Acting Class – Dare To Be An Artist

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

– Robert Henri, American painter and author

MILTON: Actually, hold on a second. Before you begin the scene…. We have some new people here tonight, and I wanted to greet them with a little talk. (To actors on stage:) Sorry – good training for film. You’re all ready to shoot the big scene and then just before they call “action!” something comes up… The lights aren’t right, a costume is being questioned, and you have to wait. Or the director gets a call from his ex-wife or something. I personally would not take that call.

Laughter from class.

So, I was thinking today about all of you. 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 fancies, glimmers of thought, a flickering image of something desired. I want the class to help focus, define, and realize these dreams – to lead each of you to your own personal way, your own personal definition and expression. To be an artist is the most important contribution a human being can make. Don’t ever minimize the genius that lies within you. Every effort must be made to free the creative spirit in you, and so make a life and an artist who is relevant.

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

Remember that all you express as an artist comes from you. Cary Grant once spoke here in class, and said in his delicious accent, “All you have is you, you know.” Then the great director Martin Ritt came, and in his gruff voice said, “All you’ve got to mine is the gold within yourself.” Here were two quite opposite artists, both emphasizing the same point: It’s about you. Your life, your experiences, your memories, your body are going to affect the character you’re playing – and you need to light up those elements to provide that personal touch. Dare to make it your personal Hamlet, your unique Romeo, your own Cyrano – and not just for these classic roles, but for the new, original roles that are coming your way, waiting for you to mark them with your personal branding iron.

I don’t mean to scare away any of the new students here tonight, but part of my job as a teacher is to make clear that middle class thinking and habits inhibit creativity. The artist is afraid to express himself from fear of being criticized or condemned. Starting as a child, the words don’t, watch out, don’t do that, be quiet, be careful, be still – these and countless other expressions ruled the child’s life and influenced his future. I’ve met innumerable actors in whom I can see a certain risky, wild creativity wanting to come out – but it’s been suppressed. Modesty and humility tend to rule the day. You know the derivation of humility, or humble? Lowly. Submissive. The ground. The dirt. These are not qualities very useful to an actor. Well, I can think of one or two who could use a bit of it…

A ripple of laughter from the class.

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

Dare to say that you have real genius in you. Dare to believe that in your personal thoughts and feelings lives a real artist worthy of self-expression and the world’s appreciation. 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. You all getting me?


MILTON: Good. Make sure you say hi to the new people – make them feel at home. Okay. (Turns to actors on stage:) So very nice of you to wait to do the scene. You’re pros, right? Alright. Let’s rock and roll.

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