My Acting Class
When I'm around actors who are passionate about chasing the work, I'm my happiest. My favorite places to be are rehearsals, sound stages, theaters, classes and locations. I love actors and acting.
I believe the only way to teach acting is to encourage and nurture my students.
It's so important for actors to be emotionally available and sensitive in our work.
Ideally our emotional life is expressed in a spontaneous and instinctive way. If we worry about being judged by the audience, other actors, or even ourselves (the harshest judge of all), we tend to put on a protective mask.
No actor should ever worry about getting it "right" and doing it "perfectly".
No such thing. If we seek to understand and accept who we are, and express that in our work, we will be unique. We will be perfect. Perfectly ourselves, unlike any other. That pursuit needs our truth.
We need to have a safe place to express our deepest thoughts and feelings in service to our acting. And we need to be able to make mistakes and fall
on our face, and then get back to it with enthusiasm and passion.
Acting is simple entertainment. We hope we tell a story that will entertain.
I also think at the very highest level of acting, we can move the audience deeply.
These stories that we tell can change someone's life.
A person in the audience might see that story and feel that it's their story; that it spoke to, or challenged a deeply held belief. It's possible that the experience of watching a movie or play or TV show can be a spiritual one.
That is the level of acting that I believe we can all achieve, if we're willing to do the work.
Through our training, on our way to achieving the highest level, the goal is becoming a solid professional craftsperson. And if we're doing our job, the audience is entertained by the story.
If we're determined, disciplined and lucky, we can almost change someone's life.
I think anyone can develop the skills, instincts and imagination to soar as an actor.
It starts with your passion.
Some Acting Tools That I Teach
Relaxation is at the heart of creating the most authentic and instinctive acting. Stanislavski referred to tension as the "occupational disease" of the actor. Strasberg believed that tension is the greatest enemy of an actor. Tension in an actor blocks the free flow of emotional energy and imagination. We work toward finding an ease in our way of working, a way into that "zone" or "channel" where actors want to be. We learn to identify unwanted tension in the muscles of the body, and learn to let it go. Although there are many ways to relax and release tension, it’s vital that we find an “energized relaxation” that propels us through the story.
Imagination is the most important tool for an actor to develop. Without our strong imagination, we are limiting our acting possibilities. Acting is play. When I was a kid, I pretended to be a pirate or a cowboy or anyone that I could be for the adventure of the day. That’s the original inspiration that is at my core. What would it be like to live in another country, another time, in another life? You trust yourself and use your imagination. The "magic if" asks the actor to bring to his work, the question: "What would I do if I were in these circumstances?" We work on imagination exercises to help develop and expand our imagination.
Concentration is the process of focusing one’s mind on an object, a person or a task. To be able to work without tension and with a free imagination, we need to be able to concentrate with some ease. In order to bring authenticity to our acting, we need to strengthen our observational skills. We work on some exercises to develop and sharpen our ability to observe and concentrate.
In order for an actor to let the story be told through them, it's important to seek to understand what the writer has written. Exploring and discovering the world in which the story is set; the history, politics, religion, art, science, culture and all the details that define that world. We chase after the lives in those stories. Who are they? What do they want out of life? What do they do to achieve their goals? Just like in our own lives, the people in our stories live life 24 hours a day, and the more we learn (from the text and our imagination), the closer we get to those lives. We start by being outside the story, and through investigation and imagination, we begin to blur the lines, and we are now a part of the story.
Get to know the nuts and bolts of being on the set. Learn about what to expect from the moment you get to the studio or location. Who does what job, camera set-ups, and other info on how to work like a pro.
Learn about marketing, headshots, auditions, unions, agents and more. Make sure to have the information necessary to compete in the professional acting world.
On Stage vs. On Camera Acting
Acting on a stage and acting on camera have one basic difference.
On stage we prepare our work to show an audience. Their presence is essential to our work. Every performance is different because every audience is different; the energy from the actors and those watching them feed off each other.
When we prepare our work for the camera, we're not showing anybody anything. We are having a private experience with the other actors in the scene. The same way you'd have a private conversation with someone inside of a closed car, or in a room where you're alone, with no one watching. What happens is that there's a camera spying on us, eavesdropping on our private intimate moments.
If we start to "perform" or "show" what's going on (the way we do on stage), it will look fake. The camera never lies. If we start "acting", then we won't be believed. But, truthful behavior that is simply "witnessed" is what we want.
How Class Works
Each night of class, I select 2 person scenes for everyone. I have thousands of scenes from movies and TV, all formatted for the on-camera exercise we do in class. The scenes are mostly evenly weighted for both actors. After reading it once or twice, the student then daydreams about the circumstances. Where is it? When is it? Do these people know each other? Are they a couple? Do they work together? What do they do for work? And on and on and on. Whatever details define a person's life, are all the details to ask questions about. We also talk about the circumstances together. Then with the 2 actors sitting in chairs, facing each other, both shot in close-up by separate cameras, and displayed on a split-screen monitor, we begin to work on the scene.
Every student works on camera in every class.
I record the work, and post it on an unlisted YouTube channel and send everyone the links. I never take the videos down, so students can look at their work at various times in their training to see the progress. I think it's very important to be able to see if we're actually doing on camera, what we think we're doing when we're acting.
We sometimes do studio exercises adapted from Stanislavski, Meisner, Strasberg, Hagen, Lewis, Adler and Linklater, to work on relaxation, imagination, concentration, communication, voice and other elements of actor training.
In every class, I also address questions about the business of acting; auditions, headshots, marketing, agents, unions and anything else students ask.