Is Training Necessary?; Professional Reels

Is Training Necessary?; Professional Reels Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the question, 'can acting really be taught?' And also provides information about summer stock and making a reel for agents. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. The previous columns have been renamed in order to make it easier to find the advice and information you are looking for. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the question, 'can acting really be taught?' And also provides information about summer stock and making a reel for agents. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. The previous columns have been renamed in order to make it easier to find the advice and information you are looking for. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
Having an interesting debate with someone who was insisting that you can't teach acting. He said all instruction in acting is pointless. . . you either have talent or you don't, and you improve it and develop it through performance. I agree that you can't produce raw talent . . . but that's exactly what it is without the proper training. . . raw. What do you think?
See ya,
Nasli

Hi, Nasli.
I agree with you. I honestly cannot think of one great actor, one truly great actor, who has not had any training. No matter how naturally a neophyte takes to a script, offering an enchanting and effortless reading, if you can't hear what he is saying, he needs training. I wouldn't hire someone who called themselves an actor if they had no training and little experience. In keeping with your metaphor of "raw" talent, even high quality meat that can be eaten without being cooked needs a knowledgeable and trained chef to season and prepare it before it is served in a restaurant.

Okay, that might have been a stretch in metaphor and I apologize to vegetarians. But raw is raw. My own experience as a teacher and student tells me that no matter how talented, acting must be taught to students willing to learn. Some naturally need less training than others, but ignoring the fact that the process of acting includes technique(s) that can and should be (other than self-) taught promotes the belief that actors are lazy. An actor's instrument is his self. Actors cannot be lazy if they want to stay in tune and have their careers last for long.

Serious actors need guidance and practice in order to learn how to read and analyze a script, how to stay focused, how to listen, how to move, how to speak, project, and possibly hardest of all, how to stop "acting" and just be. Your debater is right: Actors should learn through performance, and as far as I am concerned, performing scenes or monologues in a class counts as performance. A dependable teacher will offer an essential perspective on the actor's work that the actor, being in it, cannot see. Without a teacher or an incredibly insightful and generous director who is willing to spend the time, an actor can learn but will likely miss some obvious and many subtle things she is doing that need refining or that are in her way.

Although one cannot learn talent, or how to "have that certain thing," each can , if they so desire, go through a process by which they uncover their talent(s) and discover what is that "certain thing" about themselves. Everyone already knows how to play and imagine because at some point in our lives we've all done it. My perception is that actors generally need guideance and structure in this process of remembering how to play or "unlearning" behaviors that were designed to help them grow up and stop playing.

The study of acting enables actors to discover how to and how far they can stretch themselves into characters. And it's true, some actors are just not cut out to play Hamlet. That's not to say that they are not talented in their own rights, and if they want to be professionals in any performance media, they will probably need to study.

Question
I am a 21 y/o actor in need of your wonderful help. I had to leave school (NYU Musical Theatre) 2 years ago and can't return to school until next fall. In the time that I have been out I have been doing as much work as possible and have really started to take off locally. I also have started to make process at auditions for huge companies and casting agencies (i.e. Livent, Johnson-Liff, etc.) being called back or at least having the auditioners show some real interest. Every show I do seems to be better, every part is bigger and I feel like I am learning so much by just doing it.
Do I stay home and work to make money and save, save, save for school? Or do I go all out and audition for everything I can. I know that my auditions have gotten better with each one I do. I really believe that I can get a break soon--the chorus of a big show would thrill me. I live in Buffalo, NY---8 hrs from NYC, 10 from Chicago, 2 from Toronto. There really isn't an audition I can't get to.
What should I do? Try to save for school? Keep working here and audition when I can for big shows? Or move to NYC, find a coach and audition?
Thank you sooooo much-
Mike Stuck In Buffalo

Dear Mike Stuck in Buffalo,
Buffalo may be where you need to be for a bit, and although you may feel trapped there, you're not. It sounds like Buffalo is working for you right now because you're getting theatre work.

You have to keep going until one of your options makes clear sense. If you are feeling really bored there and are ready to be challenged at a higher level, I would slowly start to plan a move. You are auditioning for some big casting agencies, so moving to or closer to NYC may be a good move in the near future. When it's time to move--you will just HAVE TO, and it will be right.

As far as saving for school--it sounds like you are a natural student, and that you are learning a lot through working. It is not necessary to go to college (although it is necessary to get training!). On the other hand, some people don't feel that they are complete without a college degree. Are you one of these people? If so, I suggest you save up--while doing as much theatre work as you can.

Just keep asking the questions and the answers will be clear. In the meantime, save as much money and go on as many auditions as you can.

Question
Dear Ms. Glaser:
I'm a college sophomore looking to go into acting, and I thought I'd get an early start this year on research into auditions for next year's summer stock companies. I'm currently attending Yale University in New Haven, CT, and I'm mostly interested in companies around this and the Detroit area. Could you perhaps give me some information about this, or tell me where I should look to find some? I know it's kind of early for summer stock companies to be having auditions --some of them are still running -- but I didn't start looking last year until too late, and I want to avoid making the same mistake twice. Thanks for your help.
Ed Roggenkamp

Dear Ed,
You can refer to the summer stock listings on Playbill On-Line. They are listed by state and include the addresses and box-office phone numbers. You can also purchase the Summer Stock Directory, which includes administrative contact names and off-season phone numbers. The Summer Stock Directory can be purchased online at American Theatre Works Website, at http://www.genghis.com/theatre.htm, or by calling the Drama Book Shop.

The Straw Hat audition application is usually posted on Playbill On-Line in January or February. For more information about the Straw Hat auditions, please refer to the Ask Blair columns in late October of last year.

Question
Dear Blair,
What is the best way to get yourself noticed when your physical body isn't in front of the casting agent. Though it isn't the ideal; what is the best? A video? If so, what should one have on a "stock" audition video, to be used as a sort of secondary introduction? Just curious about all this. Thank you.
-D.E.

Dear D.E.,
Generally you cannot audition for something specific unless you physically show up, although I once auditioned in Chicago for a sitcom they were filming in Los Angeles. I got the audition through an agent. The casting agent had me do the audition on tape, but I did not make or submit a tape of myself.

It might be nice for you to make a press kit for yourself. Invest in nice materials. Enclose a cover letter, headshot, and videotape in a snazzy folder and send the packages off to agents, casting agents. Your videotape or "reel" is a very important tool. Most agents in L.A. require that they see a videotape including cuts from your work in film, video or in other performance media. Your reel can include stuff you perform for the tape, but should also include the best moments from recent productions or films, so try to make a video of everything you are in, splicing good segments on to a reel, until you feel your reel 'reelly' represents you.

Other than that, you've got to show up sooner or later.