A Crisis in American Acting

byCharlie Sandlan

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In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Jeff Labrecque writes about the incredible influx of British actors in America, and the crisis that is unfolding for American acting. He correctly states that it comes down to one major weakness: training. I believe that the American actor is lazy.

The Dedication of British Actors

The thousands and thousands of twenty-somethings who flock to LA or New York, pursue not art, but fame and celebrity. The British actor, however, spends years training as an actor to define their instrument. They collectively realize the importance of a resonant voice, clear speech, a pliable body, a versatile temperament, and the technique of acting. They also hone their craft on the stage. Harold Clurman spoke of this in the 40’s and 50’s as America found resurgence in actor training thanks to the Group Theater and the amazing artists that went on to influence the future of the art form. Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Bobby Lewis, and Elia Kazan understood how important well-rounded training was to the actor (these are not the only influential teachers to be sure). This no longer resonates today. 

In any other art form, be it dance, music, painting (to name a few mediums), one spends years mastering the fundamentals. Those artists are dedicated to their craft and spend a lifetime working on themselves. The successful artists have instilled a habit of creativity (as Twyla Tharpe calls it). A true artist is consumed with detail; they possess artistry and have a solid work ethic. Most American actors are not interested in acting as an art form. Our society prizes the superficial; good looks, money and personality. And Hollywood is concerned with one thing, money. Networks and studios grab the next Victoria Secret model, the most popular reality star or the hottest stand-up comedian to boost ratings. So the majority of American actors can do little more than memorize some lines and bring every part down to their pedestrian personality. And then these “personalities” come to New York and litter the stage so producers can make back their investment. Most of the work is atrocious. For the serious actor, it’s infuriating.

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“Actors in this country are fooled into thinking that they need to spend their money for the opportunity to get in front of a casting director or agent. That’s now the popular fraud in NYC and LA.”

Charlie Sandlan (Author)Executive Director & Head of Acting

I can’t tell you how many young actors in their 20’s tell me that they are too old to commit to two or three years of serious acting training or learning acting techniques. They want “to start working now”. It’s hard for them to understand that acting is an art form that requires craft and technique. British training is connected to a dynamic repertory system that allows actors to forge their skills on the stage. They are not fooled into believing that you can take a “six-week camera class”, or a “scene study” with some unemployed actor, and develop as a well-rounded artist. Here in America however, that is the lie pedaled to the naïve. Actors in this country are fooled into thinking that they need to spend their money for the opportunity to get in front of a casting director or agent. That’s now the popular fraud in NYC and LA. Rooms are filled with inexperienced, untrained wannabes who flush money down the drain. They may book two lines on Law & Order or a GAP commercial, and those “successes” are used to lure in more dreamers – “See!, we produce working actors!”

Charlie Sandlan teaching the local NYC acting classes

Charlie Sandlan teaching the local NYC acting classes

Training Professional Actors has Become Less Important

As a result, training has continued to lose its importance. We now see the result; great parts, complicated character work given to the better-trained British actor. In order for the American actor to stem the incredible influx of the British, a commitment to developing the complete artist must become a priority. An understanding that craft and technique is essential, and a realization that talent by itself doesn’t mean a damn thing, is a good place to start. As with any artist, the actor must develop mastery over her/his technical instrument: voice, body, and temperament. Training and obsessive hard work is the only thing that will make that a possibility.

About the Maggie Flanigan Studio

Local NYC acting classes are taught at the Maggie Flanigan Studio by Charlie Sandlan, Maggie Flanigan, and the studio staff. To learn more about the acting classes at the NYC studio call the studio during business hours at 917-789-1599 or visit the studio website: https://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/.

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56 Comments

  • Joe suba

    Feb 02, 2015 04:55AM

    I agree with you on this! i am an american actor, i have done 12 films without an Agent. after 8 year of looking for an agent i now have one and i am training at The Actors studio in NYC, i am learning the Sanford Meisner Teaching! i love it and glad i am studying NOW! it really feels good and it took me sometime to go to an acting school, i know it will help me land more roles and i am feeling so Powerful that i am building a new foundation for my Craft..

  • John

    Mar 03, 2015 09:17AM

    I agree with this article. However the Brits don’t beat us in temperament or willingness for training. They beat us in cost. One can train and continue professional development as an actor in England for a fraction of what it costs here. Additionally their are more opportunities for folks to stretch their art while making a living. It isn’t the actor it’s the country.

  • Madeline

    Mar 03, 2015 10:22AM

    I agree with this article and I have done a year long conservatory Terry Schreiber and I want to do more. There are two issues. One, rejection. I auditioned for circle in the square theatre school and was given a huge no. How are we supposed to train our instruments if the schools went even let us in to study? And two, money. We actors are a poor lot. We usually work tiring jobs and training (such as Meisner) is exhausting. Can we get government grants or scholarships to become better actors? What do the Brits do?

  • Jennifer Gelfer

    Mar 03, 2015 11:53AM

    This article is spot on. The biggest problem with the new generation of actors coming up in this country is that they are growing up in the “Age of Kardashian”. I taught a class for five years but overtime became disenchanted with the level of commitment. When the reality celebrity’s become our stars, we are in trouble.

  • Ryan

    Mar 03, 2015 13:05PM

    I agree only partially with this. I feel the influx of European and Australian actors are also due to the fact that a. Americans are easily impressed by a foreign accent especially one that can be turned off to speak American english. B. The training and work they do in their home country is a minor league system for American work (with the disappearance of many soaps and American forms of minor leagues we don’t have that type of system like we once did) c. Foreign actors are looked at to sell internationally which equals more money. I am an American actor who has years of training and know many actors with even more training then myself who get zero opportunities. So into say that all American actors are untrained is a quite large generalization that I find is not the true reason to this influx. Also we have never seen foreign actors learn the ability to speak American English like they do now, and to be quite honest I find it a distraction when the majority of foreign actors attempt American English. Yes the training in England is more serious and from a younger age but ultimately I think it is much deeper then this reason alone.

  • Sara

    Mar 03, 2015 18:00PM

    Wrong! I am a well trained American actor with 15 years of theatre. No one here cares. Casting and producers don’t see theatre and lazily picks British Actors because it’s easy and generic. Usually the amount of social media followers dictates who gets the part.

  • Noah Nichols

    Mar 03, 2015 20:02PM

    What kind of training would you reccomend to an aspiring young actor?

  • Erin

    Mar 03, 2015 22:44PM

    I would beg to argue that the solution lies not simply in the actors themselves, but the American theatre industry as a whole. Highly-acclaimed arenas such as the Broadway stage are funded by benefactors who have their own motives for what is produced including sociolopolitical agendas and most commonly what will take in the most money. As a result, the material that’s being produced is often headlined by Hollywood celebrities and either reincarnates a story that already exists as a book or film, or revives a beloved classic. Whatever the case, there is not enough incentive to bring complex work to the American stage and therefore the roles that are out there for actors tend to be flat. Many dedicated, serious actors I’ve known end up being more frustrated by the lack of diversity in the roles out there than their ability to “act well.” Of course there are always thought-provoking, shows that miraculously end up making it to the Broadway stage. But by and large, I think the system is to blame as much (if not more) as the actors themselves.

  • Sam

    Mar 03, 2015 23:49PM

    Isn’t this just incorrect on it’s face? Aren’t there more people than ever graduating with theater degrees? Isn’t the real problem the debt from training that a life in the arts can almost never pay off?

  • Chris Jorie

    Mar 03, 2015 01:11AM

    Thanks for sharing this Maggie. Charlie speaks the truth here. Just turned 60. Been training and working for 45 years, and feel like I’m just getting started.

  • Jim

    Mar 03, 2015 06:42AM

    Very well said, except “In any other art form, be it dance, music, painting…”. Sadly, we’re seeing this in music also. Too many self-taught, cute-faced 17-year-old “musicians” are claiming to be the next best thing, and simply haven’t worked through the technique, theory, lit study, improv, and simple experience of their instruments or voice. I hope we can reverse this trend.

  • David Chrzanowski

    Mar 03, 2015 09:32AM

    This isn’t the young actors fault so much as it is with actor training in America. It’s an over-simplification to say young actors are lazy, the truth is that Universities here don’t focus on the mentor ship of young actors, or simply haven’t had the correct training themselves. Sure there are thousands who just leave the Midwest, or wherever sans any training, but I doubt very seriously that those numbers were lower in Meisner’s day.

  • liz drewery

    Mar 03, 2015 12:40PM

    I so agree with you. I was able to observe some of the finer British actors hone their craft in the 60’s. They worked with fine directors such as Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn and Laurance Olivier. They were schooled in deportment, voice control, costume management. My great privelege to have worked alongside Helen Mirren, Paul Scofield, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Michael Williams and many other fine actors associated at that time, with The Royal Shakespeare Company.

  • Joel Desselles

    Mar 03, 2015 13:04PM

    I know training is everything. We train for work in a day job, why not as a professional actor. I have trained for years and it never stops as a hair and makeup artist and I have only improved as time has gone by. I have known for years now the fraudulent, sneaky, lies of the entertainment industry. I have trained for years and still haven’t got that life changing role. However, I know if I keep training and the love I have for it, my day will come.

  • Suzie Perlstein

    Mar 03, 2015 13:50PM

    As a former actor (many decades ago) who studied and apprenticed in Michigan (yes, I’m that old) and spent a brief time at Herbert Bergoff as well in the mid 1960’s, as well as the mother of an Actor with a MFA, I completely agree. You can’t watch the BBC or PBS and not see the difference.When these Actors perform in American film, stage or TV they stand out as well. Look at The Americans or Broadchurch. Even the US and UK versions of Law and Order are different.
    I often wonder how a serious student of the Performing Arts can ever hope to compete with the pretty faces with the “right” look who are grinding out film after film while also 8 epidodes of TV. I admire the British system of study, apprenticeship and performance. You learn so much about yourself and your craft, which includes everything from building a Flat to doing lighting, props, makeup, and everything else it takes to “put on a show”
    Great article. Thanks.

  • Latisha Di Venuto

    Mar 03, 2015 17:45PM

    Great points! I only disagree with the generalization he makes that “the american actor is lazy.” Most of us simply cannot afford to spend 100,000+ on a 2-3 year conservatory program. The debt is insurmountable and in a profession like acting where the odds are even less likely to be employed than students who receive 2 year associates or a 4 year BA in a chosen field, the alternative of taking 6 week classes and smaller programs with conservatories becomes a more viable and fiscally responsible option. If I could afford to spend another 100k on education I’d be there, but unfortunately, most other “20 somethings” like myself cannot afford that luxury since my $ went towards getting fallback BA in a non-performance related concentration . I do however, believe that continuing training beyond a HS drama club or being in a play in our adolescent years is essential for our growth and development as actors and human beings. Another great thing about not committing to a long term conservatory is that we can train for 4-6 weeks with the professors at said conservatories when they offer courses through acting studios. Training in this way allows for the actor to not fall victim to a psychology that is taught at an individual conservatory program and allows for a flexibility and versatility that can be rewarding. Lastly, unlike our British counterparts, The Arts are not taken seriously in our education system from a young age. In the UK and in other nations, students are able to chose in their HS school years if theater is going to be their concentration and they can tailor their schoolwork to do so. In the US we generally have a core curriculum of math, science, language arts & history and arts based classes are merely electives. As we can see from budget cuts in the US, The Arts are often the first programs to be cut! This is an atrocity, but is an unfortunate side effect “core curriculum” system in the USA. Another unfortunate effect of the american system is that people like me have this notion pounded in our heads that we cannot make a living off of the performing arts, so we spend 2-4 years studying something that we can “fallback on” out of fear. It’s awful and I often wish that I would have followed my heart sooner, rather than allowing societal pressure to scare me out of studying what I am truly passionate about. Thank you for writing this article, Maggie, and I will continue to train vigorously. Regards, Latisha

  • Cm

    Mar 03, 2015 17:46PM

    It’s a question of economics. I can be subsidized to be a working artist in Austraila & UK. America? Couldn’t make my rent. Though one of the lowest paid jobs over the whole spectrum of people doing it professionally, the working class actor is dead. At least in America.

  • Owen

    Mar 03, 2015 17:52PM

    This article makes a couple of misleading statements; in Britain any actor who is serious about pursuing a career must attend a full-time drama school for at least two years (there is also a recognized, formal hierarchy among the established institutions – a class system, if you like – which can determine a lot about your future prospects straight away) to have any hope of getting an agent or being seen by any worthwhile casting directors. So it’s not so much a question of conscious commitment to craft as a mandatory first step in one’s career development. As for the existence of a “dynamic repertory system”, the rep culture died out in Britain in the 80s thanks to government cutbacks in funding to the arts, and survives now only in a few isolated examples like Pitlochry Festival, Theatre by the Lake or Chichester Festival Theatre. Our commercial theatre sector (ie. unsubsidized) is comparable to that of the USA, and there is also a lively touring circuit plus an extensive fringe (semi-pro or unpaid) culture but actually, the opportunities for young actors to really develop whilst working are extremely scarce, a fact which has also contributed to the prevailing belief in the necessity of full-time training in order to achieve any professional standard.

  • Rick

    Mar 03, 2015 17:56PM

    Although it’s certainly true that there are many who pursue acting for the sole purpose of obtaining celebrity, there are plenty who would LOVE to train seriously and intensely. One if the happiest times in my life was when I was in a theater company on Mercer St in NYC. I was broke but I was in stage 5 nights a week for two years. Inevitably, the cost of living doesn’t permit you to continue that lifestyle, let alone paying for insanely high cost classes! You almost have to score big with a commercial or TV show so that you CAN pay for classes!

  • Masa D. Luffy

    Mar 03, 2015 17:57PM

    I agree with this article but I find it a little disappointing that the article goes to great lengths to discuss how important it is to hone a craft, but then completely write off the art of stand-up comedy.

    YOU go up on stage, and tell me it’s not an art form that requires a specific skillset. Like with anything, some people are naturals, many aren’t.

  • Rick

    Mar 03, 2015 17:58PM

    Although it’s certainly true that there are many who pursue acting for the sole purpose of obtaining celebrity, there are plenty who would LOVE to train seriously and intensely. One if the happiest times in my life was when I was in a theater company on Mercer St in NYC. I was broke but I was in stage 5 nights a week for two years. Inevitably, the cost of living doesn’t permit you to continue that lifestyle, let alone paying for insanely high cost classes! You almost have to score big with a commercial or TV show so that you CAN pay for classes! I really wish some altruistic, charitable acting school would offer one free slot to someone who is serious and doesn’t have wealthy parents subsidizing their lifestyles in NYC. Pay it forward. It will come back to you.

  • Elizabeth Morton

    Mar 03, 2015 18:13PM

    I agree completely that many young actors aren’t interested in training and do not actually feel called to a vocation. They are drawn more to the lure of fame and celebrity.

    However, I don’t think that this entirely explains why British actors are getting so many roles. There are plenty of well-trained, incredibly experienced, older American actors who are not working regularly and who are losing out to British actors too. I love Tom Wilkinson but did he really have to play LBJ in Selma?

  • Peter Allas

    Mar 03, 2015 18:15PM

    I have been saying this for
    At least the last 10 years. WHY.? Commitment and dedication to being an ACTOR . Not to being a STAR.i have been a teacher for over 10 years .dialect. Accent coach and acting class for the Beverly Hills playhouse in LA. SF. Seattle and NYC. There are always exceptions to the rule but overall the UK and Aussies “passionately” want to bf well crafted educated artists! Americans want (1) fame (2) $$$$ and then ….. also true is the subsidies and finding for the arts and cost is far superior abroad and therefore encourages artists and study!

  • Alan

    Mar 03, 2015 21:01PM

    Sadly, in the end, you have as much of a chance getting work in the American/Canadian system without training as you do with it. I have 2 years of undergrad and 2 years of graduate school, years of experience with lesser known theatre companies, and I’m having trouble getting auditions. Because I have chosen to work with small ensemble companies until now, and so the big companies don’t recognize names on my resume.

  • Guil Fisher

    Mar 03, 2015 21:19PM

    I totally agree with this article and have always done so. As a teacher, I have tried to continue the training i received from Sanford Meisner, whether in acting or music interpretation. Bring the best of you, at the moment to the front. To do away with technique, as that is something you should know (projecting your voice, movement, learning lines, reacting to another actor, being prepared to work, etc) Don’t waxzste your time on that and reach into your creative mind, body and emotions and find your way into the character. Then put it out there honestly and respond to what your fellow artists gives back to you.

    I could go on and on, but you know all of this. I do believe if this country had National Theatre, it would be totally a different matter. Unfortunately the Industrialists have control which is based on money, audience preferences and such. So, how can you blame today’s actor? They go where they are told. It is such a shame. Today’s actor must expect the best from themselves. It’s like working with a bad director or actor and surviving. If you can’t pull it from yourself, you are a lost soul.

    Today’s it’s all about making the bucks, paying off the mortgages, producing sure fire popular works, mostly musicals now and doing a half-ass job in a 5-7 day rehearsal period. Even cutting down the original script/music to make it in 2 hours. My experiences in doing My Fair Lady, an incredible work of art, was just that.

    Sometimes I think summer stock is over praised. To me it is for young actors to learn discipline in their work and taking it to another level when they move into professional theatre. Sandy use to tell us, “take whatever job is offered to you in the start of your career, learn your craft. It is part of growing up in the business.” He spent many hours breaking down some of his students’ bad habits from stock acting. I am so grateful that I had the privilege of learning from this brilliant teacher.
    Thanks

  • Guil Fisher

    Mar 03, 2015 21:24PM

    Note spelling – “don’t waste your time . . . ”
    “what your fellow artists give you”
    “summer stock is overly praised”

  • Cougar Littlefield

    Mar 03, 2015 21:56PM

    It is fascinating to read this article that is truly spot on. Anyone can train, anyone can get a degree. It comes down to truly understanding the discipline, uncompromising in the craft without the desire to make it but to find the deepest, most authentic and honest truth one can find in a character. Everything else is simply entertaining or performing. Being out of state I saw an influx of my friends move to LA and all they talk about is casting director workshops and branding. True, that gets you in the door but once they are there, unfortunately, I know many will fail. They may be the most incredible of performers but being able to full BE is a different question. And when you are against hundreds of thousands for a role, your branding and casting workshop may have gotten you in the door but unless your training has gotten you to a point of fully being in that authentic real moment, someone will out do your talent. I have had to start training after filling up a resume of performing realizing just how far the rabbit hole goes and it is glorious. Spend one month watching Foreign films (for film actors) watching every one you can, the ones you only heard about on obscure lists, watching the acting and you will understand why foreign actors in general are superior. They’re about art form far more than making it, money and fame.

    I would prefer on my death bed to know I picked and chose every role that gave me life and truth, feeling satisfied in what I did rather than finances and fame because it truly is so fleeting. But what life can’t take away from you is the feeling of ecstasy when you are so engrained in the role you feel a high like none other. Everything else is merely everyone putting expectations on you.

    But I am an unknown actor writing a comment on a forum that few will read, some will get pissed from and others will agree. That is the point isn’t. It’s not about you or I, but about the authentic moment one has at that moment on stage or in front of a camera.

    And unless you are born with that insane talent, the very few who just have it completely and utterly, you must train. Find it. I believe you truly can. Find THAT first and foremost. Then fill in all the other bullshit.

  • Kevin

    Mar 03, 2015 21:57PM

    Thats Bullshit. British actors work for less money. I can guarantee you that there’s thousands of America Actors that have the training and the knowledge background ,To do an incredible job on stage. Today the British accent is the current fad on TV. They come here to work because they can’t find work in their own country and we’re not allowed to go into theIr country and get work permits.

  • Sara

    Mar 03, 2015 23:43PM

    It’s inside. You have to look inside yourself and find the art and honor it. Always looking and groping and grasping outside is only a distraction. Any really valuable training teaches you this…and more. Honor the art, the humanity, the mirror we raise…

  • Neil

    Mar 03, 2015 02:11AM

    There is some truth to this article but it is over-generalized. Training is essential for any talented actor, no doubt. Understanding how to dig into a character and discover them is not a natural ability one is born with. Finding your process for doing such has to be guided and nurtured. My view is that, in the end, it is the audience who consumes an actor’s work and that actor must understand and deliver what the audience wants. Acting is not for other actors. Acting is for their audience. I will suggest here that skill and talent are not the only elements that garner success as an actor. It is a business as well and, I am speculating here completely, my guess is that if you look into the business practices of those who are landing the good roles it is there that you will find a very big difference. The British have lovely manners and expert business acumen. Isn’t it possible that the answer to your observation of the British actors getting more and more good roles comes from this aspect of acting? Regardless, you are suggesting this is a new phenomenon. It is not. Foreign actors have been taking roles as American characters for many decades. Canadians, British, Australian, South African, what is new is the fact that these foreign actors now have greater access to American productions. The advent of the internet providing communication lines to the industry from anywhere in the world and the access to good movie making equipment at affordable prices has eliminated the “America Only” access to audiences. And, conversely, the audience for films has expanded to the entire planet. American producers want as much of that pie as they can get. Hollywood is no longer just American. Sure, it was born there but it has matured into an international industry that relies even more on international sales than it does on domestic sales. But you are a trainer and as such your vested interest is to push training like it’s the only true answer. I disagree. It is a partial answer and not as important as you make it out to be. From my perspective, of course.

  • Fletch

    Mar 03, 2015 04:18AM

    Agreed with the above. But three thoughts.

    1. There is also a gap in affordable quality training in the US. The majority of colleges are producing talent that do not have a practical since of the industry, the emphasis is on Stanislavsky, which is important, but skips on cultivating an artist lifestyle that is self sustaining and practical. Part of that is many of the folks teaching have never had long career as a professional or has become complacent suckling at the teet of academia. And the programs that do offer the right experience make very little financial since, yes let me spend 80,000-120,000 on education where even if I’m in the top 15-20% of the industry right out of college my take home pay is 40-60k a year. Save your money and just show up to a market disciplined, patient, and ready for hard work and learning for decade, you’ll be in the same place as an artist and not in debt.

    2. LA and NYC are no longer places of creation. Failure is no longer an option when you invest 10 million on a Broadway show or need 100 million box office to be of importance or profitable. Risk is no longer rewarded or affordable. It has to be a success before you spend a cent. Unless you are established, connected, or lottery winning lucky, things come to these places after being developed else where and proven.

    3.This is more philosophical, but important. How do you measure success? This post hit upon the important idea of fame and recognition as the new golden cow. But how does the artistic community call a thing successful? How does the audience call something successful? Who sets these expectations, within or without? Lets be honest the theater is no longer a populist art form. Where does it get it’s value, why hasn’t the internet or media replaced it? I would argue it’s the immediacy and ephemeral nature on any given night of performance. It happens once, regardless if you do it 10k times. It’s unique every single time. It has the stamp of I was there as an audience member. But until we find the ground between the art being made and the people consuming it beyond it being pleasant entertainment, it serves little function, because its far to indulgent on either side.

    In conclusion, what this post describes is symptom of a larger problem. A broken education system giving far too many people not prepared, but with equal accreditation that they cant pay off and a cultural mindset with out a patronage history and cultural mindset like exists in england. Patronage does not exist here, profit does. And unless art is profitable it is not useful, versus the idea it defines and is a symbol of our times.

  • Pierre

    Mar 03, 2015 08:27AM

    Well… nothing new under the sun…
    Peter Brook has made similar points in Empty Space… almost 50 years ago !
    Actors being busier getting a nice hair cut than enhancing their skills.

  • Robert

    Mar 03, 2015 09:13AM

    As an Actor and Filmmaker who had the great privilege of studying with Sanford Meisner and attended his Master Class in Bequia, West Indies I applaud this article 111%. I’ve taught Acting around the country and I always tell my students what Sandy used to constantly say “It takes 20 years to be an Actor”! If you want to work consistently you can never stop training, every Acting activity whether class, stage or film is a learning experience. As a Film Producer I’ve hired a British Actor on every one of my movies, because they’re trained and also talented and they make my movie better, but for every 1 Brit I hire 20 Americans. It takes Talent, Training and Perseverance to be successful, the advantage American Actors have is that they live in the country with by far the best Film Industry in the world, take advantage of that, foreign Actors have to leave their family and friends to come here to compete, which is a huge sacrifice, so they’re highly motivated. Never stop studying, never stop learning…. the next audition could change your life!

  • Kevin

    Mar 03, 2015 11:20AM

    The American system of values and a general lack of understanding and respect for the real cost of high order creative work is as much to blame as laziness for the mentioned soft commitment to training on the part of American actors. This kind of ignorance is hereditary.

    When I was 19 and working on an amazing but unpaid regional production of Elizabeth Swados’s, RUNAWAYS, with a remarkable and respected director, I was offered a lousy role in an awful, original, New York, production, directed by a rank hack. My parents, lifelong civil servants, insisted that I abandon the good show for the bad because “professionals,” after all “are paid.” Predictably, the bad show, crashed in 3 performances, and not a moment too soon. RUNAWAYS, on the other hand, provided an experiential gold mine to those who had remained. Neither served any commercial or career advancing goals but there was something more important to be gained by foregoing the few hundred dollars a week the bad show promised.

    Even after I had committed to years of serious training, and was doing a lot of theater, that early parental bug persistently buzzed in my ear, making it difficult at times to recognize great opportunities when then conflicted with lesser but paid ones. MORAL: An artist must not only name him aim, but must also have the courage to define his terms – Is your ambition to contribute to work of artistic merit or to be as close to the top of the call sheet as possible on any potentially profitable show? For most of us, practicality demands that both types of opportunities find a way to co-exist. The artist lives in the manner in which the two are prioritized.

    The direct path can sometimes be death to an actor. The importance of training cannot be overstated, but training can have a point-to-point quality that can neglect large portions of the experiential spectrum. Technique will help you find yourself in the role. Scene work will improve your playing. Vocal and body work will give you the means to better mold to the demands of a character. But to my way of thinking, these are the major muscle groups. There are other, smaller muscles (disciplines) that contribute to a faithful depiction of the complexities of the human condition. Many times, the direct approach can yield more meaningful results when pursued in conjunction with the exploration of odd peripheral interests. An actor can never know what little kernel of knowledge or experience might inform a role in exciting and surprising ways. So train, yes, but also, live fully and observantly and appreciatively of all the little things to make a life.

    Many actors feel compromised by day jobs, finding them an obstacle to be overcome. Sure, it’s always gratifying/preferable to be on the set or on the boards, but in every moment, in any kind of work, lies an opportunity to learn something about the world and the people in it and perhaps more importantly, to come to understand and appreciate what it means to work as part of a team and to, hopefully, come to understand that one’s team mates include everyone working on a production, not just the other actors, writer, producer and director.

  • Alex

    Mar 03, 2015 11:32AM

    i think it is the system. Celebrities and models with no training get the actors’ job in America. I got an associates on acting but the training was terrible!! then I went to study to Stella Adler conservatory and I finally learnt so much. They focus on training the actors instrument not in fame. but I’d love to continue to another training school like Julliard but the tuition is insane! If the American actor is lazy is because we can barely pay for the rent. And I understand why many fall out. In order to train your instrument you must spend at least 6 hours a day everyday training it.voice movement speech technique accent improv plus research etc etc. and that’s why also many young people from rich parents make it because they HAVE such time to spend. Accessibility to the training equals money in America. And appreciation for the Art is so little. I also learnt many Americans don’t know the difference between good acting or bad. After going to a see a blockbuster mainstream movie people we sobbing in the theater and the famous actress was so fake and terrible but I knew that because I’ve been trained.

  • Steve James

    Mar 03, 2015 11:47AM

    And yet, in a recent interview Sir Ian McKellen bemoans the death of local repertory theatre in the UK. I studied in a Rep. system that simply wasn’t there when I left Drama School. As for: “the industry just looks for ways to make money”, it has always been that way. Talent will out, study is career-long, but at some point an actor has to combine the two: Work and Learn: Get on stage, grow your contacts, become part of your local theatre community, get known, and work to promote your own brand.

  • Lee Ann Haley

    Mar 03, 2015 12:14PM

    The problems start earlier than you think. In Britain, children are exposed to drama classes in elementary school. Not so in the USA. Only Art and Music are considered important here. What championship athlete or artist waits until high school to begin serious training? So much talent is being wasted by leaving childhood training to a patchwork of community theaters, magnet schools and rec centers (not that these are bad). A broad exposure to acting and indeed every part of the theater experience from the elementary level onward would help immensely.
    I do agree with many of these remarks that America is the problem: because we cannot perceive a great performer, we are entertained by “real” housewives, and swoon over foreign accents. But I do know remarkable actors who never achieve more that a Tide commercial. We have to face the reality that there ARE many talented actors out there. The few who are lucky enough to have a camera love them may have a good career. In America, the number of working stage actors on any given day is surpassed by far in theme parks or on cruise ships. That is where people with training cut their teeth nowadays. And acting is the least needed of their triple threat. This is the true state of the American actor.

  • Aimee

    Mar 03, 2015 19:30PM

    It’s interesting to read comments about the influx of British and Australian actors being down to their accents and fancy tricks. What those of you making those comments perhaps don’t know is that the training programs in Britain and Australia are very similar – based in respect, dignity, discipline, history, humility and a hell of a lot of “if you can’t handle it, you won’t make it”. In other words, these two countries have much harsher critics, and much higher standards. The biggest problem I find while I, an Australian actor, train and teach young American actors, is that they don’t want to be told what will make them better. They are intrinsically lazy, apathetic, and think they know what they need. There is no humility. There is no respect. There are endless excuses. Which is what I am seeing here in many comments. In Australia, you cannot study acting at every university. You have a limited number of conservatories to choose from, and they are cutthroat. In the states (and this applies to BA programs primarily), students are spoon fed the education they want, in environments that coddle them. Australians and Brits are tough and honest. You get away with nothing. More along the line of conservatory/MA/ and private training in the USA – which is where I try to send my undergrad actors to really train once they graduate from a general theatre degree. Some people on this comment thread say “it’s about the economy, we can’t afford training” as though it’s free everywhere else, or less expensive. Get educated. The UK currently has a huge commentary going on about how expensive their training programs are. You want to know if there is funding to help you? Do some research. Ask people. The information is there if you get off your butt and look for it. If you want to succeed as an actor, you cannot sit around waiting for the money to appear, you cannot sit around waiting for the phone to ring. You must create your own work, follow in the steps of the masters – The Group Theatre is a great example. Don’t know who that is? Don’t know what they did? If you want to be an actor you should know. Do some research. Teach yourself. Stop whining, get off the couch and create your own career. The people who succeed are the people who really want it. You will get what you work for, the minute you stop working, you have given up. If you want to be an actor, if that is the life you really want, you can’t sit around complaining about how hard it is. Everyone who is an actor knows how hard it is, you are no more challenged than anyone else. DO something about it. Want to know how? Figure it out. The other people who figured it out are now working. They didn’t sit around whining about how hard it is.

  • Michael Laskin

    Mar 03, 2015 08:38AM

    With all due respect, there are many false assumptions in this article. The Brits and Aussie’s are better trained (students of mine who were trained there have proved that to me), but there is no real “dynamic repertory system” in the UK anymore – as many prominent British actors have recently lamented. I totally agree on the fact that craft and technique are paramount, but his statement that American actors often reduce their performances to their “pedestrian personality” is snarky and often untrue. Actors who bring personality to their performances are also people like Jack Nicholson, Jeffrey Tambor, Tommy Lee Jones, etc. Not all personalities are pedestrian and not all acting infused with a personal point of view is inelegant and uninformed. This article is mired in old ways of thinking. All these giants on the “Mt. Rushmore of Acting Teachers”: Meisner, Adler, Strasberg, etc. had very important ideas and theories….80 years ago. The world has changed, acting has changed, delivery systems for actors have changed, and their ideas which were all in search of real emotional truth have morphed, been often misinterpreted, and created, in my opinion, an emotionally snobby and “actor-y” culture. Authentic acting, as I like to call it, is a fusion of highly developed skills and technique with a highly examined life. There is no shortcut to acquiring the skills. Training and/or on-the-job experience is essential. But I have seen (and taught) many actors who are highly trained in these esteemed programs that are stilted, self-aware, unimaginative, and look and sound like ACTORS. People get so wedded to various methodologies that worship the founding teachers that they cannot see a different way forward. Dogma in the teaching of acting can be death. The challenge is to look at it with fresh eyes – all the while understanding that sound technique and craft are merely the “price of admission.” The rest is trying to fine what only YOU can bring to the part, the play (or film), the career, and the life.

  • Keston John

    Mar 03, 2015 12:01PM

    The crisis is not in American acting. The crisis is in American producing. For every untrained twenty something that floods NYC and L.A. to become famous, there are at least two trained American theatre actors coming out of some of the best drama schools in world. Don’t confuse poor casting trends with availability of trained American talent. Often these talented individuals are passed up for younger hotter options. More and more casting decisions are being made on the number of Twitter followers or number of likes on Facebook. The obsession with casting Brits and Aussies, I believe is a grass is greener effect. But look at the grass on your side of the fence before writing horribly misguided articles that only perpetuate untruths.

  • John Pallotta

    Mar 03, 2015 15:08PM

    I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “acting”; there is only “life.” I was taught a long time ago, as a young actor in the late 1970s, that when you bring your love of the craft to class, you change the way other actors and teachers look at you. By applying that same love to the stage or set, you change the way the actors, industry, and audience look at you, and it allows you to fulfill your desire to be great.

    Being an actor is much more than expensive headshots, more than just smiling for the camera or the way you walk into a room. It’s about being a part of something greater than just yourself; it is your heart as an actor, the colors of your soul, the way you wake every morning and question the universe, your very being as an actor and a person, and this thing we all do and want to be successful at.

    My aim as a teacher of the craft is to help all of my students find their own voice as an actor. Acting is a living, breathing process that happens every day and does not happen overnight. Becoming an actor is learning a new way of thinking and of looking at life. Just as you make choices in life that determine your success or your failure, the same goes for the choices you make as an actor.

    Good acting requires that you study to master the craft. My method teaches actors how to achieve and respond to honest emotions both on- and off-camera by using certain principles: innocence, imagination, vulnerability, and instincts. Using these principles encourages actors to experience rather than indicate an emotion. We work on this on a conscious level in the classroom, so my students can use it on a subconscious level on a set or stage. I don’t waste time dictating about whose method is best; I encourage my students to mix and match different methods and find what works for them. I also teach them to turn it into performance.

  • Kayla

    Mar 03, 2015 22:24PM

    Thank you! I can’t express how much I appreciate someone coming forward & finally saying this. I am an American actress,but it has been about training for me from day one. I never wanted to be actor who finally gets her big chance and ruins it from the lack of preparation or knowledge! So many actors believe classes don’t matter meanwhile majority of your “A List” actors have theatrical degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or did theatre on Broadway etc. It truly absurd to how oblivious majority of the actors are. The key is to have a “long” career within the industry, not a job or two. That’s my goal!

  • Clifton Duncan

    Mar 03, 2015 16:24PM

    Yet another sensationalized screed bashing American actors. I’m sure there are plenty of lazy American actors. There are ALSO plenty of actors like myself that underwent rigorous conservatory training at elite institutions who work extensively in theatres around the country that, even with great agents, can’t get their foot in the door.

    Maybe instead of hoisting British actors up on a pedestal and shitting on perfectly capable American actors, we can instead ask ourselves why the people on the other side of the table only seem to value training and theatre credits when the actor in question is NOT American.

  • Ellen Fraher

    Mar 03, 2015 22:31PM

    There is a lot of truth to Charlie Sandlan’s piece. Celebrity is all too often revered these days, and internet access sadly fulfills this mass desire at a horrifying rate. It makes everyone a celebrity. All one needs is a blog or a camera and internet access to achieve instant fame. Suddenly you’re an actor! My God! You’re famous! All because you or your friend have a camera and wifi. It’s quite disgusting actually. And dreadfully boring.

    If you want to make money because of how you look, be a model. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a valid profession. However, being an actor has nothing to do with your looks and everything to do with what’s uniquely beneath your own skin.

    We are actors because we are the art. We don’t have a canvas. We don’t have a pen. We only have ourselves. If you care at all about your art, you will do yourself a favor and refrain from the shortcuts. There are no shortcuts when it comes to acting. If you think there are, you’re not only abominably lazy, but repellently arrogant.

    However, there are a lot of valid points made here in various responses. A lot of it is “the system”. There are an endless number of hacks lined up out there who will gladly take your money and offer you the bad cliff note version of this craft. But, you always have choice. Stop being a cog by feeding the system. Rebel, revolt, and do your work!

  • Lyn Jagger

    Mar 03, 2015 13:16PM

    I totally agree with you on the need for training. I am new at acting and have been training since June 2014. I have had several of the short courses and workshops but I have had trouble finding the types of classes you are talking about in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I think I have found one now. I feel like I have lost a year that I could have been doing some real training. I am an older actress so unlike the 20 year olds I don’t have time to waste. I turned down a principal role audition because I don’t feel like I have enough training to enable me to give a professional preformance yet.if I got the part. I wish it had been easier to find the kind of training you are talking about. I want to do professional work with my acting.

  • Ian Harrison

    Mar 03, 2015 12:46PM

    I am not young. I have seen Actors from four continents. I flit back and forth across the Atlantic. I am constantly impressed by the quality of British actors. As you say, the training is superb. One simple factor will emphasise that fact. British actors can step on American soil and become a believable American character. American actors must study very hard to do the same and they don’t come across as believable. I’ve seen it time and again. A good British actor is trained to do accents. This has more to do with the view of the world that the whole American system has. For them, the United States is the centre of the world. Other countries train their actors to see the world from a different perspective. American actors see themselves acting in Hollywood or New York. They don’t conceive of performing in London and Sydney. They don’t imagine using a Scottish accent in New Zealand to play a hobbit. They are being trained for leading roles (of which there are very few) they are not being trained for character roles that require they become someone else (there are a lot more of these).
    The whole system needs to change. Actors do not have to be beautiful. The sooner the industry stops pushing beauty and sexy and realises that ugly and quirky looks real and in the long run is more interesting. Gone are the days when an accent that was not American needed to be accompanied by subtitles. American actors and American productions are competing against a wide world of products. International movies are competing on the screens of the world and even on American screens. If American actors want to compete they must develop a wider focus and hone their craft to bring out their unique talents.

  • Sabra

    Mar 03, 2015 14:07PM

    As a British actress, I agree to some extent. The diversity in casting here has been especially great for those of us who are of color, and yes, training is an essential part of what casting directors and directors like. One thing I would say is that back in the UK actors tend to graduate and immediately stop taking classes. When I took a class when I lived in London, my friends would say, “You’re a working actress, why are you still taking a class?” The thing I like about American actors is that they keep training. Also in the UK casting directors tend to expect more of us- I always say the difference is that every time I went to an audition in the UK, they would ask me questions about the resume attached to the back of my photo. Here they look at the front- it’s all about how you look, I have never been asked a single question about my resume in 12 years. And you can make a living as a stage actor in the UK because it’s supported by the government, therefore you get to dig deep with the work, not just one line in a procedural once every three years. And finally, the Arts have been an essential part of education- it starts there.

  • Todd

    Mar 03, 2015 10:41AM

    This has been going on for years… At least 15. The one thing that this article says that kind of bothered me was blaming the actor for lack of training when it’s actually the systematic dumbing down of acting standard by the powers that be. They’ve been using the lowest common denominator for actors across the board and the standard has been lowered. It’s not a question of British trained actors vs America Trained actors (I’m sure Britain has there own version of shit acting studios) its a matter of providing a quality standard when it comes to our cultural … Uh… Entertainment (for lack of a better term) the people in this country have been accepting shit acting for so long it’s become the norm. If I have to hear some nimrod come up to me after getting off stage saying “I used to do the acting” or “you should do a movie with (insert name of any mediocre, low talent, multimillionaire movie star) I just might lose it. Can’t fake being a doctor and get away with it… Or a Plummer or a dentist or a chef, but any dipshit with a headshot can call themselves and actor. I

  • Pat M.

    Mar 03, 2015 21:52PM

    This article, and especially the forum comments, contain insight into how each generation of artist or craftsperson watches the inevitable decline of technique and craftsmanship, and it is both frustrating and sad. I am the daughter of an amateur actress (she of a generation which preferred the gender specific term), so grew up with a true appreciation for theater (not just musicals) which has certainly seemed to decline in popularity here in the US.
    It really seems US education is lacking compared to Brits. I had the opportunity to attend stage performances in London around 1989-91, and one of the most revealing was a production of “Oliver.” By the National Children’s Theatre Co. (am I recalling the name correctly?), which was SO beyond anything I’d seen in the US (even films). Those children (all the correct ages for their roles, mind you!) were singing, dancing, acting like they had been doing it for twice as long as they’d been alive. I was holding my breath thinking any one of them might stumble as they performed leaps and rolls off tables and hit high notes like pros… which speaks to training and education. With it, your talent can soar – without it – one trick pony. Keep honing your skills and yes, you may have to keep your day-job for now as well. Thanks.

  • Martin Donovan

    Mar 03, 2015 13:45PM

    Amen !

  • Tanner

    Apr 04, 2015 00:56AM

    While I agree with the sentiment of this article. There is one thing that I have a problem with. As an unemployed actor, and by that mean, I can’t find work for my age and look, I teach acting to help those that want to improve. I strive to give them the tools needed to succeed. I give each student personal attention and hone in on what they need to improve and work on. I think my teaching s invaluable to them. So when I read this part of the article, “They are not fooled into believing that you can take a “six-week camera class”, or a “scene study” with some unemployed actor, and develop as a well-rounded artist.” It made me feel that the years that I have sacrificed through education, auditioning, performing, and teaching meant that I had nothing to offer as a teaching and professor of Acting. I don’t think taking one class is going to make you a well-rounded actor but I do believe when people take my classes that they are instilling a belief, technique, and work ethic that is required by every actor. Not all unemployed actors are that way because they are untalented. It may be because they don’t fit into the mold, brand, look,status, what have you. That doesn’t diminish their talent and what they can teach another actor who may have a better potential. I am pushing to start my Acting Studio and even wrote a book. And though to many it may seem I’m “unemployed”. I continue to pursue my dream of acting and teach to others what I know.

  • Jennifer Hodgson

    May 05, 2015 18:52PM

    Jen says:
    I am an American actress who studied in America as well as Wales and England. The training is different but that isn’t the problem or the reason. The difference is the perception in the States as to what is good theatre and good acting. Audiences are easily lead and in this country for too long a watered down version of what is perceived as “fine acting” by the general public is in fact bad acting. Maybe the Americans will hire a British actor to play a Brit or an American because somehow they seem more cultured than us. They’re not. We have many fine actors in this country. “Birdman”- great movie-amazing acting. We are certainly capable of it. Let’s embrace ALL fine acting and reject all bad acting and it doesn’t matter what country the actors come from!

  • Ellen Golden

    Jun 06, 2015 12:32PM

    I’m not an actor but many of my favorite actors are British and think it’s because I respect them from the heart for the talent they have developed in the tradition handed down by Shakespeare plays – start with stage plays and hone your craft. Besides that, I think Americans have a fascination with the British accent, myself included. The British accent is a quintessential element of it – my favorite shows of the last few years – Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife – I associate with a bit of refinement and the English Properness amidst the drama.

  • Jack R Smith

    Jul 07, 2015 08:12AM

    I am a voice over talent wanting to be a voice over actor. I started about 3 years ago to be a voice talent and saw all these other talent doing very well. I found that I truly loved doing this and wanted to do whatever I needed to do to get better. I have worked with some great coaches, have 5 demos, and a website. I’ve even had some small successes. But one thing all my coaches told me… you need to take acting classes if you are serious about becoming a true voice actor. It is not just talking to a mic. It is much more. It is learning how and when to feel emotion, learning diction, and learning characterization. I am happy to say that I am now taking acting classes. I can already see and feel the difference and will continue to learn and develop a craft.

    Thank you,
    Jack

  • anon

    Oct 10, 2015 15:50PM

    I actually have to disagree with you. Training means very little it’s heart that matters. I’ve seen actors who went to Yale school of Drama and those who have private coaches. There isn’t much difference. We only get the good British actors working here but I’m sure there are bad ones. In fact, a famous British actor commented on the decline of British actors due to lack of subsidy for regional theater. So, I think you are offering a verY narrow viewpoint of the problem. Actors nowadays are not tuned into the world around them or apart of it so they are drawing from nothing to create something with. People are afraid to be creative and to relax and enjoy what they are doing. The greatest artists of any field wil l cite that as genius. A lot of people use acting as an answer to their personal demons and not a way to understand them. That to me is the real problem if you commit to growing you will never be able to reach your highest levels creatively. We experience so many put downs and rejections in this field enough do you have to contribute your share of negativity with a post like this? Just think about it before you write something like this again.

  • Jane c.

    Mar 03, 2016 12:04PM

    Came across this article and had to make a point about your perspective on British acting – the repertory system has long since collapsed – there are fewer opportunities to go out to the regions and learn your craft than ever before. It’s a good decade or two since the rep system that most actors started in was strong or vital – most rep companies have ceased to be. Also, the pressure for the new & the beautiful has similarly caught up with uk TV acting – many young actors lack range and vocal ability with an increasing reliance on posturing and adopting attitudes – playing moods – than living the character’s needs or wants moment to moment. Theatre too sees well known personalities take the lead in big productions, often beyond their range, in order to bump up audience figures. The commercialisation of theatre is unfortunately widespread. America sees the cream of British acting, and at that level there certainly is immense talent, but then so too can you see such talent at the highest levels of US theatre and film. In general, the best and strongest British actors make it in the US and they really only speak to how when there is commitment and good training by any actor, or British – it shows. Btw, some of the most famous British screen actors of all time had no formal training – Carey Grant, Sean Connery etc and they still had a huge contribution to make – yes not great theatre actors and yes with less range – but powerful actors none the less… Artistry is fostered in many ways, it’s up to the audience to demand it & not settle for less.

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