What Has Teaching Taught You About Acting?

Lily Lodge, The Actors Conservatory, New York

I have learned from teaching that the more frenzied our lives become in this age of expanding technology, the more the actor needs a safe place to develop his craft. That is because acting is the most personal of crafts, allowing the actor to access his giant heart.

What I am now more able to appreciate is the gentleness and sensitivity of each individual actor. How different people are. How while one person has trouble expressing, another is too glib to be able to connect. How the sensibilities of any of these types can be awakened, made available to the actor, and turned into a powerhouse.

Unloading the powerhouse takes time and patience. When I first started teaching, I would be frightened by other people's emotions and rage. I didn't know how to help the actor who was experiencing. Sometimes I thought he or she was outraged with me. Of course, I've found out by now that the actor's rage is his own important discovery and has nothing to do with me—liberating for both of us.

I have also learned that if used as part of his technique, an actor's anger—or any other strong emotion—can be gold. If actors can tap into the hurt beneath the rage or other frustration, they can experience feelings they might not have known they had. The newfound emotions might be just what the playwright or screenwriter had in mind for a particular character to express.

There is another element to accessing such emotion: Sometimes actors feel that if they can quickly cry or scream, they are tapping into their power. The actor must learn to bring his or her own reality to that power. As Lee Strasberg put it, work for the actor lies in two areas: the ability to consistently create reality and the ability to experience that reality. The sensory techniques I gained from Lee have the amazing ability to enable an actor to experience a truthful life on stage or screen. Of course, technical skills—such as the ability to be understood by knowing how to move and talk—are also essential.

I've learned that gaining an actor's trust is a privilege. One that I cherish. It forces me to trust myself and helps me to spot acting problems.

Warner Loughlin, Warner Loughlin Studios, Los Angeles

As actors, we are all far more alike than we are different. We all share the same worries and insecurities. Most actors I work with worry that when one job ends, there might not be another one soon. We sometimes think we're the only one who forgets lines, "goes up" in a scene, or leaves a shooting day wondering, "What the heck did I just do?" We all sometimes fear that we simply won't be able to deliver. Some of these worries fade with experience. Others may dog us for an entire career, regardless of our success. Celebrity actors who appear unflappable on the red carpet are as vulnerable to the same pitfalls as anyone else, because underneath it all we're very much the same.

When you go up in a scene, pop your focus to the other actor. Allow your character to have a "character thought" about the other actor. You'll pop back in the scene and won't waste time beating yourself up.

Know that a character rarely enters a scene in the same emotional state that he or she leaves it.

Build your character before you memorize your lines. Those lines will mean more to you and be more specific and unique. Then trust yourself and free-fall. The path you choose is the journey you take.

Be willing to go on the journey. If you preplan in your head exactly how a scene will look and sound, you will miss the wonderful gifts that the other actor gives you.

Let the audition be the job. Don't walk into casting to get a job. Walk in to fulfill the character. Tell yourself you get 15 minutes to be this amazing character.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I've learned as a teacher is that the old idea of "breaking you down" to make you a better actor doesn't work. An actor needs real answers to real problems. Actors should be given wings, not weights.

What a joy this craft should be. Treat yourself with care and surround yourself with a supportive community and peers. This should be a 60-year career, not a six-year career. You never know what lives you'll touch when you create a role, lives of people whose names you'll never know. Just know that as an actor, you made a difference.

Tony Persico, Via Sol Acting Studio, Los Angeles

Even though I have only just recently started teaching, I have already learned that the most important thing is encouragement. Every student and each person possesses greatness in them. As guides, we need to help plant those seeds of encouragement and self-esteem. Positive reinforcement helps you grow in your work, challenging you to go further than you have ever gone before.

We have to understand our uniqueness. Actors learn through feeling. Our most precious gift is out in the open for everyone to see. We allow ourselves to become vessels, holding emotions and actions that span infinite outcomes. You have to encourage the individual to feel. This cannot be ignored. A strong technique and basic skills are needed, but acting from your heart's desire creates a powerful force, ensuring an unforgettable performance.

The most important step—vital to our existence—is encouragement. Actors hunger for understanding. It's our job to say, "I am here and I am listening."