Given how much hype pervades through the entertainment industry, I cannot stress the importance of auditing a prospective acting class enough. In both New York and L.A., I’ve seen teachers with questionable practices (at best) build very large cult followings. Sometimes this occurs because the teacher lucked out and happened to coach some actors who became major celebrities. Other times, it’s because the teacher’s methods are just so odd that actors figure it must be the path to success. Acting classes are a business and actors are the customers. You have a right to insist upon certain standards of excellence and to reject particular red flags.
#1 The teacher can’t guarantee a breakthrough every class.
As a paying client and a devoted artist, you are entitled to expect a breakthrough every class. Some readers might say I’m being unreasonable with this standard, but those are only actors who have been conditioned to expect mediocre results from their acting coaches. If it’s possible to have an undeniable acting breakthrough and transformation every single class, why not demand it of your acting studio/teacher? There’s no reason why actors should leave a class not having experienced a breakthrough they can own—where the work feels cathartic, fun, and alive and truly great. Only lazy or limited acting teachers would balk at delivering such results.
#2 The teacher is viewed as a fragile prodigy with all the answers.
Some acting teachers fancy themselves to be great directors and visionaries. They believe that their interpretation of a scene is the most inspired choice. Many times the coaches for child actors will treat them like little monkeys, giving them the exact blocking and delivery for a scene. Certain famed acting teachers are no better, dictating the exact performance of a scene to their adult actors, or pushing for a certain choice—shaping a performance rather than letting the actor shape it. While this might sound harmless, it robs you of your most authentic and inspired decisions and discoveries—the ones that come from inside.
Your best choices will never be found in the text, they are born and distilled from it. Some acting teachers give you what he/she thinks are directorial notes or suggestions for how you should play your role. The best teachers and coaches will ask the right questions to allow you to discover your best, bravest and winning choices for on-set or audition success.
In a word, no great acting coach will prevent you from having the autonomy and authority to sculpt a role.
#3 The class culture is too reliant on video playback.
I love using cameras and video footage of actors for feedback when needed. It can be a very valuable tool to show certain mannerisms, flickers of eye movement and subtle differences between takes—in a way that few other things can. However, overuse can turn this tool into a crutch. It can also be a colossal waste of time in a class as it represents time not spent on the actual work. As I mentioned in my recent article, great actors know the work was great because they feel it, not because they watch playback in class. For certain actors, watching playback can be toxic. Video playback should validate when an adjustment or approach to a scene has worked, but the first say should always come from the actor. The actor should constantly be checking in with their internal GPS to determine how something feels.
#4 Context is never mentioned.
Any and every piece you work on in class should have a specific contextual approach. There are over 20 different ways of auditioning: pre-read, cold read, callback, producers session, chemistry read, video audition, etc. You should also be able to work on a piece as a scene study for an upcoming booked role. To practice how you play. Classes that are strictly scene study, with no context for how it applies outside the bubble of the acting class, should be regarded with caution. In such classes, the end goal is to please a teacher. Acting classes should be an extension of what private coaching work is for top-level elite actors. They work and prepare pieces for the real world of high-level film and TV or auditions.
#5 The environment is all kinds of toxic.
The best learning environments are ones in which positivity and respect are the foundation. Given the lax boundaries that can pervade show business, it’s important that you be able to suss out any aspect of the class dynamic that is off, inappropriate or downright abusive. If the teacher is flirtatious with students, treats the male and female students differently, or uses the captive audience of the students to overshare about their own life (a la therapy session), you’ve got the seeds of toxicity present. Similarly, sometimes the “fragile prodigy” acting teacher uses the legacy of their “brilliance” to engage in an abuse of power. A teacher should be able to clearly tell an actor what was and wasn’t working without breaking down their confidence or abusing them. The teacher must then be able to help that actor find an immediate fix for what wasn’t working before that actor sits down again. Abuse-based classes abound here in Los Angeles and also in New York. They are taught by bullies who get off on directing their self-loathing outwards.
#6 You’re forced into a partnership.
Many acting classes are a colossal waste of time where actors are burning up their availability outside of class meeting up with scene partners to ‘rehearse’ scenes. Many acting schools do this in the name of dedication and to assert a sign of devotion to their craft.
The best classes are those in which you are not forced to work with the scene partner. Scene work allows acting studios to pack classes like sardines. It’s lucrative for the studio and often frustrating for the actor. Scene work puts you at the mercy of a scene partner who might not have the same availability, work ethic, or skill level (yes, even if you are in the same class). Also when you perform your scene, sometimes the coach is focused on correcting or finetuning your partner, leaving you to feel neglected of feedback.
While perhaps no class nor teacher can ever be perfect, paying attention to these red flags can protect you from getting sucked into a studio that is unhealthy, unproductive or just eyeing your wallet. You know you are in good hands if the work feels “great” after receiving time and attention. This will guarantee you have a very clear and fun way of guaranteeing a win both on set and in the audition room.