How Much Training Do You Need as an Actor?
The minimum amount of time in-training that an astronaut needs to do is ten years. Don’t worry, you haven’t opened the wrong web-page. We’re here to talk about your career as an actor, and more specifically the training you need to do as an actor. An astronaut must spend a decade in training, before they are able to move into the advanced field which will equip them with the skills necessary for a mission in space. To become an actor, or to continue developing as an actor, there is a less tangible timeline or pathway which will lead you to achieving your goals. Every actor has a different story, every actor has a different background or style of training which suited them best. So, in regards to your question, “How much training do you need as an actor” I don’t have an answer for you. I have three: None, some and a never-ending amount. Because there is no single pathway for us as actors, we need to look at the various ways actors in the past have prepared themselves so we are able to decide how we would like to shape our own careers.
Let’s begin with a blank canvas.
How Much Training Do You Need as an Actor?
Unlike becoming an astronaut, acting is not rocket-science. Now, I say that as a person who loves acting, and has spent the better part of the last decade training to become a better actor. Without seeking to diminish the potential significance and power of storytelling and acting, I can safely and honestly say that you do not need to train to act. Like all artistic pursuits, there is nothing stopping you from writing a short script, grabbing your camera-phone and a friend and doing some acting, today, right now. And I think you should do this, particularly if you’re at the beginning of your career.
What’s more, many of the most well known and successful actors in the world have either had little-to-no formal training as an actor, have suffered multiple rejections at the hands of actor-training institutions or have approached their careers as actors from an unorthodox angle. There is nothing right or wrong about any of these methods, they and just what suited each individual best. Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Mathew McConaughey and Natalie Portman all share at least these two things in common: extensive successful careers as actors and atypical approaches to gaining experience and training as actors.
Learning on the Job
If formal training is the thing preventing you from feeling you are able to act, put those feelings aside. There is no use in people not acting just because they haven’t spent three years training at an institution. The art form would perish under the weight of it’s own elitism if this were the case. There is a tremendous amount to be learned from experiencing acting in any setting. Getting on set as an extra or a small role will teach you an immense amount about what goes into making a film and the role an actor must play. It will teach you what is required of the actor, both in skills and in conduct, for you to be able to process later and decide for yourself what the areas are which you need to work on.
The same goes if you wish to work in the theatre as an actor. Plenty of actor-friends of mine began their careers working as ushers, collecting tickets and watching shows every night of the week. Though they were not acting themselves, they were submerged in constant analysis of what makes for a good performance, and how the actor is able to give their performance with the same commitment and energy night after night.
There are pros and cons to every approach to your career as an actor. The benefits of relieving yourself of the obligation of seeking formal training before trying to work as an actor is that you are able to start now. There is nothing in your way from finding scripts, beginning to build your network and community of actors and starting the process of figuring things out for yourself. Additionally, treading your own path in training as an actor can bring a certain uniqueness and individuality to your work. There is a risk inherent with formal training in that you are being told day after day what qualities make for a good actor, and what you”should” be doing. This occasionally results in a graduating class of actors with very similar styles of performance and little originality and vitality. By seeking your own understanding of the craft of acting, you may be able to bypass this risk. In developing yourself in your own way, you may be able to bring a certain quality to your work which stands apart from the pack of actors auditioning for the same roles as you.
There are limitations to this approach, too. Avoiding formal training and treading your own path places all of the responsibility of the development of your craft on your shoulders. It means you must commit extra work to discovering the various skills, practises and techniques which make for a good actor before learning them. This additional workload may ultimately be a deterrent for you to continue learning and make the task of becoming an actor seem insurmountable.
Deciding not to train traditionally as an actor is a bold choice, which may see you succeeding in your career and discovering alternate ways of approaching characters and performance. Unfortunately what is more likely is that it will limit your ability to grow and thrive as an actor, and you will only be able to reinforce the habits and beliefs you already possess about what makes for a good performance, rather than expanding the horizons of what is possible to do as an actor. Let’s talk now about pursuing at least a little bit of training as an actor.
I’ve mentioned the ‘atypical’ approaches to acting training: gaining experience or calling upon other skill sets gathered in your lifetime, so what makes for a ‘typical’ approach? If you were to ask an actor today your question, “how much training do you need as an actor” 9 out of 10 of them would tell you the following: “Go to drama school.” Drama school is an acting based education institution where you can go to do short courses or longer full time courses to gather the skills and experience you need to work effectively as an actor in the industry. This was my approach to training in my career. This is the approach taken by most of my friends in this industry, and it remains as the most reliable method of training to become an actor.
One of the primary benefits of attending an acting institution is you will be taught many things about the skill sets required of an actor you did not realise you needed. Most full-time acting courses go for 2-3 years. That time can’t just be spent ‘doing acting’ – rehearsing scenes and plays ect. There’s got to be more to it than that. Trust me, there is. At drama school you learn that as a performer you are both the instrument and the person playing. This means you need to train as both an instrument and a performer. To extend upon this musical metaphor: you must ‘tune’ your voice and body to be able to play the piece you are performing, and you must also train your mind to be able to learn the performance and all the components within it.
In my first year of drama school, only 10-15% of our time was spent working on and acting traditional scenes from plus or films. The rest of the time was spent working on our voice, (developing the musculature of speech to be able to build resonance, articulation and accent) our body, (developing physical strength and dexterity to be able to use our bodies to enhance our storytelling abilities and adopt a wide range of characters) and working as an ensemble, (devising work and working together in groups to learn and understand the importance of connection with other humans when it comes to successful performance).
It is these elements of training as an actor which make the experience invaluable. Training in an institution provides you with perspectives on acting which can only come from the lived experience of the people teaching it. You learn and understand who’s shoulders you’re standing on as an actor. The same goes for working in an ensemble. At drama school you’re thrown into the deep end with a group of other people working towards developing their craft. By being in the same boat as these people you are able to learn from each other, challenge and be challenged by each other. Watching a fellow actor have a golden breakthrough moment in training is wonderful both for the actor experiencing the breakthrough and all of those actors witnessing it, for they have been privy to the process the actor went through to achieve their breakthrough.
“So You’re Saying I Should Go to Drama School?”
I can hear you over there, on the other side of the screen. You went searching for this article to be given a straight answer for what you should do – how much acting training you should get. I’m still not going to provide a single answer to you, for I really do believe there is no single fool-proof approach to training as an actor. I’ve seen actors do three full time acting courses (7+ years of their life!) and achieve no tangible success as an actor. I’ve also watched actors in big-budget professional feature films who were picked up off the street for their uniqueness and individuality. There’s no guaranteed approach to it, but you do have the ability to maximise your chances of success.
Attending a drama school remains as the most effective way to train as an actor. So, yeah. If you’re looking for a single answer takeaway from this article it would be that. If you’re serious about this, if acting is really the thing you yearn and live for, you should seriously consider going to drama school. I’ve also written an article about ‘how to get the most out of your training’ which I think you should read, too. This is due to the fact that going to one of these schools is only the first step. You actually need to show up and attack your training with the same vigour and commitment as you would if you were to seek your own methods of training as an actor.
Full time drama school occupies 2-3 years of your life, and that may be of concern to you. I understand your concerns, but I can assure you that in the majority of cases, what you can learn whilst submerged in an institution for 2-3 years will be worth double that time spent trying to train and gain experience in the industry itself. If you’re serious about the craft of acting, you’re best off treating it with respect. You might not be training to be an astronaut, but by training as an actor you are acknowledging the work done by those who have come before you and you put yourself in a position where you are able to build upon that work, rather than starting from scratch.
A Never Ending Amount
The crux of this whole conversation comes down to this fact: as an actor, you should never stop training. Acting is a craft, after all, and in the same way you would expect a violinist to continually train to get better, so too should you be willing to continually develop your craft as an actor. There is always work to be done, and there are always avenues to take to keep learning. Whether it’s screen-acting classes, improv classes, voice or accent classes, martial arts, horse riding or learning an instrument, there is no amount of training you can do which will ever be enough. This shouldn’t be daunting, this should be exciting! As an actor you get to experience the lives of many others, not just your own. By this logic, you should never get bored by your training as an actor. There will always be something new to learn, discover or explore. This is one of the greatest privileges of our chosen profession.
Many of the most successful actors I know will oscillate between professional work and acting classes. They are always working at a professional level yet they chose to go ‘back to drama school’ time and time again. This is the secret to their success. One of my favourite quotes is, “It is impossible for a person to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus. This is true when it comes to an actor’s training. As soon as the actor stops training, as soon as they decide they know all there is to know about the craft, they are no longer in a position where they are able to learn, grow and develop. The best actors are continually growing and developing, and committing to developing yourself as an actor through training is going to see you having a far more fulfilling career than pursuing success alone.
How Much Training Do You Need as an Actor?
Let me wrap up this conversation by rephrasing your question and passing it back to you: “How much training do you need as an actor?” or from your perspective, “How much training do I need as an actor?”
There are many pathways we can take to become an actor and build our careers. Some choose a pathway of minimal formal training and seek only experience and development from working as an actor. This has brought some actors success, and this has limited the potential of others. Many actors choose to pursue formal training. This has led some actors to great heights of success and fame, and this has limited the potential of others. By far and large the actors who continually work and get better are those who train endlessly. They are the ones who bring new life to each of their performances, they are the ones who reach the greatest heights of success and fulfilment.
So consider the question I have posed to you. How much training do you need to become the actor that you want to be? This pursuit, this career, isn’t about anyone else. It’s about you, and you need to do it the way you want to do it. And remember, though each pathway may be seperate, there’s no reason why you can’t cut through the woods at any given point to start on a different pathway. Just because you’ve chosen not to pursue formal training doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind, and vice versa.
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