You Were Taught Acting Backwards (Probably)


11/26/20183 min read

You’re an actor. You’re an actor in training. Maybe you’re in school for the first time, or maybe you’ve been around the block still trying to crack that ever elusive nut of a certain something in your work. No matter. I’m here to tell you in my fifteen plus years as an actor, who has bounced around to a lot of classes, what I feel is the biggest problem in actor training — one that I am quite passionate about changing.

Thinking. You were taught to think. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing innately wrong with thinking. It’s a useful tool in our participation with living. However, it is only one of our senses. Let me tell you the inherent issue with it’s use in actor training.

So you step out on stage, or in front of the camera and you’re thinking about your objectives, you’re thinking about your stakes, you’re thinking about your relationship, you’re thinking about your obstacles, you’re thinking about your beats, you’re thinking about your breath, you’re thinking about your inner monologue — which is literally thinking about thinking — you’re thinking about what that thing they just said means to you and you’re thinking about how you should respond. You’re thinking about so many things. Now you’re thinking about whether you’re doing all of these things right. Are they getting across? Do people see how hard you worked on this? Oh my god what is happening right now?! You’re not connected! Can everyone tell?!

“Get out of your head! Get out of your head!” yells your teacher from the side.

Right. Get out of your head. That’s what you’ll do. You’ll just get out of your head!

Except you have no idea how to do that. Maybe there’s some way to think your way out of it.

The scene is stopped. The lecture begins. You’re frustrated. You’re beating yourself up. You want to do this so badly but you’re stuck in your head and you’ve got to figure a way out but you don’t know where to begin.

Does this sound familiar?

I want to tell you that you were taught to do exactly what you did. Your teacher didn’t mean for this to happen to you, however, through the very nature in which you are being trained, you didn’t have much choice.

I’ve been there. I know what that’s like. I experienced it for years and it’s discouraging to a point of madness.

To quote A Course In Miracles:

“There is nothing so frustrating to a learner as a curriculum he cannot learn. His sense of adequacy suffers, and he must become depressed. Being faced with an impossible learning situation is the most depressing thing in the world… Whenever the reaction to learning is depression, it is because the true goal of the curriculum has been lost sight of.”

Yes, “…the true goal of the curriculum has been lost sight of.”

Actor training has made the art about the technique. You do this and apply that and stick this here and colour that there and voila! you have a great performance! Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the techniques because there isn’t, what I am saying is that doing all of those things won’t make you a great actor.

It’s a problem of emphasis. When you come into training and are immediately shown a seemingly countless list of intellectual techniques and tricks, it’s not difficult to see why you begin to think that this is what acting is all about.

I believe that as actors we must first learn a state of being, as from that space, the techniques become clearer in their function, place, and role.

As teachers, we’re trying to nurture and mentor art and artists and we are literally teaching them to create from their heads and not their hearts. If you don’t think that’s an issue, then forgive me, but you have no place in teaching this work.

Evan C. Schulte