I am one of “those” actors who thinks that training unleashes talent. Training allows the artist to go deeper. It can teach the actor new things about themselves. It’s what happens between acting jobs. Well, let’s be honest, it happens on the job, too. Training never stops.
“Training” is such a big word, but for me it means, “that which makes one grow.” That growth can be the acquisition of a new accent, a “stronger” voice, a deeper soul, a better relationship with discipline, etc.
Sure, there is crap training out there, for sure, so know who to avoid, but know this: “It’s all process.” – John Jacobsen. Don’t focus on the result! “Every journey begins with a single step,” said someone famous once, so focus on that step. And then the one after that. Piece by piece, the actor in training (experience + life + class + reflection + meditation + therapy!) gets better and better at perfecting the illusion of *not* acting. Looking like you’re not acting means you will probably be booking more acting jobs. Crazy, isn’t it?
The *great* actors, typically, have been honing their craft for years. Sanford Meisner, one of the greatest acting teachers of the 20th century is reported to have said that it takes 20 years to become a master at the craft of acting (I read this in William Esper’s book The Actor’s Art and Craft. I have been working on my craft since 1998. If I attain mastery in 2018, it will have been a magnificent 20 year journey. A journey that has gone by in a flash.
What is training? And why do it?
An artist, let’s say, a concert cellist, will play his instrument daily to prepare himself for those times where is in front of his conductor and his audience.
An athlete, let’s say, a basketball player, will practice daily, often scrimmaging, at other times reviewing video, to prepare herself for the big game.
In both cases, the musician and the athlete, prepares/rehearses/trains/practices in order to get closer to mastery and in order to “slip more easily into the zone” when it’s time to perform. “The zone” is that experience where instinct takes over and we are able to operate from place that is larger than our conscious mind can afford. We prepare so we can get out of our own way. We prepare so we can slip into performing at a high level without the chatter of the thinking brain or the machinations of the ego. We slip into the “no-mind” state easier if we train.
The artist as actor must train so she can be slip comfortably into the zone when the camera rolls or the curtain lifts.
I have had a wonderful year of training this year, and I would like to thank my teachers: Scotland, my family, my wife, my friends, our dogs, my canine clients, Nike Imoru, John Jacobsen, Carol Roscoe, Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain, Paul Weber, Bonnie Gillespie, Eckhart Tolle, and Steven Anderson, to name a few.
This is a great post. Thanks for sharing it. It is so vital for us to keep sharpening the ax between gigs. Not only does it keep our skills well-honed, but it helps us remember what our vocation really is when we’re doing other work that’s not related to acting.
Of course, being in class year-round can get quite expensive. Here are some of the ways I try to keep myself sharp and inspired between gigs:
– READ PLAYS that are new (or new to me) – the library is a great resource for this
– DO A CHARACTER STUDY. Take a character from a play that I have not done and do a character study, using Uta Hagen’s 9 Questions (https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2012/07/uta-hagens-nine-questions.html). This exercise proved particularly helpful recently. I had not done a play in a long time, and I was cast over the summer in STEEL MAGNOLIAS (“Truvy”). The time I spent on these questions before and during the rehearsal process was invaluable to how I developed the character. It was one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever played.
– PLAN A READ-THROUGH WITH FRIENDS. Get a group of friends together to do a read-through. This can be a work in development or a famous work that people can borrow from the library. I once came upon a stack of copies of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “The Glass Menagerie” that were being chucked, and snatched them for a read-through with actor friends. I’ve also invited playwrights and screenwriters to let me host a read-through with my actor friends so that they can hear the work aloud and we can get some experience doing cold-reads or just read-throughs. A great, cheap, fun way to encourage one another AND help a writer develop a new work.
– WORKSHOPS! If you can’t afford to take a weeks/months-long acting class, a less-expensive weekend intensive can be a great way to supplement your training.
– VOLUNTEER at a school in exchange for a discounted rate. I did this with my dance school years ago—before voicemail was being used. I answered phones, stuffed envelopes, and did general office admin in exchange for additional classes. The same can be done at your acting school.
– WATCH GREAT MOVIES. I have a list of Academy Award winning performances and Netflix, and I routinely watch the “greats” that are available for streaming.
– READ INTERVIEWS WITH GREAT ACTORS. I have learned more from watching performances and reading actors talk about how they approach their work than from anywhere else.
– PRIVATE COACH. For specific auditions (i.e. the annual TPS Generals in Seattle, where I live now) this is a worthwhile investment.
These are a few of the ways I try to keep training. I’d love to hear what others suggest as well!