Before I began my formal training as an actor I was interested in gathering information on the craft. Books on Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Robert Lewis, Stanislavsky, and Bolislavsky came highly recommended and I read them all. These amazing teachers impacted the world of acting as we know it and I wanted to find someone who was capable of providing me with the tools I would need to succeed.
Unfortunately finding the right acting teacher was not an easy proposition. For at least 2 years I studied with teachers that talked-the-talk but failed to walk-the-walk. When it came down to it they were ill equipped to provide feedback that was helpful or in some cases, comprehensible. They had committed to memory a few catch phrases but lacked the knowledge and imagination to make an impact. It was a frustrating experience but I was determined to find a teacher that had “the right stuff”. After a long search a recommendation from a fellow actor/friend put me in touch with a great teacher that was the right fit for me.
If you are anything like I was when I started out you’re probably wondering what the criteria is for choosing a great teacher, so I will provide you with the qualities that I feel necessary in a good/great teacher.
The teacher you choose must have a clear and specific knowledge of the craft and be able to articulate clearly and concisely to avoid complicating the already complicated.
Presence, poise, passion for their subject and the ability to engage, inspire, and stimulate the student are teaching qualities that enhance the learning process. Choose a teacher that is passionate and rejoices in what they do.
Patience is essential for those that are in the teaching profession. Students do not adapt and progress equally. It is the teacher’s responsibility to assess each student and move them forward accordingly.
Mutual respect between teacher and student is not negotiable. Verbal abuse of any kind is a red flag. If you find yourself in a classroom with a teacher that is bent on humiliating, berating or chastising his/her students, head for the hills as fast as you can. There is no excuse for abusive behavior of any kind.
A sense of humor is a plus and helps the teacher to create a relaxed environment. It is up to the teacher to establish an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. When students feel safe and supported they are apt to take more risks and learning is enhanced. This does not mean that students will always feel comfortable, nor should they as discomfort is a part of the process. The teacher must make this clear to students that battle with discomfort from time to time.
The great director, Elia Kazan, once said that if at all possible work with people you like. I believe this applies to the teacher’s choice of students. A good interview process allows student and teacher to get a feel for one another. If there is good chemistry from the start it’s a pretty good bet that you are in the right place. A teacher with no criteria for choosing a student is one to be wary of.
Good teachers love their students and want to see them succeed. Bitterness and jealousy are negative traits that aspiring teachers need to address before entering this profession. Empathy is a quality that enables the teacher to maintain an open mind and provide support when students are confronted with the inevitable disappointments that are part of the business.
Choosing a great acting class is equally difficult and there are no guarantees that you will find one that satisfies all your needs. If the students that make up the class are focused, mature, responsible, respectful and display an eagerness to learn then chances are you have chosen a class that is right for you.
It is up to you to spend time researching and auditing classes. The suggestions I have made are the criteria that I used when I was looking for a teacher. The important thing to realize is that there are great acting classes out there. You just have to take the time to find the one that is right for you.