21 June 2012

Auditions 1: judging by the results, theater education sucks.

If you get a B.A. or a B.F.A. in acting, you should be able to act. That's a high standard, I know, but it only seems fair that if you pay a ton of coin for a degree, they should teach you something back.

But, okay: acting . . . it's an art after all. It requires all kinds of tricky things that no one can teach, not really. (That's why the best acting schools are so selective. The teachers must, I think, know that the prospective students either have the knack or don't, and they'd better have it coming into the program or all the exercises and work and productions aren't going to work).

So, let's lower the standard. It seems like asking too much to create a theater artist out of four years of liberal arts school. Maybe that's just a stupid proposition to believe in. But if you do earn that theater degree, you should be able to control your voice and diction and know how to move your body expressively. These are craft elements. They require no special aptitude. You just have to receive instruction and put in the time. They're basic, too. If you can't be heard, no one will be able to appreciate your performance or the playwright's work. If you move awkwardly, it's distracting.

Basic, right?

I spent a few hours learning that this is too high a standard. Dozens of actors showed up with very nicely produced glossy head shots -- almost completely irrelevant to me, other than as a device to help remember who auditioned. And with resumes. Listing BAs and BFAs. Even a few MFAs. And most of them sucked. They were brave. They were bold, and they deserve credit for that and for the work they put into learning their pieces. But the acting was mediocre.

That's to be expected, I guess. But what shocked me is how few of them had any craft. They mumbled. They stood there like dead fishes propped up in a frozen food case. Or they'd make little penguin gestures with their arms. And whatever they'd listed as training didn't seem to matter. Four year programs, two year programs, random classes from a series of teachers -- none of it mattered. If they were good, they were good no matter where they went or studied. If they stank, they stank no matter where they'd picked up their stench. 

Okay, maybe I'm generalizing. We didn't see students from some of the better known schools; I guess they could be better, or at least offer some good diction. You know, the basic price of entry. Not necessarily emotional truth or charisma, or shattering insight into the human heart. Just get the words out.

For the record, I saw some fine actors.

But it makes me think that arts education, or at least theater education in this country is a fraud, and thus, a criminal enterprise. You can't teach art. You can, however, create a place where the craft elements can be learned. Apparently, a lot of schools are absolutely failing. 

They should refund their students' tuition.


  1. You're in Boulder, yes? Seems intuitive that the talent would flock to NY & LA leaving smaller towns with the dregs.

    1. You're right. It's the bitter cost of living in a lifestyle hamlet instead of a cultural magnet. And if you really can't make a living at acting -- instead of having the faintest hope of making a living, you're not going to get very many serious people.

      At the same time, there is good theatre in places like Portland, which is basically Boulder with rain and more people, and . Even Columbus, Ohio, has a troupe that's well respected and travels the world. That's the maybe vainglorious hope that everyone whispers to themselves -- that IT can happen here. I still think there are some gems in the rough, and I did see a handful of excellent actors, too, and it's good to remember that.

      I guess this is my own little contribution to the larger debate around the value of a college education. Which is a larger topic that I can deal with here.

      But you have a reasonable shot at getting a handle on a subject, and as I said, while I don't expect a degree to confer artistic ability, I do think you should receive a modicum of skill.

      Overall, we don't seem to take artistic endeavors very seriously, or maybe it just attracts more flakes that, say, engineering. I really see the difference in one of my teachers, who comes from Kiev and for whom the deal is Life or Death, and other teachers who are, yeah, serious, but don't seem to have the same skin in the game, or who see it as some kind of Oprah-fied personal Quest.