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.

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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.

The Importance of Acting Classes

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When I first started acting, I was eager to jump into a class. Any class. But at $200-500 a month for classes held once a week, I realized I had a lot of careful contemplating to do. I wanted to try ’em all but which to try out first?? I didn’t have the time to audit all these classes. I never did make a decision thanks to my indecisiveness, but luckily after chatting to a couple actors I’d met on student film projects, the decision making process was made to be a lot easier for me.

I was pretty sure I’d made the right choice. I heard some fantastic feedback from a couple of actors, this place sounded perfect, not to mention these classes were 6 weeks long- clearly I would be taking more away from it than a 4 week class! I was surely on my way to acting enlightenment! I got so excited about attending these classes, that for about 2 weeks prior to my first day I obsessively scoured every inch of their website for every detail I could find on their teachers, their methods, philosophies, techniques. They also had an extensive YouTube channel, so I spent hours watching all of the videos, which I’d found very informative and exciting. The founder of the school seemed to be so passionate and had so many interesting stories to tell, it was hard not to be affected by it.

My first day there wasn’t quite what I was expecting but still, I was going to go with it. This was my first acting class ever! What did I know about how these things work? The teacher was pretty cute too, which didn’t hurt…though it did make it harder for me to relax and feel less self conscious about myself. Everybody seemed nice enough. There were students of all ages, genders and kinds of character. It did make me nervous not knowing what ‘levels’ they were at. Were they all experienced actors? Was I the only newbie?

Anyways. Looking back at that first class, it kind of felt like a waste of time. Like it was purposely there to waste that first week out of the six. He went through the basic principles they believed in, which was all great. Then we spent a lot of time just chatting. Then we sat around a table and read our new scripts out loud with our chosen scene partners. In this class, we only got to work on one scene the entire six weeks. I mean I’m guessing this is the norm in many acting classes? Spending 6 weeks on one scene. At the time for a newbie actor, this was perfectly fine. I probably needed all that time to get to know the character.

The next couple of weeks were dedicated to playing theatre games, analyzing our characters technically with very specific questions we were given (this was our ‘homework’), rehearsing the scenes we got and then finally putting them “up” in our last week while a person filmed around us with a camcorder.

First of all, I’ve never been a fan of “theatre games” (sorry, I mean “voice & movement exercises” *eye roll*). Not since I got a feel for them in my high school drama classes. I mean I get it. I get why they’re done. To open you up, loosen your body, help you relax, get out of your mind, learn to stay present and you know, cause everyone else is making themselves look like a douche bag, it’s okay if you do too! I didn’t have too much of a problem with them, except it was a little annoying when we spent half the class doing these exercises when we could’ve been working on you know…acting.

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There are also days where, guess what! I don’t FEEL like being particularly active or social and just want to be left alone and get down to business. So you forcing me to dance and make weird noises and faces at people is COMPLETELY LUDICROUS. To be honest, it would really turn me off of going to class. I also noticed that there were people who would just never get comfortable with it. The self-consciousness and inability to let go just oozed out of their pores, and it was painful to watch. Why are you making these people who are clearly already very uncomfortable participate in an uncomfortable exercise that’s kind of, somewhat humiliating? It’s like forcing the kid with stage fright to become the lead in the annual school play. You just don’t do that. You give him a one-liner and build his confidence up by making him feel safe but like he’s still doing something.

Another exercise they had us do was to partner up with somebody, stand like an inch from their face and just stare into their eyes for 5 minutes and “connect”.

Uhh…okay.

Meanwhile I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have had garlicky pasta leftovers for lunch…

I also don’t like the whole partnering up thing. It reminds me of middle school, that awkward feeling when someone is clearly scrambling to find a partner cause he/she wasn’t anybody’s first choice. Then we’d have to tell each other things such as our deepest fears, our regrets, what our goals are in life, what we liked and didn’t like about ourselves. Talk about a breach of privacy. After that the teacher would have us tell the other person three words we thought described them based on first impressions. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you you seem like a “really nice person” because they clearly know nothing about you and don’t know what else to say. Nice? You think I’m NICE? That’s so…boring. And I was a bit passive aggressive back then, so I’d fire back with an equally mundane description. HA! Take that. PFFT.

Sometimes though people would seriously say things that made you go like, “What???” Things that were a little offensive to me, but I couldn’t blame them if they were forced to make uninformed judgements about me based on..nothing. So I didn’t take it too personally, but clearly I was not a fan of the exercise. And also, what is the point exactly?? They said it helps you connect with the other actor. But in what sense? I did not feel connected at all. In fact, I felt judged and uncomfortable.

In the 4th and 5th weeks, we got to rehearse our scenes in the latter half of class and were given feedback by the teacher. In those weeks, we’d also have to meet up with our scene partners to rehearse outside of class. Bitch, who got time for that?! Having to meet with my scene partner on my own time outside of class so that we could over-rehearse a piece, as beginners, with no guidance? Sounds like the perfect situation for bad habits to be formed. We might as well have been headless chickens feigning to know which direction we were headed. I mean, looking back, we were doing so much that was wrong when rehearsing on our own, that it really was just a waste of time. But sigh, I must digress. At the time, I thought this was the shit. I felt so actor-y. Whoop dee doo.

I also got some very strange feedback during the times we got to rehearse in class. This was a living room scene, mind you:

“Why did you decide to hold the coffee cup in your hands?”

“Uh…I don’t know. It just felt right? I mean she’s sitting at home and stuff and the coffee cup was there…isn’t that the kind of stuff you do at home, talking to your friend?”

“No. You can’t do something like that without a reason. Is there a reason your character is holding a drinking cup?”

“Um…no. I guess not.”

“Then don’t do it.”

“Okay.”

[CONT’D]

Okay, maybe just ignore this one…

It’s always a strange experience being on set. Each set is like a completely different animal. Some are cuddly, fuzzy, and you never want to leave. Others you can’t wait to get out of. All of this comes down to the actor-actor and/or actor-crew chemistry. It’s something I’ve always struggled mastering. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a total people person! But in an industry that’s fuelled by egos and arrogance at its worst, it’s not always the easiest task. It can often times feel isolating. For myself anyway.

Since I mostly do indies, I’m just going to say I feel that I’m just not an artist’s actor. And what I mean by that is I’m not “cool” in the sense of being eclectic and obscure. I don’t have a naturally grunge-y, edgy look without the help of make up and leather jackets. But the thing is, I’m a total closet quirk. I’m just not the kind of person who wears it on my sleeve. I don’t walk around brooding or being weird in a “cool” way- it all just happens…IN MY HEAD and trust me when I say I can brood with the best of them.

But mostly I’m just me. I’m an actor. Sometimes I’m bubbly, sometimes I’m melancholy. Sometimes I say weird shit. But I’m more or less just a normal person. This does not appeal to the masses of hipsters and artists I meet on the indie film scene. I know, I know. I shouldn’t care. As long as I can do the work, right? But I’m just saying…it’s not fun feeling like the outsider on set.

On the a positive note, some of them LOVE me! Maybe it’s not so much an actor-crew thing but just a people thing. Not everybody gets along and you’re not exactly on set to make friends, are you? I should probably get my head out of the clouds on that one.

But enough of that. I also find it hard to connect with certain actors. On one hand, I have no problem speaking to a room of 300 people and make fast friends at parties. On the other hand, I clam up and lose the ability to come up with or say anything remotely interesting or witty when I feel intimidated.

Why I even feel intimidated beats me. It’s not like I work with celebrities or even half-recognizable people (oh god, I can’t even imagine what that day will be like if it ever happens). Without sounding arrogant, I would say I am on par with my peers talent-wise. So what is it about *certain* other actors that turns me into an awkward, bumbling twat? Hmmm. Their unwavering confidence.

I realize I’m still at a stage in my career where I haven’t gained enough confidence as an actor. Despite having worked on more indie projects than most of the actors I meet, getting endless compliments (grain of salt) and having roles written for me, I still feel like the new kid. The stuttering kid who is eager to please, eager to learn. I am STILL eager to learn but the former is such a far cry from who I really am as a person.

In my personal life I’m opinionated! I’m bold! I’m funny (sometimes…maybe unintentionally). So what is this phenomena that happens when I’m around other actors my age?! It’s frustrating! How can the difference be so vast!

I often wonder WHEN I’m ever going to get to a point where I can tell myself, “Okay. You officially have a voice that matters. You are no longer an amateur. You’re an equal. Who cares what these people think.”

I’ve never been the type of person to need approval from those around me. Not since middle school anyway.. but seriously. Is this the needy actor side of me that NEEDS the verbal reassurance??? No. Can’t be. That’s terrible. …ugh.

Maybe it’ll take getting onto a nationally televised show? A big budget movie production? Adding another 21 credits to my resume?! Going to a prestige film festival?? Signing onto a major agency???? Perhaps I’m just doomed to forever be an insecure actor. Not insecure in my work (no, no, no) but who I am as an actor, err, person. I mean the only time I feel consistently confident is when I’m actually ACTING and in character. Because..well it’s not me.

What I wonder is, how are all these people so confident? Where does it come from? Why can’t I be like that?

Maybe I needed to be hugged more as a child. Maybe people are more open and warm on big budget productions…I know, don’t laugh. A girl can dream. I’ll wait to have those dreams crushed another day.

To be honest, I’m probably making it sound a lot worse than it actually is. There are plenty of sets and plenty of days where I feel completely comfortable and part of a mini-family. It’s just the neurotic moments/days/nights/weeks that turn me into this neurotic mess. No wonder I stopped journalling.

God. I’m such an obnoxious actor, aren’t I? I apologize, guys. And thank you to anyone who put up with and read the entirety this silly neurotic actor rant. If no one ever reads this, then at least I got to get it off my chest. Maybe it’ll take some of the crazy with it. There’s nothing like a good vent after all.

Sigh. Just another thing for me to add to the list of things I need to work on I suppose: STOP being so neurotic.

WISH ME LUCK.

The Aspiring Actress.

Here’s a cute little comic strip to make up for it all:

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