Acting Classes + Workshops

Acting Classes: Improvisation

Typically, the first year in any dramatic education program, includes acting classes in Improvisation. Improv skills are vital to any actor. Think of them as the neurological system of the "body" of your craft. Improvisation builds flexibility as a creative thinker. Many people hear the work Improv and think of comedy. This is a misconception. In fact, even some comedic Improv courses -- like those developed by long-form Improv pioneer Del Close -- do not stress being funny. Improv hones your listening and reacting skills. Many classes simply give you exercises to loosen your body and relax your critical brain. Those skills are imperative as they allow your performances to remain fresh.

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Acting Workshops

Most acting workshops are geared toward scene studies. Essentially, "scene study" involves individual scenes from a play or film which are assigned to actors -- typically no more than two or three. Throughout the course of the workshop, actors don't merely act out their scenes, they discuss their roles, the play as a whole, intentions of playwrights...all of which help make their performances better. Scenes practiced in acting workshops should not be taken lightly. Prepare each scene as if you are training for a comprehensive production. Often, you'll learn new techniques (which is the point of your instructor giving you this scene in the first place). Any new skills that you are taught in class should be implemented immediately.

During presentation of scenes, stay open to direction from your instructor. Don't argue about your motivation or why you chose to employ a certain technique. The instructor may be trying to teach you a new angle or break you of a habit you're not aware of. Remember that everything you learn in a workshop is designed to make you stronger as an actor.

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Meisner Technique

Sanford Meisner was both an actor and a teacher of acting through out most of the twentieth century. He was a founding member of the Group Theater in New York and taught such prominent actors as Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Steve McQueen, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Joanne Woodward, and Allison Janney, Mary Steenburgen at the Neighborhood Playhouse for fifty years. His “Meisner Technique” was developed to get actors to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

One of his exercises occurs between two people. Each takes turn making spontaneous comments on the other person's behavior. Such as, "You’re laughing." The phrase is repeated back and forth (i.e., “You’re laughing.’ “I’m laughing.” Etc.) until the statement is changed organically by a new development in behavior. The objective is to remain in the moment. The Meisner technique is one of the most famous, and is taught in schools around the world.

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Networking Through Acting Classes

Acting classes are not only a great way to hone your craft in between jobs, but they are a great way to meet other actors and network with industry professionals. Besides the obvious benefits of learning techniques to improve your acting skills, attending regular classes can be a lot like attending a support group!

By interacting with others in your field, you can share experiences (both good and bad), exchange contacts, share creative ideas and delve deeper into the ins and outs of a career in acting. Life-long friendships and even business relationships have developed from acting classes. Sometimes the phrase "it's who you know" actually refers to the kind of networking you've done over the years in classes or workshops. Build your contacts now and you'll see how they pay off in time!

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The Basics of Acting Training

Like any skill or talent, you must begin your studies at a basic level. Acting education should begin with familiarizing yourself with your own body as a tool to relay your craft. Movement and voice classes are imperative. Learn how to hold your body for maximum breath control and healthy posture. Improv classes are also a wonderful way to learn to use your body (and mind) effectively. When studying voice, practice projection, annunciation, and breathing. Most basic or "Intro" classes will cover these skills.

Once you have learned the fundamentals about your body and how to best use it in service of your art, you can move on to scene studies and workshops.

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The Point of Acting Classes

Do you really need acting classes? Chances are, you do. Most every actor benefits from regular classes, particularly at the beginning of his/her career. Choose acting courses that best suit your needs as a student of the craft. This can be a difficult assessment to make, since many of us tend to gravitate toward things that are comfortable. Don't short change yourself as an artist! You should be seeking acting training that will help you to develop your strengths and assuage your weaknesses. Don't be afraid to try new things. Take every opportunity you can to add new and different skills and training to your repertoire. It's certain you'll discover new strengths that you never knew you had.

As much as you may hate the idea, do take classes that offer exercises that scare you or put you off (like monologue work, audition technique, or musical theater). These are often the best indicators of where you need to improve, so diving into these areas of weakness can only make your skills stronger.

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Theater Acting vs. Film Acting

Acting is acting, right? If only it were that simple. Depending on the vehicle through which you are relaying your craft, different skills must be employed.

Theater acting -- or stage acting -- is the first form of the craft. In history, actors had to be prepared to project their voice long distances...or at least to the last row of the audience. This technique is called "projecting to the back of the house." Of course, these days, most actors are mic-ed, so projecting is not much of a problem. In addition, movements of the body had to be larger-than-life so they could be seen by members of the audience. Small movements like a facial expressions are simply too minuscule to "read," so other methods had to be used to express emotion: pacing, dialogue, etc.

Film acting is much closer to reality. Because the "audience" is now the camera (and eventually those watching what the camera captures), the acting style is much more intimate. There is no need to project your voice, as film sets are equipped with sensitive sound recording devices. Cameras are able to zoom in to capture the slightest eyebrow flinch, so much less is required of the body n terms of large sweeping movements to relay a point.

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