There’s a common myth in the acting world that one learns best by doing. Scene study workshops perpetuate this belief and market their training based on this misconception. If these workshops were truly effective, there would be a glut of highly qualified applicants lining up for every role. Such is not the case. Instead we have a smattering of skilled actors surround by a multitude of marginal players. Students shell out big bucks to attend these workshops and gain little to improve their professional standing.
For top actors, scene study classes are one way to maintain and sharpen one’s skills, however, for the beginners and intermediate students they not a very effective learning venues. Why is this? More time and energy are expended in putting up scenes than on learning the fundamental skills of acting. Memorization, rehearsals, performances and the critique all take up valuable time. This time could be better spent on learning and perfecting specific techniques. In a scene workshop students may receive only snippets of advice, as time restraints do not allow in-depth coaching. And of those snippets, most apply to that specific scene rather than to acting in general.
Also, students usually become overwhelmed by the many requirements of performing a scene, thus working on everything and mastering none. Without guidelines, the student is confronted with too many decisions, which leads to bad choices or to no choices. In addition, struggling through a long workshop scene usually perpetuates more faults than fixes. Another caveat is that uncorrected flaws soon become part of the student’s skill set, flaws that can seriously impede advancement.
Scene study workshops have become the norm in the acting industry and there is a preponderance of them. They are constructed more so for the benefit of the instructor, as they require little in the way of preparation. It’s reactive rather than a proactive process and other than the instructor’s critique, the student takes away little else.
This catch as catch can approach usually leaves students bewildered about the principles of dramatic acting. Rather than learning what to do students meander through numerous scenes never discovering the techniques of making and implementing effective dramatic choices. Sometimes, a guru-like relationship develops and stifles the student’s curiosity to delve deeper into the craft of acting. Such students are left with the impression the instructor’s way is the only way.
The student’s obsession to perform and to receive accolades soon negates the desire to properly prepare for a professional career. Scene workshops play into one’s ego. “Look at me, I’m busy acting.” But are you productive and what are you learning? And when false praises are banter about, upping one’s hopes of making it, the workshop becomes addictive and the student returns again and again for another fix. With few rudimentary skills, the actor soon ends up on a treadmill, busy and active, yet going nowhere. It becomes a time-consuming routine that finally drains both hopes and finances.
It is possible to pick up tips from scenes put up by other students, but are these retained and implemented? Seldom and unlikely. Note taking is not a trait found in most acting students. It’s more likely they will assimilate the uncorrected faults of other students. This compounds the problem by escalating the number of faults that have to be corrected.
Most students focus on getting an agent, getting into the union, or compiling promotional materials such as pictures, demos, and resumes. There is little thought given to the process of becoming a professional actor and what it entails. What are the skills and techniques required of this craft? What are the standards for being a professional actor? Instead of following a logical and disciplined program, students take the path of least resistance toward hope-filled mediocrity.
There is a tendency to follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing. Scene workshops seem to be the consensus of the industry. Actors, agents, managers, even casting directors prop up that notion. Its how it always been done. Casting newspapers also promote this idea; of course, their motives may be self-serving due to the high number of scene workshop ads. One should question this choice as it occupies one’s time, money, and energies. Instead, search out venues that offer better value, better training, and effective progress.
At present, actors will find their training is a convoluted mess. Programs lack structure and purpose. A more practical solution is to seek instruction that isolates skills, establishes their credibility, and provides ways to perfect them. Private coaching does this to an extent. And though expensive, it provides more instruction for one’s money. Technique classes devoted to the basics, which are implemented through short exercises, are also a good choice. Specialty classes devoted to one facet of acting can also increase one’s professional capabilities.
Another cost-effective approach is to study and replicate the performances of award nominated and award-winning actors. The study should include performances in both film and television. This series of articles on acting provides adequate information about the basic skills and techniques to school one’s self. About how one would assess one’s performance to bring it up to professional standards. And with the use of a video camera the student can view one’s duplicated performance, compare, and make the necessary corrections. This method cost considerably less and provides valuable training well beyond the scope of scene workshops. It also expands the agility and range of one’s dramatic talents.
In your training, also look to books, online instructional videos, and online articles. These resources offer insights into the craft that can greatly increase your awareness. Also look to workshops and classes offered as teasers to bring in prospective students. These will give you an overview of the teaching community as well as various acting methods. In addition to the free tips you also have an opportunity to network and mingle with your peers.
As you can see, there are other venues that provide better and more relevant training for one’s money. In considering a scene study workshop, one should weigh how much progress is attainable and is this progress worth the expense. Is $400 to $600 a month justifiable? What’s more, what is the cost per technique received and perfected?
Consider these options for learning the craft of acting. Unfortunately, they demand research, commitment and disciplined practice. The question is, do you want to be busy putting up scenes or do you want to learn the craft of acting and become a competent working actor? Acting deals with making choices, and this one should be at the top of your list.