Outside of a formal setting, how does an actor continue to grow?
By Douglas Byrne (Ocassional Actor)
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice."
All sports, all art forms, anything involving skill requires practice. No matter how accomplished a musician may be, he still practices his scales and has exercises to keep his singing sharp. My old voice teacher used to say, “If you miss one day of class, you notice it. If you miss two days, the critics notice it. If you miss three days, the audience notices it.“ I’m sure that was stolen from somebody else, but I felt it to be true. I never missed a class.
In theatre, practice is somewhat nebulous. In a school or a training program you are taking classes and practicing daily. Exercising your voice, body, improvisation skills, scene work, text analysis skills, and practicing working with many types of people. Because theatre is a social art form there are few things that you can do on your own to practice that will make you a better actor. Yes, keeping your body fit, vocal exercises, practicing monologues and reading plays can be done alone but it’s often hard to measure without the feedback from an observer. How do you quantify your progress?
As a singer and theatre actor eleven-plus years out of school, I am finding myself lost without a set practice regimen. Even though I have had years of training, get me alone in a studio and I don’t know what to do. I am willing to practice but don’t know how. There is nobody to hold me accountable, push me, encourage me, or even to let me know if it’s working. (I'm an actor. I’m insecure; I need that feedback.)
I often perform in established (pre-written) musicals. I am regularly rehearsing or performing, but do not always use all my skill sets. Sure, I learn something about myself as a performer through rehearsal and performance but the rehearsal ultimately serves the play and not always my own artistic improvement. Time is short, we need to produce an end product, there is little room for exploration, risk or failure.
There are not a lot of training opportunities for actors in the Twin Cities, but I have managed to take workshops with master teachers and others to keep my skills fresh. Many of these experiences have been great in the short-term, but after that intensive couple of weeks or hours, I don’t feel I can walk away with anything to go home and DO regularly. My brief recharge slumps and, if I’m lucky, gets incorporated into a few techniques I use when in rehearsal or prepping for an audition. It could be so much more if only for practice.
So I am attempting to do just that. Even if I am alone, I have made it a priority to practice, work up a theatrical sweat and sit in the uncomfortable place of the unknown.
How can I explore the creation process? How can I try new ideas? How can I pound away at the same problem until that “eureka” moment happens?