• James Stranahan

The Best School for Actors

To no one’s surprise, LA is full of acting schools that profess to teach their students all the techniques, confidence, public speaking skills, and teamwork they will need to become professional paid actors. Are these places worth the money? It’s a good question, as tuition runs into the thousands of dollars and often makes a sizable dent in a student’s budget.

I’m on the fence on this one. I myself attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA), so to a certain extent, I would agree with people who say these schools are an effective way for people to deepen their acting ability. For those who are new to the art, they can be especially useful, as teachers will go in depth into methods, and you’ll get a lot of chances to improvise with other students. It’s a great way to get confidence and see how much you really like it. The topics can be interesting, too: scene studies, audition techniques, cold readings, and commercials are a few subjects you’ll delve into.

At the AADA, I took a lot of theater courses, scene study and I had a blast learning about how to fight on stage and do different accents. There’s nothing quite like learning how to make the audience think you’re taking down an assailant as you stand on stage or learning how to pronounce “gobshite” with an Irish accent. I still laugh today about it and remember rolling the word around on my tongue as I worked to say it correctly.

You can’t stay in acting classes forever, though - you’d go broke if you did. The goal, obviously, is to learn so much that you can get a paying gig. Does that mean, then, that once you’re done with your courses, that’s it?

Far from it. I’m a big believer that no matter how much the AADA taught me, the best acting lessons I’ve gotten have come as I’ve journeyed through the world. I’ve become a lifelong learner, and I try to learn absolutely everything I can from the people I’m around.

Take what happened a few months ago, for instance. I had a rare stop in a coffee shop, and I sat for an hour off in the corner, observing people on the fly while I sipped at my expresso. It was a busy cafe, and I got the whole human experience: a woman who was clearly angry at her significant other, a man who was trying to calm a crying baby, and an old man who was amused by something he was reading in his newspaper. During those 60 minutes, I saw an entire cast of characters walk past me, and I watched each one, fascinated by their facial expressions and how they interacted with the world around them. I learned a lot that day about human emotions and perhaps even motivations, knowledge that can only make me a better actor.

I also learn how to act everytime I read a book. Books take me into a whole new universe where I meet people who are vastly different from me and who experience events I’ll never encounter. With each story I read, I confront new ideas and perspectives, and that, too, makes me a better actor. Because I read books, I can more easily step into the shoes of a character who is the complete opposite of me and understand and relate to what makes them tick. That’s a precious gift for any actor.

So, by all means, take acting classes if you feel they keep making you grow as an artist. You will meet interesting people and learn tips that can strengthen your abilities. When you leave class, though, keep studying. There’s a whole other world around you that you can learn from, and that, I ultimately believe, is where you’ll get most of your acting knowledge.

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