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]

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Quotespiration # 15: Meryl Streep

“I think the most liberating thing I did early on was to free myself from any concern with my looks as they pertained to my work.”

Meryl Streep (Award-winning Actress; holds the record for most Oscar nominations in Hollywood history)

You’ve got to let it go. It’s not about you, it’s about the character and the story. You can’t do them justice if you’re preoccupied with yourself and how you look. Sometimes easier said than done, I know.

There’s an unequivocal beauty in raw honesty.

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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.

Namaste.

I previously wrote about how important it is to ground yourself into your body in order to do good work. So I’d like to share with you a little trick I’ve picked up that has really helped me open my channels up as an actor.

One of those things is yoga.

Yoga, more specifically the meditation portion of yoga, has helped me recognize how it feels to be in that place of openness that is vital to any actor. Luckily, there are other ways you can also achieve this without having to contort your body into weird, foreign positions- in a room heated to 40 degrees if you are a fan of the HOT variety like I am.

Simply give yourself 5 or 10 or how ever many minutes you need to close your eyes and centre yourself into your body. It’s something everyone of all races, ages and religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) can do, and if this is something you already do, then good for you! Go make yourself a tea and plop yourself down for a good ol’ session.

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As for the rest of ya…

There’s no need to get cheesy about it. There are no prayers, chants or ohms necessary. All you need is a comfortable space to sit, wherever that may be (I personally prefer to do this on the floor) and get into a comfortable position. I like to sit cross legged. Easy enough, right?

Slowly try to clear your mind but it’s okay if you can’t in the beginning or if you’re having a particularly hectic day. Eventually you will be able to. Draw all attention to your breathing. Take your time as you breathe in deeply, feeling your lungs expand and your body fill up with all this energizing oxygen goodness. Then exhale, and with that let all of your troubles, doubts and judgements follow.

Don’t think, don’t judge, just do! I’m doing you a favour, trust me.

Clear yourself of all the negativity in your life. Always be aware of your body, how you’re positioned, how you feel (not how you think you should feel). Try to sense all of the life and positive energy that is surrounding you, just waiting to be tapped into and drawn from. Bring it in and feel this newfound energy course through your body. Continue to breathe in and out consciously.

Eventually the point is to reach a place of peace and heightened awareness, away from your troubles. A place where ego doesn’t exist. Remember to always stay conscious, you’re not supposed to be falling asleep here.

Keep doing this until you feel you’ve like you’ve gotten what you needed out of it or until you’re so bored (that’s okay too) that you can’t possibly sit a second longer. Open your eyes and feel your body float back down to its core and firmly plant itself onto the ground. Sometimes this is even better than a cup of coffee after a long night (BEEN there).

It’s also remarkable how rejuvenated and open you feel afterwards, even if it felt like the whole time you were so in your head. Chances are, you were probably less in your head than you think. It might take a couple of tries, but when done right, you’ll be ready to do some of your best work from this place. Your body is open, grounded, your mind clear and empty of worries and self-sabatoging thoughts, all you have left is to simply be. You are your own blank canvas. Recognize this place. Remember how it feels. You’ll find yourself returning to it easily without having to sit and meditate for 10 minutes, which is handy when you’re on set and meditating in the middle of the room might garner some looks.

Even if you feel this doesn’t quite help ground your work, it’s certainly a good way (and what I do) to recharge the batteries and relieve some stress in your personal life- and when your instrument is tuned up, so is your work.

And hey, if you enjoy this practice and feel comfortable with it, go ahead and throw in some candles and meditation music. HAVE AT IT. Whatever it takes to make you feel awesome afterward.

Hope this helps in some small way.

Love & Light,

The Aspiring Actress.