I’m in the process of moving to a new town which means, among other things, finding a new dentist and doctor. How do I know who is the best in my new city? It is a dilemma. It is up to me to do my own research. Does that mean I don’t seek help and advice? You bet I do. Do I use the Internet to research? You bet I do. What I wish I had, though, was a guideline to follow. A series of questions, perhaps, that would enable me to be more intelligent in my quest.
In my dealings with young people the phrase, “How do I know?” is the most frequent of all questions. How do I know who is the best teacher? How do I know who is the best photographer? How do I know who will give me the best representation? The list of, “How do I knows” goes on. Let’s investigate one area...
How do I choose an acting teacher?
Whether you are a beginner enrolling in your first acting class or a seasoned professional looking to stay limber and continue training, being in a class is an essential part of beginning and advancing a career. Even if you don’t live in the acting Meccas of New York City and Los Angeles you will be faced with the dilemma of having to choose the best acting class out of a selection of many.
Although I normally don’t like to begin an article or lecture with negatives, in choosing an acting teacher, beware—there is no accreditation for acting teachers or schools. No organization is out there canvassing for the swindlers. Avoid teachers or schools which promise instant work or that they will get you representation. Avoid schools with lengthy contracts unless you can transfer these credits to a college diploma. The closest to an accreditation are those few schools that offer college credits.
If you don’t have access to personal sources for suggestions as to who are the best teachers, call individual schools and ask if you can audit a class. Do not sign with any teacher until you have audited several schools and/or teachers.
For the beginning actor in search of the right acting coach I advise you seek out those who teach the complete craft of acting. Uta Hagen was such a teacher. Read her book, “Respect for Acting,” or my book, “Beyond the Moon,” for guidelines.
There are many teachers who teach only one “method.” What is a “method?” A method is simply one approach out of several. (Go online to stagesuccess.com for comprehensive definitions of all the different “methods” or approaches to the craft of acting.) If you learn as many approaches and acting tools as possible and find the ones that work best for you, you will have developed your own method.
For the advanced actor, study with the teachers who can help you strengthen those areas that need work. For example, if you have trouble with your “emotional instrument,” study with a Strasberg teacher. If you have trouble “being in the moment,” study with a Meisner teacher.
While auditioning teachers, for that is what you are doing, I suggest you look for someone who teaches with love and not out of anger and resentment. The more your teacher understands the human condition the more he/she will understand your particular needs and best show you the way to become the actor you were destined to be. Have a teacher who will support you. When Tom Hanks acknowledged his acting teacher at the Academy Awards, he did so because of the support this man gave him. A person doesn’t have to pass an exam to become an acting coach; thus, anyone can open an acting school. Unfortunately, some schools are opened by people who, no matter how sincere, cannot teach a craft. Even more unfortunate, or should I say dangerous, is the person who teaches from a damaged ego instead of knowledge and love.
Once you have found your place of study, there is a simple rule—respect your teachers, do not make “gurus” out of them. They are there to educate you not for you to worship. If you feel they need to be worshipped run to the nearest exit. Make your place of study your safe place. Know you can not be hurt by growth. Fall on your face, get up and be brilliant, fall on your face once more and get up and be twice as brilliant.
Let me take this moment to clarify the learning of the craft of acting, indeed any craft. You will go through periods of understanding and periods of confusion. You will go through periods of, “I got it!” and through periods of uncomfortable, even painful frustration. You will wonder why you are putting yourself through this process. If you survive these moments, and they are moments, then this craft was meant for you.
How can you be sure, after all your hard work and study, you will be a good actor? There is no doubt you will be good. I guarantee it. The craft works. If you persist you will learn. Whether or not you will become a great actor, no one knows. Nor can anyone guarantee you will be a working actor. That depends totally on you and how much you persevere. One additional thing I can guarantee, however, is that you will not have wasted one moment of your life. If you are in a good, substantial, healthy, acting workshop, studio, classroom, or environment, you will exit a richer person.
As for future studies, there are many—too many—young actors who believe once they’ve graduated acting school, study is over. Never stop working on your craft. Never stop studying. Legend Paul Newman, whose career spanned 60 years, said, “I attend the Actors Studio whenever I can. One must never stop learning.” Listen to those who have longevity in the business. Their careers were not by accident. A dancer doesn’t stop taking dance class, a singer doesn’t stop vocalizing and working with coaches, and a pianist doesn’t stop doing his scales. But, for some reason, actors believe they can take long periods away from practicing their craft. You are an instrument you need to be worked.
All of you who desire an acting career I wish you happiness and success. You have chosen what I consider the most joyous of all professions. I support you and your total commitment and dedication in your pursuit as well as the stamina and determination needed for success.
Be on the lookout for the film, Stages. It is an educational/documentary featuring me, and it celebrates young actors just like you at different stages of their careers. The producers are hoping for a Christmas release.