Stephen Singer: Staying In Class

Doug GoldringCommunity

Why am I still taking acting classes at this point in my life? After a long career edging towards 50 years? I am talking specifically about taking class at TBG, with Seth Barrish and Lee Brock, though I have trained in other techniques along the way.

The following is an excerpt from Sanford Meisner on acting classes:

 “Actors are in class to experiment – to grow.

We create an atmosphere of trust, in the classroom – a place where trial and error is not only acceptable, but we believe that if you aren’t making mistakes you simply aren’t trying hard enough. You see, when you’re performing for a camera or an audience, it’s got to work. You make choices that are going to allow you, as an actor, to deliver the goods when the director says “Action.” However, if you do nothing but perform, then you are stuck with what you already know works. You can’t take a chance and push your limits in the workplace, because you’re not sure you’ll be able to deliver the goods when the cameras are rolling.

This is where class comes in. Class gives you something you never get in performance – the opportunity to fail. To go out on a tightrope saying, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but I’d like to try it.” Perhaps it’s a disaster, but no worries. There’s no audience in the classroom – just a sympathetic teacher and fellow students who are falling off tightropes as often as you are. You get the opportunity to expand your comfort zone, and thereby expand your artistry.”

My acting career, like most, has been erratic. Work for long stretches, then not work for long stretches. Those long stretches of not working can have the effect of losing one’s confidence, of losing the edge that working in front of a camera or on stage in front of an audience can provide, or creating a feeling of sheer terror if a job does happen to come along. The cure for all of the preceding issues is…acting classes.

In a class, one is working in front of people, continually learning lines, receiving feedback and support from fellow classmates. Also, one is afforded the opportunity to take risks, to fail, or fall on one’s face. Acting class is a place for trying characters with new dialects, different backgrounds, different physicalities. All of this helps an actor grow.

It can feel risky, but it’s fun, and in many cases a departure from the pitfalls of type-casting. Class is also a venue where friendships are formed, and info and insights on the happenings in the industry can be disseminated and shared. Also, as we all know, the competition in this business can be fierce, so building and maintaining one’s craft can help to be competitive and stand out.

I am always amazed, even after all of these years studying and teaching The Barrow Group’s approach, at how quickly we get to things with the mention of a tool or adjustment. Most rehearsals in my experience outside of The Barrow Group are slow, plodding, non-productive for long stretches, and, in many cases, boring. At TBG, we get to the fun of things in a flash. The work is freeing, surprising, and real. This is what I have been honing and practicing in class all these years.

Recently, I worked on a high-profile film, that, had I not been working on scenes in class, may have caused a great deal of anxiety. I went into the shoot feeling confident of my craft. I was ready. Films have been evolving, getting closer and closer to reality (verisimilitude,) and I find that TBG has the perfect technique to achieve this. Shooting the movie, I was able to be relaxed, free, and creative, to find all kinds of nuance AND have fun – in so few takes.

Directors appreciate that kind of proactivity. We find things that the director may not have even thought of. It’s nice not to have the director constantly coming up to you after a take giving you notes.  You become one less thing they have to worry about. Funny, I used to think that if a director said nothing to me, I was doing badly. Not true…

I often heard as I was growing up in the business that acting classes were only for people who couldn’t get to or were afraid to work on the stage or in film, that you were what was known as a “classroom actor.” Well, I’m not sure where I would have been in my career as an actor without the ability to attend classes.

Shout out to Seth and Lee for their astute mentoring over the years…

Look Ma, I’m still growing…

– Stephen

Upcoming classes with Stephen include Professional Film/TV Acting Class I: The Tools starting 4/9 and Professional Film/TV Acting Class II: On-Going starting 5/21.

Check out TBG’s full schedule of classes, including Youth classes, camps, and intensives!