I didn’t study with any of these giants.
It wasn’t by design, it was simply by happenstance. I went straight from my collegiate training (B.S. Northwestern University, and M.A. The University of Minnesota) into 12 straight years of regional theatre, off-Broadway, followed by many years of film and TV work. While some of my friends and peers were immersed in classes in New York and LA, I was working onstage, sometimes forty – fifty weeks in a year, eight shows a week. I take nothing away from what they were learning. It’s not about that. They were immersed in theory. And I was immersed in the profession as it is practiced – in front of paying customers every night – twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays. My failures (and I had them) were in public, not in class.
It’s the difference between hitting golf balls on the driving range – and actually playing the game of golf.
By the way, I have also not studied with Milton Katselas, Larry Moss, William Esper, The Atlantic Acting School, Wyn Handman, Jeff Corey, or any of the other very well-known iconic acting teachers. As an acting teacher myself I am neither proud nor embarrassed by this – it’s not good or bad….it just is.
Unburdened by theories, dogma, or gurus – I had the “gift” of high pressure on-the-job training.
I learned my craft onstage and in front of the camera from Michael Langham, Michael Blakemore, John Sayles, Paul Mazursky, Charles Nolte, Bob Rafelson, Jack Warden, Haskell Wexler, Kevin Spacey, Roy Dotrice, James Bridges, Delbert Mann, Barry Levenson, Robert Duvall, Jeffrey Tambor (who I did study with), Charlie Haid, and a whole host of others.
I raise the subject of training and methods because as a teacher I am frequently asked this important question: “What method do you teach? My answer? I teach the method that works for you; the working method you organically gravitate to. My job is to help you discover (or rediscover) the way of working that you instinctively favor.
Actors will learn a great deal from all of these approaches – including finding the approach that absolutely does not work for them. That also has real value. By trial and error we find our way – either in a class or in from the camera or audience.
And sometimes there can be a bit of “deprogramming” involved in trying to help a actor regain his or her creative footing, after going too deeply into one particular methodology that may not be working.
So, by design and intent I do NOT teach a one-size-fits-all approach. I do not have a dog in the dogma fight over acting methodologies. Everyone learns in different ways – how can one approach fit everyone and benefit everyone? I am 100% agnostic when it comes to these many different approaches. They are like diets; they ALL work – for a time. And, like diets, it comes own to what you can live with every day.
It is the artist’s responsibility (as well as the artist’s teacher) to discover what works for him or her every day – a working method they can live with, rely upon, and that feels right to them. They need to discover and curate that technique so that there is a level below which their work does not fall. Let’s be real: we are all not inspired 8 shows a week, or during all 28 takes of a scene from 4 angles. However, the technique we acquire by discovering our authentic working method allows each of these takes, each of these shows, to feel fresh and new. Every time.
Acting is (and has to be) a repeatable act: 8 shows a week, dozens of takes at a time on a particular scene. Creating the freshness and spontaneity required of each creative thrust is the result of having built a solid working technique.
Technique is the portal to artistry – it’s the house in which art lives:
- Stradivarius violins are considered works of art. When he designed and built them I am sure he considered himself a craftsman first and foremost. His craft became elevated to such an extent that it transcended craft and became art.
- Fred Astaire was a craftsman first. His technique as a dancer was so extraordinary that it transformed into art. But without the sweat and work of building his technique, the artistry would not have a place to live.
- Picasso famously said: “The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is, the less there is.”
Many of these famous acting teachers deserve to be on the “Mount Rushmore of Acting Teachers” (if such a thing existed) with their heads carved into stone, staring out to the horizon with wisdom etched in their features. But as important as they were, we worship them at our peril. Yes, they all formulated seminal ideas about the craft and art of acting. They were absolutely relevant 70-80 ago, when these schools of thought germinated. But in many important ways much of this is not relevant to the profession as it is practiced today. We’ve simply moved beyond it. The concept of realistic acting and behavior is like software that comes pre-loaded in the brains and hearts of young artists. Sixty years of realistic film and TV acting permeating the culture has resulted in that becoming part of the creative DNA of todays actors. So, it’s often not realism that’s the challenge. It’s passion and imagination that’s sometimes lacking in today’s young artists, as they occasionally confuse realistic behavior with acting.
Our profession (on the film and TV side of the equation) is an identity-based art form, yet many of these older training modes are about convincingly becoming someone else. But in today’s world they are, for the most part, interested in YOU as the filter for the character. Your life walks into the room with you, so get acquainted with yourself in a dynamic way so that becomes part of your work. Identity often trumps talent. That’s not right or wrong…it just is. Fully developed talent is simply expected and assumed in the professional ranks.
I’m absolutely certain that studying with these legendary acting teachers might have taught me a great deal. No doubt, I missed out on some amazing experiences. But I learned on the job, by the seat of my pants sometimes, and it gave me a practical clear approach to the work.
For me it’s about strategy: in the scene, the play (or film), the career, and the life.
Acting is first and foremost a craft. And….if the craft is sturdy and sound, it becomes the house in which your art can live.
Then, it’s about the marriage of that with YOU. The fully examined you.