Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Deep Thoughts About Actor Training

I got a random email from an Averett University student this morning. Taking a theatre class, the students had the assignment of asking a theatre artist the following question: What skills training do actors need? I'm very passionate about this particular subject, and am even writing a book about it. After I had written my answer, I thought I should probably post it here, since that's kind of what here is for.

So here's what I wrote:



Artists in general, and actors in particular, need to rely less on their talent and more on their commitment. Talent can only take you so far; you will reach a plateau at a certain point and then be unable to advance any further. Artists need training that shows them what they don't know how to do and then shows them how to do it. They need training that takes their native talent and stretches and builds it like muscle.

Actors need to train as more than actors. Too many actor training programs become little communities focused only on theatre, where everyone inside eats, breathes, and sleeps nothing but theatre. That's useless. The bottom line is, theatre artists hold the mirror up to human experience (to paraphrase Shakespeare), and so theatre artists must become students of life at least as much as they are students of theatre. Actors need to train in acting, history, literature, music, and dance. They need to train as lighting technicians, stage hands, scene designers, playwrights, directors, and musicians.

Modern actors should train in some variation of the Stanislavski System because Stanislavski is like ballet; if you can learn the foundations, you can learn the rest more easily. But they also need to learn that "Method Acting" is far from the be-all and end-all of technique; they need to learn Elizabethan, Restoration, clowning, and absurdist styles as well. They should learn what other styles and theories there are. Biomechanics, Poor Theatre, Dada, etc.

Most importantly, actors need to learn how to learn. They need to know that the same old stuff that they've done as an actor for their entire lives is just the beginning of their capabilities. The craft of acting is closely tied in with who you are as a person; developing and growing as an artist must also develop and grow you as a person, and the reverse is even more true. Get out of the rehearsal hall, get off the stage and get out in the world. Go to a baseball game and keep score. Read a science fiction novel in a coffee shop. Write bad poetry. Have a conversation with someone who wants to talk about something other than Ibsen. And be passionate about more than just acting. Be passionate about living.

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