What an Acting Class Should Be

Acting is a tough, competitive nasty business. Here in LA especially. The promise of a National Commercial or a Recurring Role on a series means a lot of money for struggling actors. A good movie role can start a career if the actor is ready for the audition and ready to deliver in front of the camera. The problem with these situations is the pressure it creates. Every audition counts. Good auditions for good projects are hard to get. So, when you audition, are you prepared? And who helped prepare you and how did they help you?
Most of what goes on in LA is cold reading technique and commercial acting classes. There's nothing wrong with these classes in theory--they would be good if they were just warm-up or work out places. The problem is that they have largely replaced in people's minds an actual acting class, or some acting situation where a beginning actor can learn the craft. People think that because they have taken a cold reading class at a reputable studio that they are ready for the aformentioned pressure. They aren't. The conditions that one auditions under in LA, and then the conditions on most TV shows and film sets are not conducive to allowing a beginner or someone who has taken a few cold reading classes to produce good work under pressure.
A good acting class, and a good acting teacher recognizes these realities and responds to them by providing deep real preparation for the real world of work in Film and TV. A good acting class stresses technique and relaxation as the cornerstones of a successful acting career, or even just a successful audition. There are many acting techniques out there. But the standard and most artistically sound techniques are based on Stanislavsky. The three most familiar interpreters and teachers of the Master's work are Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. Bobby Lewis is a less famous proponent of Stanislavsky based work, but he has also written a wonderful book and was a very influential teacher. Why are these techniques and interpretations of Stanislavsky so important? And why should a competent acting teacher teach one of them?
Because they directly address the need the actor has to produce truthful behavior, to be in the moment, to communicate from a deep emotional level of truth. These techniques TRAIN actors to do these things. There are many offshoots of these four main interpreters of Stanislavsky, but these are the major teachers. If some version of their techniques is not present, something is missing. If you can't produce real behavior under imaginary circumstances, you aren't acting. You may be performing, but you won't be acting.
The other major component acting classes need to incorporate is some kind of body and voice work. The need for these disciplines is clear at Yale and Juilliard and NYU where, if you enroll, you will get classes in everything from Fight and Tumbling to Clown and Linklater Voice. You may study Alexander, Feldenkrais, or Yoga. You may learn meditation or martial arts. But you must learn something. Something about your body and the way it functions. Because your body is your tool. The musician has his guitar, the actor has her body. That is your tool. Expression and communication rely on the body and voice. And that body and voice had better be trained. Somehow. A good acting class and a good acting teacher train the body to function under the extreme duress of cameras and booms in the face, or a commercial casting director yelling instructions at you. You learn to meditate, breathe and master anxiety. You learn to access the most resonant part of your voice. You learn to relax your muscles and maintain your posture, or take on the posture of a character.

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