Actors: Get into a Rehearsal Hall
Where the true Lessons begin!
As a professor of acting and directing, I get asked a great deal about the best environment to learn the craft. I will always be an advocate for training, and I think it is imperative that when one decides to be in the performing arts, they get some sort of training. No, I do not think one hour of monologue coaching or a six-week class is enough. I will always argue that being an actor and director is a life sentence. You have chosen a profession that will require commitment and re-commitment at every level to stay at the top of your game. This is not a bad thing for most people who love being in a theatre or around a film set. It is exhilarating and more rewarding than anything else in the world when you are dragged down the rabbit hole.
You should constantly be growing or training in one way or another. For some, this is constant weekly classes, and for others, this means a theatre school. The difference between the two is, of course, immense. The problem with weekly classes is that you are not absorbed for long periods of time. You are rarely practicing your craft every day with a constant eye and ear to your work. Theatre school has the advantage because you are forced to work every day and think about your craft every day. You are surrounded by peers and teachers that will emphasize and highlight your work every day. In addition, you get to watch and listen to others, which is a huge lesson within itself. This being said, not every school or teacher is created equal. It doesn’t matter how brilliant they are or what they have done in their own career, of course. Sometimes our tastes are just not the same. Not every technique works for every actor. Heck, some techniques actually set an actor back by years and harm them emotionally, physically, and most importantly, confidence-wise. Many theatre schools “have a way”.
I remember when I wanted to pursue my MFA in directing, applying to many schools in the UK and United States. After having worked twenty years in the business, I thought my experience and work would compliment the school and my fellow students. I looked at the faculty and teachers, and I had more experience than any of them. This was a “famous” school. Of course, very few of them were working anymore, which is normal in many theatre schools. If they are, they are limited to the professional work they can do based on time. This is fine. This does not concern me as long as they are constantly working on their craft as well. What did concern me was that they told me my experience didn’t matter and that they would “mold me into their type of director”. Mold me!? What type of director!?!
I don’t know about you, but anyone who says they are going to make me any type of anything scares the bejesus out of me. Artists are not one thing. We are not put into a box, and I never want to be labelled as this or that.
Our God is humanity and human beings. We must be versatile and be open to anything and everything that will bring us closer to the reality and honesty of the human condition. We must be open to any and every technique or exercise that helps us get closer to that.
My point is that training and getting better at your craft are crucial for any actor or director. School is terrific, but be careful of what you are being offered and are buying into. What I want to say in this article is that there is another way. A more efficient way! A training ground you should be pursuing over everything else. You can even pursue this while going to school (another of my beefs with these schools who say “you can’t work while you are here”, “it will affect your training”, “you can’t concentrate on your training if you are working”, etc.). Any teacher or school of any worth will encourage you to work with the best. They will encourage you to learn and grow. They will be your bridge to the profession and they will help support your balance of work and education. If not, my “spidey sense” goes off immediately. You are paying them, remember?
No, the one thing you should always be pursuing is getting into the rehearsal hall with an eclectic mix of artists. You need to work with directors who have the pressure of a real-life paying audience with real-live critics. Here are the real lessons about your craft and the demands of being a professional. School can never give you the latter. No matter what your school or the teachers say. They can prepare you to the best of their ability, but they cannot give you the demands needed to excel as a professional. And this needs to be learned hand in hand with the training.
In conclusion, I am an advocate for both school training and work. You must make the pursuing work in the rehearsal hall, with a mix of professionals, your priority though. The biggest lessons I have learned about the profession or craft never came in school — my confidence and foundations of technique did. The real lessons come from being in the thick of it and figuring out how to do a scene with a method actor when you are not. From taking direction from Sam Mendes, from watching Maggie Smith do a scene with Judi Dench and hearing them talk about the work. From feeling the demands of time and the pressures of tech and opening night. From knowing that what you are about to say in this new play will be controversial, from dealing with financial pressures, and knowing you have just a few hours to cook, eat, do laundry, pick up the kids, and go over your notes and lines.
The professional rehearsal hall is, and always will be, the place to be.