Advice for Aspiring Actors

admin Advice

You can’t develop acting ‘talent’ by reading a book. You can’t become ‘talented’ by enrolling in an on-line course. No-one can actually teach you how to become a ‘talented’ performer. Anyone who tells you they can, is usually just trying to sell you their book, on-line course or workshop.

Acting talent is like intelligence or physical beauty. You have to work with (and make the best of) what you have. You can certainly learn and develop important acting-related skills, knowledge, values and attitudes by reading books or taking part in workshops and then applying what you have learnt in practice at a later time. However, these things will do nothing whatsoever to help you improve or develop your natural talent as an actor. The problem is that the ‘gurus’ selling their products generally don’t make this distinction, and will have you believe that by listening to them talk or watching them teach in a workshop; reading their books; or signing up for their on-line courses; you will learn their ‘secrets’ and unlock the key to success as an actor. This is most unlikely.

There is only one way to learn to act – through practice. Just like there is only one way to learn to play soccer. Or to drive a car properly on the road. Or to play a musical instrument proficiently. No amount of reading, theorising, listening or discussing will help you as much as the actual doing of it. Regularly. In the case of acting, it is also helpful to do it front of audiences and/or cameras (not just teachers and classmates) as soon as possible (just like it’s best to play competitive soccer games against strong opposition rather than to do training drills with your team-mates all the time). The audience is your greatest teacher and the best asset an actor has while training and while performing throughout their career. They (even the expectation of their presence at a future time) are a much better motivator for the student actor than grades or teacher/guru approval will ever be. The student actor will really start to learn their craft properly, and begin to progress rapidly, when they start performing in productions.

I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with acquiring knowledge and studying various acting techniques. However, major problems will arise for the student actor when they avoid taking creative risks and learning from their mistakes, and they instead attempt to demonstrate how well they have understood whatever ‘technique’ is being promoted by their training institution or teacher in order get good grades and/or avoid failure. A good actor-training institution will do the exact opposite. They will set in place structures and procedures that allow the student actor to take risks; to make discoveries; to play; to experiment; and to create freely without fear of being expelled if they ‘fail’. This is how professional actors and directors (should) approach their work and this is the type of learning environment student actors should be allowed to experience from the very start of their training. Many students at drama school are simply learning how to be good students and to please their teacher/s rather than learning how to be working actors in a professional rehearsal-room environment.

There are way too many aspiring actors who are being mis-led by ‘gurus’ and institutions that are trying to package, market and sell something as their own ‘secret’ process which is actually better learnt through practice and performance in an on-the-job, real-world situation.

There is an old adage that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is….so beware of acting gurus promising a fast-track to success through books; on-line courses and over-hyped ‘masterclasses’ etc. A better long-term approach is to learn the craft of acting properly through production-based training in an accredited institution (eg Sydney Theatre School) which offers nationally-recognised qualifications; high standards of teaching; and opportunities to perform for audiences and work closely with industry professionals throughout the training program.

Mark Matthews B.A. (Theatre); Dip. Ed. (Drama); M.A. (Directing); Cert IV Training & Assessment

Managing Director – Sydney Theatre School