working a restaurant job (or its equivalent) and sharing a small apartment when your contemporaries are buying houses and raising kids is weighing on you. Maybe acting isn’t for you. Maybe it’s time to give up the dream.

But how do you know for sure? You had so much hope in the beginning. While that blind hope has been killed by cold practicality,kathryn-joosten you still have moments in class, on stage on a random Thursday night, or at the odd audition, when it all feels so right. When you feel like you can do this. So, you go back and forth between investing even more in your acting career and considering moving back home to start a new life. One moment you’ll think, “Well, Gene Hackman, Jane Lynch, Kathryn Joosten, Samuel Jackson and Jon Hamm didn’t hit it big till later in their lives,” and the next you’ll be paralyzed with bitterness and hopelessness, picking up extra shifts to pay the rent that month.

That struggle is one that every actor engages in, but that thought process is inherently flawed. The truth is that being an actor is not something one gives up. It is who you are. It is a deep need that exists in every molecule of your body to explore the depths of the human emotional experience and then find human connection in the expression of those feelings. Giving it up would be like giving up hunger or thirst or the need for air. And it’s arrogant to think that you could.

Of course here we must draw a distinction between acting as a deep need on the one hand, and the desire to derive validation and piles of money from acting on the other. It’s an obvious distinction but one that most actors don’t make. Often actors, who presumably started acting because they were profoundly moved on an emotional level by the magical human experience of acting, move to LA and all of a sudden think that acting means fame and fortune. Then if they don’t get the big house and have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers in the first few years, they’re ready to stop acting. “I gave it a shot but it didn’t happen for me.” This is ridiculous. Reducing acting to a title measured by money and fans – even if you have those things – is a dangerous game that kills your craft and stunts your career.

i_love_acting_key_chain-ref1480cae6b9474d8c0cb940c08eac12_x7j3z_8byvr_512Of course every actor has to figure out how to make a living, and often that means working some other job. But that doesn’t mean you stop acting. You couldn’t if you tried. It’s who you are. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, you have to have other interests. It makes you a better actor. Even the most successful actors have other things going on. Children’s charities, Aid to Darfur, raising kids, producing, writing, directing, painting, teaching. Have a full life, have multiple sources of income, act whenever and however you can. But being an actor is not a choice.

You are an actor. The sooner you commit fully to that notion and give yourself permission to be an actor – whether you’ve booked a pilot this year or not – the sooner you’ll achieve the career that you want. And then your career will slow down, and then it will pick up again. Then slow again. You’ll manage the ups and downs with a full life, but you will always be an actor. No one can take that from you. Even you.

Check out this article on Backstage!

This Ain’t No Party. This AIn’t No Disco. It’s Pilot Season!

Posted by Steve Braun on February 21, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

By Risa Bramon Garcia & Steve Braun

What-a-fabulous-partyThe bumpin’, VIP after-party that is pilot season is officially happening. It is so on right now. Multiple times a day insanely talented, stunningly beautiful actors are knocking it out of the park in front of brilliant show runners and savvy executives who have their fingers on the pulse of the next big thing in television. This party is off the hook. And guess what? You’re not invited. Oh, sure, you can drive by the party in your ’95 Nissan, looking longingly through double-paned windows at the fabulous people in evening wear inside. But you’re not getting past the velvet rope. Look at them. They’re having the time of their lives. They’re at the center of the universe. They matter. And whether you’re not auditioning at all, or are auditioning and not booking, pilot season makes you feel like you don’t matter.

While it can seem like the most exclusive club around, that’s only the image of pilot season painted by that voice in your head.affraid It wants you to believe that there’s a magical land of talent, beauty, and celebrity that you’ve never been to. But the truth is something altogether different. The truth is that pilot season as you know it is a myth. There’s no party. “Pilot Season” is a term to describe 120 days during which artists and business people, fueled by hope and fear, scramble to create between 22-50 minutes of network television that will be different than thousands of TV pilots that have failed miserably before theirs. The creator of a show hopes that her show is worthy of respect and acclaim, the executive desperately hopes that this show will attract millions of viewers, the agents define this season in much the same way big Chain stores identify Black Friday, and the actors hope this pilot will make them mega TV stars so they won’t have to do pilot season next year.

Practically speaking, they’re afraid of failing and the total loss of self worth that comes with it. And that fear is warranted. No one is safe in the elementary school dodge ball game that is pilot season. Out of many pilots that are made in March-April, twenty are picked up, ten make it past Christmas, and five last to season two. There is no formula (even though everyone thinks they’ve found one) so everyone is driving in the dark. No one knows what the audience will like. Heck, most people don’t even know what the network brass will respond to. Casting directors, show-runners and directors follow Hollywood’s favorite actor-of-the-week only to second guess themselves, and then scramble to work through the studio and network hierarchy, trading actors like playing cards, and often selling out their original vision in the process. Compromises abound in the pursuit of a product that will get on a network. Everyone is guessing, hoping and waiting for someone to give them some assurance that what they’re doing is working. And 99% of the time that assurance never comes.

Point is, the cool kids at the high society party you’re not invited to are as unsure as all of us. We’re all trying to figure it out as we go.

emmys-bryan-cranston-aaron-paulWe are in the midst of another pilot season and it’s NOT about your artistry. It’s about getting a show on the air with names, faces, the next hot 20-something guy, the new Aussie, etc. The execs can’t agree on what ex-movie star will be right for a role, even if the academy award winning director or show creator wants him. The star of a hit sitcom that lasted 10 years on the air can barely get an audition. The actress who won an Emmy 5 years ago is struggling to get a meeting with a writer producer she helped launch not that long ago. The Oscar nominated director is drowning in decision-by-committee. The cast members of Breaking Bad are doing alright for now; Bryan Cranston is nestled in a Broadway show, far from the feeding frenzy of pilot season.

This season isn’t kind to actors. It’s not supposed to be. It’s goal is not kindness and respect. Or even giving you your shot. It’s about business. It’s about putting together a pilot that gets on the air… and the competition is fierce. The networks (pilot season is entirely about the networks) are competing with groundbreaking new cable shows, series from Netflix and Amazon, not to mention infinite reality programming. They have to satisfy their advertisers; they have to grab their audiences fast and hard. Now that movie stars are seeing both money and creative satisfaction in television, there aren’t many roles left for regular working actors. But the good news is: There are more roles in TV than ever before. Pilot season may offer some, but many of them come in other ways and at other times. And Fox, as we know, has abandoned pilot season this year altogether.

As much as your heart yearns for commercial success as an actor, pilot season absolutely cannot be about booking a pilot. Beyond i_love_acting_key_chain-ref1480cae6b9474d8c0cb940c08eac12_x7j3z_8byvr_512the fact that there is no formula for booking one, and that there are very few series regular opportunities for talented working actors above the age of 21, you must focus on the work and not on the result of the work. The only things you can control in all of this are how hard you work and how deeply you are willing to engage in your acting exploration. The rest in an exercise in trying to control the wild beast that is the TV business and no one has ever done that in the history of broadcasting. Do good work this pilot season – put up a play, write and shoot a short, audition boldly wherever you can, get in class. Be “of the work” and trust that when you are doing amazing acting work
the pilots will follow.

This year it cannot be about your popularity. It’s got to be about your consistent, wonderful work.

Check out this article in Backstage!

BGB’s “The Waiting Room” Short Films

Posted by BGB on February 10, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

Simon Says…The Waiting RoomBGB actors write, direct, and star in their own shorts, and filmed at the Studio!

“The Callback” written and directed by Simon Quarterman, starring Simon, Tom Connolly, Jamie Landau, Will Doughty, Elizabeth Logun.

LGBT Actor Appreciation

Posted by Steve Braun on November 13, 2013  /   Posted in All Categories

By Steve Braun.

pride-flagAcceptance of our Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Questioning brethren has come a long way in the last 20 years. The heroic work of The Drag Queens of Stonewall, Bayard Rustin, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Harvey Milk, etc created a foundation for change years before. But in the last 20 years or so, the internet, TV, film and music have managed to personalize the LGBTQ experience, turning it from a theoretical issue to a very personal one. An issue that affects your community, your family, your heart. It’s one thing to change the laws- and thank goodness for the legal warriors taking the fight to the courts- but it’s quite another to change hearts and minds. And often that daunting task is left to the artists. The expression of the LGBTQ experience through art connects both the bigot and that frightened, gay teenager to their humanity, allowing them to find common ground. Introducing that everyone to that connection is the work of the artist and the only way our world will embrace tolerance.

neil-patrick-harris-emmy-2-e1377883617971Members of our acting community have certainly done their part. Rupert Everett, Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnel,George Takei, Sir Ian Mckellen, Chris Colfer, Jim Parsons, etc, etc, etc all made personal connections with audiences, forcing all of us to see our own humanity in them, regardless of sexual preference. But it can’t have been easy. Not that long ago, LGBTQ actors had to hide what makes them wonderfully unique for fear of destroying their career. Each of those artists faced fierce resistance. And while things are changing, even young actors who’ve grown up with far less resistance must struggle to find their voice. It takes time to undo the psychology of oppression and it requires a great deal of courage for an actor to lean towards the violent winds of bigotry and offer an emotional truth.

We see this play out here at The BGB Studio, too. We demand that all our actors- straight actors and gay actors- offer her or 1372202335000-Sykes-Wanda-1306251920_4_3his unique emotional truth within the world of a play. They are expected to offer their truthful feelings, want something from their scene partner and try actively to get it. But what if you had spent decades hiding your truthful voice, hiding what you truthfully wanted? What if the consequence of expressing an essential part of who you are meant that your safety were in jeopardy? It’s all fine and nice for a straight, white, male teacher to demand an actor’s truth but many of our actors represent a minority without entitlement and have been forced to spend decades doing just the opposite.

And yet, every single week the LGBTQ members of The BGB Studio show up, dig deep, and express the totality of their unique, dynamic emotional life. Every single week they lean into their work fully with strength and passion. And we all benefit as a result. Their work affects us deeply and leaves us feeling whole and human. There are few gifts as meaningful as the gift of humanity, particularly when great courage is required to give it.

Matthew_ShepardSo, to those of you who are struggling to find and express your true voice- in an LA acting class or a small town where intolerance still rages- know that we appreciate you. Know that you are struggling not only for yourself, but for all of us. Just as Dr King was not only struggling for African Americans but for the very soul of America, you, too, struggle for us all. And your struggle is righteous and good. We all benefit when you boldly step into the light and are heard. We all benefit when we discover the universality in your unique expression. You may not win every battle- you’ll be silenced again and again- but it is imperative that you step into your light over and over again. You didn’t choose to be on the front line in the battle for the goodness of our society, but you are there. And like the amazing actors at our studio, you must keep exploring the depths of your emotional experience. You must express that which makes you both unique and fundamentally human. You must be yourself for us.

Check out what Ash Beckham has to say about the closets that each of us lives in:
http://www.upworthy.com/a-4-year-old-girl-asked-a-lesbian-if-shes-a-boy-she-responded-the-awesomest-way-possible?c=ufb1


What Dr. King Can Teach Us About Acting

Posted by Steve Braun on November 13, 2013  /   Posted in Auditioning

By Steve Braun

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Around 4am the morning of his “I Have A Dream” speech, Dr King handing his final draft of the speech to his aides. According to Drew Hansen, author of “The Dream: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Speech That Inspired A Nation”, there were precisely zero references to “The Dream” on the paper he handed to them. The word dream couldn’t be found in the text at all. Hard to believe, but the most iconic part of one of the most iconic speeches ever spoken wasn’t on that page. So, how did it happen? It happened because during the March on Washington with 200,000 or so people in front of him, the rest of the Nation watching on TV including President Kennedy and with so much at stake for his cause, his people and indeed America, Dr. King gave up control and allowed himself to be affected by the moment.

King-Color-And-Charac_Webf-4-690x387For the first few minutes of the legendary speech, a rather subdued Dr. King glances often at his prepared remarks. He’s not off book. He’s reading. Perhaps reacting to the White Fear which stirred up images of hundreds of thousands of angry, militant African Americans descending upon Washington and taking over, his tone begins far gentler than it would become. He opens the speech talking slowly and steadily about Abraham Lincoln, laying a familiar foundation to the audience. But shortly thereafter his words begin to sharpen, describing that “America has given the Negro people a bad check. A check that has come back marked insufficient funds”, and that “those who hope the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.” Still reading, he declares that “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi can’t vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” And it is at that moment that something breathtakingly amazing happens. And you can see it in the video of the speech.

After he utters those brilliantly crafted words, he looks at the audience. The footage cuts to a man holding a little girl butDr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.1 then returns to King still looking at the audience. The next beautiful line he speaks reveals King in transition as he shifts the entire speech from the script to improv, from his preparation to the moment. He speaks the words “No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until Justice rolls down like water and Righteousness like a mighty stream”, and as he does he looks at the audience more than he ever has up to that point. He takes three quick glances at the page during the long sentence and we never see him look down again till he walks away front he podium. And we know that he’s speaking off the cuff because he stumbles his words. Yes, Dr Martin Luther King, Civil Rights hero, brilliant orator, the guy who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott from a church basement when he was 26 years old, fumbled his words in a speech held up as one of the greatest in the history of humanity. How about that?

Dr. King will say “I am not unmindful…”, but not before he first says, “I am not mi–” as if he’s going to say, “I am not mindful”. He’ll say, “…your quest for freedom…”, but not before he says, “your crest–”, ans then corrects himself. Later he describes Mississippi as “a state sweltering with the heat of oppression”, but breaks his pace by pausing too long after the words, “sweltering with the…” and then again after, “heat of…” seemingly trying to figure out what to say next. He stumbles. Often. But no one remembers the stumbles. We don’t care because he didn’t care. His message was too important.

Christmas-Present-redBut that’s not the most amazing part of it all. Somewhere around the 11 minute mark of the speech after Dr. King has abandoned his script and has chosen to speak extemporaneously, discovering what he’ll say from moment to moment, the most glorious thing happens. Dr King is given what actors call “a gift”. Not only a gift to Dr. King, but to the entire human race. Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer who had sung earlier in the proceedings and was now sitting just off from the podium shouts, “Tell them about The Dream, Martin.” It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t rehearsed, but the connection between the spark Jackson lit and gasoline that King held in his soul still burns. King ran with it and the rest is history. The most memorable portion of one of the greatest speeches in the history of human kind was an improv. A reaction to a gift from the audience in the moment.

Make no mistake, Dr. King wasn’t winging it. He was practiced. He had used “The Dream” in other speeches earlier that year and he’d been preaching and speaking consistently for years. He’d put in the hours, done the work and he was good at it. So good and so practiced that he could throw his practice away, like Miles Davis knowing the rules of Jazz so well that he could break them. Dr King’s speech was an awesome marriage of his preparation and the moments. The I Have A Dream Speech is an acting clinic.

And then there you are sitting in the waiting room about to read for that guest star on that show and you’re nervous. You thinkOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA there’s a lot at stake for you, and the emotional consequence of the potential rejection looms. So you try to control the outcome. You plan it all out, word for word, beat for beat, gripping tighter to your idea of what it must be. And you walk in the audition room and then out again having never moved anyone. Having never touched anyone’s heart or made them feel anything. You dropped a line, chastised yourself for it, and lamented that it forced you to deviate from your pre-conceived idea. But ideas themselves don’t move people to action. You need to connect with people by making them feel. And the only way you can do that is by talking to them, right there, in that moment on the foundation of your preparation. And that requires giving up control, being vulnerable and risking disconnection and shame in order to have a human experience that moves people. In the face of higher stakes than you or I can ever imagine, pressure beyond belief, in front of hundreds of thousands and with the soul of America on the line, Dr. King remained so present that he was able to leave his script and allow himself to be affected by the people around him. The result was that he moved an entire nation.

Check out Dr. King’s iconic speech:

Dr King’s I Have A Dream Speech

5 Ways to Prepare for Pilot Season Right Now!

Posted by Tessney BGB on November 06, 2013  /   Posted in All Categories

Think you’ve got plenty of time to get ready for pilot season? Think again. Given an actor’s propensity for procrastination, the nuttiest time of the year always sneaks up on you. And whether you end up having three auditions a day for three months or no auditions at all, pilot season is a time of ups, downs, expectations, and absolute insanity. Here are five things you can do right now to prepare for the apocalypse.

Unknown-221. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. When you have to get to Marina Del Ray for a 6 p.m. audition and it’s 5:45 p.m. and you’re still at Warner Brothers waiting to get into your 5 p.m. audition, caring for yourself in a basic way can get thrown out the window. But it can’t. Fast food on the freeway affects your body and your mind and is bad for business. Start now by being disciplined about caring for yourself. Eat well (enjoy but don’t indulge over the holidays), sleep well, and exercise (including exercise that connects the body and mind through breath). Don’t expect anyone in the business to care for you. That will be up to you. But it takes time to learn self-care. Start now!

images-252. Assemble your team. Check in with your representation now. Reaffirm your commitment to the work and each other. See if they have a sense of what pilot season will look like this year. Figure out where they think you fit. Get on the same page. Work through your issues, and go into pilot season knowing that you have an ally. You don’t have an agent or manager? Accept that it’ll be up to you to advocate for yourself and come up with your pilot season plan.

Unknown-243. Sharpen your tools. January 25th is not the time to be thinking about new headshots. Get those headshots taken now. Is your reel as good as it needs to be? Need to shoot another scene or re-cut what you have? Do it now. But it’s not just the obvious tools that need to be looked at now in preparation of the grand season. Make sure your phone is working so you can receive emails from your agent on the fly. Make sure your printer is in good shape so you can print sides. Make sure your car runs well so you can get where you need to be. And make sure you have a clean, quiet space in which to do your work. Pilot season doesn’t entertain your excuses so figure it all out now.

Unknown-214. Get a life. Let’s face it. You will either be going out a lot and wondering why you’re not booking or not going out enough and wonder why you’re not going out. Self-doubt and disappointment abound during pilot season, so you must maintain your self-worth by having a full life. And that starts right now. Don’t go into forced isolation for three months only to emerge in May as a shadow of the person you once were. Keep yourself engaged in your community, and with friends and family. Make plans now to volunteer during January, February, and March. Take harmonica lessons. Plan one-day and weekend getaways with your friends for February. Do it now. And unless you’re shooting a pilot, commit to your plans. Shed the belief that “I can’t visit my old friend back east because I might get an audition.” This belief leads to paralysis. Hyper focus on the business leads to bitterness and unemployment.

5. Find a class. If your only artistic expression occurs during a few auditions a week, and within the confines of a mediocre, two page pilot scene, you’ll probably stop feeling like an actor. You’ll probably start feeling artistically stiff, like you haven’t really stretched in a while. That’s bad for business. You have to stay engaged in the work outside of the business, so your artistic pipes stay clean, and so you can walk into the audition rooms as artistically full as you can be. Class is that artistic stretch and that full workout that keeps you in fighting shape. But it takes time to get into shape. Start now!

You’ve got a few weeks before the holidays and before the business winds down in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Use the time to meditate, visualize, and prepare. Pilot season—hell your entire career—is truly what you make of it!

View this article on Backstage

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How to Find the Right Acting Class

Posted by Tessney BGB on October 30, 2013  /   Posted in All Categories

Unknown-15As the summer comes to an end and September draws near, a fire ignites in all of us. It’s time to go back to school. Some of you may still feel like that frightened little kid on your first day of school, the tight grip of your little fingers clutching your parent’s hand as you’re dragged up the steps to the front door. Or like the high schooler, groaning, piles of books and assignments about to interrupt your summer Netflix and video game stupor. But for an actor, training is a necessity. Olympic athletes don’t graduate from training and neither do you. So where do you start? And what’s the right class for you? Here are some tips to help you jump into the ideal class this fall.

What’s 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 make no mistake. There is no one correct way to act. 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 lickety-split.

Unknown-16You should probably check out any and all methods and approaches and discover which one resonates with you. More than likely you’ll take little bits of goodness from a number of different techniques. Learn them all, take what you like, and leave the rest.

Which teacher is 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 introduces you to exercises and a practice that allows you to discover your pre-existing talent and then express it in all its brilliant glory. You have the raw material and a good teacher helps you mine it and shape it. Yes, some teachers have access to agents, casting directors, etc, but 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. 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 invaluable. But when teachers are teaching they need to remove their acting hat. It cannot be about them: their ego, their skill, their career, whatever. You don’t pay a teacher to indulge. 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.

images-233. 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. But you need to be pushed. The type of profound progress needed to succeed as an actor is rarely achieved within one’s comfort zone. A teacher should take you to a place of discomfort and do it with nothing but deep care, respect, and your progress in mind.

images-204. 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 actors are known to do), or try to make them proud of you. All of 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.

5. Find the class that’s right for you! Don’t just sign up for any old class. There are flavor-of-the-month classes and in-vogue teachers that some agents and fellow actors believe look good on your resumé. Of course check them all out. But make sure you really look around and find a teacher who genuinely gets you and meets you fully in the work, wherever that is.

So… don’t hesitate! Sure, take some time finding a class that resonates with you. But start training as soon as possible. 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’ve got to be in class. Embrace the back-to-school spirit and make this the perfect time to dig in.

“A good teacher never lies, and a good teacher never tells you what you should be or do. A good teacher tells you what you’ve done, what worked, and leads you toward the full realization of a character written and waiting for full expansion. The gifts do not come from a teacher or a prayer or a regime: the gifts are within you. Always have been, always will be. The hazardous and tricky process is teasing them out, finding comfort in having them exposed, keeping them ready for use. There is a magnificence in every artist. I believe this. I do not say this to flatter, and I do not say to this to many people, but when you find an artist–and there are many and of many degrees–you husband the artist and the talent within. You walk with them. You lead them to a place they can furnish with their gifts. A good teacher does not supply these gifts, but he can and should walk the artist toward the place where they are wanted, needed, and can be used. Fewer things are more gratifying than the deliverance of an artist to a consummation his gifts deserve.” —Elia Kazan, from “Follies Of God” by James Grissom.

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