How do you judge whether or not a classroom is any good for you?
people, when surveying classes, view them from the perspective of "good
acting". So, if the actors "suck", then it's a bad class. If they're
"good", then that's where you want to be, right?
There's only one major issue with this logic: CLASSROOM WORK AND GOOD ACTING HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ONE ANOTHER.
Some personal alarms just went off, I imagine. And
I understand. It's difficult to reserve that judgment. But would you
expect to find Einstein in a doctorate program? Would you expect a
mechanic to show you how fast his Maserati can go, while it's still in
the shop? Would you expect to enjoy beautiful arias at a singing
lesson? No, right? Then why would you expect to find anything other than actors problem-solving in a classroom?
The classroom is a special environment. It's a medium for growth. In this cut-throat business, it's the only place you can fail. Beyond that, if you aren't failing, you're not getting the most out of your classroom environment. You come to a classroom to build new tools and habits that will help you become a stronger actor.
you think of building a craft like learning to juggle oranges, then
just consider that the more oranges you add, the more orange juice
you're going to get. If you remain at two or three oranges, then your
ego may love you for it, but you won't be growing in your art. The
classroom is the place where we can push ourselves beyond our natural habits and levels of comfort.
In the case that you don't want to push yourself to your limits, don't join an acting class. If you are satisfied with your current level of training, then all an acting class is going to do is to frustrate you. Maybe
what you need is to get yourself involved with a theater company or an
ongoing workshop. Many actors that join acting classes are just looking
for an artistic home. If you're happy with your work, then try your
hand at an audition for The Actors Studio or Ensemble Studio Theatre -
or other newer workshops. Try to attach yourself to a company of
actors. Either way, if you fit into this group, I'd stop reading this
post...because from here down, this is for the rest of us that have
things we'd like to improve in our work.
So, for those of you still with me: What should you look for in an acting class?
1.) It needs to be a safe environment.
YOU need to feel safe in it. If you don't, find a new class. But
really listen to yourself. Often times, investigative work can be so
personal that you may feel attacked. But that's not the teacher's
doing. That's you. When in doubt, always bring up your questions and
concerns with your teacher, and you'll be able to judge by the response
whether or not this is a good environment for you.
2.) You need to want to learn from the teacher. That extends to both the instructor and the work that teacher is teaching. Just because the teacher is at The (fill in the blank)
Institute, it does not make him knowledgeable. If there doesn't seem
to be agreement between your teacher and what you've read about
regarding this way of working, always ask about it. Maybe YOU just
don't understand how the ideas are connected. If not, find someone that
IS teaching the work you want to learn. They are out there. I
3.) Rather than looking for actors to impress you, make sure that you can see the actors growing
- or being led in that direction. So, really listen to the teacher's
criticisms and see if you agree. If not, then maybe it's not the class
for you. If the teacher has no comments, then it might not be a very
good environment for growth. BUT you still may want to ask why that
teacher didn't offer any criticism. Maybe that teacher is tired of
giving the same note, didn't want to waste class time on it, and is
planning to talk with the student individually. Lee Strasberg would
tell his instructors "never to work harder than the student is working -
it'll only frustrate the student." Also, make sure that the students
are working in class and treating it like a professional environment by
showing up on time and prepared. They're going to be the people with
whom you share your art.
4.) Be wary of teachers offering quick fixes.
You're not going to learn anything practical at an intensive. No
teacher is going to help you book jobs. Maybe a career coach can help
with that kind of thing. But a craft of acting should really go far
beyond an audition room. Will building a craft help you book jobs?
Most likely...but not anytime in the near future. If you're going to
spend the time to join a class that focuses on technique and learn a
craft, then it's not something you can do quickly. It's a life's work.
You're engaging on a mission to personal discovery. Your aim should be
to learn how to get your instrument to do what you want it to do, when
you want it to do it. That's a HUGE undertaking. Don't expect speedy
5.) Base your opinions of what to expect on the actors you know work this way in The Marketplace. So,
if you're interested in Lee Strasberg's work, for instance, then try to
use people like Dustin Hoffman, Sally Field, and Paul Newman as good
examples of artistic success - and please note that they are vastly
different actors. If the teacher has former students you know or can
research, do so. Choose actors that represent the 'finished' product of
that work, rather than the people currently learning it. I'm not
meaning to suggest that an actor is ever finished, by the way. Rather, I
am suggesting that there is a point where you may not need an
instructor to guide your exercise work. But we all need a coach. Even
Strasberg employed my teacher, David Gideon, to be his coach when
preparing for all his film work after The Godfather Part II. If The Maestro still needed an outside eye at his age and skill level, so do we all.
6.) You can't learn acting one-on-one. So,
give up the idea of private coaching right now - unless it's for a
specific role or audition. Otherwise, it's a waste of your time and
All in all, embrace the classroom. It's the only place you don't have to be good. All you need to do is to learn.
Thoughts? Stories? Talk to me. :O)