The Generous Actor
The Generous Actor
'It's Just Fucking Around'
As acting teachers we find ourselves facing a classroom with a bunch of actors longing for us to help them realize a dream. These actors are entitled to the same amount of attention and training, which we of course strive to provide. The problem here is that acting training almost cannot exist without people working in pairs. And even if we tell them and ourselves that 'it's good training to watch others work', even the most dedicated actors sometimes find it hard to concentrate through a long session of watching pairs working on scenes.
Another issue is that if we really wish to be good at our jobs, we can't help but try to find a way to train our actors in some clever way where we do something which is not acting, but which somehow makes them better at the things actors do when they act. So, what do actors do? Well, they speak, they move, they feel, they listen, they prepare, they understand, and they react. But does this mean that we can simply devise a heap of exercises focusing on each of these actions individually? It is a tempting thought. And doing it makes us feel competent because it satisfies our desire to sound like we know about acting. Actors also love it because it makes them feel like they are really learning something by having the craft broken down into these essential parts.
But, and yes, there is a 'but', it simply does not work that way; at least not for me. I did all of the above in the beginning. And it worked too, in the sense that my actors were really happy. It just turned out that I was not. It actually made me miserable. In the beginning, I could not understand why. I had happy actors and great feedback, so there really was nothing to complain about. Until I realized that, as an actor, I would never do what I taught my actors to do.
My own acting was developed on stage or in front of a camera, not through tuition, and I started teaching without ever having been taught myself. Out of a sheer desire to do well, I bought the main books in circulation at the time and set to work. The material was mostly modern variations on Stanislavsky, and it felt great to dive into all the academic speculations and hands-on tools and feel how I learned all these new things and how I grew as a teacher. I became more serious and more conscious about the different elements of character analysis. It tickled my knack for academic thinking (developed through my literature studies and teaching at the university) to be using these skills for acting. I felt professional. I was able to do something which I could teach others.
The actors loved it. They showed up all eager to learn, and with my hands-on analytical approach I soon turned them into serious aspiring professionals. They did the exercises. They learned how to take notes on intonation and pauses etc. and the feeling of mastering acting by gaining control is extremely gratifying to both actors and teachers. Especially if they want to reassure themselves that they are learning something. When their parents asked them what they had learned, they could talk about all the different tools and the parents could nod and feel reassured that their kids' acting dreams were being seen to in a constructive manner.
But, like I said, I started feeling miserable and in the beginning I couldn't figure out why. As I watched my actors happily gaining control, I would smile and compliment them, but I grew more and more sick to the stomach. It actually came to the point where I went to my boss and asked her to find another teacher because I felt something to be amiss. She told me to calm down and mentioned my excellent actor feed-back, so I stuck with it. Out of sheer desperation I turned to amazon.com where I looked up 'acting'. I still have no clue why I decided on Guskin's How to Stop Acting. Perhaps something in the title signaled a departure from the work I wa