Only the imaginative, risk-taking, transformational actor can inhabit new emotional, physical and vocal territory. Therefore, the goal is to expand the self to encompass the character, not to contract the character to the limited self.
And so, training in the theatre is all about opening and revealing. Even “technique” or skill classes of quality should have as their goal the releasing of the heart, mind, and soul of the actor. For in the end, true creativity and a singular vision can only come from the deepest sources of personal intuition and impulse. And an artist of vision will ultimately have greater impact than an artist of competence.
To achieve these goals, students are encouraged to approach their work boldly and with a spirited sense of play. They are trained to be in the habit of experimenting and working without fear. Only risk-taking will lead to those rewards. After all, revising the insignificant or the habit is an empty exercise.
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUESIt is essential for the actor to have a complete knowledge and understanding of available tools and techniques. Most teachers emphasize a single, orthodox approach and deprive their students of a broad spectrum of learning and understanding. In fact, several university acting departments will now only hire experienced Meisner teachers. Similarly, there are many disciples of Strasberg who exclusively promote “inside-out” training and dismiss “outside-in.”
With a thorough knowledge of the field, the master teacher emphasizes the complementary nature of proven techniques and is not tempted by competitive, isolationist dogma. Numerous approaches have valuable components – Stanislavsky, Meisner, Chekov, Strasberg, Adler, Grotowski, the classicists – all have made innovative contributions to the field. The job is to show students how these components interrelate and when techniques can best be employed.
An actor has mastered the acting craft when he thinks of all techniques as tools, learns how and when to employ them, understanding and integrating their use in daily work. Thorough knowledge of the craft and a clear, working process also enables the actor to remain “director-proof,” not subject to the whims or torments of the bad or inexperienced director.
SPECIFICITYCritical precision is fundamental to the best of teaching. Any leader in the arts should be measured by their ability to see and their facility to say and guide with accuracy. The arts are especially prone to vagueness and subjectivity and so it is imperative to make sure the program is clear, the progression sensible, the values clearly established, and that any criticism is based on specific, established criteria.
STUDENT COMMITMENTPassion and commitment are not only required of the professional. A student’s commitment is at least as important as his/her talent level. We’ve all seen first-year conservatory students with great facility who are either too unmotivated or unfocused to follow-through on their promise. The committed student, on the other hand, discovers that hard work, perseverance and the love of a challenge will lead to a life of earned rewards.
THE INDEPENDENT ARTISTFinally, it is my task to train the student to think and create independently of his teacher. Therefore, we do not concentrate on temporary results, but on the power of the working process. If I can impart the tools of the trade to my students and those students can employ those tools to create wondrous things from the richest part of his or her experience and imagination, I will know that I have done my job.
Given the above, here’s some practical advice for the student of acting. . .
1) Commitment is more important than talent. Talent is easily wasted, but hard work, perseverance and a love of the struggle leads to a life of rewards.
2) Training in the theatre is about opening, revealing. We want to see who you are. Always work from your own personal passions and sense of truth.
3) You are in charge of your own development. Challenge yourself. Develop your own standards. If it’s worth doing, then do it completely.
4) Cultivate the imagination - your own special sensibility. Artistic freedom and power emerge when you listen to and act upon your own unique response. Follow your impulses. It’s not about pleasing others.
5) Demand critical precision and specific criteria from teachers. Why are you doing this exercise? What are you trying to achieve? How is the achievement measured?
6) Choose clearly, execute boldly. Articulate your choices precisely and commit to their fulfillment. Eliminate vague, nonspecific thinking.
7) Integrate learning, seek connections between methods. Learn the most by committing to each approach. Then tie in new information and understanding to your growing body of knowledge.
8) Approach your work with a spirited sense of play. Creativity stems from freedom of thought, feeling and impulse.