Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bad Acting Teachers

I wish I had written this post when I was feeling more emotional about it because I think it would have conveyed my anger better, but as it is, I will have to write it feeling more calm.

In my graduate program I have had the opportunity of meeting and working with some very interesting and, sometimes, famous people in the theatre industry. In my time here I have, for example, met Hal Prince, Sally Struthers, Tommy Tune, Tony Curtis, Karen Morrow, and Don Pippin among others. Two weeks ago we had a special guest speaker, a renowned acting coach in L.A. who has worked with such performers as Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Hunt, Hilary Swank, Hank Azaria, Noah Wyle, and Michael Clarke-Duncan, and many of these celebrities have won awards for specific movies he coached them for. This man (who I won't name (although if you do the research you can probably figure out who he is) came to do a two hour workshop with both the graduate class and undergraduate class where he would work with some of us on specific scenes we've been working on in class. It was something I was looking quite forward to, and I was excited.

Now I am not one who swears or is easily prone to anger, but this man's behavior left me feeling very upset, and the words "asshole," "douche-bag," and "bullshit" were very impressed on my mind in regards to this man and his methods. This man was one of the most arrogant, abusive, and emotionally-manipulative people I have ever met in my entire life, and I found his teaching style (if one can even call it that) repugnant and disgusting.

This man was one of those cliché "Method acting" teachers who felt he was successful in teaching one to "act' if he made you have a "real feeling," even if that feeling was completely inappropriate to the scene or the role. For example, the first scene he worked on was a scene from Hedda Gabbler, in which two of my friends were working. This man basically tore into one of my friends on a very personal level and made her cry and then made her and my friend do the scene again and felt he had succeeded in helping them be better actresses because my one friend was weeping and my other friend was obviously angered and uncomfortable because of the whole situation. Never mind that those emotions had nothing to do with the scene or the roles they were playing.

This man was an insulting blow-hard who contradicted himself on many occasions, and I found his teaching methods extremely irresponsible. I don't care if he's the greatest acting teacher in the world; his lack of humanity was repulsive to me, and I don't ever want to work with someone like that.

He was constantly name-dropping and telling us how excellent a coach he was and how much he cared about acting and actors, yet in the same breath he would insult us and deride us without knowing anything about us. He fully admitted he hated people in general and told us at the end of the workshop that if anything he said had offended or upset us, it was our fault, not his. He seemed like such a bitter, cynical man, and I was so disappointed and angry by his behavior, not to mention that he didn't really teach us anything we didn't already know; he simply insulted us and treated us like crap.

Most of my teachers (except the guy responsible for bringing him in) were upset by his behavior, and two of my teachers even walked out on the workshop. After the workshop, several of us got together and bitched about the guy for about an hour and a half.

I told my students (who weren't even present for the workshop) that any acting teacher who kills their spirit in the name of better acting isn't worth their time, and two of my own teachers told my own class just as much.

The reason I even post this is because there are acting teachers out there like this man who are emotionally-manipulative, abusive, self-important jerks, and acting students think they have to put with it because of the results. I think that is a psychologically damaging route for an actor to take, and I don't think an actor should have to put up with such crap. I'm embarrassed that this man is so renowned in the industry and that supposedly smart actors and actresses put up with his garbage.

There were a handful of actors in our group that enjoyed the workshop, and I suppose if they got something positive out of it, more power to them. What I learned is that I neither want to work with people like this man nor do I ever want to become someone like this man. One thing he said in his workshop is that he was a nice guy once, but that he wasn't anymore and didn't care what people though of him, and that his acting was richer for it, to which I say, "What profiteth it a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his own soul?"


Kengo Biddles said...

You know, I just don't understand people like that. I'm sorry you had to be subjected to that jack@$$. I'm happy that your teachers backed you up!

Patty Sherman said...

I had a horrible experience with someone who I had worked for, rented an apt from and while I had not seen them in awhile thought we were friends at least. First class with them went well and the 2nd my so called friend, former boss tried to tear me apart from the looks on my face he did not like, what I wore, my comedic timing was off, I was not prepared even though I did read what he sent me and made choices, wrote them out all with this smirk on his face as he snapped and tried to shame me.

I am trained in Meisner in NYC and I realized my former boss/friend did not know this, never cared to ask and did not care when I told him my problems in class at that moment might be I was trained in Meisner and he was teaching only Method for this scene. Something he never told me and did not ever say was so important to his scene class. I assumed he knew my training from my resume and knowing him so long.

I watched as he was kind and professional to the other "two" actors in the class, one my scene partner and the other a sweet but very awkward woman new to acting. At one point he told me I could call him a asshole or say f__k you to him. I did not and asked him how this would help me? He thinks highly of himself and talks a lot about his issues with his mother who I have met once. At first it seems he is talking about this and how she ruined his acting career, his childhood as a way to get us to go deeper and he is opening up. Soon one sees it is his therapy session to get it out about her and the dreams he did not realize as an actor. He is not licensed and bonded to teach and he should be. I made a mistake in getting back in touch with this man, let alone take any classes with him. I just lost a parent and not only did he want me to use this parent in the acting exercise, he really has and had no compassion for me as he did for others. Anyone can say they are some expert at teaching and this man used to cast and does direct and produce Equity Wavier plays from time to time, but a teacher his is not. Claims he is a bigger deal in NYC where he also teaches at a school part time.

I made a decent part of my income from acting before my parent was ill and I was repped, so I am pretty sure I am not so horrible or how did I have agents, managers and CD's interested in me and working with me. I am happy to say I was cast in a play and could not continue, but made this clear to this man I could not anyway and why.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Patty, thanks for sharing your experiences. The reason your comment didn't go through at first is because I have to approve all comments before they are published. So that is the reason it didn't publish immediately.

Did you like Meisner training? I enjoyed it very much.

I don't have the time or energy to work with people who are a**holes. Life is too short, and you can still get good results with kind people (better, in my opinion). In fact, I'm working with a director right now who is very nurturing and collaborative, and terrific things are happening. There's no need to treat people like sh*t.