WHAT MAKES ACTOR CLASS SO DIFFERENT?
ActorClass provides the tools, knowledge and confidence performers of all levels need to start landing roles. Most students arrive war-torn, saying: "I paid thousands of dollars to take an on-camera class with the great so-and-so, and nothing has changed." And that’s because you won’t become a star just because you spend time in front of a camera. Acting is learned by taking on a full regiment of disciplines that include cold-read, monologue, scene study, classics, voice, singing, and camera work, so that the next time you are before the audition lens, you are prepared with the actual fundamentals. Casting directors don’t care if your “self-tape” has a high production value or not. They don’t care if you are blinking too much or flaring your nostrils. They already know a good director will fix those issues when the time comes. Casting directors are only concerned with the look in your eye: Are you being honest? Are you emotionally available? Do you understand what you are saying? Can you act? When you truly study acting, you should leave each classroom not only inspired by the teacher and their achievements, but by the progress of fellow classmates from week to week, and subsequently, in the professional world. ActorClass cuts through the jargon, gimmicks and showcases other studios can't seem to stop selling, and provides the actual building blocks that lead to lucrative careers.
The approaches to acting come from a positive and loving place and are designed to push your ability towards honesty, truth and realism. Unfortunately, in my experience as both teacher and student, some studios are more concerned with filling classes, than with properly training actors; or studios use the luster of a famous technique in order to shake the tree of as many hopeful students as they can. And because of this saturated process (where quality goes out the window to make space for headshots on the wall), something important gets lost: Your growth as an artist. At ActorClass, our foundations are built upon all techniques that have come before, however, we promote the design and construction of new tactics and forms in order to arrive at the same results faster. Each actor is different and should be shown all the weaponry on the wall, but they should categorically be allowed to mix and match those suits of creative armor in any way they choose, until they begin to understand what works best for them. Our studio shows actors how to create their own set of tools instead of relying so heavily on what everyone else is using. We present a clear message of discipline and hard work instead of a romantic philosophy born from a different era. We maximize results for your career by training you as a formidable actor, but also, arm you with first-hand knowledge about what to expect in the business, how to communicate with an agent and get casting directors to notice. Every time I hear that a hard-working actor has enrolled in a studio that studies a specific technique, I hope they understand what they are stepping into. There, the promise of growth seems always around the corner, but only after you, "sign up for two more years in order to study the next level of the great mystery." What they don't tell you is: there is no mystery. There is only hard work. If you've taken acting classes before, then much of what I say here will hopefully shake your foundations enough to make you ask yourself a few basic questions.
WHY MEET WITH SCENE PARTNERS, WHEN A PRO never does?
The following has become the universally understood definition of "discipline" for the modern actor: You spend an hour traveling to visit your scene partner. You meet at a coffee shop or worse yet, your scene partner's unkempt apartment where you must wait for roommates to leave. It is a half hour before you finally pull out your scripts and then, instead of rehearsing, you spend the next half-hour discussing the class, the students, the teacher, your favorite movies. Finally, you start running the scene only to realize your partner isn't memorized because he doesn't take this as seriously as you. Rehearsal becomes helping him work the lines and before you know it, it's time to go home. At this point, you've wasted five hours. Most acting programs ask you to do this twice a week. That's ten hours a week you could have used toward bettering your career, looking for an agent, having a sit-down with a director you've been networking with, or - to put it bluntly - enrolling in a better acting program. In my humble opinion as an actor who has trained in this very manner, I attest that it doesn’t help, but rather, it hinders the growth and training of novice actors by allowing them to meet unsupervised at someone's apartment, dorm room or even a coffee shop. There is no need for actors to be rehearsing together on their own time and ActorClass proves this onstage every week. There is no meeting outside of class at our studio because you would never meet your scene partner outside of rehearsal in the professional world. Broadway stars don’t do that nor do movie stars. And therefore, acting training should mirror this and always be monitored by a director or teacher in a professional, neutral environment. Furthermore, students should be pushed to know the scenes they are working on so well, that they can play either part, which makes the identity and ability of the scene partner a mute point. A scene partner should be interchangeable the way an understudy is interchangeable. After all, once you know Hamlet like the back of your hand, it starts to become irrelevant WHO is playing Ophelia, but rather, HOW she plays it. A good actor understands both parts in the scene and if both actors train this way, extra rehearsal time becomes an added bonus to the tons of work already put in by both parties. After properly rehearsing on their own, actors should be set free like two boxers in the creative ring who don’t quite know when the emotional punches will come from their partner. But if you let actors rehearse on their own time, the boxing match ends up looking more like World Wrestling Federation: forced, clunky, and aware of itself. Professional actors don't fool themselves into believing that working with a scene partner will make or break them. What makes an actor shine is how hard they work on their own time. You need to have imagination beyond the standards everyone else is using in order to shatter the expectations of casting directors. Most projects barely offer the luxury of two weeks to memorize lines before opening night. Which begs the question, why are you wasting precious time meeting scene partners at coffee shops? Why train that way -- when the business simply does not work that way?
ARE YOU AGAINST TECHNIQUES?
After Stanislavski (arguably the inventor of modern acting), techniques developed to teach theater actors how to branch over to the newer, more realistic art of cinema. In my opinion, the techniques and theater games from the past are wonderful and can be taught in a few short hours. As a teacher, I’ve found an easy way to bundle the schools of thought into a simple format that allows actors to think less and create more. I respect what came before and think every actor should understand the mechanics of those ideas. After all, they were once cutting edge tools. Still, ActorClass has developed a no-nonsense approach that far better reflects what is required of performers in the fast-paced industry of short film, theater festivals, reality TV, casting competitions, webisodes and more. Success in any of these arenas does not arrive from learning a technique. True success arrives from being versatile enough to express anything a director desires the moment they call, "action." This ability comes from having the common sense and fortitude to do more than the standard practice.
WHY CALL "SCENE" WHEN LEARNING TO ACT?
Why does every acting program make students call the word "scene" when they finish acting a duet in class? Why that word? Calling "scene" is in direct contradiction to everything Method acting stands for (where you are trained to live your part). For how can you be true to your character work when, at the emotional climax, you've been saddled with the burden and responsibility of having to call out a word? It is the director's job to make all technical and creative decisions over his cast and crew just as it is the teacher's job over a class of eager actors. Actors should be training and preparing to follow commands -- They should not be getting used to calling them out. Whatever the origins, calling "scene" burdens the actor by giving him authority over something that would never be his responsibility in the professional world. In an acting class, the teacher should have wizard-like knowledge of the material being performed and, like any director, have common sense enough to stop a duet when it bombs. Or, if the actors are having emotional breakthroughs, allow the scene to continue beyond the dialogue. This is obviously done to train performers to "stay in the moment" until "cut" is called by a director. Why the largest acting studios haven't stopped to consider their own massive contradiction should disturb anyone who takes the craft seriously. A scene isn't finished because an actor wants it to be or because the dialogue is over or because the rules of some age-old technique say so. An actor on-set or stage doesn't finish his dialogue then call "scene" to the crew -- of course not. He shouldn't even be thinking about that. At ActorClass, we allow the final moments to play out naturally for every scene in order to train actors for the professional world.
Why am I failing as an actor?
Every performer has a monitor in his head - a video camera pointed inward that looks at every detail with biased compulsion, negative or positive. That camera surveys the performance as it happens, searching for flaws and triumphs, ceaselessly asking, “How does the performance look so far?” In other words, “How am I doing?” Unfortunately, it is self-surveying that keeps an actor from focusing on the emotional work required of any scene. In order for an actor to achieve great heights, they must grab that video camera from the back of their mind and smash it to bits. They must trust that a great coach, director or teacher, will become that video surveillance system in the form of constructive criticism. Over the years, I’ve had the painful experience of training a few head-strong "actors" who storm out of classrooms or private sessions, all complaining, crying and even threatening me: "You are too tough” - “You expect too much” - "You judge me too much.” "I'll kick your ass!" (literally). What they fail to understand is that I've been to the place they are trying to get to. I've been auditioning and acting since I was nine years old. I've acted and directed under the pressure of big-budget premiere openings, and have worked with testy celebrity personalities from all denominations. What I've learned above all is that you must be resilient to judgment and criticism. In fact, learning to take judgement is part of an actor's profession. If you aren’t prepared for a daily smattering of opinions from every department: directors, writers, producers, agents (and let’s not forget the critics), then you've chosen the wrong profession. Acting isn't just about acting, but having the right attitude and learning to stop taking yourself so seriously. Actors are not the center of the universe -- directors are. All an actor need do is respect the commands of the director and have fun in the process. Very simple stuff. A good teacher is someone who understands the world outside of the classroom, and makes actors try scenes a hundred different ways in order to prepare them for that moment when a director wants more. You must be pliable to the director and you must be ready for judgement. Not just ready - eager.
WHAT IS TALENT... REALLY?
There is no mystery to acting just as there is no mystery to creating a desk. Sure, the first few times you try, you will fail. in fact, you will probably fail a lot. But, if you work hard and learn from mistakes, you can become good at anything. Great, in fact. And the first step is recognizing that "talent" simply does not exist. There is only hard work. Read the memoirs of your favorite artists, athletes and innovators, and you will find the common thread between them is an obsessive, near-religious commitment to practicing all aspects of their field. Actors love their job. Even when the role requires crying their eyes out eight times a week, or struggling on-set and doing fifty takes, acting is fun. An actor's artistry is built upon a desire to understand the human condition, an unbridled passion for the written word, plus a deep love of self-expression. To the outsider, this combination is called “talent”. To the successful actor, building these muscles can only happen by pushing beyond the standards everyone else is using, in order to arrive upon the raw truth casting directors and audiences crave.
WHAT DO WE WORK ON IN A CLASSROOM?
Tuesday night scene study (7-10pm / Midtown Manhattan), has been ongoing for over a decade and a Monday class is available. Major film and television careers began at our studio, and successful students return to show new generations that proof is truly in the ActorClass pudding. Our scene study is a supportive environment where artists are encouraged to take risks and embrace mistakes instead of trying to "nail it." We don't flatter each other with false praise or garnish half-cooked work with mild applause, nor is the teacher the only one to speak. The class is encouraged to critique what they see in a positive, informative and constructive way. Here, you and a partner are given a duet from film or theater and will work that material for three weeks. What makes scene study unique, if not revolutionary, is that you are not allowed to meet with your scene partner on your own time; you do not have rehearsals alone at some random apartment in a neighborhood you've never been to; you do not discuss the scene. Instead, I teach you how to properly rehearse and create roles the way your favorite actors do: On their own time. In film, unless you are very lucky, there is little time set aside for the lengthy rehearsal process that most theater artists have grown accustom to. A professional movie set runs as efficiently as any good business: Talent is expected to arrive on time and be ready to hit their marks and emotional cues. Our realistic approach cuts through the hocus-pocus they've stuffed into our heads over the last half-century, and instead, yields straight forward results in the form of lucrative careers.
David L. Epstein
MORE TO COME...