Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Basics of Acting Technique: Part Eight

Thanks for reading.  This is the last post in the series.

I had every intention of writing all about the teachers that are out there teaching right now in NYC and LA; however, I'd rather suggest Acting Teachers of America if you're interested in learning about who's teaching.  I'll also recommend a few teachers as well as suggesting that you take a look at The Metodi Festival, which is a yearly conference that encourages open communication between the master teachers of individual techniques.  Mainly, I want to talk about something that's going on, globally, within the craft of acting.  

In the last 50 years, acting has taken a very large turn.  We now teach it academically.  You can major in it.  Teachers can assign grades.  Students spend thousands on programs that profess to chew them up and spit them out, supposedly fully trained.  That couldn't be farther from the truth.

Acting is a life's study.  It's a process of self-discovery and exploration.  You can't boil it down to two years, to four years, to six years, to eight years.  It takes as long as it takes.  These programs are a great introduction.  And I'm talking about conservatory programs or BA programs or BFA programs - even MFA programs can't delve much deeper.  Because training is not about arriving somewhere.  It's about developing a sensibility of continual creativity - even in moments of great difficulty.  And that is a constant journey.  A degree is a beginning, not an end.  Once you have gotten a sense of what training speaks to you through a program, then you want to get into a professional class to really hone your skills along those guidelines. 

Once your tools are fully developed, then places like The Actors Studio become important for maintaining your work with an outside eye - in the same way you might keep your body toned at a gym, once you've already built it up. 

In the meantime, how do you find a professional class that is right for you?

There are all sorts of teachers out there.  Many of the newer approaches to training don't actually do what they set out to do.  This is a community that years for a quick fix, and many teachers feed into that belief because it brings in the business.  Any acting class that professes to help actors book jobs IS NOT AN ACTING CLASS.  It may be a business class, at best.  It may be a cold-reading or audition class that offers some tricks of the trade, and those might even be useful - but it's not going to teach you how to deal with your instrument.

Many new teachers employ new-age ideas, meditation, and self-help techniques in their training.  Teachers like Eric Morris (and he's one of the good ones) have come up with all kinds of affirmations and exercises for this problem and that problem, which can really help students break through walls in their lives.  But I can't do an affirmation when I have a problem onstage.  I can't go into a yoga pose.  I can't tense up and release my body.  I can't do a vocal tremor to free up my voice.  The audience would wonder why my character seems possessed.

I don't mean to suggest that these techniques can't be helpful, but there's no reason why acting needs to involve personal therapy.  All I need to know, as an actor, is how I am feeling.  I have to be able to express that feeling, and to adjust it if necessary for the script.  I need to be able to be in charge of my instrument.  I don't need to delve deep and find out what happened to me when I was five.  I have no control over that.  All I have control over is how I deal with what's going on with me right now.

So, when choosing a professional class, do some heavy personal research and pick one that:
  • Represents the work that speaks to you.
  • Has an atmosphere you feel safe being in.
  • Is taught by someone with whom you connect and trust.
And then commit to doing it.  That's the hardest part.

To conclude, below are a few good books and great teachers of the more time-tested approaches to the training of an actor.

Read: Strasberg at the Actors Studio (taped sessions edited by Robert Hethman) and On Method Acting by Edward Dwight Easty
Currently taught by David Gideon 

Read: The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
Currently taught by Ron Burrus  

Watch: Sanford Meisner Master Class or Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre's Best Kept Secret 
Currently taught by Maggie Flanigan and William Esper

Read:  A Challenge for the Actor by Uta Hagen
Watch:  Uta Hagen's Acting Class
Currently taught at HB Studio

Other great NYC studios:
Atlantic Acting School 
Michael Howard Studios
T Schreiber Studio

Other great books to read:
To the Actor by Michael Chekhov
The Actor and the Target by Declan Donnellan
True and False by David Mamet
The Intent to Live by Larry Moss
No Acting Please by Eric Morris
Creating a Role by Constantin Stanislavski

As always, we love to hear your thoughts and ideas.  Please leave a comment and share with us.

To read other parts of this series, click here:
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five  | Part Six | Part Seven


  1. I love that you included book titles here. It makes it so much easier to try to suss out which technique might be right. Plus, it's just a really good idea for anyone interested in the theater.

    I'm curious about acting schools in Los Angeles or other big cities. Maybe some of our readers can leave their thoughts on those?

  2. You omitted the most respected teacher of all, Master Thespian. I understand he's now accepting a limited number of students, admission by audition.

    1. Ha! You know no idea how much I love this...

  3. Great Post, with some wonderful resources. For actors and performers of any age looking for Acting/Life training in this field, this is a welcome home sign!

  4. very nice post, i certainly love this website, keep on it


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