Not all people working as actors in film, television or theatre are professionally trained. Chances of succeeding as an actor are greatly enhanced by studying drama at a university or college, or acting classes in studios or conservatories. Conservatories typically offer two to four year training on all aspects of acting. Universities will offer three to four year programs, where a student can choose to focus on acting, while still learning about other aspects of theatre.
Schools will vary in their approach, but in North America the most popular method taught is the “inside out” technique, developed by Stanislavski in his early years and popularized in America by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. Others may include a more physical approach, following the teachings of Jerzy Grotowski and others. Regardless of a school’s approach, students should expect intensive training in textual interpretation, voice and movement. Applications to drama programs and conservatories are through auditions in the United States. Anybody over the age of 18 can usually apply to drama school.
Two friends of mine that I grew up with in Santa Barbara, Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards, both joined the Santa Barbara Youth Theatre Group while in middle school. Then they started doing ABC “After School Specials” and commercials. They both dropped out of the University of Southern California their first year to go study with the late acting coach Peggy Fuery in Los Angeles. Now they are very successful professional actors.
When I was first hired on General Hospital, I did not have one single bit of acting experience. I went along with a friend who was auditioning for GH, and I helped him with his lines in the casting office, as he had only received the sides (pages from the script) that morning from his agent. The associate casting director noticed me and asked me if I was an actor. I said that I had always wanted to act, but never did. He said I was very good reading those lines and I ended up working on the show for 8 months as a recurring role.
My acting coach, Cliff Osmond, told me once that a student came walking into one of his classes and had such a huge level of confidence, that everyone in the room looked up and noticed it. He was not cocky, but was just so confident in himself and who he was, that when he was performing a scene, he was a true “natural”. This guy took 3 weeks of acting lessons and then landed a contract role on a tv show. He is now a huge celebrity actor. But Cliff told me he has seen that happen only twice in his career as an acting teacher.
So don’t fool yourself into believing that you are one of those rare people. Just go with the odds and study study, perform, practice, and study some more. Why wouldn’t you want an edge on the competition when you are getting that rare audition before a great casting director for a great role in a great film? Those doors do NOT open very often, so BE PREPARED for when God (or whatever you want to call that “greater power that be”) gives you that chance!! There is no worse feeling in the whole world as when you go in and audition for something really big, and all the casting director says is, “thank you”. And you walk out the door and realize that you just stunk up the joint. I have been there and done that. You DO NOT want to go there. The casting directors remember those stinky auditions and you end up burning bridges.
I eventually got smart and took acting lessons, cold-reading workshops, private coaching. And finally when I was in my late 20’s I finally became a “successful” actor. So just skip all of that trial-and-error crap and just learn as much as you can before you get those chances to audition for big roles. You can’t go wrong, and you will have that special extra edge on the competition.