I recently received a comment from someone auditing my class about how he observed this uncommon rapport among us all in my class. And he was surprised that students were actually treated as equals, collaborators, and were asked for any pertinent notes they may have on work that was presented. To be sure, this happens after I comment on and critique a scene. I do sometimes open it up to the class. However, I’m not interested in their opinions. Opinions aren’t helpful; they can be divisive, in fact. I am only interested in additive criticism that helps the actor have the work reflected back to him or her in a clear, smart, useful way. I treat my students like adults, and they respond in kind. Sometimes my students have tremendous insight; I learn from them all the time….
So much human activity comes from either Fear or Love. Acting class is no different. I have been in many acting classes where Fear definitely is the thing:
- Fear that the teacher will not be pleased – (the end-product of the “Guru-teacher”, where it becomes more about pleasing the teacher than about real growth for the student)
- Fear that you will not measure up – (When a student “keeps score” and pathologically compares herself to others. “Why does she get all the glory, the roles, the attention?”)
- Fear that the others in class will exclude you – (Will I be accepted into the clique? Who’s “in” and who’s “out”?)
- Fear of failure – The Big One; the cumulative result of all of these. It culminates in a defensive approach based upon trying hard not to suck rather than trying to achieve real excellence “What do I want?” is toxically replaced by “What do they want?”
I tell prospective students that I don’t yell, I don’t belittle, and I don’t make students cry. If you want that kind of teacher, I’m not your guy. That kind of teaching style is far more common than people realize. And it’s a complete waste of time and energy. The unhealthy co-dependant relationship that can develop when a teacher abuses his or her position of power is the stuff of legend. Call it the “Whiplash-syndrome” – reflecting the highly abusive teacher/student relationship showcased in the recent film “Whiplash”.
It begs the question: can consistent excellence be attained from Love or Fear? I believe it can be attained from both, actually. A willing, talented and driven student can learn in almost any environment. But the lasting blowback from a toxic fear-based student/teacher relationship reverberates long past the time when that student and that teacher have parted ways.
This same auditor of my class added, “It’s like a love fest in here.” My answer is a resounding YES. Yes it is, absolutely! That’s the way I like it. That’s what I’m aiming for. I’m not in the….
- Discouragement business
- Belittling of the student business
- Or making the student cry business.
For an artist the world will be tough enough. It will discourage you, belittle you, and make you cry with no additional help from me. This all becomes like a very contagious virus, if you let it flourish. I also don’t buy into the theory that tearing you apart in class on a regular basis prepares you for the tough journey ahead. There are teachers who like to tear down the student, then help to rebuild that same student, and then proclaim “Look what I created!”. Yes, one can learn that way – the same way a beaten animal learns to not provoke his master, and has great residual anger for others around him. The negative effects of that are real and ultimately quite limiting. Who hasn’t been around and observed the “theatrical-monster-diva-sociopath” – someone whose every breath is devoted completely to the furtherance of the self and who is incomplete and unbalanced as a human being? Never forget, as actors and artists we are in a love-based endeavor: love of storytelling, love of the work, love for our fellow travelers, and love of being engaged in an artistic life. The joy can be easily taken away in an instant if we are not careful in how we calibrate the student/teacher dynamic.
I have seen enough improbable success stories that I am in the the business of providing a safe place where actors can come and be an artist at least one night a week. A place, a space, an environment for experimentation, risk, and fun. Fun is highly underrated! This does not mean we don’t get very real about the work, true progress, taking risks, etc. We definitely do. I am a firm believer in sound technique and cannot abide laziness or sloppy work.
Results: the bottom line is that I have seen extraordinary results using my approach. My students have achieved an inordinate amount of success in the real world – off the charts in fact. And I firmly believe that (besides their sometimes prodigious talent) the environment of artistic freedom, safety, collaboration, and Love (as opposed to Fear) makes all the difference. I am interested in helping to nurture complete human beings who also happen to be artists.
Talent cannot be taught, Hunger for this pursuit cannot be taught. But strategy can be taught: within the scene, the play (or film), the career, and the life.
Fear strikes out, as they say.