Because I get hired to coach actors, by studios, production companies, directors, and celebrities, I have to (get to) work with actors from very different backgrounds. Sanford Meisner trained some; LeeStrasberg trained others. Some are followers of Stella Adler and some are UtaHagen devotees. What I’ve found though, is that although the approaches vary greatly, all are capable of giving honest, inspired performances. They are all TRAINED.
There are various schools of thought on what constitutes good training. In my opinion (and probably due in part to my background), which style or discipline you ultimately choose is not important - as long as you find what works for you. Different actors respond to different methods of teaching. Some actors need to work more on their imaginations in order to recall strong emotions on demand (important when shooting close-ups or auditioning). When teaching, I might give them sense-memory exercises eventually leading into an Affective Memory or Object exercise—clearly Strasberg’s “Method”.
But another actor might need help on connecting with other actors (which keeps your acting real and anchored in the imaginary circumstances). For him I might be inclined to use some repetition exercises perhaps leading into the “Three-Moments Game”, which some will recognize as Sanford Meisner’s technique. Different strokes for different folks . . . Remember, if something doesn’t work for you, you may need to give it more time or, you may want to find a different approach; one that fits you better. One thing I have found though, is that first impressions may be misleading. I've seen actors hate the exercises in a given technique only to find that the reason they hate it is because they really need to work on the specific skills that the exercises are focused on. Sometimes the technique you hate is the technique you need to work on…
Funny thing is, for all the differences in their approaches—and the differences are considerable—virtually all the major methodologies of modern acting are based on one man’s teachings: Konstantin Stanislavski. That’s right, for all their differences in approach, Strasberg, Meisner, Adler, Hagen, Harold Clurman, Michael Chekhov, Elia Kazan—all taught variations of the same man’s teachings. The more you read about them and their techniques, the more complete your “toolkit” will be. So without pushing you toward any specific school of acting, I would like to at least get you going in a productive direction.
No matter what technique(s) you use, I believe all would agree that there are two key areas of focus that are very important to every actor:
Research is learning everything you can about the character. An actor needs to know their character’s background, influences, religion, economic, physical pathology, yes their dialogue, and much, much more. Once you’ve learned all about your character, you learn about everyone your character speaks to and speaks about. To that same extent.
The same goes for all the places your character has been to, and refers to. Think about it, when you talk to your friends, you already know all this information – and more! You need the same safety net of knowledge in order to give an honest performance and feel confident enough to cut loose and "swing with abandon". I use a checklist called "Treasure Hunt" to help actors ask the necessary, pertinent questions (once they ask them, the actor usually has no problem answering, or making up answers, on their own!)
Research however, is just the first part. When you have all the research in place, then (and only then) are you ready to begin to live the life of your character. Research is the brainwork, but imagination is where the real creativity comes in. This is where a class can really help you develop and grow as an actor. Where you can work on your craft and develop skills that will serve you your entire life. Where instead of just reading about believing in the given circumstances, you can look in the other actor’s eyes, listen to their words and actually believe they are leaving you for someone else. The tears come because your imagination convinced your tear ducts that the circumstances were real. Through intense imagination work like emotional preparation exercises, improvisations, and other exercises designed to trigger real emotions in the actor, you learn to control the triggers that allow you to simply feel honest, real emotions, on demand - take after take. NOT to show or “indicate” emotions, but simply to feel them. And in film, that’s all they want. As soon as you try to show the feelings, it's "too big for the camera".
The research work is time consuming but not terribly difficult. Imagination work, on the other hand, can happen lightning fast but is often the hardest, most draining (although also the most rewarding) work an actor does.
So, Why class…?
If you are already a trained, working actor, do you still need to be in class? For an answer, I point to an actor you may not know by name but I'm pretty sure you'll recognize his face. William Schallert, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, has worked on an incredible 366 movies and TV shows, according to his IMDB page, dating back to 1947. He is 92 years young and as recently as three years ago (the last time I checked), he was playing a recurring character on, not one, but TWO TV series' and one mini-series, taking class twice a week and still putting up scenes in class regularly!
Class is how you create and maintain a consummate professional actor.
To paraphrase an excellent description of what class is, (once given by the Meisner based Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC):
Actors are in class to experiment—to grow.
We create an atmosphere of trust, in the classroom--a place where trial and error is not only acceptable but we believe that, if you aren't making mistakes you simply aren't trying hard enough. You see, when you're performing for a camera or an audience, it's got to work—
You make choices that are going to allow you, as an actor, to deliver the goods when the director says "Action". However, if you do nothing but perform, then you are stuck with what you already know works. You can't take a chance and push your limits in the workplace, because you're not sure you'll be able to deliver the goods when the cameras are rolling.
This is where class comes in. Class gives you something you never get in performance - the opportunity to fail. To go out on a tightrope saying, "I don't know if this is going to work, but I'd like to try it". Perhaps it's a disaster, but no worries. There's no audience in the classroom - just a sympathetic teacher and fellow students who are falling off tightropes as often as you are. You get the opportunity to expand your comfort zone, and thereby expand your artistry.
I teach ongoing classes in Portland, OR. and in Honolulu, HI. and I do Skype coaching for auditions.
For more info, click on the links above, or visit my website.