“Have you ever considered teaching Acting?”
I’m asked this a lot. And, YES, I have considered it, but in it’s current academic form, I’m not for it.
DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND, I’VE NO PROBLEM WITH PEOPLE WHO TEACH ACTING.
Good thing all caps makes something clear.
I would be willing to teach acting, in an environment in which the students can already act. “That’s awfully brave of you, Kevin,” you feel like posting as a comment (but you don’t.) Allow me to explain.
There are four kinds of actors. I’ve worked with them all. There’s only four. If you’re an actor and you want to know what kind of actor you are, this won’t help you. But as my blog is interested in articulating the things I think about the things I create, and actors are my most important collaborators, I feel okay posting this here.
ACTOR TYPE #4: Non-actors.
Non actors mostly include: animals, 90% of children, professional athletes, Walmart Employees, State Farm insurance agents, musicians, famous people who aren’t famous for acting.
Mostly we see non-actors in commercials, occasionally in movies and scripted television, hardly ever in theater. A great example is Bruce Springsteen in High Fidelity. He’s a great performer, but that doesn’t make him a great actor; big difference.
Non-actors are essentially being themselves. Sure someone has done their make-up and hair, sure, maybe they memorized a line, or don’t even realize they are being filmed, but they’ve take a role from an actor because who ever is creating the project wants “real people,” or some kind of name recognition. But non-actors are just being themselves. Any actor worth their weight can be themselves. Non-actors, if they try, almost always become our next type:
ACTOR TYPE #3: Bad Actors.
Bad actors want to be actors, but they get in the way of themselves being believable. Let me say that again: a bad actor gets in the way of their own performance. That’s what makes them bad. This problem nine times out of ten cannot be cured. Bad actors make good material look and sound bad, and they make bad material so embarrassing or offensive you must turn it off or look away. A Bad Actor can have good training but it doesn’t matter, they trip themselves up with their own inability. Typical issues of bad actors that no matter what they cannot really help:
1. Their voices don’t have resonance, i.e. they sound thin, or nasal, or flat… it lacks any kind of distinction and… well, resonance.
2. Their bodies are awkward. This could be a strange shape, too big or too skinny, lack of grace, clumsy, distracting features, carrying tension in their hands or hips, unremarkable appearance… it is what it is.
3. Terrible phrasing. They phrase lines strangely, they don’t feel the rhythm or the drama of words. The give nothing they say any weight.
4. Limited emotional range. You can’t tell what they’re feeling. Everything is the same. Or the emotional note they need to hit, they can’t.
5. Intellectual incapable. A camera can tell what you’re thinking. If you aren’t thinking anything, or just thinking about your line, you come across as blank, or confused, or bored. An audience must see the life inside. Things you believe have souls.
When I hold auditions, these are the things I identify immediately. If you are free of any of the above issues AND you’re right for a part or in the realm of what I’m looking for then you probably are getting a call back.
It’s this type of actor, that makes me not be able to teach acting. Because I would ask anyone with these severe acting handicaps to give up acting. I wouldn’t make very much money if I booted all the students. Because no amount of training, can make someone who is a bad actor into our next type:
ACTOR TYPE #2: Good Actors.
A good actor mixes both intellect and instinct. The mix will range from actor to actor but the point is: to be a Good Actor there has to be some kind of instinct AND some kind of intellect for it. An Acting teacher can encourage the piece that’s lacking and sharpen the stronger side, but you have to have a good piece of steel from which to forge a blade. Now just because an actor is good, doesn’t mean they don’t get miscast, don’t choose terrible projects, don’t get picked over at auditions, so being good is in no way a ticket to success, fame and riches. But if I were to teach, I would need a room full of ambitious, curious, open-minded GOOD ACTORS who I can identify their weaknesses and help them develop that part of their range they need to work on. Sure you can teach them tools for approaching text, breaking bad habits, coach them on phrasing of lines, push them emotionally- That is the best an Acting Teacher can hope to do. That is the most an Acting Student can ask for, because no teacher can make you become our last type:
ACTOR TYPE #1: Great Actors.
Great actors are rare. We don’t think so, because we see great actors all the time, but in the population there is probably 1 great actor for every 10,000 actors. No exaggeration. If we printed a list of every actor in SAG-AFTRA and AEA, the list of great actors would probably be 1 for every 2000, but that’s just actors in the professional unions. There’s tons of good actors (and even more bad ones). But let’s make the distinction clear. The audience is willing to suspend disbelief for a Good Actor; the audience BELIEVES the Great Actor. There it is. That’s all it is. Can a Great Actor be mis-cast? Sure. Can a great actor be in a bad movie, or play? Happens all the time. Does an actor need a good script, clear direction, and A+ work from other departments? It sure helps. It’s a collaborative art. It’s not your call to say whether you’re a great actor. Time will tell. Some people grow into it. People who know an actor intimately might not think they’re a great actor, because their association with them interferes with them believing. Sometimes an actor is so famous it interferes with our ability to believe them. But that’s what the audience wants. They want to believe. They want to behold magic. They want to see someone transform, become someone else, effortlessly. And it can’t be taught.
For my play “Secondary”, to help persuade producers into getting my piece on a New York stage, I’m going to look for 5 GREAT ACTORS. Wish me luck.