Worshiping a Technique and/or Teacher (aka The Cult Factor)

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"Everything I say is right. Everything I say is wrong. There are many conflicting opinions in this industry. Don't take one person's word as gospel. Including my own. Take what works for you."

Anyone who has read my book will recognize that quote of mine. It's on the first page.

Recently I was teaching at one of the schools that I was invited to. (Possibly dangerous having me corrupt the minds of young actors.) We were working on audition technique beginning with the dinosaur of auditions: monologues.

The first student, while presenting her monologue, stood as if her feet were glued to the floor. She gave an occasional gesture, then ended the piece with the word "scene."

My reaction? "What the f__k?!"

Why the explosive expletive? Plow on.

I began to work with the student. I told her that in the professional world of auditions, actors can use the space—that is, the architecture and their environment—and not be so regimented or, worse, manufactured as she had been. I further added that only green actors and amateurs say "scene" at the end of an audition.

Can you imagine Victor Garber saying "scene" at the end of his audition? Mr. Garber has auditioned for me. And like the many actors above and below his stature I've witnessed in auditions, nearly none of the successful working Broadway and L.A. thespians have ended their employment seeking scene with that noun misappropriated to a verb. Ending an audition with "scene" is an archaic advisory of academia. And there is where it should perish.

Back to the students. To all of this the class gasped. Then came looks of confusion. Fear. Followed by students looking uneasily at each other. As if I had just said the vilest defamation against each of their mothers.

I asked what was wrong. Sheepishly they began to reply that they had been taught the complete opposite. A fellow teacher at the school had instructed them to stay "in a box." If a move or gesture was needed, it was to always be matched repeatedly with a single word or phrase each time they recited that particular monologue. And the actor was to have a set number of moves and gestures per monologue.

"You've got to be joking" is what shot out of my mouth. Are they actors, or puppets? The teacher I later learned has developed a large following that is nearly cult-like.

In our trade, actors are not alone in taking one person's word as gospel.

There was a community theater producer who wrote a diatribe on directing. When I was investigating publishers for my manuscript proposal, I flipped through the pages of this producer's director primer.

The amateur arts-presario/author was advising aspiring directors, who may be asked to direct regionally a show that previously was on Broadway, to replicate the original New York production. From blocking to line readings! (He himself utilizes bootleg videos of Broadway and touring productions as blueprints for his own directing work.) He instructs the reader that they should not "tinker with what worked" for Broadway. (So much for original thought.)

Young directors who've read that book have been terribly misguided. SDC directors like myself and non-union directors are bound by intellectual property laws and are forbidden to replicate the work of another director unless granted permission by that director. This teacher-in-tome is taking students towards a potential lawsuit.

You, as an artist and person, can choose what bits of knowledge you pick up on your journey. Either exploit or discard the large volume of "this is how it's dones" that hurtle your way. I've grown weary of hearing the phrase, "People say it should be done this way." Really? Herd mentality rules? I don't think so.

As one of the actors interviewed in my book wisely quipped, "There is no right or wrong way. If there were, someone would write a book and make a ton of money."

Now you may be thinking; "But Paul, you're giving advice now." Yes. Yes, I am. And it's based on my opinion. Most advice is just that. A conclusion formulated by personal experience and observation. I pass along to you opinions based on what has worked for me and others. Take it or leave it. The choice is yours. Be independent. You don't have to agree with every piece of advice given. Including mine. That's one of the joys to possessing cognitive thought.

You helm your journey. Your career would best be served by not being cult-ish with any acting teacher, coach or author. I appreciate the praise and compliments received as a result of my musings that have flown from my fingers on my laptop's keyboard but I fear the day when I overhear someone say, "But Paul Russell said it has to be done this way."

No. It has to be done that way only if it works for you. Let others discover what works for them.

Paul Russell's career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. He is the author of "ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor." For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.