Over the years, there’s been much debate about acting workshops. Are they worth your time and money? What makes one school of acting better than another?  Why should I listen to an acting coach who isn’t a celebrity?

More than anything, an acting workshop is supposed to bring out the most powerful emotions a performer has to offer. It’s supposed to train an actor to reveal themselves during casting calls and auditions. As Jesse Eisenberg once said, “In acting class, you’re trained to express yourself as much as you can.”

However, this often becomes a difficult task. With the unique biases of an acting coach, a performer strives to fit the sensibilities of another. As a result, they neglect or suppress the innate emotions that are begging to be released.

This struggle is something Eric Methany and Tamra Meskimen are well aware of. As founders of The Acting Center in Los Angeles, the two have made it their mission to alter the perception of what an acting workshop can be.

Through scene studies, improv and private coaching, the pair have taken the focus away from criticism. Instead, the center teaches performers to rely on their own instincts and imagination.  

This past July, Casting Frontier partnered with The Acting Center for a day-long seminar. There, Eric and Tamra discussed and demonstrated The Acting Center’s unique approach to acting roles. In case you missed the class, here are 4 important lessons from the day.

Acting Jobs Come From Acting More

Both Eric and Tamra have been acting since they were teenagers. As the years went on, and they attended a variety of acting workshops, they kept coming across a common denominator. Acting classes tended to have more talking than acting.  It was a trend they wanted to avoid when starting their own studio space.

“Actors get better at acting when they act,” Eric says. “We spent three years researching everything we could about acting and acting jobs. In the end, we knew that learning by doing was the best approach.”

The pair like to tell the story of their very first acting workshop 15 years ago. In a dingy, cramped space above a 7-Eleven, Eric and Tamra took 17 actors through a six-week course. By avoiding the excessive analysis that often bogs down a performer, they watched as nearly every actor booked a role before the end of the six weeks.

For them, this was a strong sign for action over analysis. It’s an approach they practice and encourage to this day.

Acting Roles Require Being Another Person

A question that both an acting coach and a performer often wrestle with is what is acting? How do you define it?

For Eric and Tamra, this question was the prime obstacle they had to tackle. Like the technique itself, there are thousands of interpretations of what the responsibilities of an actor are.  

Bette Davis said, “Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.” Whereas Meryl Streep remarked, “Acting is finding the similarity in what is different, then finding myself there.”

Yes, these are beautiful statements. But, they are also what Eric and Tamra feel contribute to actor confusion. Eric and Tamra didn’t want personal, abstract definitions. Instead, they were searching for an explanation of acting roles that was practical and actionable.

For them, the simplest, most accurate definition of acting is becoming another person. It is about changing one’s identity. And for Eric and Tamra, this is already a tool people use on a daily basis.

In their view, life is about performance. In each situation, individuals take on different personas that will allow them to thrive and survive in the world. Performers should not think of acting as some mysterious element to be deciphered. Rather, they should think of scenes and auditions as everyday situations. Instead of asking what am I supposed to be, ask who am I supposed to be. From there, you can enhance character emotion, and improve dialog.

An Acting Workshop That Avoids Criticism

In the early days of The Acting Center, Eric and Tamra asked themselves can we teach acting without criticism? Traditionally, acting has been taught on a performance and critique basis. An actor performs, and someone then describes what they liked or didn’t like about the performance.

For Eric and Tamra though, criticism, at least as it pertains to acting, has often caused more harm than good. “The only thing you learn from a critique, is what the person critiquing you is like,” Tamra says.

Objectivity, especially when it comes to the arts, is nonexistent. With each unique perspective comes its own unique biases. According to Eric and Tamra, from a critique you learn much about the likes, dislikes and overall sensibilities of the critic. However, you learn very little about yourself. How are you supposed to learn new skills if you’re always shaping your performance to the narrow worldview of one particular audience?

Now, Eric and Tamra know this can be a difficult pill to swallow. After all, if you don’t tell actors what they’re doing wrong they won’t improve. More likely than not, casting calls will not be a walk in the park for them.

Often, people present them with the analogy of math and building a bridge. If you use the wrong math, then the bridge will collapse. For Eric and Tamra though, acting jobs are not math.

Art is all about opinion. And when it comes to opinion, there is no good or bad. When you visit a museum, there are some things you like and others you don’t. But, all these works exist in a museum. They’re still considered art.

This is why the pair feel criticism hinders an actor’s innate creative spark. By eliminating criticism, a performer can work faster, better and stronger. Or, as The Acting Center dubs it, The Daft Punk method.

“We have a model that does not follow the critique system,” Eric says. “Our class doesn’t bow to an acting coach trying to mold a performer into their image of what an artist is. We want people to find their own road. That’s what makes stars. People who know what they’re doing, and have faith in their work.”

Character Commitment Is The Key To Acting Jobs

Of course, Eric and Tamra know how debilitating criticism can be. Once someone’s bais enters an actor’s mindset, everything can be thrown off. Instead of exploring something new and unique, the actor censers themselves. In an attempt to head off any criticism, they interrupt scenes and auditions by breaking character.

Eric and Tamra feel this is a mistake. In their opinion, to overcome insecurity on set and during casting calls, one must fully commit to their character. For them, this is the best solution to combat criticism.

They give the example of playing a Boston firefighter. In this situation, the accent is the most difficult part. Instead of throwing up your hands and breaking the scene out of frustration, go with it. Don’t think of the tonal differences as a flaw. Instead, use frustration to your advantage. Come up with a reason for why this accent is a bit off. What happened in this character’s life that made their voice sound like that.

“A character is a living person,” Eric says. “We have to convince the audience that we are this person. By committing fully to the character, you are moving past the insecurity that comes with criticism.”

For Eric and Tamra, it is this commitment that increases an actor’s chances for success.

Wrapping up with Eric Methany and Tamra Meskimen

Russell Crowe has said, “The important thing to me is that I’m not slowed down by people’s criticism. I’m just trying to work at the highest level I can.”

In the realm of art and performance, criticism is everywhere. The danger of this being its potential stranglehold on originality. More than anything, Eric and Tamra’s acting workshop encourages performers to avoid relying on the biases of others. Instead, listen to your gut. Immerse yourself in the character, and and allow your emotions to guide you in the right direction.  

 

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