Many people lately have been asking me about the acting classes I have mentioned on Facebook or in person, most of which I have had positive experiences with. I thought I might take a second to describe some of the ones I’ve taken, my thoughts and the costs.
I hope this might be helpful (as it would have been helpful to me) and I hope that people have other ideas to add.
I won’t go into a big explanation of the value of acting classes for comedians, other than to say either if you have professional goals towards comedy or just want to get better, take an acting class. 90 percent of the comedians you like probably did at some point.
HB STUDIO- http://hbstudio.org
HB Studio is an old-school commie-like institution over in the West Village founded by Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen. Everyone you have heard of has taken classes there, including but not limited to Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, etc.
For acting (they also have movement, voice classes, etc) there are generally two different classes you can take:
-A “Technique” class where you will do improvised exercises to develop a method of approximating real behavior on stage (which is “acting”)
-A “Scene Study” class where you work on scenes to memorize and perform with a partner or monologues, doing research on your part, rehearsing and discovering the truth of the scene.
There are also many classes that combine both these things, but it’s generally recommended that newcomers start with a Technique I, Basic Technique or Beginning Technique class before moving on to a Scene Study.
That said, there are no levels at HB. Unless an audition is specifically requested by a class, anyone can take any class which can mean a mix of experience levels and often English-proficiency levels (many foreign students study there on visas).
In terms of acting technique, different teachers offer different variations with no core curriculum, that said, from what I’ve observed, most teachers offer a spin on the Stanislavsky “Method” acting modified for Americans. Some teachers offer their own exercises based on this, with influences ranging from Zen to Clown to Meisner and some teach straight from Uta Hagen’s book “A Challenge for the Actor”.
Most involve approaching some truthful memory or point of view in order to access a spontaneous, emotional self.
Pricewise, classes at HB are very cheap, especially when compared to any other acting studio or even the cost of improv classes. The vast majority of classes range from 275-300 bucks with no markups for particular teachers, only time length. They are almost all 12 weeks, 2-3 hours with set terms/semester (They just started Spring Semester on March 28th, which lasts till late June).
You can and are encouraged to do audits or trial classes where you sit in on a particular teachers class and either listen or participate for 18 or 21-25 bucks respectively. This is *very important* as teachers differ a lot in tone and technique and with something as vulnerable as acting, it’s important to find someone who speaks to you, as well as fits in your schedule (class times are on their web site). Also, classes can be anywhere from 3-20 students so its good to see that for yourself too.
There is also a fairly awesome thing there called being a “key student”. Every class can have one which the teacher can choose at their discretion. This person comes 15 minute early, sets up chairs, takes attendance, picks up and drops off the key to the room and the attendance on the 3rd floor and that’s about it. In return for that (virtually nothing) you get the class you are key studenting for FOR FREE as long as you are taking at least one other class at the school at the same time.
You also get all those important audits to determine what classes to take FOR FREE for a whole semester.
Key studenting seems to be harder to do in some classes than others (An Austin Pendleton class I audited had had the same key student for 3 years, two others I audited a student asked there first day to be key and was given it) but its a great deal.
I encourage you to see what teachers you dig but some of the ones I’ve audited and dug included:
Jeanne Kaplan (Basic Technique Sat 10am-12pm, Scene Study 12:30-2pm)-
my current teacher, my two favorite notes of hers are “slower and louder” and “you are enough”.
Rasa Allan Kazlas (Technique and Scene Study Wed 5:30-7:30)
Austin Pendleton (Adv. Scene Study by audition only, multiple times)
Rochelle Oliver (Technique- Meisner Thurs 3-5pm)
MARK GRENIER- http://markgrenier.com
My friend and teacher Mark Grenier teaches acting classes at The Barrow Group (which I also hear is a good place to study) but also teaches independently.
His classes are 6 week Scene Study classes that are very inexpensive (6 3-hour classes for 175) and his technique is very simple and thoughtless: let go of “performance” and just say the lines simply as if you were saying them in real life. Its simple but deceptively hard, letting the lines do the work and opening yourself to an emotional journey through them.
You work on scenes the whole time and technique is integrated in.
His classes go online fairly regularly on his website and he also teaches improv classes I’ve taken and recommend as well about making simple choices/individual feedback. You may well find other improvisers in the classes which is fun.
A good class for all levels.
BROOKE AND MARY- http://brookeandmary.com
A commercial auditioning technique class and the most popular one at that.
Brooke and Mary’s class is about learning how to properly audition for commercials, etiquette, how to approach improv for commercials and basic technique for reading commercial copy at an audition. You also get feedback from 2-3 agents at the end of the 3 classes AND Brooke and Mary are both pretty big-time commercial casting directors and may call you in even without an agent for an audition.
This class is very popular among improvisers, stand-ups, moms/dads and theater actors. It’s fairly simple but they cut to the point. If you’re looking for things other than commercial auditioning technique, look elsewhere.
Personally, I did not get an agent out of their class (conversely I knew those who did), but did get called in a few times and felt more comfortable at commercial auditions with their feedback. The class is expensive (440 dollars for 3 two-hour classes) but it is certainly useful. The classes usually sell out about two months in advance.
TJ MANNIX- AUDITIONING FOR TV/COMMERCIALS-
This class is run through the Magnet Theater, though no improv/comedy/Magnet experience is required.
TJ is a very positive, giving fellow and a very talented man (he has done two tours with the Second City Touring Company, a big deal for a New York comedian) and has booked tons of commercials and consulted with others.
This class is a combination acting technique for commercial auditions (embodying an emotion, taking adjustments) learning where to find agents/auditions and working on head shots/resumes. It ends with an showcase for 2-3 agents/managers.
It’s also reasonably priced at 350 for 8 weeks of 3 hour classes. TJ also does individual consults which I did and found helpful.
Again, this is a good class for those looking to hone their commercial/TV auditioning skills, learn to take notes/adjustments and present their best self. It’s not straight-acting like the first two teachers, but it’s very valuable for comedians looking to audition more.
So those are the classes I’ve taken. I know the last two don’t really count “theater”-wise, but they were classes I wish I had some information about when I was looking at them.
I’ve also heard of people studying at Michael Howard, William Esper, Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg. But I don’t know about them.
If you’re a comedian looking for an edge try an acting class. I think that’s the Mick Napier note.