A Crisis in American Acting Pt. 2

byCharlie Sandlan

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Charlie Sandlan - Acting Coach NYC - Acting Coach in NYCI believe that the crisis in American acting is not simply an issue of aspiring actors and their misconceptions of the art form, or their aversion to working obsessively hard on their craft. The swamp of mediocrity also has a great deal to do with the training itself. Overall, it’s just not that good. What qualifies someone to teach acting? In many cases it takes no more than a few notebooks and memories of classes taken years ago. Worse than that is the “celebrity”, who uses their fame and commercial success as justification to claim the ability to teach. And then there are the casting directors, agents and managers who charge hundreds of dollars to lure people into thinking they have anything of substance to offer beyond line readings and a “Good job”.

That said, we do have many wonderful teachers thriving in theater departments of universities all over the country; passionate, inspiring, demanding and energetic teachers who have made profound impacts on the students who have crossed their path; those that consider teaching as an art form, who have an inviolate sense of truth and an ability to communicate and instill the important fundamental skills that any serious actor should strive to master. I was fortunate to have studied under Rich Rand at Purdue in the late 80’s, and with Maggie Flanigan and Bill Esper in Rutgers MFA program in the late 90’s. But there are thousands of young actors who aren’t that lucky. They flock to LA and NYC with a dream, but not much insight on how to vet and interview prospective teachers and programs. Rare now is the artist who devotes their life’s work to the art and craft of teaching acting. I believe that teachers are born, and hopefully at some point they realize their life’s work. When I discovered this for myself, I reached out to my mentor Maggie Flanigan and told her I wanted to commit myself to teaching the technique of Sandy Meisner. She said, “Ok, get back to NYC and start watching classes.” What has transpired for me over the last decade is what I wish for any dedicated teacher, an opportunity to soak up and devour everything that an incredible master teacher has learned over four decades at the top of their profession. My life and career is dedicated to honoring her belief in me.

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I believe the best teachers know what a privilege it is to shape young artists. It is a true skill forged out of years and years of hard work, dedication, insatiable intellectual curiosity, and a deep need to become simple, clear and insightful. The best create a safe, nurturing space that encourages risk, and supports failure. They have a standard that an entire class strives to meet. They have deep insight into the human condition. They can teach to the class, but also the individual student and his/her particular issues. They are not abusive or engage in personal attacks. They have no desire to humiliate a student in order to validate their own ego. They have the ability to return the actor to their inner-child. They help to remove the defenses and intellectual barriers that come from decades of parenting, socializing and education. And they can do it in a slow and highly sensitive process. They send hungry actors, complete artists into the world with a solid craft, work ethic, and professionalism that has been earned through struggle and hard work. I believe we need more teachers like this for the advancement of our wonderful art form.

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Comments

3 Comments

  • Michael Gucciardo

    Apr 04, 2015 12:33PM

    Charlie, I couldn’t agree with you more my friend.

  • Jim Bray

    Apr 04, 2015 20:38PM

    Thank you Charlie!
    I needed that!
    Beautifully worded and inspiring. I’m so happy that teachers like you and Maggie exist.
    Jim Bray

  • David Lee Russek

    Apr 04, 2015 09:02AM

    Charlie I am a graduate of the professional actors training program at Rutgers University as well and studied with Maggie and Bill and Vicky and Barbara and I have had the great privilege to start teaching at Monmouth University down in New Jersey. I loved your commentary on this issue and I feel like I want to come and audit a class at Maggie Flanigan just to be inspired and refresh. I feel I am passing the torch but can always be better and believe that there should be some sort of standards when it comes to teaching the craft of acting.

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