There are a variety of ways by which people come to teach acting. There are those teachers who studied theater at colleges and universities and return to teach in these educational institutions; some learned elsewhere, outside academia (such as private schools) to specialize in a specific method; and there are those teachers who come from a variety of professional work backgrounds such as acting, directing, or casting.
Teachers who studied theater.
One benefit to teachers trained and instructing in colleges and universities is that teachers are upheld to a certain academic standard in these settings. Also, students get a well-rounded education and instruction in a variety of acting techniques and this can be a good “sampler” for what’s out there. However, this kind of teaching doesn’t typically delve deeply into one specific method. Another thing to keep in mind with a teacher in an academic institution is the grading system (as “art” is widely subjective) which can prove inhibiting to a student’s freedom to explore, and in that process, be free to both fail and succeed.
Teachers who are working actors.
If you’ve seen their work and are impressed with their skills, you may be inclined to study under them. Acting teachers’ working backgrounds can be very helpful to impart valuable information on what works for them and to share instructional war stories from their experiences. However, if they are imparting information based solely on something learned from their previous acting classes, they risk dilution of that instruction. That is to say, when someone is studying acting, they are just that: a student. An acting student has a very different experience from someone who is in the classroom solely learning for the purpose of studying to teach acting.
Teachers who focus on one method.
This has been popular with legendary teachers like Strasberg, Meisner, or Adler who take on apprentices and train them to follow in their footsteps. Teachers who have trained to teach with highly regarded mentors are teachers who may be able to instruct a single technique or method but their effectiveness will still be determined by the quality and consistency of the work they’ve trained in, the mentor they’ve trained with, and their talent to comprehend and clearly communicate the work to their students.
So, with no guarantees and acting teachers coming from so many different backgrounds, who should you trust with your money, time, and potential future success? Whether it’s an academic institution, a working professional, or a teacher trained by a mentor in a particular technique, there are many talented effective teachers and schools who can impact their students in career-changing ways. Perhaps, then, this is the most reliable approach: No matter what the background of the teacher, rely on an acting teacher or institution with a proven track record.
Do your homework: Have students they’ve trained gone on to have success in the industry? Is the work they deliver consistently well-crafted and respected in the community? Did the teacher actually train these students or only coach them a few times after the student trained and learned to act elsewhere?
Great teachers are not all great actors, great actors are not all great teachers, and acting teachers come from many places and by many means. The key is the quality of the work a student sees them produce over many years and the evidence of excellence, craft, and success in their students.
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