It seems that everywhere I turn, I hear the same faulty logic with regard to the craft of acting. People seem to think that they know what does and does not work for their acting. They don't. It's that simple. If you take a little bit from here and a little bit from there, you end up with a whole lot of nothing.
I'll quote from a comment that our Managing Director, Erin Cronican, left on Ben Hodge's blog a few weeks back:
When trying to help my students understand the purpose of choosing a teacher/technique, I often liken the process to finding a good therapist. You want to find someone you feel safe with, but who will challenge you to open up in ways that will be useful for your progress. And you want someone rooted in a specific philosophy that has a structure, so that as you go deeper into yourself you have something to tether yourself to. If I were to go to three therapists to try to address why I'm having trouble relating to my sister, I'll definitely learn 3 different approaches to getting what I need but it will either a) confuse me because I'm bouncing back and forth between ideas or b) take me three times as long to get to where I need to be because I'm constantly retooling myself for each new technique.I really think that says it best. Our goal should not be academic in nature. We don't need to understand acting to be good actors. We need to understand ourselves.
But we can't just leap-frog to that result. It's a process. In my studies, I've learned that it takes about a year to become comfortable enough with a teacher and a process, so that the two of you can really start to break down the habits that get in your way and build new ones. That kind of personal development not a very comfortable thing to do. In fact, it's excessively uncomfortable. And it feels wrong.
Let me interject for a moment to clarify one thing: I am not referring to scene study classes. This blog is about technique-driven classes (which may include scene-study, but emphasis is placed on building the actor's instrument). A scene study class can be a good place to keep your work fresh, but it's really a better place to maintain a previously-formed craft than to build one. Most of what can be learned in a scene study class has to do with script interpretation and learning how to function in relation to directors.
Back to technique training. For the first while that you're working with a new teacher, you learn a set of exercises. The exercises, themselves, are generally random and inconsequential. They've been created as a medium for you to work on your instrument. So, it's not about doing them the right way or the wrong way. But there is a way that they will work more effectively than some others. And you'll be guided to that way of working. Simply learning the exercises takes a good amount of time.
Once you learn the basic exercises, then there is a frame of reference for your work, and you can begin to address the places where your exercise work is not as strong. It's important to separate your work on your instrument from scenework, because character and story throw too much into the mix for you to be able to focus on yourself. The ego is hard enough to overcome without your performance habits interfering as well. Generally, I'm able to address my difficulties in exercise work long before I'm ever able to address the same issues in scenework. After you start to identify the habits that are inhibiting your work, you can begin to affect those same changes in your scenework - and eventually in your acting in the marketplace.
The biggest worry I hear is that people don't want to pick a way of working because they'll turn into some kind of cookie-cutter actor. And that does happen sometimes, but usually only in the beginning stages of a craft. But without training, most actors get locked into cliches of expression, anyway.
Keep in mind that the goal of technique training is to give you access to yourself. If you see it through to an understanding of your body, rather than stopping at the mental process, you will literally transform. Learning yourself cannot be likened to intellectual knowledge. It's like riding a bike. It's learning how your body balances. So, when your worries arise, remind yourself that you're not being brainwashed. And don't feel the need to do your classroom work in the marketplace. Let that happen as it happens. Until then, do whatever works when you're outside the classroom.
There are all sorts of teachers that rely on Stanislavski's admonition to "Develop your own method. Do not slavishly rely on mine." And that's all well and good. But you can't just create your own method out of thin air. It has to be in a structured environment with a good coach. It's not about doing what feels good. Standing in front of a bunch of people at 8pm every night, pretending to be someone else, and giving into the pains and pleasures of life is NOWHERE CLOSE TO NATURAL BEHAVIOR. It requires a skill-set.
Think of this all like learning to dance. It would be ridiculous for a dancing teacher to tell you to feel out the rhythms and see what your body does. There would be no logic to the dancing. In order to improvise, you first have to learn some basic steps to various types of music. Once you have that framework in place, you can begin to let your body do what it wants to do within that structure.
For more information of acting teachers, check out our blog series on training.
Thoughts? Questions? Let's hear it! :O)