Whenever I go to an audition I can’t help but wonder: If I don’t get this gig should I take more classes?
Despite all the reviews and accolades about my performances around the world: Am I really as good as I can be?
I gotta be honest. Part of me thinks taking classes is cheesy and benign. It seems like the idea of taking classes and bragging about them is much more attractive than the act of taking them. It just sounds better in conversation doesn’t it?
‘I’m in class three times a week and I’m learning SO much’.
Does it help you get hired? For every actor who says you don’t need classes there’s a DeNiro or Pacino who have obviously made it work for them.
Jeffrey Tambor’s class (which I took while living in LA) was full of working actors you’d recognize from television and film but they were only taking class because they were between gigs. I was taking the class because – well actually I couldn’t afford to take his class but he saw something in me and allowed me to take it anyway. As a result of his class I wrote a one man show that gained worldwide recognition but kept me on the road so I didn’t have time to take class.
The other part of me thinks that there’s nothing better than sharpening your skills with fellow thespians but I can think of nothing more boring than talking about acting with actors. Sorry if that sounds harsh (no offense fellow actors out there) but it’s something I do, not who I am. But I digress.
What’s your take on this? Feel free to comment below and take the poll. This is one thing that needs more conversation.
‘We are one skill away from the success we so greatly desire.’ – Unknown
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 I was broken. My life was in pieces (three to be exact) as I arrived in Studio City with all of my worldly possessions: three suitcases, my Isuzu Amigo and my desire – which could hardly be called that because I was scared to death. Scared to move to LA but I had nowhere else to go. Scared to do the ‘acting thing’ but after performing at Caesars Palace as a comic for three years I felt like I was ready. Scared of my own shadow…but I was so broke my shadow was welcome company.
I quickly fell into the hamster wheel of what aspiring actors in L.A. ‘do’. Get a crappy day job. Find an acting class. It was my delusional way of convincing myself that I was doing something for my career while holding down a day job ‘just in cast things didn’t work out’. Fear. And then I found Jeffrey Tambor’s class. And fear took on a new meaning.
Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) is one of the most respected character actors in the world. You can find more about him here.
His class wasn’t one that allowed you to sit in the back and watch. Newcomers had to do a monologue. My monologue was funny as hell, so I thought. The audience of 200+ actors were rolling in the aisles. Jeffrey tore it apart. He offered to give me my money back because I was wasting his time – ‘you’ll get work’, he said. ‘The question is, do you want a career?’. Another guy got up and started doing a scene about his family – it was really compelling. Jeffrey told him to pack it up and hit the road – sympathy has no place in this business. One by one he picked us off, male/female didn’t matter. He honestly offered to write several of us checks unless we got onstage and showed him something we were afraid to do with our talent. Doing things in your comfort zone leads to complacency and complacent performers can’t cut the mustard. Grow or Die.
For me it was drama vs comedy. Jeffrey suggested that stand up comedy didn’t allow me to show the depth of my skills. He had me do the same monologue in a dramatic way but without making it so obvious that I wanted laughs, (Uta Hagen – play the intention, not the laugh) and not only did the audience laugh harder, it changed me forever. All of a sudden the fear of not being funny on stage was fuel instead of an excuse. I was proud to not be just another funny black guy in LA. The monologue Jeffrey helped me cultivate became the foundation of my award winning one person show Basic Training.
Find your performance fear and work it. Because life is short…one day somebody’s going to take your body and put it in a wooden box. And then they’ll cover it with dirt, sing a few songs and walk away. That’s how the story ends. What will you do between now and then?