Acting Class – Dare to be an Artist

Genius is not the possession of a few, but exists to some extent in everyone.

– Robert Henri, American painter and author

MILTON: Actually, wait a second. Before we start the scene … We have new people here tonight, and I wanted to greet you with a little chat. (To the actors on stage 🙂 Sorry, good training for the movies. You’re ready to shoot the big scene and right before they call “action”! something comes up … The lights are not right, a costume is questioned and we have to wait. Or the director gets a call from his ex-wife or something. I personally would not take that call.

Class laughs.

So, I was thinking of all of you today. What led you here, to Los Angeles, to this acting class? I think you come with a dream. Sometimes these dreams are real, or they are fantasies, flashes of thought, a flickering image of something desired. I want the class to help focus, define and realize these dreams, to take each of you on your own personal path, to your own personal definition and expression. Being an artist is the most important contribution that human beings can make. Never minimize the genius within you. Everything possible should be done to unleash the creative spirit in you, and thus make a life and an artist that are relevant.

So what is an acting class about? For me, the study of acting is really the study of life. This seemingly obvious truth can be obscured by the fact that acting studio has both technical work and physical work aspects, and this can sometimes, erroneously in my opinion, make a class too academic. But Stella Adler corroborated something she had been doing for 15 years as a teacher when she told me, “I’m not teaching acting, honey. I’m teaching actors to be people.” It is the fusion of your skill as an artist and your knowledge of life as a person that will help you to truly communicate through your work.

Remember that everything you express as an artist comes from you. Cary Grant spoke here in class once and said in his delicious accent, “All you have is you, you know.” Then came the great director Martin Ritt, and in his husky voice he said, “All you have for me is the gold in you.” Here were two quite opposite artists, both emphasizing the same point: it’s about you. Your life, your experiences, your memories, your body will affect the character you are playing, and you need to illuminate those elements to give it that personal touch. Dare to make it your personal Hamlet, your unique Romeo, your own Cyrano, and not only for these classic roles, but for the new and original roles that lie ahead, waiting for you to mark them with your personal brand plate.

I don’t want to scare any of the new students here tonight, but part of my job as a teacher is to make it clear that middle-class thinking and habits inhibit creativity. The artist is afraid to express himself for fear of being criticized or condemned. Since childhood, the words no, watch out, don’t do that, shut up, be careful, stay still: these and countless other expressions ruled the child’s life and influenced his future. I’ve met countless actors in whom I can see a certain wild and risky creativity that wants to come out, but has been stifled. Modesty and humility tend to dominate the day. Do you know the derivation of humility or humility? Humble. Submissive. The land. The dirt. These are not very useful qualities for an actor. Well I can think of one or two that could use a little …

A wave of laughter from the class.

But as much as I’m trying to unleash this highly expressive and personal artist, I’m also trying to unleash the mensch within all the actors, does everyone know about mensch? Show of hands? A couple of people. I thought we had more Jewish persuasion people in class. Mensch is Yiddish for being a full person, a human being who cares, who has a heart, who can communicate easily, and with whom he can easily communicate. Theater and film work are group activities, so the ability to work well within a group dynamic is vital to the long-term prospects of their careers. My goal is twofold: a highly creative individual actor who can also thrive and contribute to the growth of a strong group.

Dare to say that you have a real genius in you. Dare to believe that in your personal thoughts and feelings lives a true artist worth expressing himself and the appreciation of the world. Dare to know that you are an artist capable of creating and revealing some aspect of life. Dare to learn, explore, participate and feel the joy of this meaningful journey. Is everyone understanding me?

CLASS: Yes!

MILTON: Good. Make sure to greet new people, make them feel at home. Good. (He turns to the actors on stage 🙂 Very kind of you to wait to do the scene. You are professionals, right? It’s okay. Let’s rock.