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Is Your Acting Class Abusive?

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By Marci Liroff

In my last blog “Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick?”, I wrote about the cult of acting teachers and how actors can sometimes be swept up in their bad behavior. I’m gathering these stories to shine a light on this culpable behavior and to clarify what is healthy and what is abuse. I know this goes on in every industry, but it’s particularly heartbreaking when it’s in a situation like an acting class, which should be a safe place to learn and make mistakes. Actor and acting coach Jack Plotnick has another story.

“One actor did a scene and the teacher said the girl could not train with her until she got some therapy from the teacher’s sister, who is a therapist!” he says. “She said that the teacher keeps the students coming by instilling the idea in them that they are not ready and are not good enough yet. She felt that this played into her subconscious gluttony for punishment, which I think a lot of actors have because they are unconsciously punishing themselves for being artists in a world that does not respect artists and instead worships business.”

Plotnick has also heard of a gay actor being told that if he wanted to work he would need to drop all of his gay friends and only hang out with straight men. And according to Plotnick, one teacher “allows her students to comment on other students’ work, and even leaves them alone to run the scene in front of their peers and lets their peers give them feedback. These actors are paying out the  nose and she isn’t even at the class! As soon as I began coaching actors I started hearing horror stories of the bad training and abuse that can happen in acting classes. And the sad thing is that most of the worst stories came from the  students of the most prominent teachers.”

I’m mystified by this.

Why would actors continue to attend classes with—and pay great sums of money to—these kinds of teachers?

Plotnick had a thought-provoking take on this.

“The issue is that actors usually leave an abusive or unhelpful class feeling like the problem is them and not the teacher,” he says. ”Actors want to feel that they are ‘working’ at their craft. Perhaps they want to prove to their family that they are not ‘lazy’ or ‘irresponsible,’ or perhaps they have bought into the belief that classes lead to bookings. I believe in working at my craft as well, but for me, that always meant to be acting as much and as often as I could. And since I love acting, it never felt like work. And the best part is that whenever I would put up a play or a sketch show, some wonderful job would be delivered to me. I became a magnet for the work instead of chasing after it.”

Acting teacher and coach Jeffrey Marcus had an interesting response. “The only reasons I can think of are that some people want to recreate the abusive relationships that they had with their mentors-parents. The ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality: If it ain’t hurtin’, it isn’t making you grow. It’s very sad to me. In this town, the buzz is everything. When a teacher gets hot, they start believing their press, too. What started out as a calling to assist becomes an ego-driven vehicle to build up their own crumbling self-esteem. Any teacher who uses their power to seduce their students, whether sexually or to create a social network, is out of integrity.”

Check out Part 3 of this exposé June 26, when I talk about the healthy relationship you should seek from your acting teacher.

What about you? Why do you stay in class if it isn’t helping you?

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Click to Tweet: ‘Is Your Acting Class Abusive?’ @marciliroff shines a light on this nasty phenom http://bit.ly/1hMDUwV
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Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick?

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By Marci Liroff

Scam alert! Are you feeling abused and beat up when you leave your acting class? Could you ever imagine it’s coming from the very person who should be your mentor and your guide – your acting teacher or coach?

There are plenty of amazing teachers across the globe, yet I’m hearing horror stories of instructors who sound more like cult leaders.

Would it strike you as odd if a teacher asked you to rub his feet while you were delivering your monologue? A well-known teacher uses this method to get his students “out of their head” while they’re doing a scene. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next—which is why I think finding the right acting teacher and coach is often like finding the right shrink. You’ll only let some inside that very secret, dark place inside you. But once inside, I’d hope that along with calling you on your bad habits, your teacher-coach would lift you up, not demean and debase you. There are plenty of ways to do this same exercise without being unprofessional. This same teacher refers to her students as “Nazi,” “Basketball Player,” and even one 16-year-old as “Porn Star” rather than learn their names. To me, this crosses the line of impropriety.

Actor and licensed marriage and family therapist Julie Carmen remembers one New York acting teacher’s gross direction for a scene mate to spit in her face. “The point was to teach me to respond spontaneously and to not censor my anger, but even at age 18 it just destroyed my trust in that teacher,” she says.

“I felt manipulated and nauseous. Why was the teacher unable to teach spontaneity in a more respectful way? Why would my acting partner take the advice of that teacher? Why do we hand over our power to these people?”

I spoke to acting teacher and coach Jeffrey Marcus about this methodology. “In the past people learned by being bullied, from the military to Bikram Yoga, but it died out with disco,” Marcus says. “Who would want to be shamed and trampled upon, when all studies show that people bloom when given the room, time, and support to flower?  Even though Stella Adler was a tough teacher, I doubt that she shamed her most famous pupil—Marlon Brando.”

Adds Carmen, “I studied with Sanford Meisner, Uta Hagen, Bobby Lewis, José Quintero, and, recently, Patsy Rodenburg. They were extraordinarily perceptive, but their humility and love of teaching guided their approach. The intention was to push us toward deeper work at our own pace. One important phrase they taught was that ‘Actors wear our hearts on our sleeves but need the skin of an alligator.’ Therefore we manage the contradiction of being private in public, highly sensitized with the survival skill to detach.”

Actor and acting teacher Jack Plotnick weighed in on the outrageous foot-rub story. “Actors have a fear-based and result-oriented voice in their head while they act, called their ego,” he says. “Exercises like these can get actors to stop focusing on these result-oriented thoughts, but the issue with exercises like these is that the actor leaves with no tool with which to recreate the experience; no ability to quiet that fear-based ego voice. Either way, any class that does not empower actors to trust their own instincts and abilities is destructive and should be avoided.”

Check out Part 2 of this exposé June 12, when I answer the question, ”Why would actors continue to pay great sums of money to these kinds of teachers?”

What about you? What are some of your horror stories?

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Click to tweet: “Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick”? via casting director @marciliroff http://bit.ly/1mvFtfZ
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THE UNIVERSE IS LISTENING

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By Marci Liroff

One of my Skype coaching clients in the North Carolina market raised a very good question the other day: “Is taking all work offered necessarily a good thing?”

She wrote, “I’m wondering your opinion on this. About two years ago, I decided that I wanted to work on quality projects and not just collect credits. Many regional actors have the mentality that more is better and thrive on the attention they get from posting about their projects on social media. I know some just want to work. But I feel we won’t raise the bar if we take these poor-quality, poorly written unprofessional jobs. I get outstanding film and TV auditions weekly. You helped me with two of them.

“Am I making a mistake by saying no to the opportunities that I feel I’ve moved on from? I am a professional actor and I feel these projects would detract from the quality work I have done and I’m capable of. Some of my friends, who are very talented, seem to think ‘work is work’ and ‘work begets work.’ I understand that, but is it at the cost of not getting the really professional projects?”

This is such a timely discussion. Yes, I do believe work begets work on several levels. It gets you out there and seen within the community in which you want to continue working. There are networking opportunities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into a producer or director with whom I haven’t worked in a while when I’m working on a studio lot, and it results in a job offer. Sometimes you literally have to be standing in front of them to remind them that you exist! I also strongly believe in the momentum and energy created in the universe when you are actually doing the work, not just talking about the work.

The universe listens and often rewards you.

That said, I think you have to go with your gut on this one in terms of whether you think a project is of poor quality all around. Being seen in that light can actually be harmful and doesn’t necessarily bring you anything good. When I see a film, short, Web series, or what is obviously a self-produced project, and it’s poorly conceived and unprofessionally completed, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for everyone concerned with the project.

Don’t forget that this kind of work also has the potential to harm your psyche and your spirit creatively.

If you’re going into auditions and projects with a chip on your shoulder about the quality of the project, it affects your performance.

You have to look at the whole picture and glean whether you’ll be learning something, either from associating with like-minded and uber-talented people or from playing a character you normally wouldn’t have the chance to.

There really isn’t one solid answer or rule of thumb here. There are so many things to consider in your choice. Yes, it’s your choice, and don’t forget that.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year. 

Glad you’re here! 

Want to share this post? Here are ready-made tweets!

CLICK TO TWEET:  Is it ever OK to turn down work? ‘The Universe Is Listening’ http://www.marciliroff.com/new/the-universe-is-listening/ via @marciliroff
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