by Daniel Amenda, Playwright & Actor.
In the late nineteenth century Acting began to be seen in the course catalogs published by colleges. These courses were mainly nothing more than elocution courses, and that approach is the parent of the modern day acting classes offered at most colleges and conservatories. Prior to this period, Acting, Art, Dance, Music, and indeed all the arts were taught as they had been for centuries; using a studio system with a Master Apprentice relationship. In America, driven by a profit model for college education we begin to see an uptick in acting being offered through world war II. These classes were, for the most part following the same 19th century melodramatic model and gave us well heeled personalities whose most important job was promotion and not craft.
In the post-war era we begin to see the influence of Stanislavski infiltrate the offerings of college, and the idea of interpersonal psychology mixed in. So by the end of the forties there were four approaches to acting they are: Elocution, Stanislavski System, Psychological approach and technical approach based solely on external dumpshow. One can only imagine how these competing institutions struggled for profit and reached for the most naturally talented students. In so doing most institutions decided to combine these approaches and teach all four. This would have been tragic had the country not had a studio system, much like Russia’s system thriving at that time as well.
These studios, notably The Neighborhood Playhouse, (Sanford Meisner) Stella Adler Studio and Lee Strasberg Institute, all of them forming out of the Group Theater and Stanislavski. Other master notables who taught from time to time were Harold Clurman and Robert Lewis. Of the those three studios Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner were largely responsible for changing the face of acting in America turning out several successful students surpassing those that were enrolled in colleges across the country.
The reason for this is they not only adhered to a cohesive approach, but they themselves insisted on a master apprentice relationship. They were also focused purely on the craft of acting and training the instrument of the actor with a firm technique that gave the actor a way of working in a concrete way devoid of confusion and what is commonly known in the industry as tricks of the trade. They were teachers in the true sense of the word,
Today we are largely without this kind of teaching, as the emphasis on being credentialed with a college degree has become increasingly important in our society. in the modern world and the young actors of today are largely being advised by people who have no idea about what is required in the true actors education. Even the actor themself leaves the institution with the belief that their training is complete. Nothing could be more detrimental to the continuation of the craft and the longevity of a career.
In today’s world of the professional actor very few make it, and fewer still have longevity. They often have a moment where temperament meets the role and they count themselves lucky, yet they find the next professional job is often years away. This is directly due to the institutionalization of the craft of acting. Where does one find a teacher? Where does one dedicate themselves to the craft of acting, because they wish to have a concrete approach to their craft, they will not find it in the glossy pages of the college catalog, but rather in the corners of the city where master teachers who have dedicated themselves to teaching. It requires a lot of the apprentice, in that, they are dedicated to their craft, they educate their instrument in dance and speech in synchronicity with their craft, and they are willing to give up a picture of who they are now for who they can become. In short, they themselves must be completely serious about fulfilling the dream of acting.
In short, like most of America’s institutions, the colleges, have sacrificed craft for profit, filling classes with large numbers of students, underpaying its teachers, while charging as much as $50,000 a year, usurping the theater professional for the academic and hoping that a few of those they teach will reach the status of star and use their luck to promote the continuation of a flawed approach. If you have been to college ask yourself, what has been clarified about the craft of acting that goes beyond the trivial, how has my skill changed consistently? If you can answer these question concretely and know that you have a solid approach to your craft, then you are lucky and are on your way. If not, you may want to continue you study and seek a true master apprentice relationship based on the traditions of the true theatrical professional.
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