A great actor’s journey does not begin with just talent; it begins with a great acting coach…
A coach who not only has the experience, passion, and mastery of acting techniques & methods, but can also communicate, encourage, and connect with students enough to nurture and help unleash their best acting skills & talent.
How My Acting Career Began…
When I first started acting in Dallas in the late 80’s, I took a variety of acting classes and workshops from local people, visiting acting coaches, casting directors, managers, and other film industry professionals.
Though I learned a thing or two from the people I had met before acting in Dallas; I cannot say that I actually had a solid acting technique when I moved to Los Angeles, and boy did it show.
Having done a fair amount of work in Dallas, once in LA I was lucky in securing an acting agent and a manager quite quickly.
The bad news is, I could not deliver and was often auditioning for acting projects that I, with my skill set at that time, was not prepared to book.
I was fortunate in that I had an acting manager who was very honest and transparent with me. The feedback that changed everything was a casting director telling him that I was “shallow.”
This horrified me because I knew I was anything but. I had lived my life boldly, had my heart broken a time or two, and had overcome substantial difficulties but I was clueless as to how to take what was inside me, the wealth of emotion from these experiences, and put them into my work.
Again, as fate would have it, I was lucky in that my agent, manager, and pretty much every other film industry person I met, pointed me to the studio of the late Roy London.
I think that anyone who was fortunate enough to study with Roy, or was in Hollywood at that time would absolutely consider him to be one of the greats.
I say this because Roy not only coached some of Hollywood’s most working actors, his actors were stars; among them Brat Pitt, Sharon Stone, Geena Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Swayze, Patricia Arquette, Gary Shandling and many others.
Roy was originally a New York actor and worked in theater on and off Broadway. He studied with Uta Hagen. Uta also used principles of the Stanislavski system with a focus on being truthful in imaginary circumstances.
The impact and importance this man had on me and my life is immeasurable. I have often said that he is truly the first man who ever saw me, the real me, and that he encouraged me to let the world see this woman entirely changed my life. I tell you this because I know the importance of having a good coach, a great coach, the right coach.
Roy would often say that he didn’t teach “acting.” He taught scene study and character analysis. In truth, he taught all of this and more; he taught life.
I wish Roy had written a book on acting but he left us all too soon. It was actually Ivana Chubbuck, who as the coach of Roy’s beginner classes, took on this task and wrote the wonderful book, “The Power of the Actor” after Roy passed and she opened her own studio. I recommend this book to all of the actors who study with me because it truly is the consummate book on how to break down a scene.
I believe that scene study is essential. I’m not sure how any actor can perform a scene effectively unless they understand what is going on in the scene between the different characters and how they might navigate all of the working parts in a way that is authentic, effective and interesting.
Finding the Right Acting Technique or Method
There are literally hundreds of acting coaches throughout the country and many of them teach using a technique that more than likely is an offshoot of The Stanislavski Method.
The Stanislavski Acting Method
Most of what Stanislvaski taught endures in one form or another. Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian character actor and director who was interested in bringing realism to acting as opposed to the superficial, presentational acting that was the norm in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
The Stanislavski Method encouraged actors to ask the following questions…
- Who am I? Start with the basics and then fill in the gaps with your imagination. …
- Where am I? …
- What time is it? …
- What do I want? …
- Why do I want it? …
- How will I get what I want? …
- What must I overcome to get what I want?
Method Acting Technique
Another much-used technique, Method Acting, was derived from Stanislavski’s system by Lee Strasberg in the early 1900’s.
It added to this technique by incorporating the elements of substitution, drawing on strong sense memories and using life experiences to inform the performance.
The Method is the closest technique to what we teach at the studio.
In addition, we often explore archetypes to get the actors to understand their character and what they need to do to be more truthful in the performance.
Meisner Acting Technique
Sanford Meisner was another prominent coach whose ideas are still widely used. The basis of this technique is about staying in the moment, being spontaneous and free and eliminating any pre-conceived ideas. Meisner actors are often great listeners.
There are a handful of other techniques available and this is just a snapshot of the ones most used today.
I do not believe any technique or method is better than any other. More important is the person coaching it, and being the best fit for the student.
What Sets Brilliant Acting Coaches Apart?
What sets a brilliant coach apart from the coaches who just get the job done, is their ability to adequately analyze what the student is doing and to clearly articulate what they might do instead in order to be more effective.
When I say “effective” I mean that they, as the character are doing something that is truthful, interesting, helps the writer tell the story, and insists that the audience watch them. If actors are effective as a character, then they will have the ability to be successful in the business of acting.
The other consideration is acting and film industry experience. I’ve been an acting coach for over twenty years and I know that I am a better coach with each scene a teach. There is no substitute for experience.
I also think it is important to look at a coach’s track record. I’ve often said that I coach many of Texas’ most working actors and because they continue to book roles, I continue to have students. Read their Google Reviews!
Final Advice For Aspiring Actors & Rising Stars
I also recommend for actors to select a coach that is encouraging and instructive without being mean or cruel. That might sound ridiculous but there are many coaches who thrive on beating down their students. I have no idea why anyone would want this. Acting is hard enough without having a mean-spirited or tyrannical coach to contend with.
I think the atmosphere and environment of the studio are also very important. A newer coach working out of their living room can absolutely create a wonderful environment and it is the coach’s job to do so.
Again, a great coach, the right coach, can make the difference between being a star, and being nothing more than a day player.
Like most important decisions, shop around and find what feels right for you! No coach, including myself, is right for everyone.
By Theresa Bell