Dear Annoying Actor,
First of all, stay with me here, because this has an important point. Okay? Okay.
You know that annoying thing you do in class, where you check your phone while I’m trying to teach you something? Yeah? Well, that’s pretty annoying. Only slightly less annoying than having you ask the exact question I just answered while you weren’t listening. Or saying, “Where are we going from?” Even though we’ve gone from the same place a dozen times already.
When I offer exercises and direction and you ignore them, it’s really quite annoying. Especially when you then attempt to convince me that my suggestions won’t work. The suggestions that I’ve spent almost two decades refining with thousands of other actors. The suggestions that you haven’t yet tried.
That can tend to annoy a little.
When you tell me you didn’t have time to get off book, or practice your exercises in the past 7 X 24-hour period since the last class, it surprises me. But not as much as it annoys me, since now there’s little we can do in the class for which you agreed to arrive fully prepared. Your gossiping about celebrities during work time is also annoying, but it pales in comparison to the choice you make to go out to a party the night before class, instead of learning your lines for the following day.
Your emotional insecurity is annoying too, by the way. It is a spanner in the works of every conversation you and I are likely to have. Every exercise will be tainted by your insecurity, any failures will be magnified under its lens, and all successes will be dulled by its ever-present dominance in our relationship.
I could go on, but I shan’t, because there’s something more important that you need to know . . .
When you are annoying, you are asking for help. When you say you don’t have time, you are asking for help with time management. When you say you don’t get it, you are pleading for me to make it easier to understand. If you check your phone or emails while I’m teaching, you are sending a signal that I’m not holding your attention. As much as that may be a slap to my ego, it’s the best sign ever that I’m not engaging you and I’ve clearly left you behind, which is entirely unfair to you, the paying client. When your insecurities rule the conversation, they are telling me how sensitive you really are and how strong you feel you need to be, to be able to protect yourself from a perceived threat, real or otherwise.
And by the way, every single thing you ever do to annoy me pales in comparison to what I did to annoy my teachers and directors when I was in your position. I was adversarial, I was distracted, I was often unhelpful, and in many cases, I was lazy. In short, I was annoying. I didn’t intend it, I didn’t choose to continue being annoying, and in many cases I wasn’t even aware that I was being annoying at the time. I was asking for help and I didn’t even know it.
Hindsight has 20/20 vision though, and I now clearly see that there is no value in condemning the behaviour of people who are simply younger versions of me. And I don’t even apologise for being annoying in the past myself, because I gave my teachers the greatest test they will ever have in their lives. Some rose to the occasion, but many didn’t. I broke countless teachers. As you too are unconsciously trying to see if I’ll break. Sometimes I bend and sometimes I crack a little, but when I don’t break you have made me a stronger teacher than I would have been without ever having met you.
You have taught me more, dear Annoying Actor, than any school could ever teach me, about patience, flexibility, innovation, and compassion. My techniques, my teaching style, my knowledge about acting, and my abilities as a director have been boosted directly by every little annoying thing you have done, and every annoying thing you continue to do. Learning to adapt to the various ways students and actors absorb information, or attempt to run from the challenges that arise in the process, has lead to my success as a teacher and director. Without the resistance you have unwittingly provided over the past two decades, I could not possibly have improved, honed, and sharpened my communication to the point where I can help you move beyond the fears and insecurities that annoying behavior attempts to disguise. And I see that it’s working.
Dear Annoying Actor, you have made me a better teacher and, I hope, a better person. In the process, you have ensured that you will receive a more caring, challenging, interesting, practical, fun, respectful, and life-changing class from me. And for that, I owe you big time. Just as I owe the teachers I always unknowingly tried to annoy, but despite my trying, could never ever break. I gave them hell, and in return they changed my life.
If I haven’t yet had the opportunity to change your life, I hope you’re annoying another teacher somewhere this week. The challenges you bring to a teacher’s class break the weak ones and make the good ones great. From now on, when you think about the many potential benefits of being annoying in a class, it’s the least you can do!