Why You Need Acting Classes- Pt.1

Acting in Front of a Green Screen
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Last Saturday, I started up another Acting Class with the gloriously frank, Frank Gerrish. The man is a legend in the Utah acting community for so many reasons and then one day he ups and disappears; reappearing in Los Angeles to prove that he can walk the talk.

Frank Gerrish Teaching an Acting Class

Not every teacher out there connects with every student but there’s something about taking acting classes with Frank that uplifts, encourages and fills my folder of possibility. He was a hard-working Utah actor, head of the film dept at Salt Lake Community College and he’s done in LA in a few years what takes other actors decades to accomplish.

The acting classes he taught in Utah were an ongoing scene study class peppered with mock auditions and monologues. I couldn’t wait for my twice weekly sessions with my film buddies and not just because of the after beers at MacCool’s Irish Pub next door. 

Below are some of the takeaways from my first acting classes……

Auditioning is not acting

The audition is the work you do to get the ‘job’. The job is the play or movie and there are so many steps in between to get to the final job. Often, you’ll hear coaches refer to an audition as a meeting. The casting director not only wants to see how you handle the lines but what you are like as a person. Think about the difference between a job interview and meeting your significant other’s parents. The audition should have the vibe of the later. The more you practice (ie take classes via Zoom or in person), the better you get at your meetings. 

What does it take to prepare to do your best on an audition?

  1. Script analysis- Reading and understanding the script. Break it down into “beats” or moments. What is going on in the scene and in the overall story. 
  2. Make choices. You have to be able to do this instantly.  Choices about who you are, want you want, why you want it, what is your relationship to the others in the scene, etc. Figure out the who, what, when, where and why of the scene you are auditioning.

6 things you need to do for an audition-

  1. Memorize the script (know the words; know the context, your relationships). Excitement and nerves live in the same place. But nerves come from being unprepared. If you don’t look at your sides until the night before, your ‘action verb’ for the audition becomes ‘to remember’- you are a wreck. An actor is like an athlete. You must train if you want to succeed. You can’t roll in and expect it to happen.
  2. Talent may not be quantifiable but the work is. Don’t let anyone out work you.
  3. The acting class is about getting on your feet and screwing up miserably. If you’re going to screw up, screw up in class.
  4. You don’t want to be seen by the right person at the wrong time.
  5. You should be booking at least once in every 10-12 auditions. Otherwise you wind up on the second tier of your agency and they begin to wonder about you- and you begin to wonder about you. Only training will make a difference. 
  6. Ask your agent some basic questions about the audition.
    1. Are there sides
    2. Where do I go
    3. Who’s the director
    4. Can I read the script ahead of time. If not, can you read me a description of the character(s) or send me the breakdown, and send all of their sides. BTW, sides are the scene you will be auditioning. 
    5. When is the shoot. If you can’t make the shoot date, don’t audition. The dates could change on you but you can’t change on them.
    6. Let them know of any potential conflicts. Intense language or subject matter you just can’t participate in? Conflicting brands? It’s for Comcast and you just did a Dish commercial? Don’t wait until you book the job to let the director know about these things. Casting directors get pissed with that one. Let your agent field this for you.

Other topics you learn when you take legit acting classes-

What’s a headshot and acting resume and how should they standout? 

DEMO REELS FOR ACTORS

Do you have a demo reel? How long should it be? What should you have on it? Do you make a separate commercial, comedic, dramatic reel? This is one I used when I was hunting for a talent agent outside of Utah so it’s twice as long as your average demo:

You’ll also need two+ monologues in your back pocket. This is the hardest audition you will ever do- when, without notice, they ask you if you have a monologue you can do. Side note: I’ve only had it happen once. Usually you are told ahead of time to come with a prepared monologue. But it’s always great to have it down because sometimes there is that opportunity to say – “would you like to hear my monologue”. I did this when I was auditioning for Vicki at TMG. I had read three different sides for her and we were talking about eyeline because the sides were not read directly to her and she wanted to see me look at her. Did the monologue and I was in like Flynn.

Acting Classes Help You Understand the 15 Second Rule

The casting director has made a decision about you within 15 seconds of walking in the door. The rest of the time you will be confirming or denying that first impression.

  1. Type yourself out. Ask friends the type of role they can see you playing. Know what the casting director sees in that first 15 seconds. You can even go to a website and have someone do it for you.
  2. Casting is arbitrary. All you can do is your best work but know that you can be rejected for having the wrong color eyes, or a funny nose or blond hair or look too much like the lead (seriously, this happened to me).

It’s a victory and a half if they ask you to read for a different role. Another side, another character. They don’t waste time. They wouldn’t ask if they thought you couldn’t be that part.

If they ask you to do it again but with specific directions, you will be written off if you don’t take those notes and make adjustments to your performance. If they ask to see it again but don’t offer suggestions, play it 180 degrees opposite. Why? Because they already saw you do it one way. Show them how versatile you are.

*Don’t ever name drop when you audition. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of this one?

Shake hands (or hug) only if they offer. But in this post-Covid landscape, you’re best off with a fist bump or nothing.

Don’t be chatty.  Shut up so you don’t wind up with foot in mouth disease. Use basic social common sense. Of course, say hello and good-bye.

Don’t fish for callback or filming information. The goal is just to get a callback not the part.

Do you use props? No. If you bring a prop, the prop will always be more real than you. CDs are always looking at the prop. The goal is to get the focus on your close up. The one exception is if you happen to have something on you naturally, like a cellphone, purse or a bottle of water. Use these items. And never ever use your hand like it’s a phone. Self-tape auditions are a bit different in that you have a world of props at your finger tips. Go ahead and use them if you can do so realistically and without them becoming distractions. I had an audition where I was supposed to be moving a box from right to left. Guess what? I used a real box.

 

You don’t get callbacks playing it safe. Do something that takes courage. Acting classes will help you expand your imagination.

  1. Pause. Don’t blow through the pauses.
  2. Show you can take direction- don’t argue with it.

Prereqs of a good actor

  1. Take acting classes- just like playing an instrument. You need to practice.
  2. Willingness to do the work required by the job.
  3. Be comfortable in your own skin- you are you. Like snowflakes. You are not another actor or type. Be proud of what you do. Don’t be threatened by mediocrity. Or what others imply in the word ‘actor’. You provide a service like everyone else. What’s the first thing a working stiff does when he comes home? Turns on the tv. People have the need to be entertained. Believe that it’s a worthwhile thing to do- telling a story on your feet.
  4. Willingness to be seen. Athletes don’t have this problem. They put on their uniforms and they play. Feel worthy to do this. You do belong and can do this.
  5. Gratitude. Be grateful to be a part of the process.

Keep a folder for the acting classes you take. Keep it like a bible. Go back to it to retrain yourself. Especially when you have an upcoming audition. Not only does it jog your memory but it gives you this sense of being grounded. All of a sudden you have a plan. You’re not floating around this amorphous thing called an audition.

Frank, Thank you. 

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