Views On Being An Acting Teacher

Most acting training is a short gap solution, an attempt to fill the void created by the fact that very few actors today have the opportunity to be taught their craft 'live' on the job by experienced professionals either in film, on television or in the theatre.

In a society obsessed with ratings and tests, it is quite natural therefore that a training market for actors should gain prominence. Drama schools are a comparatively new phenomenon, belonging to the first quarter of the 20th century. There have always been good actors who can teach but equally there are actors who have no talent for teaching at all. Rarely are the two talents combined in one person. But if a teacher of acting can't act, cannot answer the challenge 'Show me' , hasn't acted in a while, or has no genuine, quantifiable track record in this area, it presents the acting student with a real problem: how do I know who is good and who is simply a charlatan? The acting industry has always had its fair share of these.

I was fortunate enough to train with Tom Radcliffe, who, like myself, is today one of the tutors at The Actors' Temple. He is a fine actor who is also a gifted teacher, that is, someone who can promote genuine growth in his students. There are very few of these. His teacher was Sanford Meisner. Listen to any interview with Meisner's former students, Robert Duvall, Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Steve McQueen, to name only three and it is likely that they will refer to his legendary abilities. Like my teacher, Sanford Meisner was an actor and he acted until quite late in his life, whilst continuing to teach.

He had no 'technique', 'formula' or 'method': he had, in his words, ' a way of getting at the actor' and like any genuinely creative artist, as opposed to a hack or mere imitator, he evolved these 'ways of getting at the actor' over his working life. His approach changed in the 50 odd years in which he taught.

It is not Meisner's fault that what he taught has in some cases become hardened into a 'technique' - which, incidentally, can then be packaged, marketed and sold, sometimes by people who have limited experience of teaching and less still of acting itself. Once upon a time, directors used to be actors, for reasons which I hope are now evident. Today, there are very few of them. Ballets are choreographed by dancers not by people who have read a textbook on ballet teaching. Equally, I wouldn't let a plumber into my house whose attested abilities couldn't be proved, regardless of his certificates.

I have recently finished acting in a production of The Actors' Temple production of Hamlet. It was directed by Tom, an actor too, remember, and on occasion, he did in his own way what he wanted the actor to do. He is a director who can act. In a martial arts dojo, the master excels his students but a great teacher encourages his students to excel him in the discipline they both study.

This is startlingly unorthodox in other art forms, including acting, and would be derided as 'old-fashioned' but I have often wanted to say to a director, 'Show me what you mean' and were I a ballet dancer asking a choreographer this question, I'm sure I would be gratified by a demonstration. I suspect my question to many directors would be met with blank refusal followed by dismissal. Those who can act should eventually teach. Such was the case in the Moscow Art Theatre and to an extent, this still applies in the East. But here, at least where training is concerned, we fly after the short-term solutions (weekend acting courses and the like) and lay ourselves open to being fleeced. The path from practise of an art form to the teaching of it seems to me a natural and honourable progression.

At The Actors' Temple, we are pleased to continue this tradition. All of our teachers act regularly, often in productions created by the company itself. The latest of these, following Hamlet in December last year, is a 100 minute feature film entitled 'Luck'. The film, directed by Liviu Tipurita, a successful BBC documentary film maker, has an improvised script and is being filmed entirely on location in London this month, utilising the talents of more than 40 actors, all of whom were trained at The Actors' Temple.

The Actors' Temple specialise in techniques created by Sanford Meisner. They offer training courses throughout the year.

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