actor training in Los Angeles

Training Pixelation

Actor training in Los Angeles over the last fifteen years has been pixelated more and more into a dozen subcategories of “skills,” inclusive of improv, audition technique, comedy technique, camera technique, commercial camera technique, camera audition slate-your-name improv sit-com technique, how-to-shoot-your-demo-reel classes, how-to-market-yourself-on-social-media seminars, on and on and on. The price tag for some of these items can be $500 or more, and I would submit to you that the most certain result of any of these “educational opportunities” is that whoever is delivering it gets their $500 or more, per student. And then once you’ve spent your $500, say, on some workshop, they’ll come to you with the next level. And the next after that. And then there’s a weekend intensive by so-and-so, and you don’t want to miss the weekend intensive with so-and-so, because so-and-so is so brilliant.

I’m not saying these workshops don’t impart any knowledge, nor that there is zero utility in them. There is greater-than-zero utility. How much greater than zero? That’s tougher to answer. But here’s the lie that has been sold to a million actors hitting the ground in Los Angeles: X Workshop = Paid Work. And that, I tell you, is a big fat ol’ LIE. What they’re really selling is the perception that X Workshop = Paid Work. They’re selling a feeling the aspiring actor will have, after the workshop, that they are acquiring skills that will matter in an audition, and lead to paid work. These pixelated micro-skills will not matter. They won’t get you the job. Frankly, a micro-skill trained actor often sticks out like a sore thumb at auditions for being significantly incompetent at the basics of using acting to tell the story right.

And now, there are these completely artificial casting and representation fences that have been constructed: You won’t be seen unless you’ve done Level Q of Workshop X. It’s absolute bullshit. It’s just an arbitrary fence, designed to keep out people because with electronic submissions and the like, offices have become overwhelmed. So now they are intimating that you won’t get in without meeting this completely arbitrary standard, a standard that has no actual causative relationship to being competent or getting paid work. I’m sure several people who recently completed Level Q of Workshop X booked some decent jobs. You know what? So did several people, thousands of them, more than that, who did not complete Level Q of Workshop X. If they created an arbitrary fence that the only actors to be seen were those who had done at least 50 scenes in any of the five most established no-bullshit acting classes in town, well… Then they’d have a fence that was worth something. (I know — I’m the guy running one of those schools. But I’m telling you, that fence would be worth something. And I have to think that the actors know this on some level. Deep down, they know that training that doesn’t cost them some blood, sweat and tears probably won’t add up to much in terms of real skill. It’s almost as if there is industry-wide trance, each group desperately hoping that what another group says about this “fun” workshop-level training comes true, and that acting is for some reason the one performing arts skill on planet earth that doesn’t actually require tough, hard practice over a number of years. In any case, I can practically guarantee that people who’ve done those 50 scenes in a decent class are in general better at acting than those who did Level Q of Workshop X, and who had so much fun doing it!)

My unofficial estimate is that at most 20% of the actors in town are really playing the game at a certain level, a SAG level, where they have, annually, at least 50 meaningful auditions for a reputable project, and are booking some of those gigs. You want to be playing that game. The 20% game. What gets you there? None of these pixelated micro skills that are taught in ubiquitous little 1-to-10 week sessions. What gets you there is holistic acting competence: knowing the story-telling process from all angles, knowing tone and style, understanding writers and writing, knowing the design of the scene you’re performing, diligent professional behavior — all of this developed over a number of years. If you want to name your friend who is an exception to that, go ahead, but I don’t know how that serves you. They’re the exception.
Beware anyone who says they have the “magic pill” for your career via a fixed-length paid workshop. Try to dial back the noise generated by all the panicky “you shoulds” of the ever-evolving workshop world. Beware all these artificial fences, anyone who says they won’t consider you unless you have such-and-such a workshop on your resume. I believe the serious people in this business, the 20% group, who have paid their dues and know what’s what in the land of storytelling — they wouldn’t put up arbitrary fences, and they know better than to think Level Q of Workshop X means anything, really. The sum of all these paid micro-skills workshops is less than their parts by far, and I wouldn’t rate the parts highly. The greater skill — that which will earn you acting work on an ongoing basis — is a skill developed over time, dedicated generally to a single, more holistic approach.

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