You Better Shop Around
My Los Angeles agent recently sent out a referral to a group of teachers who call themselves Master Talent Teachers. (I’ve seen sample videos of their teaching on Backstage.com.)
I know there are classes on every corner, and I need to do my own homework. Aside from popularity, what criteria should I look for in acting teachers? What credentials are they required to have? Are they required to be credentialed at all? What determines the fees they charge actors?
When an agent or manager recommends a particular teacher, coach, photographer, or any other service, my eyebrow arches just a tad. It’s not necessarily a sign of something unethical, but it is something to be viewed judiciously—perhaps even skeptically. The time-honored rule is, it’s fine for agents to offer lists of their preferred teachers, coaches, photographers, and so on. But if they’re sending all their clients to the same providers, well…that can raise suspicions of nasty things like kickbacks, nepotism, bartering, and other unseemly practices. I briefly had a less-than-reputable agent who made all his clients get their headshots retouched by the same person. It was all very clandestine: Leave the shots and payment outside the door; collect the photos a few days later. No one-on-one contact with the retoucher. Big surprise—she was the agent’s girlfriend.
Acting teachers don’t need to be certified, credentialed, or vetted. Anyone can hang out a shingle. And there’s nothing regulating price. So it’s the old Latin adage “caveat emptor” (“buyer beware”) that applies. While I’m certainly not suggesting anything sinister about these recommended instructors (not at all), I do suggest checking out any potential teachers for yourself, applying your own criteria. Ask around—our message board is a good resource for that—and audit (attend for free as an observer) classes that interest you.
What should you look for? Look for an atmosphere where you think you can grow—make sure you’re not the most accomplished student in class. You want to study alongside at least a few people who have more experience and training than you have. Look for a teacher who speaks a language you understand, a style and technique that make sense to you. And look for a dynamic that’ll be conducive to learning. For example, if the teacher intimidates you or doesn’t inspire your respect, you might have a difficult time absorbing what he or she has to teach. The teacher may have a reputation for brilliance and amazing results, but if you’re uncomfortable, untrusting, or unimpressed, all the reputation or popularity in the world isn’t going to enable you to learn. On the other hand, if a class makes you feel challenged and a bit nervous, that could be the very best class to take.
I would certainly put stock in your agent’s recommendations. I’d also go directly to actors you know, whose work you admire, and ask them where they study. Those can be the best recommendations of all.