"It's no secret," McKevitt writes knowingly,
"in the dance world that the prima ballerinas are in class five days a week when they aren't performing, or that the world's top opera singers take voice lessons. Even Barbra Streisand tours with a vocal coach. But many actors are not so forthcoming either about continuing their training or even about the fact that they are training. Yet, the actor who doesn't continue to train may be the actor who stops getting jobs....[U]ltimately...the drive to continue training is a mindset. 'To say not 'I'm done,' but 'I've learned how to train, I've learned how to learn, I've learned how to assess where I am and where I want to get to. I've developed an appetite to learn new things.' If you have that, you're well on your way to being an intriguing, hirable actor."
As everyone knows who has read this blog for a half an hour, I am a college professor, so I take a backseat to nobody regarding education. I think it is important for every artist to continue to learn and grow. So I suspect there may be some raised eyebrows when my response to this idea is: "That there is some bullshit."
In the previous post, I wrote about bloodsuckers who make a living scamming artists, and I listed "the theatre owners and rehearsal hall landlords and headshot photographers and agents and newspaper ad salesmen and Kinko's franchises." Add to that list people who run acting classes.
It isn't that acting classes can't be wonderful -- they can. But the expectation that actors must stay in class in order to be employed, in order to prove that they are an "intriguing, hirable actor," is nonsense. What about you directors and playwrights and designers out there -- are you taking classes nonstop to prove that you are worth hiring? If I open the pages of Variety will I find ad after ad for classes in blocking or rendering or writing dialogue? Perhaps a few, but not nearly as many as I will find for acting and audition classes. Why? Because it isn't necessary.
This is all part of the scam that continues the infantilization of actors that started with Stanislavski and continues to this very minute. (Surely I'm not the only person whose reaction to An Actor Prepares or Acting: The First Six Lessons was the desire to smack those arrogant, insulting teachers in the chops.) The real reason we want actors to continue taking classes is that we don't want them to get out of the habit of being reliant on others to tell them what to do, we don't want them to forget how to be subservient and co-dependent. But let's get real -- if you're an actor, there is no reason why you can't get a group of your actor friends together to do scenes in your living room and give each other feedback. It doesn't need to be a class, especially a class that you have to pay for. Classes are just another way of separating actors from their money. They should be taken when there is a particular teacher you want to work with, not seen as a prerequisite for employability.
And dare I suggest that there are other ways of becoming intriguing and hirable than doing yet another acting class? How's about reading a book that makes you think, or going to a museum or art gallery, or taking part in a discussion circle at a local bookstore, or volunteering with a social or political organization -- anything that expands your frame of reference and gives you new and deep things to draw on as an artist is useful. Jesus Christ -- can we get out of the theatre ghetto every once in a while and intereact with LIFE?
While I suspect that the main reason we were supposed to read McKevitt's article was the section on out-of-town casting, there didn't seem to be much that was new in that section. Except perhaps this:
Leslie Martinson quickly points out that "our folks are as good as you can ask for. They're the best. We just need more varieties of them. The perfect person might live in the Bay Area but he's booked, and there aren't six more who are just like him."
Let's take a look at what Martinson is saying: that in order for a casting pool to be considered "deep enough," there needs to be an 86% unemployment rate. That's what she says -- for every actor who is perfect, there needs to be six equally perfect waiting in the wings just in case that one is doing another show. Is this sick or what?
Casting directors (and directors in general) need to get over this idea that there is a "perfect actor" for each role, and unless they have him or her the play will suffer. That, too, is some bullshit, a myth that casting directors propagate in order to justify their parasitic existence. I would draw their attention to this really cool thing called "acting" -- it's where these people called "actors" do this thing where they pretend like they are people that they're not. And people who watch them believe them! Really! It's very cool! Here, let me put this DVD in and show you how it works. Look: there's this actress called Bette Davis. Take a real close look -- she's really homely as a mud fence, isn't she? Those bug-eyes? But most of America thought she was really, really hot. How come? Because she acted really, really hot. See how it works?
I am convinced that one of the reasons that David Mamet's acting book True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor is popular is not that his ideas are particularly insightful, but that he treats the actor like a sane adult, not a neurotic child who needs a director to come in and tinker with their insides and "free them from their fear" or whatever. What they need to be freed from are acting teachers! For 2400 years of theatre history, actors took care of themselves. They rehearsed on their own, they looked in the mirror, they thought through their role, and they performed and adjusted to each other's performance as it happened. Then Stanislavski arrived and turned them into masochistic nutjobs. "Oooh! Hit me again, Torstov! I get such a sense of creativity when you debase me!" Sheesh.
It's bad enough that actors feel the need to go deeply into debt to get MFA's when they ought to be off in a small town with low real estate prices doing as many shows as possible with that money and learning in front of an audience. Like Moliere did. No, now some casting director says they have to continue shelling out what little money they have taking acting classes in order to signal that they are hirable.
I'll retire to Bedlam.