Action is a tough, competitive and unpleasant business. Here in LA especially. The promise of a national commercial or a recurring role in a series means a lot of money to actors with difficulties. A good role in a movie can start a career if the actor is ready to audition and ready to deliver in front of the camera. The problem with these situations is the pressure it creates. Every audition counts. Good auditions for good projects are hard to come by. So when you try, are you ready? And who helped prepare you, and how did they help you?
Most of what happens in Los Angeles is the cold reading technique and commercial acting lessons. In theory, there is nothing wrong with these classes: They would be good if they were just warm-up exercises or workouts. The problem is that in the human mind, they have largely replaced a real acting class or some acting situation where a beginning actor can learn the trade. People think that because they have taken a cold reading course in a recognized study, they are ready for the above-mentioned pressure. They are not the conditions under which auditions in Los Angeles, and then the conditions in most TV shows and movie sets are not conducive to providing a beginner or someone who has taken some cold reading courses to produce a good job under pressure.
A good acting class and a good acting teacher recognize these realities and respond to them by providing deep and real preparation for the real world of work in film and television. A good acting class emphasizes technique and relaxation as the pillars of a successful acting career or even just a successful audition. There are many acting techniques out there. But standard and more artistic sound techniques are based on Stanislavsky. The three best known interpreters and teachers in the Master’s work are Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. Bobby Lewis is a less famous spokesman for Stanislavsky-based works, but he has also written a wonderful book and was a very influential teacher. Why are these techniques and interpretations of Stanislavsky so important? And why should a competent actor teacher teach one of them?
Because they directly address the actor’s need to produce honest behavior, you need to be in the moment and communicate from a deeply emotional level of truth. These techniques TREN the players to do these things. There are many offspring of these four main Stanislavsky interpreters, but these are the most important teachers. If any version of your techniques is not present, something is missing. If you cannot produce real behavior under imaginary circumstances, you are not acting. You may act, but you will not act.
The other main component that actor classes need to incorporate is a form of body and voice work. The need for these disciplines is clear in Yale and Juilliard and NYU, where, if you sign up, you get classes from everything from Fight and Tumbling to Clown and Linklater Voice. You can study Alexander, Feldenkrais or Yoga. You can learn meditation or overnight acting programs. But you have to learn something. Something about your body and the way it works. Because your body is your tool. The musician has his guitar, the actor has his body. It’s your tool. Expression and communication depend on body and voice. And that body and that voice have to be trained. One way or another. A good acting class and a good acting teacher train the body to function under the extreme pressure and boom of the camera, or a commercial distribution director shouting instructions. You learn to meditate, breathe and master anxiety. Learn how to access the most resonant part of your voice. You learn to relax your muscles and maintain your attitude, or adopt a character’s attitude.