I am a firm believer that I learned nothing in my undergraduate Theatre program. Not one single thing. I didn’t go to a school that’s known for their acting expertise, so I’m not really holding them accountable for anything. The school did not cultivate an environment for learning, that suggested everyone who took classes, wanted to be a serious actor. The professors simply showcased students who came into the program talented and already polished.
My issue with the program is that they didn’t approach the entertainment world as a business. To me, that should be the foundation of your learnings. Ultimately being an actor is a job. Navigating the industry is just as important as learning breath technique. The problem with some tenured professors at the collegiate level is that they’re out of touch. They’ve either tried their hand at a failed acting career, or they haven’t been in the industry for some time, therefore their instruction is outdated.
When I looked for a new acting class in Los Angeles, “bang for my buck” meant a lot to me, due to not getting my monies worth at university. I needed to shop around for a class that I felt was the right fit for me. Here are some of the pertinent things I learned while doing this:
The Price Is High
I audited three schools in Los Angeles: The Howard Fine Acting School, Tasha Smith Acting Workshop, and The Beverly Hills Playhouse.
The Howard Fine Acting School: This school has several class offerings. They have an ongoing scene study class, a 9-week acting intensive, a 6-week acting intensive, an on camera acting class, speech and voice class, as well as intensives that can be anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Their few day intensives have a $250 dollar price tag for a few hours. Their ongoing scene study class does not have a price readily listed on their website, but you do need to have prerequisite classes under your belt to be enrolled in this exclusive program. One of the prerequisite classes is the 9-week intensive which will cost you $1,750 total.
Even though the prices have a pretty large range, you’ll end of dropping major cash to get the instruction you want. The school is said to be one of the best in all of Los Angeles, but the class itself seemed to be overpriced to me. The scene study class was just that; scene study. Howard focuses more on character, with little to no coaching if you will. He doesn’t approach his feedback as a director, but as a teacher. This was unattractive to me.
The particular class I audited had a lack of diversity, which validated my suspicion that they were trying to create an elitist class dynamic. The prices are high because they want to attract the serious actor, but they’re also high to keep people out. This felt crummy to me, so I voted no on this school.
Tasha Smith Acting Workshop: I was interested in auditing this school because Tasha is a famous working actor. She’s known for her work on Empire (alongside Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard), and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?. She’s been a guest star on: Nip/Tuck, The Parkers, Girlfriends, The Game, Meet The Browns, Star, and the list goes on. I felt it could be valuable to receive coaching from someone who is currently working successfully. Also, Tasha is a heavy weight when it comes to programming that is geared for Black audiences.
Right now, she’s only offering online classes due the pandemic. It is $295 a month for four classes. In person classes are more pricey, but those numbers are not listed. The catch for this school is that Tasha does not teach all of the classes. She also doesn’t teach most of the time. She drops into the advanced class, but you are more likely to be learning from a different instructor.
I passed on this school because her style of instruction was very direct. She had no inhibitions when it came to critiquing her students. I felt this would not work for me. A primary need for me is safety. If I’m going to be vulnerable and create art, I need an environment that welcomes failure. From failure, growth is born.
The Beverly Hills Playhouse: BHP evaluates each of their actor’s experience and then places them in a class. They have three different levels: Orientation, Intermediate, and Advanced. I was placed in the Intermediate class (Advanced students also require union status), and got the opportunity to audit. On the night that I audited they screened a short film made by one of the students. It was impressive to say the least. They also encouraged students to make professional booking announcements at the start of class. I liked that they emphasized real word application. The BHP is also a working theatre. They have a theatre company, a writer’s workshop, as well as a self tape room, and rehearsal space. All accessible to the students.
The startup fee was $400 for your first month. This includes the two books you need for class, and meets twice a week. It is $320 a month thereafter which is about $40 a class.
I really liked this school and although the pricing was still spendy, I felt like I was going to get the most out of my expenditure. Their school structure really suited my needs.
Class Sizes Are Big
It’s no secret that everyone in Los Angeles wants to be an actor. There are not many classes in LA, and the more reputable ones attract a lot of people. Class size is definitely a concern to me. Whatever school you choose, you should make sure that you get individualized attention. Here are a few types that help keep class sizes down:
Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced: Levels of difficulty definitely help narrow down who will be learning with you. A lot of people don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up, so the class size dwindles as time goes on. Auditioning into class levels is essential. If you have to work your way up to the scene study class, you’ll end up spending a lot more money.
Ongoing Class/Meets Multiple Times A Week: An ongoing schedule throughout the year with multiple nights a week helps to spread out students. My old class in San Diego met three times a week (four times during showcases) and was continuous. This meant that some nights were larger than others. It was also a rolling payment schedule. Paying per class also creates a variety of class size.
Classes That Meet During The Day: If you have the luxury of attending class while everyone is at work, you’re more than likely have a smaller class.
Most Classes Don’t Have An Audition Process
This is frustrating if you are not a novice actor. If you come from a performing arts school, or a 4 year program, it’s more beneficial to find a class where you can skip the Beginner class. You risk hearing the same information over and over again if you don’t. Other people may not agree with this. I personally needed a class that would meet me where I’m at, not try to teach me their technique from scratch. I was trying to avoid paying for instruction that I’ve already gotten.
It’s Difficult To Find An Industry Showcase
A showcase is helpful if you need representation, or want to be seen by casting agents. I was not able to find a class that had this added element in Los Angeles, but I know that they exist. Acting class is a valuable investment if your class has a sense of community. When I audited for BHP, their environment seemed to encourage a sense of community. Actors were helping their fellow actors. Through this community you have the potential of gaining a referral for representation. Plus, agents like an actor who is taking consistent classes.