What exactly can you or should you expect from a good online acting class? Let me start by saying that I’ve been having this conversation with a number of acting teachers that I know, not to mention more than a few acting students.
We’ve been talking about this for a while for the obvious reason that online acting classes are not exactly the standard, though they have become the norm in the last year. As with anything, there are pluses and minuses to working remotely, so let’s start with those.
On the “minus side”:
- The live, face-to-face interaction has been somewhat diminished.
- The free exchange of direct personal energy is also affected.
- The verbal/emotional repetition of Meisner work is trickier.
On the “plus side”:
- The cost of remote classes are somewhat less.
- Remote classes don’t require student actors moving anywhere.
- If you don’t count the live interaction, the training remains the same.
Now let’s unpack those just a little so that we’re all on the same page. Yes, face time is a key component in the business of acting, whether you’re onstage or on camera, there’s no denying that. Doesn’t matter if you’re Method or Meisner, the human connection plays a big role but so does technique. Even when you’re onstage and dealing with actors and a live audience, there’s always a part of you that’s removed, that’s holding for laughs, that’s mindful of cues and the unexpected. An actor’s technique encompasses many things and not all of those things are dependent on the human connection.
Sure, I think working remotely presents unique challenges for students working with Meisner technique but those can be overcome as well. Any actor that’s done enough camera work knows that acting with technology requires a deeper level of concentration, both to overcome the camera’s intrusion but also to make complex emotions read on a smaller, interior scale. In that respect, working remotely is great training for that particular task, which is the drawing in of your audience that happens to be a lens and not another human being.
There’s been a lot written on the differences between stage acting and film acting but for me it comes to down to one critical thing. In moments of crisis, the stage actor tries to reveal things and in similar moments the film actor tries to hide those very same things. In either case, how successful those actors are in their revealing/hiding moments depends on how well they deliver them to whoever is watching. Delivering those moments is one the actors primarily jobs and it doesn’t matter if I’m “reaching out or drawing in.” What matters is my ability to do that, which is, in fact, a technical thing.
So I think that studying acting remotely may complicate the general process but in certain respects it also simplifies some of the actor’s tasks. On the flip side, remote learning can also make some of the students overall problems a bit easier. Every year, loads of young kids come to the Big Apple with a small wad of cash in their pocket and the same dream. However, before they can really get started, they have to deal with finding “affordable” housing, survival jobs and creating a personal network in order to function. All for the sake of getting into an acting class and (maybe) getting an agent.
An online acting class takes away a lot that geographic pain by making it largely unnecessary. Instead of going through all that, what if you just got into a class and found out if acting is really for you or just a passing fancy? Or, what if you signed up for a remote class, found out that acting really is your forte and by the time you arrived in the Big Apple, you already had a network of friends from class, a place to stay and leads on that elusive survival job? And you weren’t paying an arm and a leg for those classes? What about that?
So what about the “training in a remote class versus a live one” question? What exactly can you expect in an online acting class and what should you expect? Well, the training itself shouldn’t be all that different, other than the fact that you’re working remotely. As we’ve already discussed, some of that will be to your advantage and some a bit less so. But the training itself should not be diminished in any significant way and nothing that would normally be in the program should be left out. Now I can’t speak for everybody in this, I can only speak for myself but like I said, I do communicate with other acting teachers, so I have a decent sense of how its working.
You can and should expect the training to be clearly laid out and well organized. All acting teachers be able to articulate how their “system” works and how they like to teach it. All systems are composes of exercises and scene work that those exercises inform, so that structure should always be there from the get-go. You can and should expect that the teacher knows your name, what exercises you’re working on and gives you personal attention in that regard. You can and should always be able to ask questions of your acting teacher about any part of the work and they should always have answers for you that are clear.
In my class you should expect to spend time working on relaxation technique, vocal technique, a series of sensory exercises, scene work, as well as improv exercises to keep you loose. Now the work we do in our class is Method work and it’s largely based on what Strasberg designed, there’s also some elements of Stella Adler’s work too. I like to describe our work as a fusion of “building characters from without and from within” and while working remotely did make that tricky in the beginning, it really hasn’t changed our work all that much in the long run.
Of course, things will change again. We’ll get vaccinated sooner or later and many/most of us will get back to being in live class, just like “the old days”. I do think that some of us will learn from this experience and fold it into our teaching philosophy, as well as our practice. The smart acting teachers will be better off in the long run and I think the students will too. Technology is never a bad thing, it’s just a matter of how intelligently we use it and not let it use us.
Glenn English is a writer/actor/director based in New York City. He holds BA/MA degrees from Hunter College and is a recipient of the John Golden Award. Glenn has been developing and teaching his 12 Step Method System of Acting since 2005. His book on Method acting, Act Now, will be available on Amazon later in 2021. For more information: www.12stepmethod.com