Why Study Acting


If you are a kid and you want to call yourself a musician, you must play your instrument every day for hours and hours. To be singled out as a talented young writer, you must learn the grammar well and read a lot of books. People might call you a born ballet dancer only if you have spent months in training the basic positions – one through six. And even though every child can draw, to attract the attention of others you should have worked hard on your shapes and colors…

Why is it then that, if we want to become actors, we never think seriously about education and training? Or, if we do, we view it as another way to show ourselves off in a role in the annual class production. From the very moment we discover our love for acting we start thinking what great stars we could be, and get deeply offended when someone dares to criticize our performance. There have been enough people to praise us – although they were just proud for seeing us on stage.

Well, when we are kids, this approach to acting is quite normal. Theatre is a magical world, and participating in it means being part of the magic. Who in their early age hasn’t been dreaming of becoming a magician?!

Unfortunately many of us keep this childish outlook on our profession long after growing up. Some see themselves in gorgeous costumes, moving their future audiences to tears, others relate only to the “red carpet” part of the job, giving autographs before and after the premiere, still others long for the big checks they’ll get for their extraordinary performances… To a certain extent, this is also inevitable. Acting is an extremely egocentric occupation, since maintaining the confidence that viewers would be thrilled to watch your physiognomy for two hours is a desirable part of your talent. Add to the fact that Acting, as Swiss author Max Frisch puts it, is the only human activity where the author cannot view the result in the process of its creation, which positions the actor in an extremely unfair situation, and naturally makes him vulnerable and insecure. All this often leads wannabes to the unwillingness of waking up and facing the risk of their greatness being put to the test by teachers and fellow-students. They justify their confused state of mind with notions like “Acting comes from the heart, and any theory would spoil my spontaneity”. Then they end up in a short term class with two main goals in mind: to learn the basic terminology so that they could seem experienced, and to make as many useful professional connections as possible.

Paradoxically, this way of thinking is exactly what creates the disappointing results where the actor fakes the character’s inner life and is actually too far from being spontaneous. Why is that?

Whatever art you make, you use certain tools, which you prepare carefully. Depending on the instrument, you tune it, sharpen it, clean it, clear it before opening up your soul and start producing art with it. The same procedure applies to actors;, the only difference being that they work with the most complex instrument of all: their entire human nature: body, mind and soul. On top of that it’s not up to them to decide the timing of their working hours – their professional instrument has to be ready 24/7. And this instrument doesn’t need to be properly maintained and developed?! It doesn’t matter that we constantly use it in our everyday lives. Theater (or movie) acting is not acting in real life. An enormous part of what we do in our everyday lives we do instinctively, without being aware of it, while on stage or in front of the camera we don’t act on our behalf, but on behalf of a different person, which, of course, initially makes us extremely tense and self-conscious. In order to reach the same degree of spontaneity that we have in real life, but this time as the character we play, we have to have been trained for that. This is why the actor’s instrument is our whole being reinvented. Which means it should be tuned, sharpened, cleaned and cleared on a regular basis. By operating with this well functioning tool you turn the curse of the acting profession, as laid out by Max Frisch, into a blessing, since you start experiencing the taste of your success together with the enjoyment of the creative process. No other artistic activity knows a payback this high. You fly, and you marvel at yourself flying at the same time. The sense of truth you are feeling doesn’t have a double, and you know that; it either exists and fills your veins with creative power, or it is nowhere in sight, and you helplessly try to imitate inspiration.

What has education to do with achieving this highly intense creative state? It clears the roadway between your humble, ordinary, conscious 21st century civilized self, and the enormous potential of your subconscious, where the archetypal emotions, freedom, madness and passions of all characters in the world lie. The great German philosopher Hegel says that talent is not only predisposition to creativity, but the will to remove all impediments in the way of creativity. Education is an inseparable part of talent, since it is the vessel that transports it from the shore of intention to the shore of results. Without education talent is like a treasure doomed to oblivion.

Certainly, some don’t want to turn Acting into a career. They just want to book acting jobs. This requires different skills, having nothing to do with artistic creativity. Anyone can land a part someday – especially in the movies. If he or she has the looks, a good agent and certain networking capabilities some parts might be theirs pretty easily. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet, no matter how lucky these performers are, if they don’t have the training (and don’t keep up with it) they secure their artistic future just in certain type of roles and for a limited amount of time. They will be the same in every next character, and their only asset – their original appearance – gradually will turn into an annoying banality. It won’t help them even if they have a gift for Acting. By the time they realize the need to develop it, it will be wasted – it will be contaminated with superficiality.

Actors who care about their creative development, always have a better chance to get – and stay! – into the business. The gold coin is judged not so much by the looks as by the weight. Believe me, good directors and casting agents like to be surprised, their initial visions to be corrected and refreshed by an unexpected appearance, quilted by an unexpected but powerful approach to the part. The best of them even dread the possibility their initial treatment to turn into a finished product unchanged and unchallenged. “I’m afraid only of a text, in which everything seems clear and self-explanatory from the very beginning.” – said a well-known director once.

Recently I watched Al Pacino in “88 Minutes.” Hardly anyone would argue about his Hegelian-type of talent, where his acting genius is successfully married to a consistent training in Acting. As I saw it, many actors could have booked this part, and be quite good in it. Almost throughout the entire movie. Except for one scene: Where his character tells about the murder of his little sister long ago. It is the scene that explains the whole part, and the whole plot. Well, for this moment an Actor is needed. And the Actor turns the scene into a masterpiece. Yes, I saw it incorrectly. Just a handful of actors could have done it. Can you find me one among them who hasn’t studied Acting?

© 2008 Peter Budevski

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