Where are our young talents? From my own personal experience and from that of my peers – they’re in debt from having spent a fortune on going to acting school and now twittering about their #BlessedActorLife for doing another student film and paying a fortune more to get discovered ‘the modern way’ ----- ‘by paying to get seen.’ Maybe Lana Turner never was discovered in a soda shop, maybe no one worked their way up to a big break – the past is often revised, but that option isn’t even a contender these days. If you’re getting somewhere, you’re going to PAY cash for it.
Get a college degree! Who isn’t told that from kindergarten on? So if you are a theatre artist, why not go to a ‘name brand’ school like NYU and get your training there? Sure, you’ll end up $200,000 in debt, like most other students, but that’s the price any 18 year old is willing to pay. Until at 22, when they should be making their great strides, they find themselves needing to work 60 hrs a week in order to pay for food, rent and to make the bare minimum payment on their student loans. Where’s the time to audition, to create, to experiment? Our youngest, most trained groundbreakers have cut themselves off from prospering by falling prey to this trap. In their most potent, creative years, they are beholden to pursue other work to pay their debt. By the time the debt is paid off, they are dead, in a routine or too bitter to create.
Bring back the casting couch! (Did it ever leave?) It may have cost your dignity, but didn’t leave you in debt. Now, to meet a pseudo-director, casting director, D level agent, you need to PAY CASH! Yes, pay us and you can get in the room with a professional for $30 for 3 minutes of time. (Yes, like a pimp, they will knock on the door at 3 minutes, and open it to dismiss you at 4 min.) BUT THEY ARE ‘CLASSES’! Say what you want about the Actors Studio, Carnegie Mellon, etc.; they have their faults, but those are trivial compared to charging multiple actors $600 an hr. HOW IS THIS EVEN LEGAL? It’s the shady fine line of hookers calling themselves escorts to skirt the law! But trust us; the potential talent is getting FUCKED. The Unions and the Attorney General need to investigate Actors Connection, One on One, The Network, etc, etc, etc. Some of the ‘professionals’ teach these classes at the different studios on a fulltime basis…. When do they find the time to do their professional job? As one website’s main page proudly extols their track record of success with, “Carolyn is FREELANCING with legit agent Michael of 9MUSE after meeting at a seminar at Actors Connection!” Notice the words ‘FREELANCING’ and ‘9MUSE’. Impressed?
And then there are teachers- 2,000+ actors on average submit for one of our shows so we see lots of resumes. As most of their credits are unheard of or untraceable, I find the best place to look is the ‘training’ section. The majority are 3 min “Classes” from the places listed previously (thought they don’t mentioned they are 3 minute ‘classes’). The rest are often aa composite of teachers made up of Sandy Meisner’s main protégé, Stella Adler’s 2nd in command, Uta Hagen’s successor, etc… It’s amazing how many people these master teachers anointed to carry on their work! Then there are those who teach ‘the NEW Meisner’ or ‘Strasberg-esqe Method.’ It would be laughable if it weren’t! Actors are blindly duped into paying these charlatans a fortune to train – and it does more damage than good. Many of the worst actors/directors we’ve ever worked with are teachers at leading conservatories. The stories of the famous, old-school teachers hurling ashtrays at students and bringing them to tears are legendary- but they cared about the theatre as an entity larger than any of us. Put yourself in their shoes? Who doesn’t love babies? If you were trying to teach childcare and the student kept dropping the baby on its head, you should hurl something at the student and tell them to try a different profession. You’re protecting the child. Sure, there are other ways to do it, but when an untalented person’s DREAM is to be in the theatre, this harshness serves a purpose. Objects were thrown out of love and care of the theatre. Too many people allow the theatre to constantly be dropped on its head if there is a buck to be made.
This may all sound obvious. The advice offered is more vital than the weekly “How not to give up on your career,” “You can still make it after 25!” columns in Backstage every week or the quarterly “Pat Yourself on the Back for Paying Dues” Equity newsletter article. They’re not here to promote art; they are here to make money off of suckers and nothing more.
SO what to do besides whine?1. Young actors – your time is NOW! Training is very important – but getting out there and working is the best training. AND it’s priceless and free. Intern – understudy- AND READ! Working and learning go hand in hand – study is not a means to an end – it goes on.
2. If you are taking private classes, and most of the class has been studying with the same teacher for years, and the teacher bandies about words like ‘loyalty’ – RUN! If the teacher says reading the whole play isn’t important – RUN! If the teacher says she knows better than the playwright – RUN! If the teacher tells you there is only ONE way – LAUGH and then RUN! If you 'aren't ready to approach the text' after a year - HIRE A LAWYER! (Yes, these all come from experience.)
3. Experienced Actors, of all ages – help spread the word! With sites like YELP and a recently launched site to review teachers (the name escapes me! Anyone?) , help a fellow actor out! As the unions seem powerless or unwilling to do anything about the pay-to-play Acting Schools, contact the Attorney General with your own horror stories. These little things will give us back part of the theatre we so badly need!
4. Question everything! The great teachers often rave over their best students – those who challenged them at every turn. You’re likely to be shown the door if you respectfully challenge your teacher – which may be the best lesson they can offer you.