Kevin E. West

The Business of Acting: The Acting Class

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What does an acting class mean to you? Here are some things to think about in your pursuit.

What Makes An Acting Class For You?

Let’s take a look at some things together. 

We’ve all heard the sayings…

Practice makes perfect!

   No Pain – No Gain!

    Good is the Enemy of Great…!

These and many others might make you smile or cringe or shake your head. I get it! Phrases like this can lose their punch over time. Regardless, I’m sure you have few phrases or quotes that motivate and help you get better. I know I do! And these words are emblematic of learning, improving and achieving something for yourself —or others! It’s all part of gaining knowledge and slowly mastering a subject or skill which we can simply call —  EDUCATION.

Education for actors commonly takes place in an Acting Class. Generally, it’s an environment where, among peers and your teacher’s guidance, you gradually train your mind/body to really discover your talent for representing truthful characters. It’s constant practice. Memorization. Rehearsal. Performance. Notes. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This formula is not exclusive to the acting community. It’s essential for life. And though we will spend (and need to) a lot of time applying it (everywhere), I  want to make a few distinctions as we apply it to the practice of learning and excelling at the craft of acting. Believe me, I have the joys and pains of Hollywood hard knocks and with that some thoughts about “being in class.”

A THOUGHT BEFORE CHOOSING AN ACTING CLASS…

This is where I sometimes lose people… 

For me, on the business pursuit of any aspect of an acting career, you’re going to hear me, see me, FEEL ME, repeat these mantras:

1) Have I DONE MY Research?

2) What AM I THINKING I want to get out of this?

Can I get touchy-feely for a moment? Maintain mindfulness of both as they’re required at virtually every turn of one’s acting career. 

To help us both along the way, here are four (4) considerations to help in your research for an acting class and how it squares with who or what kind of teacher you want and what you want to get out of a class. Very simply, you want to get your money’s worth when all is said and done, so let’s do this right! 

1. CLASS SHOULD NOT BE USED TO VALIDATE YOU.
No, this has never happened to me. This has never happened to me.This has never happened to me…

You feel me? Of course you do. Gotta get real with y’all! 

But seriously, my point could initially throw of few of you off a bit. Do trust that there is real importance here. The acting profession is at the very top of difficult professions on the planet. And the reason for this is its naturally inherent degree of subjectivity — for us and our audience, right? We’re individuals. How our talent for acting is learned and manifested is vastly different person to person. 

For some of you though, the degree of subjectivity in our profession is such that a class or being in a class will eliminate that. It’s a necessary calling card because if we look at our profession and more closely at ourselves and see that we’re not in a class, what’s left to validate us as actors? 

I mean outside of taking an acting class, all we really have to show to ourselves and others might be a headshot or a business card or a website. These are tangible. Beyond that, what we have to do is seek work — which many actors don’t do. It means we need to market ourselves, meet casting directors, find representation, get auditions all with the aim of being hired to perform… for money. 

However, as we all know, getting hired and working consistently is VERY challenging. So, to keep our head in the game, what can commonly happen to all actors, we end up using class as a form of self-proclaimed validation to CALL ourselves an actor. Believe me, this can happen with the MOST veteran of actors, much less a beginner. And no, it isn’t a crime or bad, but it can greatly diminish the value of why you’re even IN an acting class.

I just want you to be aware of this mental process at all times simply so you don’t fall into the trap of referencing and talking about ‘being in class’ as a way to validate the idea of calling yourself an actor. Nothing more. Allow yourself to accept this might happen. Laugh at it. Sit with it. Let it allow you to be even more vigilant when attending class. Realize that you’re there to learn, risk, improve, stretch and grow more and more confident about your craft and natural talents. You’re not in class just to feel validated to the outside world — you’re already an actor!

2. CHOOSING A CLASS BASED ON ITS POPULARITY OR CLOUT
Hmmm. We would never do that. Since this does not apply to you, others might fall prey to this. And since we’re talking about a friend, I know styles or approaches or “awareness” varies among the different acting teachers with their proven styles. Now you may be reading where you live and be screaming back at me… we only have ONE teacher in town. If that is the case, don’t fret. Learn what you can since one day you might find yourself in a larger marketplace for your acting pursuit and consequently — more teachers.  

My point here is to ensure that you’re in ANY class for the RIGHT reasons and you that you GROW within that class rather than just choosing a teacher because “everyone” says they’re good or the name recognition (on your resume) will somehow open doors and instantly grant you credibility and agent-worthiness. No sooner do I say that, we both know that studying with certain well-known teachers or classes is terrific visibility and sometimes that teacher MAY IN FACT be the best person for you at that time of your life and career. Go for it! The warning here is simply to remain CLEAR on why you’re in class which is why I have it on this list of considerations.

3. TAKE THE VALUE OF CLASS INTO YOUR AUDITION
The art of learning anything requires practice, repetition and review (of practice) and then application. A common challenge we face as actors is the latter issue — application. Outside of acting class, we tend to only exercise those acting muscles again when we’re back in class the following week. Like many of us, we just can’t wait that long. We might get together for a class rehearsal with a scene partner and/or maybe do a little on-camera practice at home. So if someo of are this hungry to improve, why go to class? Obviously, we do so to improve our craft or skill, but certainly our overall talent!

Therefore, if you’re goint to class — MAXIMIZE IT. The key to studying the craft of acting, is to rise to a professional skill level that gets you hired when you audition. Why do I say this? If you’re in an acting class just to improve your personality or to become more outgoing and you’re not actually trying to make money as an actor, then most of what is discussed here, very likely, will not be applicable to you. 

I cannot tell you how often an actor outside of being ‘in class’ does not apply the lessons or teachings when they actually GET an audition. So often, they tend to go straight to the words, the scene, then have thoughts of being on set, meeting directors and producers. Frustratingly, we do this — me included — and we reduce our audition to just trying to memorize and read the part.

From my heart, please know that the only true way to judge the value of the teacher and the class that you’re in – is when you truly know, that you’ve applied what you’ve learned to an audition that  rocks the house. When taking the technical education of acting into your audition and booking work – that is a class worth being in all the time!

4. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAINTENANCE v. PERCEPTION!
Let’s say that you’ve been studying at the time of reading this with a particular group, teacher or class for 18-24 months. You love the teacher, your classmates and you absolutely know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re a much better actor today than when you first started in this class. Ok, great, that is a terrific place to be and certainly what we want!

So let me clarify my point above. 

Now similar to working out at the gym, unless you’re trying to become a professional bodybuilder, there comes a time when going to the gym is about MAINTAINING your physique and not necessarily improving it. And believe me, this is a VERY valid reason for being in acting class. Nonetheless, it is important that you are genuinely maintaining your acting skills and not just giving yourself the PERCEPTION that you are. To maintain yourself at the gym, you still have to workout: sweat, push, pull, ache and really FEEL it in your body that you were there.

From my sessions, too many times, actors get very comfy in class — almost passive or apathetic about the ‘working out’ of your actor craft. Again, this is not so much a fault or flaw, as it is a normal part of all of us being human. As class often goes, it’s a place where we can make friends, date someone, become the teacher’s pet, compare ourselves to others… and the list of human realities all to familiar to us go on and on. The real key is to catch yourself before it’s too late…because it is EASY to regress in your acting and then an audition pops-up at a moment’s notice!!

CONCLUSION
When in doubt about being in any acting class and/or when attempting to decide whether or not you’re going to continue in a particular class ask yourself a couple of simple questions:

  • As I prepared for my last audition did I just think about the technique I’ve learned or do I KNOW that I used it?
  • Do I really learn from my teacher and the class or am I just hoping an agent/manager will like me more because I studied with them?
  • When I engage out in the world, perhaps at social gatherings and such, is ‘being in class’ one of the first peer to peer statements I make about being or calling myself an actor? If yes, be sure to confirm to the listener you actually learn and feel strongly about THE class – not just being in one.
  • Has acting class become more of an expected routine and element or do you still energetically thrive on attending?
 

In my book, 7 Deadly Sins – The Actor Overcomes, there is a chapter entitled “Sincerity of Purpose.” In it, I urge you to be certain of what your driving purpose is for choosing and maintaining your current acting class commitment. Then, if there is a time you need to take a break or change the TYPE of class you’re in, then by all means do so and then come back to this post and check in!