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Colleenby Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix

This month: How to Find a Great Acting Class

I wish I could wrap up a list of three great teachers and give it to you for Christmas.

Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Styles vary, times change, and each of us has a different style of learning, the same way we have different styles of acting. Plus, even if it wasn’t vaguely (okay–overtly) unethical to pimp one school over another in a commercial publication, I don’t have nearly enough current experience with various schools and teachers to promote one over another.

So I will do you one better and explain how to go about finding a great acting class. After all, if I teach you to fish, you’ll be eating far longer and better than if I just throw you a mackerel. Or something like that.

The communicatrix’s guide to finding the right class for you:

1. Figure out what your goal is.

Dang, I sound like a broken record on this topic. But it’s the foundation of any successful project: knowing what the hell it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Are you…

  • a comic trying to cross over?
  • a beginning actor needing help with the basics of technique?
  • an advanced actor wanting to explore new modalities to enhance your already-considerable toolkit?
  • a film actor wanting to do more TV acting?
  • a returning actor with some chops, but who feels a little rusty around the edges?
  • some other of the million exotic mixes of actor-performers out there?

Of course, unless you’re looking for something very specific—comedy improv or film audition technique or mime—there’s not going to be a shingle outside the classroom door with your particular need listed. But you need to have clear in your head what your overarching and immediate goals are before you start looking for a class. Otherwise, you run the risk of fitting into someone else’s agenda rather than working through your own.

Once you have a handle on what it is you want…

2. Ask around.

But not just three or four people: a lot.

And do not discriminate on the basis of perceived talent of the askee. The idea here is to get a huge sample, and to see what names keep coming up. At any given time, in a major metro area like Los Angeles or New York, there will be 10-20 hot classes. If you ask enough people, that list will start to materialize on its own. Also, hopefully, a few less-hot but equally great classes will turn up. (If you land in one of those, count yourself as incredibly fortunate, since you’ll get the same great quality without the hassles, crowded class size and other drawbacks the guru factor brings with it.)

What’s more, don’t just ask for someone’s favorite x class, where “x” equals scene study/improv/on-camera/etc—ask people for their favorite classes, period. And ask themwhy they like the class. First, you’ll start to build your own list of great resources. Equally important, you may find a gem of a class for the thing you need in an area you hadn’t considered. Movement classes are a great example of this: some people need a specific-to-actors class; some people do better with yoga or Alexander or clown class.

Ditto commercial acting: you may think you need a commercial acting class when what you really need right now is an improv class or a theatrical audition class or…

The point is, you will never know without asking. And asking can happen anywhere where there are actors—online, offline, off-duty, and on-duty. Ask! Ask! Ask! Don’t be a lazy actor.

Speaking of lazy actors…

3. Approach the interview and/or audit like a job.

There aren’t many classes that won’t let you sit in to see what you’re in for. Some require a fee, which I’m not necessarily against: if it was your class, you wouldn’t want a parade of strangers coming through who weren’t really serious.

Then, when you’re there, take it seriously. You have a goal, right…right?! As you observe, consider how well this class meshes with your own, particular goal. Do not let yourself be dazzled by star clients or racy scenes: watch how the teacher interacts with the students, and see how helpful her adjustments are to you. Sometimes great comments on an excruciatingly awful scene are a better indicator of how good the class will be than a bunch of superbly acted scenes. In fact, they almost always are.

If you’re observing a scene study class, do your own breakdown of the scene as it’s happening, and see how the instructor’s view meshes (or doesn’t) with your own.

Remember, acting is not therapy! If you note any bogus psychoanalyzing, or exposing of private incidents to the class, run for the hills. (And if you don’t trust yourself to know the difference, stick to lighter classes until you have a firm foundation on which to build.)

In addition to watching the teacher’s critique, observe how the overall class is run. Does it start on time? Is it orderly (relatively) or unruly? Are the other students allowed to comment? If so, there should be strict parameters on the types of comments they’re allowed to make. (Personally, I don’t believe students should be allowed to comment at all on peer work inside the classroom, but the teacher should always maintain control.)

If you get a private interview with the teacher, have some prepared questions ready concerning your goals and how/if that teacher can help you reach it.

* * *

If it seems pretty simple, it is. There’s less magic to the process than there is common sense and legwork. Take your time, do your homework, and treat the hunt the same way you would with any other aspect of your work: with professionalism and a sense of humor.

No matter what kind of class you’re looking for, that’ll take you a long way.

Questions? Compliments? Suggestions? Complaints? Please Email me

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.