Life as an actor is hard enough – you don’t need an incompetent or mean acting teacher to make it worse.
As someone who didn’t attend formal acting training, I’ve always had to be on the lookout for a great acting school/teacher. Even though I work full time (primarily in the voice over sector these days) I’m also always training.
Why I’m Always Training
- Like any artist I need to practice often (professional musicians practice for 4-8 hours a day);
- Acting can’t be done alone;
- I must make sure I’m ready for whatever comes my way (Los Angeles can turn on a dime);
- I want to keep growing.
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of painful experiences in classes taught by temperamental/guru-type teachers, but I’ve also found some wholesome ones who helped me surpass myself in ways I never thought possible. By continuing to pursue training as an actor, I’ve had to find teachers who are competent, kind, and can help me grow by challenging me in effective ways.
Since there is no shortage of acting schools (and since quantity doesn’t mean quality), my aim is to help you sort through local schools and teachers so you can find the one that is best for you. (If you’re more interested in comedy training, read my blog about the comedy scene and schools in Los Angeles as I’ve taken classes at most improv schools in Los Angeles).
Beware of Great Marketing
Los Angeles is a mecca for actors, which means there are many, many acting schools. Each and every one of these schools is fighting for a piece of the market. The aim of course is to turn as many actors as possible into loyal clients and students.
To lure prospective students, many schools are primarily adept at marketing. For instance, you’ll often hear that schools and teachers have taught “famous person X” often insinuating that this school’s special brand of teaching-magic will rub off on you too, or that you’ll make better contacts in that class than in another.
To make matters worse, there are a zillion classes, intensives and workshops that teach a zillion aspects of the industry. While you may (or may not) need these types of training, the key is to find a competent teacher who teaches constructively (as opposed to destructively).
To find out the classes you should really consider taking in Los Angeles, read Get Clever About Acting In Los Angeles, Part I
Old School vs New School Training
If you study acting autonomously (outside of a college or university program) you’ll inevitably encounter Old School teaching methods. These are great techniques to start building the skills necessary to perform in a consistent and reliable way.
Old School curriculums generally include some aspect of “The Method” aggregated by Stanislavsky. These components of the method were disseminated by American teachers of the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s who were either taught by him or influenced by him. These teachers include:
- Sanford Meisner (acting is reacting);
- Lee Strasberg (acting is feeling);
- Stella Adler (acting is imagining);
- Uta Hagen (acting is substituting);
- Michael Chekhov; (nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov).
Most of these teachers had their own schools and their techniques are still referred to in most acting classes today.
Some of the students of these schools, particularly the Meisner and Strasberg ones, who might be in their 60s+ today have become teachers in their own right. Many of them (not all) have an almost religious view to the way acting should be taught, practiced and even experienced (the Old School way of their own teachers).
That doesn’t mean actors can’t develop excellent skills by learning with these teachers (I certainly have), but it does mean some aspects of studying with those teachers can feel a bit, shall we say, limited to certain beliefs or styles.
The New School is really just the unencumbered permission of mixing aspects of The Method altogether and using whatever other tools exist. Here David Mamet and William H Macy’s school (Atlantic Theater School) comes to mind as well as many schools in Los Angeles that focus on certain specific elements like cold reading (Meindl), psychology-based acting (Warner Loughlin), or even improvisation-based training which stems from the work of Viola Spolin and include the improv schools we know of today (UCB, Groundlings, Second City). For more about Improv training in Los Angeles, read my Comedy training blog.
Some classes in Los Angeles don’t really even teach technique. For instance, where I study, in the Advanced Scene Study class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, our main purpose is to present finished theater scenes to the best of our ability and to see what works and what doesn’t. As students, we have either learned techniques elsewhere or are creating our own special brew. The school’s primary focus is: “Are we (as actors, directors, and writers) telling the story in a way that is engaging to the audience?”
What is a Good School?
Whatever school you attend, it will come down to:
- How you like what is being taught (and this can include the schools’ acting technique, approach or philosophy about acting);
- How it is being taught (by empowering students, or denigrating them); and
- How you connect with the teacher.
Some good questions to ask yourself initially are:
- Do you trust the teacher?
- Do you respect them?
- Are you simply impressed with them because you know they have worked with someone famous?
- Or are you simply there because someone famous referred them to you?
What is a Good Teacher?
A good teacher is someone who will challenge you professionally. It is also someone you can be open with about what you feel are obstacles to the kind of work you want to be doing. Ideally, this person can point you in the right direction either with acting material (good scenes to work on) or advice.
That said, the bulk of your exchanges should be related to the betterment of your acting skills. While this can be personal (i.e. I have trouble allowing myself to be emotional in my life so I’m finding it difficult on stage) a good teacher is not your shrink, and neither should they try to be. Nor are they someone you would be inclined to attempt to fool.
You should have enough respect for them (and for yourself) to avoid excuses like: “I was distracted during the scene or exercise because I got bad news today” or “I was late because there was traffic and I couldn’t find parking.” You should be as professional with a teacher (and your classmates for that matter) as you would with your peers outside of school. In Los Angeles you never know who is watching you. A classmate, teacher, technician, may be writing or casting a part that is perfect for you, but if your demeanor isn’t professional, they may think twice about getting you involved.
The right teacher is as professional as you are, if not more. They act in ways that are of service to their students. To be clear, they should never be:
- In need of an invisible pedestal to stand on;
The point of going to class is to learn and hopefully grow, not to accommodate poorly adjusted individuals who may, or may not, name drop at every occasion. You aren’t an actor so that you can have a full-time job acting like the perfect disciple of a megalomaniac (you aren’t permanently cast in a production of Stalin or Saddam).
You also aren’t an actor so that you can support someone who has no business teaching (some casting directors fit this bill). And yes, there are plenty of such individuals who teach and/or run schools in Los Angeles.
Audit an Acting Class
The best thing you can do before joining a school in Los Angeles is to audit a class. When auditing, pay attention to the teacher. Are they:
- On time?
- Giving constructive comments to every student?
- Talking about an event that did not happen in class for more than five minutes?
- Talking about a celebrity for more than five minutes?
- Getting overly personal with the students?
- Would you invite your friends and family to listen to this teacher?
If your answer is no to most of these questions, then you would do well to move on, no matter how hot you think this class is. Furthermore, if you notice destructive behavior from the teacher, don’t walk out, run out of that class. You will simply learn more and grow more (and in a healthier way) elsewhere.
There are thousands of psychology books that can explain why that is. Also, remember that people move in like-minded circles. For instance, my favorite (and most professional teachers) had the best students I could imagine working with. Most of my actor friends come from those classes. Here’s another observation: I never really made friends with the students from the classes I attended that were taught by guru-type teachers.
On the flip side, beware of schools that don’t permit auditing. What are they hiding? A school should be proud of their work and of their students’ work, and they should want to share their beautiful work with the world and especially with prospective students. Period.
Acting School List
To help you in your search, here is a small list of recognized schools that appear on many Los Angeles actors resumes:
- Beverly Hills Playhouse (in Beverly Hills);
- Annie Grindlay (in West Hollywood);
- The BGB Studio (also a Casting Director, in North Hollywood);
- Warner Loughlin (in Hollywood);
- Chris Fields (in North Hollywood);
- Anthony Meindl (in Hollywood);
- Lesly Kahn (in Hollywood);
- D.W. Brown Studio (in Santa Monica);
- Ivana Chubbick (in Hollywood);
Do your due diligence and take your time when selecting a school, as you will likely make a sizable investment there for a few years. Considering that classes range from $250 to $600/month, it is best to choose judiciously.
I encourage you to seek teachers who will challenge you in a supportive way. Ultimately, you should want to go to class. Participating and attending should be a demanding yet fulfilling experience.
It is better to audit for a couple of months and find the right fit than go somewhere because [insert name of cool person, friend person, famous person] goes there. The wrong school can hurt both your soul and your wallet.