Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Acting Coach Prepares

A student recently asked me why I don't "write more about acting" in this blog. I sighed. I have failed. [Hanging head in shame.] Apparently, my sessions are not hitting home. At least for this young thespian.

As if the art and craft of acting is like learning your times tables, young actors continually look to people like me for secrety secrets that will make them famous. Coded formulas that will make them "good actors." Let's just memorize some lines, the rest will just manifest itself once in front of the camera or on stage. As if there are little pills they can take that will transform them into theatrical superheroes able to leap tall verse in a single soliloquy. Agents, seeing their new found prowess will sign them, send them on the perfect audition for the next big time and -- viola -- they are living in Beverly Hills with a chihuahua and a Bentley convertible. Or at the very least, a black lab and a Lexus SUV. Sigh.

Young man, you gotta do the work. What is the work? Life. Life is the work. There. I said it. Save your money, quit your acting classes. You now have the knowledge that all great actors throughout time have known before you.

As a young actor, I too, wanted a fast track to fame. Impatient. Ambitious. Arrogant. "I was PERFECT for that role, I nailed the audition, whatdya mean I didn't get a call back?" The fact is, not everyone can do this acting thing. Not everyone has the patience or the intestinal fortitude (never used that phrase in a written sentence before!) to study acting. Study, I said. Actually, you don't really "study acting." If you did that you might more readily be considered a critic. Actors study life. By applying their observations they become actors.

Like some cosmic soap box derby, most humans coast through life. For some the road is steep with treacherous turns and uneven surfaces. For most, the journey is straight, even and flat with hedges and soft shoulders lining the way. Maybe the occasional bump or pothole. The actor's job is not just to coast on whatever his path may be, but to constantly stop and start. Survey the landscape, test the wind, smell the flowers, change cars, crash, steer into the ditch.

Even more, the actor's job is to pay attention. To everything. One of my most important mentors when a gentleman named Don Richardson. When studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Don would always assign the most ludicrous reading assignments. Articles on social anthropology, biographies of Nazi war criminals, psychology, weird shit that had nothing to do with ACTING. Or so thought a young impatient, ambitious, arrogant acting student who had yet to really pay attention in class.

While I certainly am still rather full of myself, I do know (or rather have come to know) that teaching the art and craft of acting is more than creating a stable of young people who hang on my every word. It's not about becoming a guru. It certainly isn't about the money -- at least for me. It is more than tweaking a line reading or cleaning up a goofy double gesticulation that could seriously poke someone's eye out. It's about trying to lead human beings through their lives with their eyes open. It's about helping to sift through the chatter of the insignificant and realize when it's not. It's about getting them involved in the world, in history, in culture, in art, in politics, in food, in sport, others.

I can't "write more about acting" any more than I can teach more about acting. I think acting coaches should be like psychiatrists. We should be in the business of putting ourselves OUT of business. We should prepare our charges for the day when they will boldly and bravely leave us. Armed with with the tools we have given them and taught them how to use.

I wonder if this will count as "writing more about acting."