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Acting Class: Take A Seat Excerpt from Acting Class: Take A Seat

by Milton Katselas

My Approach

Acting, Attitude, and Administration -- these are the broad areas of my teaching. Acting is of course the craft, the technique, the process by which you create your work. By Attitude I mean the viewpoint and feeling of the artist towards his life, towards himself and what he creates, towards his fellow artists and all of the people in his life. Administration -- this is the area where the actor, through specific choices and specific actions that are then carried out, puts this talent and attitude effectively into the world, and so moves his or her career forward. I believe that in order to create a complete actor, a real artist who can function well for the long haul in this business, each of these three areas, inextricably linked to one other, must be cooking. A long-term career is a constant dance between the three. Let me dive in a bit further on each:


When I was a young boy, my father said to me, "Know thyself." It sounds even better in Greek, and more imposing when you have a guy like my father standing over you as you hear it. I think acting affords you the best opportunity to know yourself. Acting is a noble and respected field of the arts, and in my opinion the most personal. It gives you the opportunity to understand your fellow man through the depiction and experience of living even a fraction of his life. There are essentially two ways actors go about this journey -- two different intentions: One is that of the poser, the indicator, the phony, and the other is that of the honest actor who tries in his or her own way to live the experience of the character. My approach is geared to the latter, toward helping that honest actor develop a very personal experience.


I've found over the years that attitude monitors talent, just as the aperture on a camera lens monitors light. A small aperture -- marked by attitudes like hostility, a chip on the shoulder, the monotonous whining sound of a victim, a spoiled "I don't wanna work" viewpoint -- allows very little of the light, namely, your talent, to come through. And so a negative attitude can very much affect your performances, your auditions, your relations with the people important to moving your acting career forward. But open up that lens with a good attitude -- enthusiastic, willing to learn, cooperative, charming, full of self-esteem -- this will affect every moment of your life, and let more of your acting talent come through. This is why you observe the phenomenon that actors who may not be the most talented in the world, but who have a great attitude, often can have very rewarding careers, while those with the most talent, but with a bad attitude, can become embittered and seemingly stuck.


An actor in tune with his administration is an effective, proactive artist who makes smart choices to enhance his career and its potential for development, as well as his very life, and sees to it that these choices are carried out. I believe the actor is the true manager, the true administrator of his or her career. Skilled and dedicated agents and managers can help along the way for sure, but my observation is that too many actors take a back seat when driving their own car. So once I have an actor on my hands who I believe does consistently good work, and whose attitude is aligned with that talent, my next question is: What choices are you making about your career, and are these choices moving it forward? Are you taking the actions you need to put your talent and your good attitude into the world? Do you write letters to directors whom you admire, congratulating them on their latest project, or keeping-in-touch notes to people you've auditioned for or worked with in the past?  Are you up to date on the tools for promoting yourself on the Internet? As I've written in my book Dreams Into Action, administration can also include having a clean, bright happy place to live, a real desk of your own where you can work, and handling your finances so you aren't stressed by that issue. It includes the actions you take in the real world to keep your attitude in check -- if you know a morning workout puts you in a better frame of mind for the day ahead, then that is part of your administration. "Admin," as it is referred to by my students, includes the scheduling of your busy life to ensure you make your rehearsals on time, getting enough sleep, doing well at your day jobs. It's knowing about fashion, looking good, not using drugs and alcohol, going to art galleries, deepening your knowledge as an artist and a person. All of these choices are just about being smart, doing the right thing for your life and your career. More artists have screwed themselves up by lack of administration than by lack of talent. Unlike composers, writers and painters, the actor cannot be discovered after he dies. So I want you all to be working actors now, and administration plays a key role.

So we have these three areas of work -- Acting, Attitude and Administration. I meet up against them in class every day. Over there is an actor full of hostility, a chip on his shoulder the size of Colorado, but I'll try to charm him, befriend him, get him to smile, and just talk to him about the acting. For him, I feel the answer is that personal connection, and the craft -- getting detailed and real with the work itself. Next to that guy is a young actress whose talent is unbelievable, but she's withdrawn and insecure, and if she could just lighten up and be more charming and believe in herself a bit more, the talent would explode -- and with her I do talk about that attitude issue. And behind her is the dark horse, the underdog, the one you would never think could be successful, but he quietly writes a great letter to a known director, gets a meeting from that, and lands a part -- he passes all the other students on the freeway from administration alone. That's how I did it.

But I don't want you to think the class itself is 33.3% Acting, 33.3% Attitude, and 33.3% Administration. The foremost emphasis is acting -- the development of the craft, the technique, the ability and creativity of the actor. I speak of attitude and administration only to facilitate and enhance the power of a skilled actor to do his or her work and get it out there into the world. All the attitude and administration in the world will be for naught if we don't have actors who know what they are doing. In the end, the craft, the work -- that's what's most important.

The above is an excerpt from the book Acting Class
by Milton Katselas

Published by Phoenix Books;  October 2008; 978-1597775922

Copyright © 2008 Milton Katselas