“Create your own method. Don’t depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you!” ~Constantin Stanislavski
Photo Credit: Mikki Schaffer
Building a toolbox
An accomplished artist creates a toolbox of techniques that they can access depending on their needs. Variety in training for a young actor is essential, not to diminish focusing on one method of acting training, but young actors need to be exposed to many masters and techniques so they can choose which one to discover deeper when they are ready for further study based on what they respond to as an artist. To accomplish this goal, I try to incorporate the terminology of the masters within the lessons. I believe it is essential to connect to our theatrical past to inspire the future. I want my students to be able to identify which acting technique they are using and why they are using it, no matter their age or level.
Young artists should add as many skills as possible to their knowledge base. Theater is an ensemble and collaborative experience and positive attitudes that respect non-performance duties should be instilled at a young age. It is important to teach the students technical theatrical vocabulary as well giving them the opportunity to create their own sets, props, and costumes; this allows them ownership and instills a respect for future technical theater positions.
Having no apologies
My first movement teacher, Deborah Robertson, would have us exclaim at the end of every warm-up “I am an actor, and I have no apologies. We are an ensemble, and we have no apologies!” Having no apologies is not a license given to the student to do whatever they want and be disrespectful in the classroom. Instead, it is a reminder that we are not perfect. Having no apologies is giving them the freedom to explore their art, make mistakes, and bold choices. It is a reminder that live theater is in fact a living thing. Before performances, my students and I hold hands and whisper the no apologies phrase together, signifying unity as an ensemble and allowance to leave the work at the door and trust our process.
Having no apologies also allows for silliness and fun. Theater and artistry can be spoken of and taken so seriously, and rightfully so, but it is also play. As important as it is to implant respect for the art, I believe it is also important to have fun and allow laughter.
Maintaining a professional work environment
My early education was as a professional ballet dancer. Ballet is strict and requires physical and mental discipline. Although I do not run my classroom like my Russian ballet master with a big stick and click-y shoes, I do think that creating and maintaining a professional and disciplined working environment is essential for safe and fully enriching artistic learning. I teach that to behave in a professional manner makes you a professional in the theater. I teach that you are your most important barometer of your discipline, improvement and success. However, because of this belief, I find it is essential that students find confidence in themselves. It is important to teach them to be positive and constructive in the critique of their own work for there is beauty in the fall.
Creating a safe environment for exploration requires respect and trust of both the teacher and other students in the class. The students need to trust that what happens in class stays in class. Because in class many emotions and life experiences may be exposed, the students need to know that they will not be aired or discussed out of the safety of the classroom.
I believe any successful rehearsal, class, or workshop must begin with a warm-up. It is important to open mind and body to the work. It instills a self-discipline and habit as well, like a ballerina at the barre or an instrumentalist and their scales. Warm-ups should be tailored to the specific requirements of the lesson or scheduled rehearsal. It instills an important habit in young actors and prepares them for what is about to come by focusing their imaginations. Warm-ups also allow student to become more comfortable with their classmates and their environments by allowing them to ease into the more intense work.
Connecting theatrical lessons with real life experience and subjects
The most enriching experiences I’ve had as a teacher are not always watching professional or artistic growth, but witnessing how the theater changes lives outside of the art. Many students do not have Broadway or Hollywood bound dreams, but taking acting classes can help them overcome obstacles of self-deprecation, lack of focus, release of pent of emotion and break down barriers and walls that prevent us from experiencing the all life as to offer. Theater training opens a young person's hearts and minds to different lifestyles, different parts of their brains and imaginations while giving them a self-worthiness and confidence in their ideas no matter how different they may be.
We are all storytellers and the sole purpose of our art form is to tell stories in the most effective way. By connecting theater lessons to the outside world, not only do we create more compelling stories because who want to watch stories about actors being actors, but it also helps make theater a part of the typical cultural dialogue.