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A Crisis in American Acting

the technique of acting

 

 

 

In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Jeff Labrecque writes about the incredible influx of British actors in America, and the crisis that is unfolding for American acting. He correctly states that it comes down to one major weakness: training. I believe that the American actor is lazy.

The Dedication of British Actors

The thousands and thousands of twenty-somethings who flock to LA or New York, pursue not art, but fame and celebrity. The British actor, however, spends years training as an actor to define their instrument. They collectively realize the importance of a resonant voice, clear speech, a pliable body, a versatile temperament, and the technique of acting. They also hone their craft on the stage. Harold Clurman spoke of this in the 40’s and 50’s as America found resurgence in actor training thanks to the Group Theater and the amazing artists that went on to influence the future of the art form. Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Bobby Lewis, and Elia Kazan understood how important well-rounded training was to the actor (these are not the only influential teachers to be sure). This no longer resonates today. 

In any other art form, be it dance, music, painting (to name a few mediums), one spends years mastering the fundamentals. Those artists are dedicated to their craft and spend a lifetime working on themselves. The successful artists have instilled a habit of creativity (as Twyla Tharpe calls it). A true artist is consumed with detail; they possess artistry and have a solid work ethic. Most American actors are not interested in acting as an art form. Our society prizes the superficial; good looks, money and personality. And Hollywood is concerned with one thing, money. Networks and studios grab the next Victoria Secret model, the most popular reality star or the hottest stand-up comedian to boost ratings. So the majority of American actors can do little more than memorize some lines and bring every part down to their pedestrian personality. And then these “personalities” come to New York and litter the stage so producers can make back their investment. Most of the work is atrocious. For the serious actor, it’s infuriating.

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“Actors in this country are fooled into thinking that they need to spend their money for the opportunity to get in front of a casting director or agent. That’s now the popular fraud in NYC and LA.”

Charlie Sandlan (Author)Executive Director & Head of Acting

I can’t tell you how many young actors in their 20’s tell me that they are too old to commit to two or three years of serious acting training or learning acting techniques. They want “to start working now”. It’s hard for them to understand that acting is an art form that requires craft and technique. British training is connected to a dynamic repertory system that allows actors to forge their skills on the stage. They are not fooled into believing that you can take a “six-week camera class”, or a “scene study” with some unemployed actor, and develop as a well-rounded artist. Here in America however, that is the lie pedaled to the naïve. Actors in this country are fooled into thinking that they need to spend their money for the opportunity to get in front of a casting director or agent. That’s now the popular fraud in NYC and LA. Rooms are filled with inexperienced, untrained wannabes who flush money down the drain. They may book two lines on Law & Order or a GAP commercial, and those “successes” are used to lure in more dreamers – “See!, we produce working actors!”

Charlie Sandlan teaching the local NYC acting classes

Charlie Sandlan teaching the local NYC acting classes

Training Professional Actors has Become Less Important

As a result, training has continued to lose its importance. We now see the result; great parts, complicated character work given to the better-trained British actor. In order for the American actor to stem the incredible influx of the British, a commitment to developing the complete artist must become a priority. An understanding that craft and technique is essential, and a realization that talent by itself doesn’t mean a damn thing, is a good place to start. As with any artist, the actor must develop mastery over her/his technical instrument: voice, body, and temperament. Training and obsessive hard work is the only thing that will make that a possibility.

About the Maggie Flanigan Studio

Local NYC acting classes are taught at the Maggie Flanigan Studio by Charlie Sandlan, Maggie Flanigan, and the studio staff. To learn more about the acting classes at the NYC studio call the studio during business hours at (917) 794-3878 or visit the studio website: http://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/.

Comments on Expert Insider

  1. Joe suba says:

    I agree with you on this! i am an american actor, i have done 12 films without an Agent. after 8 year of looking for an agent i now have one and i am training at The Actors studio in NYC, i am learning the Sanford Meisner Teaching! i love it and glad i am studying NOW! it really feels good and it took me sometime to go to an acting school, i know it will help me land more roles and i am feeling so Powerful that i am building a new foundation for my Craft..

  2. John says:

    I agree with this article. However the Brits don’t beat us in temperament or willingness for training. They beat us in cost. One can train and continue professional development as an actor in England for a fraction of what it costs here. Additionally their are more opportunities for folks to stretch their art while making a living. It isn’t the actor it’s the country.

  3. Madeline says:

    I agree with this article and I have done a year long conservatory Terry Schreiber and I want to do more. There are two issues. One, rejection. I auditioned for circle in the square theater school and was given a huge no. How are we supposed to train our instruments if the schools went even let us in to study? And two, money. We actors are a poor lot. We usually work tiring jobs and training (such as Meisner) is exhausting. Can we get government grants or scholarships to become better actors? What do the Brits do?

  4. Jennifer Gelfer says:

    This article is spot on. The biggest problem with the new generation of actors coming up in this country is that they are growing up in the “Age of Kardashian”. I taught a class for five years but overtime became disenchanted with the level of commitment. When the reality celebrity’s become our stars, we are in trouble.

  5. Ryan says:

    I agree only partially with this. I feel the influx of European and Australian actors are also due to the fact that a. Americans are easily impressed by a foreign accent especially one that can be turned off to speak American english. B. The training and work they do in their home country is a minor league system for American work (with the disappearance of many soaps and American forms of minor leagues we don’t have that type of system like we once did) c. Foreign actors are looked at to sell internationally which equals more money. I am an American actor who has years of training and know many actors with even more training then myself who get zero opportunities. So into say that all American actors are untrained is a quite large generalization that I find is not the true reason to this influx. Also we have never seen foreign actors learn the ability to speak American English like they do now, and to be quite honest I find it a distraction when the majority of foreign actors attempt American English. Yes the training in England is more serious and from a younger age but ultimately I think it is much deeper then this reason alone.

  6. Sara says:

    Wrong! I am a well trained American actor with 15 years of theater. No one here cares. Casting and producers don’t see theater and lazily picks British Actors because it’s easy and generic. Usually the amount of social media followers dictates who gets the part.

  7. Noah Nichols says:

    What kind of training would you reccomend to an aspiring young actor?

  8. Erin says:

    I would beg to argue that the solution lies not simply in the actors themselves, but the American theater industry as a whole. Highly-acclaimed arenas such as the Broadway stage are funded by benefactors who have their own motives for what is produced including sociolopolitical agendas and most commonly what will take in the most money. As a result, the material that’s being produced is often headlined by Hollywood celebrities and either reincarnates a story that already exists as a book or film, or revives a beloved classic. Whatever the case, there is not enough incentive to bring complex work to the American stage and therefore the roles that are out there for actors tend to be flat. Many dedicated, serious actors I’ve known end up being more frustrated by the lack of diversity in the roles out there than their ability to “act well.” Of course there are always thought-provoking, shows that miraculously end up making it to the Broadway stage. But by and large, I think the system is to blame as much (if not more) as the actors themselves.

  9. Sam says:

    Isn’t this just incorrect on it’s face? Aren’t there more people than ever graduating with theater degrees? Isn’t the real problem the debt from training that a life in the arts can almost never pay off?

  10. Chris Jorie says:

    Thanks for sharing this Maggie. Charlie speaks the truth here. Just turned 60. Been training and working for 45 years, and feel like I’m just getting started.

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