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What Does It Mean To Be An Actor and An Artist?

Charlie Sandlan - Acting Coach NYC - Acting Coach in NYCThe recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has been a devastating loss, certainly to his family and loved ones, but also to the many actors who looked to him for inspiration. His sudden death has struck a powerful emotional chord in the community. The grief was palpable. It’s important for any artist to have mentors, and those special few in any art form who possess the gift of artistry and originality are bright lights that give us insight into how to approach our own craft. Phil was an artist, and the words actor and artist don’t often go together. Our pop culture often reduces a beautiful and transformational art form to one of superficial celebrity, where fame and money dictate success. Anybody can call himself or herself an actor, and there’s no shortage of pro wrestlers, stand-up comics, reality t.v. stars, and athletes who start an “acting career”. But they are just personalities masquerading in an art form; to paraphrase Phil, it’s easy for those who have no clue, but tortuously difficult for those that do.

I am passionate about the actor as artist. As the Executive Director and senior teacher at the Maggie Flanigan Studio, the belief that any true actor must function as an artist is at the heart of what our studio is all about. When I sit in front of a new first year acting class, I look out at 16-20 people who have all been brought together by the desire to be an actor. For many it’s a dream formed in childhood, and for whatever reason it’s never faded. The students that come to our studio have a deep wish to be a good actor, but most don’t begin their training with the desire to also be a first rate artist. That comes from discovering the struggle it takes to really be good at something, and a growing appreciation of how much hard work it actually takes to create the flawless illusion of life; again and again.

acting teacher - charlie sandlan

Artists are obsessed: driven by a desire to create, humble enough to understand how much they don’t know, they have craft and technique, they are never satisfied, they are driven by intellectual curiosity, they ha

ve empathy towards human suffering, they never let anything or anyone fuck with their work or their process, they approach everything with the understanding that whatever they did before this project doesn’t mean a damn thing now, it’s never about them but always about the work, they are always beginning, they don’t make excuses, they choose truth over politeness, they are always prepared, they risk, they go the distance with themselves, they can laugh at their own mistakes, they never settle for their second best, they work on their instrument continually, they do things that scare the hell out of them, they always bring themselves to the part, never the part to themselves, they have dimension, they are problem solvers, they champion good work and talented people, and they care about the details. They have artistry.

Phil was an artist. To lose him and his work hurts. I am fueled every day by the students who bustle through our studio, putting their best effort into a noble pursuit. I admire those who place their heart and soul into the glorious adventure of the creative process. As a teacher, to have someone like Phil, a consummate actor, to be able to point to his incredible body of work and say, “That’s an artist” was and is an honor. Our art form is made better for it.

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