Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let's Elaborate...

I couldn't stand the thought of someone from school happening upon my little blog and thinking that I was being completely disparaging about my professors in the acting program... that is, without furthering my point =)

I wanted to share some specific moments and thoughts that explain why I've been so hard on my professors so that people don't think I'm just some bitter, bad actor who's looking for an excuse. I know I'm a bad actor, but I need no excuses.

So let's start with an instance that occurred almost two years ago (ouch) when I was taking acting with one of the BFA Acting teachers. For all intents and purposes, let's call her "S". I was truly struggling in her class, and I mean STRUGGLING. I would go in not knowing what I was doing or where to start, and all she would ever say to me was "Go deeper, go deeper". Now, as a reader, you might be thinking, "But what does that MEAN, 'go deeper'?" If you are, GOOD- because that's exactly what I thought. It's much easier to say to someone "go deeper" than it is to sit down and discuss the block in the person's performing process.

After about two or three months of going into that blackbox twice per week and feeling like a complete failure, I wrote "S" an in-depth and desperate email explaining that I was lost and felt like I was a complete failure. She told me to come in for a meeting that following Monday, only to explain that all students go through that period of feeling lost, and I should stick it out... and the problem went unsolved, I continued to flounder.

The next semester, however, "S" went on sabbatical, and a substitute ("D") stepped in. "D" worked with us all on our "true voice", Alexander Technique, what I would later learn was "Substitution", and many other aspects of performance and exercises that clearly defined how to use our minds and bodies to become performers. Finally, structure! Understanding! Objective! It was like some acting fairy (and I think that's the only word you can use to truly describe "D") swooped in and showed me that I wasn't a lost cause, I just didn't have the right tools. "Go deeper" finally had meaning because I knew how to do it, and what it meant.

After the short-lived progress made in "D"'s class, I entered "J"'s class, only to feel, once again, like a complete failure and ignoramus. One week a performance was good, the next week the same performance was bad. No choices onstage were correct. Constant contradictions in technical explanations. Complete DISCARD of technical explanations. Absolutely no positive criticism. 45-minute discussions about the business of being a film actor... in a classical acting (aka- shakespeare) class. And I'm not saying those conversations aren't important, but when I'm supposed to be doing A Midsummer Night's Dream and we're talking about "The Wire", something's gone the way of the wind...

Once again, I lost all respect for my acting teacher- which leaves me with ONE acting teacher that made a positive impression on me... an adjunct. No teacher taught us about the method, or stanislovsky, which is what we were supposed to be learning. No teacher worked with us on basic technique or application of what we'd "learned". There were no lessons! Is this acting class? Am I paying $26,000.00 per year to be told "Go deeper"?

So when I say that I learned more in one semester with an adjunct and four days reading Uta Hagen's "Respect For Acting" than I did in a full year of classes with MSU's finest, I wish I could say I was kidding. Please don't get me wrong- they are nice people with the best intentions (most of the time) and I am not trying to imply that they aren't good people. I am saying, though, that masterclasses, structured curriculum, and a more explanatory process of what is going on the classroom when it is going on would be a great improvement.

I apologize if this all comes off as snotty, but reading the book made me so angry that these very basic techniques were simply breezed over. Even if they weren't intended as part of the curriculum, I feel that a teacher should be able to look at a student who is struggling and help them to find the best route to the best outcome, and I felt that I was thrown into the shark tank and told not to bleed. Acting is not mathematic, or even logical sometimes- it depends so heavily on the individual's response to so many things that when a student is not succeeding with the given technique, it only makes sense for the teacher to take a different approach with that student. I only wish that someone had pointed me in the right direction so that I could have started this process earlier.

So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. No grudges, no anger, just some unfinished business that I felt I needed to explain and get off my chest. I'm going to keep reading Uta's books and write some of my thoughts here, and maybe even share a few thoughts from my personal journal. One of these days I promise I will write a light-hearted post...


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