Running an acting class for adults comes with it’s own unique challenges. Adults have baggage that kids don’t have. And that’s perfectly normal. Some adult students I have taught want to tell you everything about themselves. Others don’t want to share anything at all, they just want to act. The only problem is acting is sharing.
So, how do you gain the trust of your adult students? And more importantly, how do you get them to trust each other? Here are the three golden rules I swear by when I am running an acting class for adults.
Gain your students trust
The most important element to being a good acting teacher, for any age group, is gaining the trust of your students. With kids you just need a commanding voice, and a good sense of humour. With teens it’s more about what films or television work you’ve done, and having a good sense of humour. With adults it’s much more complicated.
Gaining the trust of your adult students is much more of a two way street. You need to share parts of yourself with them before they will share with you. Whenever I start a new course with adult students I will always introduce myself, tell them about my career so far, tell them why I love acting, and why I am teaching acting. I understand this is daunting, especially if you are insecure about your own authority. I guarantee your class will be more open and honest with you, if they know you’re in it for the right reasons.
“In fact, breaking the rules of an acting game without telling anyone is a great way to encourage the rebellious side of your students.“
After you have opened up about the highs and lows of your interest in acting, now it’s your students turn. I try not to turn the spotlight directly onto one student too quickly. Ask everybody to start with their names. Then play an acting game focussed on remembering everyone’s names. This will make your students laugh, get their breath moving, and relax.
Now it’s time for each of your students to share what brought them to the group. For some students it will be for social reasons, for some students it’s about trying something new. Whatever your students say try your best to remain impartial and non judgemental, open and receptive. Once you know what brought your students to the class, find out what they hope to gain from the class. What are their goals? What are their dreams? Again, stay open and listen closely. Empathy is king when gaining the trust of adults acting students.
By this stage your students will be starting to trust you and each other. So, how do we maintain that trust while asking students to step outside their comfort zone?
Warm up, but keep it chill.
Throwing your students into space jump and saturating them with fun and games sounds great to an experienced acting teacher, but to a new actor it’s terrifying. Warming up the mind, body, and imagination is essential to a positive and productive acting class, but you have to ease into it.
The best way to get your students to open up in an acting game is to make a mistake yourself. Always remember there is no perfect way to play acting games. Stay safe of course, but don’t stick to the rules if you don’t want to. In fact, breaking the rules of an acting game without telling anyone is a great way to encourage the rebellious side of your students.
Once you’ve warmed up a little bit, jump straight onto some text. While your students are still puffing and laughing from the games, get them onto text. Throw a script in everyone’s hand and tell everyone to read their script out loud at the same time as everyone else. Acting without any expectation of quality is essential to creating a positive environment in your class. Remember, acting games always relate back to the craft of acting. They are all about giving and receiving, listening and responding. If you want all of your students to achieve their goals, try and encourage co-operation over individual brilliance; especially in the warm up.
So your students trust you and each other, and they are acting in the games and on script, what’s next?
Demonstrate your work flow and set expectations
Adults will always have an excuse for not doing their homework, so it’s important to set clear expectations. In my experience those expectations are best when set according to a clearly defined work flow. For example, I care less about a student’s ability to learn lines than I do about their ability to break down a scene. So, my students know that if they are time poor, the first thing they have to do is break down the scene, then learn their lines if they have time.
The best way to set these expectations is to demonstrate your workflow. In the first two or three classes I will take a piece of text or a scene and break it down with my group. We will read the work together, ask each other questions about the characters, their needs, their fears. I will take every opportunity to explain an acting concept wherever it’s relevant. I repeat, when it’s relevant.
There’s no point overloading new students with theoretical methods of acting if they can’t see how it relates to a scene. One of my teachers once said “Acting methods are tools to overcome problems in a scene, if the scene is working you don’t need to fix it.”. In other words instinct is just as valuable as technique.
Now your students know how you work and what you expect from them in each class. It’s practical, it’s real, and most importantly it’s fun.