I think about this a lot. I learned a lot in as an undergrad in college about acting but it wasn’t really in the classes. It was because I went to private school with a lot of money and resources, so I was able to be in A LOT of shows and student films before I graduated, and I had incredible professors who were involved, interested, supportive, and invested, but I didn’t get much at all from any sort of curriculum.
I think about the things that I really learned from and took a lot away from in college, and I think about what my experience has been since graduating, and I’ve distilled that down to what I think training for almost any performer should be optimally (taking into consideration that everyone is VERY different, yes I know, I get it). This is how I’d personally structure a school for performers (by this I mean “actor” but I agree with Christopher Walken, I find the title performer to be more apt).
Be real simple. There’s would be only be 3 classes offered on a regular, weekly basis: An Improv class, voice lesson, and Dance class 2 to 3 times a week.
Long form improv classes WHY? Because pretty much the end result of almost every acting technique I’ve ever heard of is that by the end hopefully the actors are just improvising everything. For those of you who might thinking to yourselves “But what about when you have a script? And blocking???” I bring to your attention the improv game Gibberish in which a scene is played entirely in intelligible gibberish. The point I’ve always gotten from that scene is that the words really don’t matter (of course they do, but they don’t). What matters is the relationship between the characters. Improv gets you really living and reacting in the moment, and it does it all through the domain of comedy, where you can deal the complete spectrum of situations, circumstances, emotions, and issues directly but with lightness and ease, and through laughter. Also, Anarchy, Failure, and Messiness are encouraged, which is GREAT for actors, and takes them away from one of the things most poisonous to them, preciousness. I mean improv teaches focus, scene study, timing, rhythm, how to build arcs, character work, the importance of listening… it does pretty much everything. It’s not the be all end all, but it’s arguably the most efficient, and definitely the most fun place to start looking at all these things. Comedy is like the Alphabet song for acting. You use the alphabet song to teach kids to read and write because it makes it simple, easy, and fun. And those kids become Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy, or David Lynch. They take your innocent Alphabet song and do grotesque, beautiful things with them.
Alternating private voice lessons and choral group WHY?
Diction, voice, breath, projection, respect for words and writing, understanding of rhythm, timing, musicality, the importance of memorization, learning about and getting a diagnostic of what your vocal instrument is.. all of this stuff you get from learning to sing. And a chorus helps you learn to work as a team and listen.
At least one Ballet and one Modern Dance class a week WHY?
There’s almost nothing better to help you to get into your body. And the more you are in your body the better an actor you are, the freer you are, the more you are able to listen and respond with your entire body and not just your head. The more you learn about movement, which you can translate to stage movement, creating characters, your sense of spatial awareness and composition, and it increases your sense of the dynamic.
There would be a few plays put on each season, all different kinds of plays, the only criteria for which being what play would be awesome to do. We’d pick directors by which director had the most awesome proposal for an awesome show with potentially a lot of characters (or not). We’d also have periodic class shows for the improv classes, and dance and voice recitals. All students not cast in the play(s) that semester would be STRONGLY encouraged to audition for another play elsewhere and do that play, or audition for a student film, and not quit until they get cast in something, or the next school play is being cast, or produce their own play and be in that one, or do a clown show, or sketch show, or variety show, or book their indie improv team on a show or SOMETHING. The director’s would not be the teachers. Casting would be solely based who the director wants for the part.
The only addendum to this would be optional theater history classes and/or a suggested reading list of all kinds of cool books and plays. We’d have a comprehensive library on campus, and there would be cool books about acting, and art in general on the list, books on comedy, clowning, mime, storytelling, cool novels, biographies, books on different styles and techniques, stuff like that. No one is required to read anything. We just hire people to teach who might have read some of these books and have them recommend books they’ve read, or would like to read.
And there’s no audition or anything. We’d work like a dance class or improv class would. You pay your buck for that month’s classes and that’s it.
Also the actor’s get paid percentages of what the house takes for their shows.
There’s no agenda. The classes are independent of each other, but there is one price for all the classes.
Nothing on getting an agent, or headshots, or any of that shit. Any idiot can learn to schmooze and overpay for a really nice photo. We are just dealing with learning how to perform, and creating a system that rewards enterprising and hard work and NOTHING else. We do not address the “business.” Students are free to ask anyone any questions they want, but we’d like for students not to leave already heart calloused and jaded.
Students are encouraged to take extra curricular classes elsewhere. We’ll even recommend them.
And we treat this training transactionally and super practically, like we were teaching plumbing, or electrical engineering. We’re not promising you anything, or to make you a star. It’s just that like installing a toilet, or doing some rewiring, when you leave you’ll know how to do certain shit. You’ll know how to be on stage and have fun.
If I opened a performing (acting) school, that’s how I’d do it. I think that’s EVERYTHING you need for a start. And I think with that start, after something like 2 years anyone could go off from there ready to work on anything, and could pretty much learn the rest by doing, or would have a better idea of what kid of training they’d like to do next, but could go into the field and start working.