Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"will I have to listen to lectures?"

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in Los Angeles San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

Someone recently posted a review on the internets somewhere about my class, in which they claimed, about the class, that "There is a lot of lecture, and not much "doing." I'd like to address this.

First of all, it's a lie. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about why someone would tell a lie like this. But here's why it is a lie: the class has two major components: technique and scene study. The format of the scene study portion of the class is mostly self-explanatory: people do scenes and we work on their understanding and execution of the scenes. What is perhaps a bit different about my class is that we work on each scene for an hour or so, so that means that you don't get up even nearly every week, unless you happen to be working on two scenes. Also, if you work on a scene, you work on it for the duration of the ten weeks. All of this is explained in the coffee date I have with every student who enrolls PRIOR TO their enrolling.

The technique portion of the class, as described on my website: "The exercises are carefully-crafted, purposeful, exciting explorations that are designed to give you an experiential grasp of the elements of the technique taught in the class. Discussions elaborate on the principles presented in the exercises." I didn't make up these exercises, they were made up by Evan Yionoulis, who served as dean of the Yale School of Drama for five years and still teaches there, and by Mark Brokaw, another Yale alum who has directed Mary Louise Parker, Mark Ruffalo, and other famous folks on the Broadway stage. As I said above, the exercises are conducted, and then I TALK ABOUT THEM, using them as springboards to introduce principles, concepts, and rules of thumb that apply directly to the scene work we are engaged in. In other words, the "lecturing" I do is about connecting the experience of the exercises to the practical work on the scenes. Even so, it comprises about half of the technique part of the class, and actual "doing" comprises the other half. And the technique part of he class is actually LESS than half of the course: 4 sessions of the class are devoted entirely to scene work, 2 to technique, and the rest is split between the two. So LESS THAN a quarter of the class is actually comprised of the dreaded "lectures."

When I came to the Drama School at Yale, I, as a first year director, attended Earl Gister's acting classes. Earl had been the dean of the acting program at the Drama School for fifteen years, and before that had run the program at Carnegie Mellon. Earl is one of the giants of his and my profession. It was not uncommon for us to come to class, have someone do a scene, and then for Earl to talk about for the remaining two to three hours of class, with his device that allowed him to talk through his throat sounding like a robot, since his larynx had been removed. Were there days when I felt restless or didn't want to be there? Sure. But most of the time, I was glad that someone who was a true authority, and could produce results in class, was sharing his accumulated knowledge and wisdom with me.

I recently received an inquiry from a prospective student who had read the aforementioned review and wanted to know if he would have to listen to lectures in the class. He said the prospect of having to do so was giving him pause. I explained the makeup of the class to him, but I have to say, I do not feel favorably impressed by the sort of incuriousness he evinced in his inquiry. Acting students profess to study a mysterious and marvelous practice, and there is much to learn about it. They must bring a great deal of inquisitiveness and a truly open mind to anything they want to learn. Someone with this kind of prejudice about the ways he can absorb information is likely to shy away from the side of acting that requires close examination of situations and of persons, and what "makes them tick", to trot out a tired cliche. IF he can overcome his distaste for "lectures", he is welcome in my class, but if not, he will most likely find himself feeling at home in another sort of acting class: a class that offers an endless succession of theater games and exercises in ensemble building that involve lots of "doing" but amounts to very little.

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