ActorClass Founder & Teacher, David L. Epstein

ActorClass Founder & Teacher,
David L. Epstein

WHAT MAKES ACTOR CLASS SO DIFFERENT?

Hopefully -- everything. I created ActorClass in order to set a higher standard that provides the tools, knowledge and confidence performers of all levels need to start landing roles. Many students arrive war-torn, saying: "I paid thousands of dollars to take a class with the great so-and-so, and I'm more confused than ever." An acting class should be productive, thrilling and fun. You should leave each session not only inspired by the teacher and their achievements, but by the progress of fellow classmates. An actor myself, I know first hand that finding the right class is a challenging process. It takes time, money, and if you look under the wrong rock, it can even cost precious self respect. ActorClass cuts through the jargon other studios can't seem to let go of, and provides the fundamental building blocks that lead to lucrative careers.

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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 and techniques everyone else is using, in order to arrive upon the raw truth casting directors and audiences crave.

ARE YOU AGAINST TECHNIQUES?

"Techniques" were invented in the 1950's. Do you have the same television from that generation? The same car? Everything has evolved, and that includes acting training. I graduated from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU to learn all I could about the various approaches, studied Shakespeare with teachers from Juilliard, and spent five years studying Method at the place it was invented. However, none of that helped me land work. In my opinion, the "techniques" of the past can be understood in a few short hours. I respect what came before and think every actor should understand the basic mechanics of those ideas. After all, they were once cutting edge tools. However, realism in acting is the standard we have all grown up with by watching hours of TV, film and theater. We have Streep, Bale, Elba, DeNiro, Spacey -- virtual generations of actors to thank for showing us new forms, styles and approaches to the work. Realism in acting isn't new or foreign to us the way it was to our grandparents when they saw Brando in Streetcar for the first time. And yet, so many beginners choose to train at studios that produced stars fifty years ago, instead of choosing a studio that is making stars today. I've taken all that I've learned (and am still learning), as a professional actor, writer, and director, and have developed a no-nonsense approach that far better reflects what is required of actors 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 knowing what the fundamentals actually are, and becoming versatile enough to express those abilities when a director calls, "action."

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS

The approaches to acting come from a positive and loving place and are designed to push your ability towards honesty, truth and realism. I earned my union status in SAG and Equity and by training in the most popular places, expected to be taught the real tricks of the trade. Unfortunately, in my experience, the major studios are far more concerned with filling classes, than they are with properly training actors. And because of this saturated process, where quality goes out the window to make space for headshots on the wall -- something important gets lost in the mix: Your growth as an artist. If Strasberg, Adler or Meisner were alive today, there's no doubt that their approaches would still be evolving. They wouldn't have closed the books on their work and say, "That's it -- my technique is done -- I have finished my purpose on this Earth." No. They would still be searching for ways to make acting more accessible and reasonable for those who study it. But because they are no longer with us their popular technique no longer evolves. When you grow tired of the absurdity, over-pricing and rules offered by major studios, you'll realize why places like ActorClass are able to turn students into working actors with incredible efficiency. Our studio offers only two major classes a week in order to maintain quality over quantity. Our trim schedule makes it possible for the careers of students (and the teacher), to flourish in the real world, instead of being stuck in class. We present a singular message of discipline and hard work instead of a coddled, 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 and behave with directors, how to impress an agent, get casting directors to notice, and to truly build a network. Every time I hear that a hard-working actor has enrolled in the three-ring-circus of the big schools (as I once did), I know what a confusing world 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 and knowing how to build a network. 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 settle in 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 off book because he doesn't take this as seriously as you. Rehearsal becomes helping him memorize lines and before you know it, it's time to go home. At this point, you've wasted five hours. Acting schools ask you to do this twice a week. That's ten hours a week that you could have been using your energy 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 class. What kind of teacher, technique or system, thinks it is a good idea to let two novice actors go unsupervised to someone's apartment? Acting training should always be monitored by a director or teacher in a professional, neutral environment. Look around your current class and ask yourself if you're excited to work privately with everyone in there? The responsibility of creativity and discipline to your craft is yours alone. Professional actors don't fool themselves into believing that working with a scene partner or relying upon a technique they heard about in college, 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 and techniques 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 doesn't work that way?

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WHY CALL "SCENE" WHEN LEARNING TO ACT?

Why does every acting school 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). But how can you possibly 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 ludicrous "acting technique" say so. If you've ever been on a film set, you would know the truth. An actor on-set or on 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 duet that performs in order to train actors for the professional world. Trusting that no-man's land where actors have run out of dialogue and yet, continue the scene until someone else stops them (the teacher or director), leads to a new kind of communication born of behavior, emotion, vulnerability, improvisation, truth and trust. And aren't those the very discoveries we are searching for? Isn't that the very reason you are paying all this money for acting classes? Isn't that exactly how a film set works?

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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 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, but rather, eager.
 

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 will soon be 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 "methods" and romantic "techniques" they've stuffed into our heads over the last half-century, and instead, yields straight forward results in the form of lucrative careers.

ActorClass founder
David L. Epstein

MORE TO COME...
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