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Backstage Experts

The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons?

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The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons?

Many of you reading this aren’t currently in an ongoing acting class. You should be. Actors are like athletes in that we need to be constantly working out and staying mentally and artistically sharp for the challenges the next week will bring.

More to the point, other actors are training for hours a day, every day, and you will be at a disadvantage against them. That doesn’t mean you won’t still book work, but most assuredly, not as often or consistently as they do. And any one of the auditions in which you underperform due to that disadvantage could have been the one that would go on to jump-start your career. At the highest level, it’s a game of inches, not yards. Said another way: Training is not something you do for a few months and then you’re good. It’s an essential part of your career diet.

Then, there are those of you who are in a class but for the wrong reason. I’m speaking to those of you who are only in a class to get that studio’s name on your résumé, not to learn, work out, and grow. But you have to understand that we, in casting, don’t care which studio’s name is on your résumé if you can’t act.

My philosophy on what should go on your résumé under the training section is this: Only list those teachers or institutions that have had a significant impact on the way you work. If your work is solid, we want to know who else to give credit. If your work isn’t, we want to know who else to blame. If you studied at a studio for a year and didn’t learn anything, how much sense does it make to give them credit for your work? If you took a one-day workshop that transformed your entire process, doesn’t it make more sense to list that?

Regardless, on this be clear: You’re not paying a studio for the right to put their name on your résumé. You’re paying them to train you as an artist so that that training will give you the skills and experience you need to do great work.

Next, you have to completely beat out of your mind the notion that you are a star waiting to be discovered and that you just need some good luck and a few recognizable names on your résumé to get in the room and book work. We’re all stars. If you’re in Los Angeles or New York, you’re in a city that has collected many of the best, naturally gifted actors from around the world. What’s going to set you apart is your positive attitude, friendships, fortitude, focus, understanding how the business works, the right game plan, strong work ethic, and skill. I want you to think like a pro, not an amateur. Amateurs wait and hope for happy accidents. Pros take control of their destiny and execute a solid strategy. It was Thomas Jefferson who essentially said, “I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

OK, you might be thinking. So training is important. I get it. Where should I train?

Oy.

It can be so haphazard as to where actors end up training. There are a lot of great places and a lot of terrible places that will sadly make you worse. Take your time in choosing which studio to join because where you train will have the biggest impact on the trajectory of your career. Find a bunch and audit a bunch before deciding. I go into much greater detail on this subject in Chapter 4 of my book, FYI.

The first step is to be clear about the kind of training you want. If you want to work in theater, you’re looking for a very different type of training than on-camera work. While they will both share the fundamentals of the acting craft, the application of it diverges greatly from there.

If you want to act in film and on TV, find studios that have that focus and use film and TV sides. Ask actors who are consistently working in film and on TV for references. They are going to be your best source of information about quality studios. Many of us have audited and trained at many places and can give you our personal opinion based on our experience. Casting directors, agents, and managers can be a secondary source and may know of reputable places to study, but unless they are actors themselves, they can’t claim to know what they’re talking about personally. You’ll also find studios by using Google and looking through industry publications and directories. Read their reviews and their websites.

Once you’ve found a dozen studios that seem good, it’s time to audit them all and see how you feel. Next week, in Part 2 of this series, I’ll cover the things you absolutely should not tolerate in an acting class. Together, our goal is to find the best learning environment for you; one that has been thoughtfully designed to help you achieve your fullest potential and hone your craft in a loving, supportive environment in which you’ll make meaningful friendships and feel comfortable taking creative risks with your work, ultimately leading to you having the skills, experience, and support network to be a consistently brilliant working actor.

If that kind of learning experience is possible, and it is, why would you settle for anything less?

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Shaan Sharma is a session director, teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.” For more information, check out Sharma’s full bio!

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