It's an old chestnut: "You can't teach acting - you either have it, or you don't! You don't need to go to acting school to become an actor!"
Have you heard this one? It implies the ability to act well is a gift, something natural, something unique to some individuals, and absent from others. And, above all, "you can't teach it, and you certainly can't learn it".
But does this theory really hold water?
A simple google search will turn up lists like "Seven Actors Who Never Went To Acting School" or Youtube videos chronicling the "big breaks" in movies of pretty young women spotted by talent scouts as teenagers.
It's true - they're out there, and some of these actors have done very well for themselves.
But the reality is, most successful actors aren't spotted by talent scouts at age 13. They have to work for it - they study their craft, they put themselves out there, they audition for roles, and they work hard.
But even an actor who doesn't have a qualification in acting, but who somehow scored a role in a big production, usually gets some on-the-job training at one time or another. Vocal coaches, accent coaches, and even stage combat coaches and personal trainers, are brought in on major projects to help improve actors' performances. That's actor education - structured actor training - just in the workplace, rather than in a school.
Private tuition and one-on-one coaching for auditions are also services that top-name actors use when working towards a big role. From time to time, talent agents or managers also recommend ways for actors on their books to upskill. Even the very act of working with a director can be a form of coaching.
Not only that, but working actors have the opportunity to discuss the process of acting with other actors they meet on their projects. The learning is constant. It's like any other profession, where two people from the same field come together, professional dialogue takes place. You quiz your peers about what works for them, what technique they use, and their creative process. This helps inform your own work. So there's definitely something to teach, and something to learn.
Similarly, if you live in Los Angeles, where many actors get their big break, there's a culture of attending acting classes. Drop-in acting classes are available everywhere around the city. You attend to develop your skills, meet like-minded individuals, and make important contacts. So be aware that when you read the Wikipedia entries about big-name actors, it may not mention the many drop-in classes they did en route to stardom. These biographical summaries are more likely to mention if an actor did go to a particular university or acting academy, than if they did actor training via workshops, short courses, and private tuition at several different outlets. Overall, it's highly likely that successful actors without a degree have still accessed some form of actor training program throughout the years. To say they're "training-free" is probably erroneous.
So "on-the-job training" is not the only route to becoming an actor. The fact remains that there are many distinguished and respected academies teaching acting - even universities. So to say that there's "nothing to teach" or "nothing to learn" at acting school flies in the face of the evidence. Either these institutions have been fooling us for a long time... or there's something in it. Training at an acting school is an efficient way to gather the skills and knowledge needed to become an actor.
For every actor who didn't go to acting school, there are many thousands who did, and who have achieved as much, or more. Here are just some well-known actors currently working in the industry who have had actor training:
Why Go To Acting School?
Here are some of the benefits of going to acting school, if you want to become a professional actor:
From my experience of many years in the actor training business, you don't need to have a special "it" to become an actor. I have seen people who were very meek and unassuming at their drama school audition become amazing actors, through training. It takes time to become good at something - and more time to excel. Acting is no different.
Sometimes people develop more charisma than they originally had through the process of actor training - and that's a huge asset. Was that something they were born with? I'd say it's something they developed. The skills of an actor can be learned. Actor training can unlock and release the actor within.
Sure, the skills may come easier to some than others. But for all actors it requires work, thought, and process to become the kind of actor who can take on any role. Acting is a job, a profession, a craft and an art form. Like any job, there are methods, processes and techniques involved.
The field of acting is in fact a huge field of endeavour - with a history of many different practitioners, theorists, and even gurus. The more you know about these people and their ideas, the more you'll have in your toolkit as an actor. Go to a quality acting school, and you'll hear all about them.
So next time you hear someone say, "You can't teach acting - you either have it or you don't", you can sigh once more... and point them to this blog!
These blog posts are written by Perform Australia staff.