Acting Tips: How To Find and Choose An Acting School
Q: I've wanted to act ever since I was a child, but I am terrified of walking into an acting class. How should I choose an acting class? I don't want to get ripped off and I want someone to tell me if I've got what it takes to make it. Please help...
A: First of all, I think you might have to tackle what it is that's got you so afraid of walking into an acting studio. I understand that there is enormous pressure on people from all manner of different sources, whether it be parents or friends or whatever.
Sometimes, of course, that pressure just comes from within. The point to all of this is that, you will never act if you don't act to act.
If you really want to get out there and trod the boards, then just go out and trod the boards.
It's literally just standing in front of people and making believe, and if you can get out of your own way, it's actually a great deal of fun to do. I won't bore you with speeches about journeys of thousands of miles or anything like that, but I will say that what you want to do is totally "doable".
|"...picking what acting teacher you like first is kind of like choosing a car based on what dealership you like best...it's all backwards..."|
I hope I'm not making light of your situation, because I really DO understand that it can be tough to get out there. But, take the leap...it's really not that bad.
As far as finding a school that doesn't care about the money, you can stop looking right now. They ALL care about the money...they're in business.
If they didn't care about the money, they'd screen people really tightly and give classes for free. Now, having said that, there are, obviously, SOME teachers that care more than others.
But, for me, starting with what teacher you want is somewhat akin to trying to decide what kind of car you want based on how nice the dealership is.
It's all backwards.
Of course, this is how nearly everyone (myself included) goes out to find acting classes, but it's a terrible method as far as I can tell.
Here's the trick...go read some books.
An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski
Sanford Meisner On Acting by Sanford Meisner
Advice to the Players by Robert Lewis
Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen
A Dream Of Passion by Lee Strasberg
and round it all out with...
The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
Haha, I just realized I didn't even recommend my OWN book! I'm the worst salesman on the planet, I swear. Read my book too, it's good.
Now, to me, this reading list is a really good litmus test to see if one is REALLY interested in acting or if they are more interested in the perceived LIFESTYLE. They really are markedly different and I'd caution you at the outset to not mistake the one for the other.
If you're diligent, I imagine those books should take maybe two weeks to finish, if earnestly approached. The total cost should hover anywhere from free at the library to $60 if you bought them all new somewhere.
Trust me, it's an INCREDIBLY worthwhile investment...though you actually have to READ them all.
The beauty of this method is two-fold. First, you'll find out how much acting really interests you. Second, if you DO happen to find out that acting really interests you, now you'll be incredibly well informed on HOW people learn to act.
Every single acting teacher on the planet is using or ripping off SOME variation of those acting teachers I listed above. And, oddly enough, THEY were all "born" of the guy at the top of the list, Stanislavski.
|"...I don't personally think people are 'wired' to act or not, I think almost anyone can learn to act and learn to act well..."|
They dickered a lot on the details but, in a nut-shell, all teaching related to acting boils down to one simple, though definitely MAJOR problem...how to repeatably, reliably invoke genuine emotion that is contextually related to the scene the actor happens to be in. Or, as Sanford Meisner put it..."Acting is the ability to live truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances".
To the uninitiated, that sentence may seem tame, but it's a deep well, believe me.
For most, the pursuit of that genuine emotion in performance is a lifetime pursuit. Now, you said that you felt that some people are just wired to act, while others are not. I personally don't think that's necessarily true.
What I DO think is that MOST people aren't willing to do what it takes to learn how to act. I'll tell you some things that will help tremendously though...
The ability to be brutally honest with yourself.
The ability to be brutally honest with others.
The ability to sacrifice EGO for CRAFT.
The ability to feel emotions deeply.
The ability to EXPRESS emotions vividly.
The ability to deeply empathize with others.
The ability to read behavior.
The ability to listen.
The desire to do all of that PUBLICLY.
Every human being, aside from the insane and the sociopaths, can and HAS done everything on that list at some point in their lives. The degree that you struggle in being able to do all of that FREELY and on demand is going to be the degree that you struggle to learn acting.
I'll share a second hand story. There were two fellows at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. One was a Shakespeare trained, English gentleman and the other a cabbie from the city. They both wanted to learn more about acting.
The Shakespeare fellow was routinely aghast at the conduct of the cabbie. After all, he was an ACTOR. He spoke with the Queen's English, he was dignified, he was proper and he was TRAINED at the Royal Theater. He KNEW acting.
This cabbie on the other hand was foul mouthed, bragged loudly about the women he was having "relations" with, belched, farted and was a general mess, if the story is to be believed. In fact, I think the Shakespeare fellow even referred to him as an "animal" on several occasions and wondered aloud why on earth Sanford Meisner would allow this ruffian to remain in the school.
The Shakespeare fellow went on to run the Neighborhood Playhouse.
The Cabbie went on to be James Caan.
The point of all this is that freedom of expression is, generally, going to be a bigger indicator of how easily acting will come to a person. It's WAY easier to discipline an animal than to teach a gentleman to crap on the floor.
The other point of this is that, it takes a LONG time to understand HOW acting works, WHY it works they way it does and HOW to get around in the world of the actor. Most people attack it from a layperson's perspective and the arm-chair "quarterbacks" of the world wash out of acting pretty quick.
Having said all of that, you have acting in you.
How much work are you willing to do to bring it out? That you're starting from terrified, I imagine it might be tough. All I can really tell you is that you'll get over it if you go through it.
|"...'Actors' in Los Angeles, as best I can tell, tend to be a motley assortment of generally lazy people that have no real care or concern fro the craft of acting..."|
"Actors" in LA, as best I can tell, tend to be a motley assortment of generally lazy people that have no real care or concern for the craft of acting. Time and again, I see "actors" not know lines, not do any interpretation, not find places TO act, avoid getting up in CLASS that they're PAYING for to act.
Best I can tell, the last thing on the planet they want to be doing is any sort of actual acting. Truth be told, I think deep down inside, they're probably more afraid of acting than anyone out there.
It's scary to be real, but real is all that an audience EVER cares about. An actor that can't bring that may as well just stay home...the problem is try telling THEM that.
This is that perceived LIFESTYLE thing vs. the REAL interest in acting I was talking about before.
The hard truth is that acting is a tremendous amount of very real, day after day, repetitive work. Just like any other craft. The more diligent, focused and practiced study you devote to this craft, the faster your progress will be. There is no end point though...it's an on-going thing.
Sanford Meisner estimated that mastery of acting would occur in the diligent and focused after 20 years and he was not kidding. I would and do regularly caution the dilettantes of the acting world to not take it lightly, because this craft is truly a harsh mistress to the lazy. She may even break your heart even if you actually DO pursue her with ALL of your might
. AFTER you read all of those books I mentioned above, go sit in on a few classes. If you're any judge of character at all, you'll pretty quickly be able to tell who's for real and who's just kind of a blow hard. You'll also probably be better read than most of the lunk heads trying to teach out there...I'm not kidding.
I know there are about a million classes that you can choose from. Just try and either remember or realize that they're selling you on something. Take it ALL with a grain of salt, but for my dollar, I'd be looking long and hard at the most demanding of the bunch. The unfortunate reality is that he doesn't really exist...he'd be out of business.
So, to just get straight out and answer your question, if it were me STARTING acting school today, I would go to Playhouse West in North Hollywood. I did go to (and still love dearly) the Sanford Meisner CENTER in North Hollywood. They are both excellent places to learn how to act. I only say Playhouse West first, because I think it might be a little easier to assimilate into, as Marty over at the Meisner Center is more of what I would call a "purist".
Consequently, I think it CAN be tougher to go through...I suppose it really just depends on your personality. Check out Playhouse West's website, maybe read up on their history...it's pretty fascinating really.
After those two, I haven't the foggiest really...there's no shortage of guru's out there and it would take entirely too long for me to try and keep up with which guru is the most popular around town right now.
It seems to ebb and flow and it's usually more dependent on how many famous people happen to be floating around or can be laid claim to.
The lazy ones FLOCK to that kind of stuff like you wouldn't believe. The chicks tend to be hotter though. I'm just sayin'...=)
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, or would just like to share some of your successes, please feel free to drop me a line. I actually answer them.
Best of Luck out there and remember, you can't fail if you don't quit.