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Help Me Help You Help Me

I recently came across a HowlRound article that I can’t seem to get out of my head. It’s titled What are We Watching? What are We Teaching? Preparing Acting Students for the New Golden Age, and was written by actor-director-teacher Welker White. Here is one of my favorite passages:

Right now, students at hundreds of MFA and BFA acting programs across the country are rushing from scene class, to voice, movement, and an array of “specialties”: Lecoq, Laban, Suzuki, Grotowski, commedia, kinetics, Fitzmaurice, Alexander, clown, mask, musical comedy, the list goes on…One performance experience most acting students are doing very little of is acting in front of a camera. Professional training programs aren’t training actors; they are training actors for a career in the theatre. This is a problem.

sorry one more:

…The vast majority of BFA and MFA acting programs offer one semester of “Acting for the Camera.” This course typically comes at the tail end of a student’s training and often shares real estate with a “business” or “auditioning” class. This seems at best naive and at worst irresponsible. The few actors who will leave these programs and make a living wage in the profession will do so by working in film and television…So why are we essentially leaving them to their own devices (no pun intended) to teach themselves?

So when I first read this article I thought it was too good to be true. It was as if Ms. White had somehow secretly recorded my peers and I talking about this exact thing. I really couldn’t believe that this was a conversation being had so eloquently, authoritatively, and publicly.

With all of this being said, YEAH, I agree with Ms. White. I have often asked, both myself and my fellow classmates, why is it that our training program does not incorporate any sort of formal camera training until senior year? Often, the reply I receive is “well we shouldn’t have to worry about so many things so early on in our training.”

I’m not quite sure I understand this logic anymore. Sure, I get that most BFA programs spend the first year or so attempting to un-build and then re-build their students in a way that makes them more open and adaptable as artists and collaborators (I don’t think anyone would want a camera in their face throughout that process) but why wait until the very end to introduce a whole technique? Is it only then, as first and second semester seniors, that we will be able to grasp the complexities of film acting and “the business”?

I don’t buy it. For four years we are inundated with countless different methods, tools, and course loads, and we somehow always seem to make it by. So why is it that BFA training seems to be so fixated on pinning film against theatre? Well Ms. White posits many viable reasons: the unwillingness of teachers to adapt their methods / lesson plans, the bureaucracy of colleges within the larger university, the fear within the generational divide of new media… I believe all of these to be true and at play here, but I do think that they are reconcilable. On the off chance that any member of faculty or a teacher at BU is reading this, here’s what I think.

The world of TV, Film and New Media is where the money is. Money is good. Money corresponds with having enough food to survive, living in an apartment that doesn’t leak every time it rains, and maybe even saving enough to splurge on crazy things like going out to dinner every once in a while. But the camera does not only correspond with money anymore. Within the past decade there have been so many changes in the types of stories being told on TV and Film. We’re seeing more and more playwrights writing for TV, and new platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are embracing stories that challenge, inspire, and engage. These are projects that many of us want to be a part of! There are characters being portrayed on TV that haven’t even been written yet for the stage! Hollywood is becoming progressively more progressive than the American Theatre, and is therefore more appealing to young actors who find themselves about to leave training.

So help us get those jobs. Help us know how to even begin to find out where those jobs exist. We need earlier access points and more training opportunities for acting on camera and for learning about the film industry in general. I’ve spent an un-Godly amount of money over these past four years for my training, and I can tell you that there is nothing more sobering than spending the few weeks leading up to graduation looking for beginner film school classes.


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