The Importance of Acting Classes [cont’d]

[Read part one here]

If I could go back in time, I’d probably argue that whole ridiculous coffee cup thing. But aaaaat the tiiiiime I took it in. I was confused but I took it in. Also apparently when you’re “listening” to the other actor and don’t have much ‘action’ going on, having your arms glued to your sides is the most natural thing you can do when you don’t know what else to do. Okay then. So I did that. Whenever we made a mistake, we’d have to start over. But it was done in a way that made me feel frustrated and embarrassed. The whole classroom was set up like a stage, so you have all these other students staring at you as the teacher is telling you you’ve done something wrong, try it again. I mean it could be a lot worse, he could’ve been insulting. But it would’ve been nice if we got a more detailed response as to what we could do exactly to help NOT make those mistakes. Making me feel dumb about it doesn’t really help. It wasn’t just me. It made me feel uncomfortable watching other actors being critiqued for their acting choices. You could just see the humiliation burnt onto their face. And I know you’re all thinking, how are you going to learn if you’re not getting critiqued? It’s all in the WAY the critiquing is done. It has to be constructive! And while the teacher meant well, I don’t think he realized how condescending he could come across.

What bothered me the most is the lack of feedback when it came to HOW the lines were being said. I remember my acting partner having the most annoying speech pattern. He would literally say his lines the exact same way, with the exact same tones and inflections each time. Talk about monotony. There was no connection whatsoever.

Image(GET THAT CAMERA OUTTA MY FACE!!!)

So come week 6, we were ready to put it on film. Where for each scene, a student would volunteer to do the filming. The first take would be on you, the second on your partner. Lovely. It’s always nice having one of the students shove a camera in your face. It’s just different when you’re on set and there’s a camera on you (usually somewhat stationary) handled by a professional versus trying to act in a somewhat confined space with a “camera man”/student moving awkwardly around you (SO distracting) and your scene partner, sticking a camera all up in your grill. Not to mention the classroom was set so that the living room “couch” was literally facing the “audience”. At least on a set where you’re facing an audience or crew, there are usually cameras and directors and lights in the way. Nope. This was just…all clear. I see you, you see me. Awesome.

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And no, it’s not anything like theatre. I like theatre. I don’t mind theatre. When you do a theatre production, you get to be on a stage, the audience isn’t usually eye-level to you (note: usually) and there are bright lights and there’s more space and doing a theatre production you EXPECT there to be a crowd people somewhat in front of you. But in a medium sized classroom with like 10 faces staring right at you at close proximity while someone waves a camera in your face? No thanks.

TO TOP IT ALL OFF, we had to playback our videos on a TV monitor riiiight afterwards. Nice. So now I have to watch a close up of my face under unflattering lighting AND get critiqued in front of the entire class. Again. How fun.

The studio also encouraged substitution as a means of feeling an emotion. What that means is using some sort of relatable memory in your personal life to play the character’s emotions. For example, my character was meant to feel guilt. So I spent 20 minutes relaying personal information about my life (for the craft, you know) about the things I’ve done that made me feel guilty. For the first time in a long time, I cried. I admit, it was rather therapeutic and so naturally I thought it was amazing. Looking back at it, it was terrible of them to do that. I believe. I know there are people who believe in substitution. I don’t. First of all, it’s potentially emotionally damaging. Second of all, when you over-use a memory it loses its emotional impact over time any way cause like everything else in life, we get conditioned to things. So what are you supposed to do when that memory no longer affects you that way?? Also, how are you supposed to stay connected with the other actor if you’re busy thinking about your own memories in your own life aka being in your head. It’s selfish.

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Okay. Clearly, I had a lot to say about that. But I mean the funny thing is, I stuck around that studio for like 6 months because I didn’t know any better. I knew I felt uncomfortable, I knew I wasn’t quite keen on a lot of the techniques and exercises. I didn’t feel safe with the teachers or students. It didn’t feel like I could just be or make a huge fool of myself. I felt very guarded the entire time. And yes, that partly had to do with me and who I was as a person, but a good teacher should be able to inspire and bring you out of your shell. They’re supposed to guide you and make you feel comfortable, to help you grow. I got none of that. I mean, sure I got some good really good feedback and I did get a couple pointers here and there that’ve stuck with me. Mostly they’re now things I know NOT to do or that just aren’t right for me. Everything felt very stuffy and over-analyzed, over-rehearsed, without enough constructive feedback. Wasted time playing theatre games and doing “connective” (but not really) exercises instead of teaching us how to just ACT.

I’ll be honest, after all of that, I was kind of scarred. Apprehensive. It reaffirmed my initial feelings of the classroom environment not being for me. I was hesitant to drop more money on new classes at a studio I had no idea whether I’d like or not. Every studio seemed to have such mixed reviews online. Maybe I was better off to just keep learning by doing. Not knowing any better, I kept doing the things they taught me. Looking back, it made for some very mediocre work.

6-months-later

Fast forward 6-8 months, and by some random chance of fate I was introduced to my acting coach now. And you know what? I haven’t looked back since. Even during that first audit (yes, she makes ALL new students audit before deciding on joining her class- WHAT A REVELATION!!) there was something different about her class. First of all, everyone was so warm, professional and very clearly serious about their craft but there was still a very relaxed feel to it. It was very natural, there was lots of joking and bantering. The beginning of the class was dedicated to general chit chat, a time to tell the class about any updates, things happening in their lives etc. not pointless, ridiculous ‘voice & movement’ exercises.

Then after they were done catching up, it was straight to business. Get centred and just act. Just be present, stay grounded and get into that headspace, then let it play. No prior rehearsals besides running lines with your partner before class. A lot of focus and constructive criticism was put on quality of voice, body positioning, energy, listening/connective-ness, being present/out of your head and just being!

If in the moment you are inclined to clutch a coffee mug, THEN YOU CLUTCH THAT COFFEE MUG.

As long as it’s not contrived and just comes from the moment. Then the latter half of the class is dedicated to practicing a cold read, while staying connected to a scene partner, and that script is then the scene you’ll be performing the next week. We also have a week dedicated to on-camera auditions. All bases covered in one place?

PERFECT!

What? You only spend a week on scenes? And you know what? I’ve done and seen some of the best acting work since. Over-analyzing and being overly technical and over-rehearsed with it is so yesterday’s news. Plus, if you really think about it, a lot of the time actors only get their scripts a couple of days in advance, if not the night before shooting or an audition.

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This class felt safe to me, which has allowed me to grow immensely creatively and emotionally. Don’t get me wrong though, this coach is a fucking hard ass. She yells, she’s blunt and will stop your scene and tell you that you’re doing shit wrong. BUT then she’ll tell you how to fix it. And her intentions are good and her methods actually make SENSE to me. The whole class vibrates with warm, creative energy the second you walk into it. And since then, I’ve grown tenfold, twentyfold as an artist.

I’m not saying the previous methods of teaching were wrong. They just weren’t for me. At all. I’m sure there are a ton of people who love that studio. I’m sure. Whether or not they churn out talent is debatable. Most people I meet now have nothing but negative things to say about them. I mean, to each his own though. I will say this though, since I’ve left, they’ve lost all their teachers (dispute with the owner/founder/master teacher) and have had to completely revamp. That kind of says something.

The best thing I did take away from that first studio is all the the actor/acting stories and industry casting director tips we got. They were all quite amusing and informative. I mean the teachers were really cool people! Just…maybe not the best teachers in the studio that they were at. But despite all that, it was just not worth the 6 months I spent that cost me well over a thousand dollars. I didn’t know any better. I was sticking it out, trying to force myself to conform and get used to this class because I figured this was just the way it was, and I’d have to get used to it.

So here’s my piece of advice: trust your gut. If something feels a little off about the method, the teachers, the students (their attitude is highly influenced by the teachers in charge) or the class atmosphere in general, don’t stick around. Don’t waste your time and money. Don’t ever think that that is the ONLY way to go and there must be something wrong with you cause it doesn’t work for you. There are plenty of other studios and teachers out there with different vibes. Unfortunately there are a lot of bitter and negative teachers out there though, you just have to weed them out. But don’t give up until you find one that provides you with an environment that helps you grow and lifts you up.

You won’t regret it. Hope this helps.

The Aspiring Actress.

Naaaaailed It.

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And it feels so damn good.

Had a very successful acting class today. I’d been a little worried that I might’ve emotionally worn myself out in the process of figuring out my character and wouldn’t be able to “go there” when the time came. On top of that, I was exhausted. Didn’t get much sleep the night before so I felt like a zombie. I would’ve way much rather have crawled into my bed than go to class. On top of THAT, it was a scene from a movie that I’d watched the shit out in the past, which makes it harder for me to make it my own rather than mimicking how it was done in the film.

((I am really tired though, so not everything I write may make sense! Formulating sentences is quite the task right now, but I know I have to get this out tonight cause it just won’t be the same tomorrow.))

Knowing all the above, I told myself on my way to acting class to relax and not to psych myself out with a bunch of expectation. Expectations of getting the scene ‘right’, expectations of it playing out a certain way. Expectation kills creativity, after all. And I’d done my homework so I knew the emotions were there, it was just a matter of whether they’d surface or not when I needed them- and sometimes they just don’t! Sometimes the elements just don’t line up. You can’t be too hard on yourself if you know you’ve truly done the work.

Before my scene went up, I did a quick meditation- if you could even call it that. It was more like a deep breathing exercise (eyes open) to ground myself and find where I’d left my character. To find her sadness from within. I still wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go there, but at least I had the tools. One of those tools, by the way, having a good listening ear. Really listening to what the other actor is saying to you. How can you react to something honestly if you’re not even giving yourself anything to react to??

So before you know it, I’m starting my scene and everything falls perfectly in place. My voice is strong, the emotions (betrayal, sadness, desperation) surface in all the right places, tears are falling freely, and I’m really listening, connecting with the other actor. Eyes were glued. Compliments were showered.

I’m not really one to toot my own horn about these kinds of things. Something within me just doesn’t allow that or feel comfortable with it. But the point is, I nailed it. 100%, no regrets. And that feels freaking good, especially when I didn’t think I’d be able to get there at all. I surprised myself and that’s awesome.

Just goes to show how far grounding yourself, really listening to the other actor and doing your homework goes. Homework to me is:

1. Knowing your lines to a tee. At the very least, the essence of the lines. What is your character trying to say? So that even if you forget your lines and don’t get it word for word, you still get across the same meaning. Plus knowing your lines means you aren’t scrambling for them, thus freeing you up in your body and performance.

 2. Really analyzing and embodying who your character is as a person- who are they at their core? What drives them? What makes them who they are that makes them say the lines that are written?

3. Understanding what their role is in the scene. What was the story the writer wanted to tell in this scene, and what part does your character play in that?

I’m sure there are many other things as well, but that’s the majority of it. And I’m pretty sleepy, so if I think of anything else that’s important I’ll write about it in a new post. But seriously guys, if you’re doing all those things and whatever else you consider ‘homework’, then you’ve got the magic formula. All you have to do is trust that everything you need is already set up there for you.

You’ve just gotta open yourself up to it.

Sweet dreams, all you lovely people. xox. I’m going to pass out now.

The Aspiring Actress.