So you think it’s time to get back to class. 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.
You 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.
3. 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 challenged. 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 growth in mind, first and foremost.
4. 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 can 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 find a teacher who genuinely gets you, honors you, and meets you fully in the work.
So… don’t hesitate! Sure, take some time finding a class that resonates with you. But start training now. 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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