The Importance of Training, Part 2: 3 Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class

Once you’ve got your head on straight and you’re in class for the right reasons, here are some things you shouldn’t tolerate in your acting class experience, in my opinion. Let’s be clear about that. This is all my personal and professional opinion. I mean no disrespect to any of you or any studio or teacher. But, as the saying goes, if the shoe fits, wear it.

At the end of the day, we’re all different and will respond to learning environments differently. You may love a class that others would avoid like the plague. Some of you might be willing to tolerate some of the following no-no’s because of the specific type of training taught by, reputation of, or relationship you have with, a particular studio or teacher.

My point in this article can be summed up simply as follows: Class is for you, not them. You’re not paying for the privilege to be trained somewhere or by someone. You’re hiring them, like a personal trainer, to train you and help you reach your highest potential. They work for you. If they’re not doing a good job, fire them and move on. Life is too short and this time in your career is too precious.

The reality is that there is a lovely, singular, sensitive artist inside each of you. You’re making enormous sacrifices to pursue acting as a profession. You’ve chosen an art form in which your own heart, mind, soul, and body are the instruments, with all the wear and tear that involves. Add the uncertain nature of employment in our industry and you have a circumstance ripe with opportunities for self-doubt, self-judgment, and feeling overwhelmed, emotionally, physically, and mentally drained, and all the rest. But it’s a price we’re not just willing, but dying to pay because we just love stories, experiencing new lives and relationships, immersing ourselves in all these varied worlds, and working with the most talented people in the entertainment business to tell these stories in the forms of movies and shows. 

I want to protect you from unnecessary harm, frustration, wasted time and resources, and I don’t want you to miss out on the faster growth and joy that’s possible in your acting journey by not experiencing or demanding what I put to you as a better learning environment and experience.

Finally, it must be said that all of the following are the direct responsibility of the main teacher, the one whose name is on the door. They set the tone for the class environment, culture, structure, and the behavior of their secondary teachers.

Without further ado, let’s begin:

Abuse. This one gets me the most. I can’t understand why people choose to be in a class where the teacher is abusive to his or her students. And, to be clear, I don’t consider being blunt or tough love as abusive. I mean the ones that are clearly being rude, insensitive, or mean; who insult, embarrass, or humiliate their students, oftentimes in front of the class, making an “example” of them.

To me, there is no excuse for this and it springs from the ego, vanity, or arrogance of the instructor, their sense of entitlement, or from their own personal issues. It can be absolutely traumatizing and leave lasting damage on a student’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and artistic development. It can lock them up into “safe” acting and scare them away from ever taking creative risks, which is the path to brilliance. I have had students come to me after their experiences in other better-known, and supposedly reputable studios, who couldn’t get through a take without bursting into tears from the fear and self-judgment in their head during the scene.

You don’t have to suffer to achieve growth. The industry is hard enough. You shouldn’t have to fear your teacher.

Politics. Seriously? You didn’t sign up and pay hundreds of dollars a month to feel like you’re not one of the teacher’s “favorites,” and that you’re not getting as much attention or feedback because they don’t “like” you. You shouldn’t have to kiss their ass or walk on eggshells. You shouldn’t have to earn their love or prove yourself to them. Your money is as green as everyone else’s. As long as you’re well behaved, working hard, and willing to be taught, you should feel like the teacher cares as much about you and your development as any other student.

Hostile class culture. On that note, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to set the tone for the class culture; how you treat each other. It really sucks to be in a class where the teacher allows the students to be mean and judgmental towards each other, cliquey, negatively competitive, have bad attitudes, and poor worth ethic. This is perhaps one of the worst transgressions.

We are each other’s greatest resource. You should be in a class where the students are encouraged to love and support each other and form friendships. These are the people with whom you’re sharing your journey and some of them may go on to play instrumental roles in your success—perhaps by helping you rehearse, putting you on tape, introducing you to a manger, agent, or CD, or talking you off the ledge in a moment of weakness. Your acting class should be like a family that has your back and recharges your spirit each week, not a battleground or gladiatorial arena.

Next week I’ll discuss a few more things you shouldn’t tolerate in an acting class. But in the meantime, if any of the aforementioned things have been seen in your current class, you might want to begin researching some new ones.