That's a little harsh, don't ya think? We hear this all the time: Be willing to suffer for your art. It's a brutal business, and you should pursue it only if you are compelled by a deep love for the craft. But hold on there. How do you know if you even want to make the necessary sacrifices to be an actor? It's not the suffering that draws us to acting in the beginning. (If it is, that's something to bring to your therapist, not your acting teacher.)
We're first attracted to acting for everything we see on the surface: the attention, the socializing, playing dress-up, pretending to be someone else, even the potential fame and money. These are all really appealing—in dating terms, they're the equivalent of a sexy smile or a great sense of humor. They're exciting and they may be enough to get you to ask for a phone number.
Admit it: It was the fact that people might watch you that made you Google "acting schools" in the beginning. I am saying that's okay. I've gone out with men simply because they were good-looking. I started acting in my early teens simply because it got me recognition. However, I married my husband for much more profound reasons, and if you pursue acting as a career, it'd better be for something other than fame or money. If you marry the guy because he has a sexy smile and want nothing to do with the more complex person, you will be in trouble. And if being the center of attention or wanting fame are the only reasons you pursue acting, you will definitely be in trouble.
A beginning acting class needs to be your chance to "date acting." You need to see if you enjoy the actual pursuit of learning how to act, not just the product of performing. If you just want to perform, try karaoke. Many people get their acting first dates in college drama classes. But for those who didn't, here's what to look for in a beginners acting class. It should help you find out a little more about what is involved in becoming an actor by discovering:
1. Do I really like what it feels like to be up in front of an audience?
2.Can I transform my voice, body, and emotional life into an actor's instrument?
3. Am I comfortable looking foolish in front of others? Can I take constructive criticism?
4. Do I understand the psychology of different people (characters)? Do I want to? (The actor must be infinitely curious about people and why they do what they do.)
5. Can I tap into my creative imagination and share it publicly?
Contrary to popular belief, acting is not about being able to memorize lines and go where the director tells you to go. Are you kidding? My 5-year-old daughter can do that. The real nuts and bolts of acting help you to reveal yourself to the masses. To figure out if this "relationship" has a future, you need to answer yes to the questions above. You don't have to master those skills…yet. You just have to enjoy working in the way an actor works to develop his or her craft.
In my acting class in Los Angeles, we play "silly" theater games to free up our instincts and imaginations, and we do a lot of physical stretching and relaxation exercises to get our bodies ready for the work. I get people on their feet as much as possible, to counter the effects of sitting at a computer or in a car for most of the day. Students need to make their bodies as much a part of the work as their minds. Some acting classes in Los Angeles simply give their beginning students a scene to perform and then give them notes on their performance. That's a scene-study class, and it's not the way to learn acting. If they tell you that you were fantastic, you'll feel great, but they haven't helped your craft. When they tell you what you did wrong, it's frustrating because you don't have any exercises to draw on to make the scene better. I feel that scene study for beginners is like sleeping with someone on the first date—too much too fast!
When someone wants to learn piano, the teacher doesn't give them the "Moonlight" Sonata, then tell them what notes they missed. They start by learning technique, like reading music and finger placement. Acting needs to be treated the same way—as a craft. Then, once you have some skills, you'll work with the actor's equivalent of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." We'll give you a simple scene that lets you practice what you've been working on in class. You should be able to see if you enjoy being in front of an audience, if you can use your body and voice to tell a story, if you can tap into your imagination and share the character's journey. If you succeed even the least little bit, and fail a lot but still enjoy it, then and only then might you think about "going steady." That's when you can start thinking about being in a long-term relationship with acting.
You should look for a studio or school that gives you the opportunity to deepen this relationship. You want classes that are offered more than once a week and push you to discover who you are as an artist. You will start working on a deeper emotional level, you will be spending a lot more time on your technique, and you will be thinking about your craft all the time, even when you aren't in class or in rehearsals (just like the girlfriend you can't stop thinking about even when she's not around). You will be thinking about it a lot. Like falling in love, it will start to consume many of your waking hours. The honeymoon period will end, but if you have discovered that this is for real, it will transform into the kind of passion that creates great performances, gets you amazing roles, and turns the casual date into the love of your life.
Elizabeth Mestnik will co-host the intensive "Practical Training: Out of the Classroom and Onto the Set" with casting director Cathy Reinking at Actorfest LA on Saturday, Nov. 6. For further
information, go to Actorfest.com.