Gearing up for your first acting lesson? Here, teacher Matthew H. explains what to expect at your first lesson, including some of the acting exercises you’ll likely do, and more…
So this is it. You’ve always wanted to act and made the first step in the right direction: taking acting lessons. While some celebrities have had incredible luck with “being discovered,” the vast majority of talented actors and actresses have extensive training, whether attending one of the top acting schools or conservatories, or having taken private lessons.
What can you expect at the first lesson? You may have had a small role in the ensemble of a high school musical or community theater production. You may have zero experience whatsoever and feel like you’re taking a bit of a risk with this investment for your future. Either way, you probably will be nervous and feeling somewhat vulnerable on the first day. That is a good thing! Regardless of the specific technique, acting is all about accessing different human emotions and relating to others based on shared experience. An actor is constantly putting himself or herself in vulnerable situations for an entire audience to see. Tap into that raw sensation and embrace it!
You might take a private lesson or feel more comfortable taking a group class. Regardless, you will be exposed to a bunch of different acting exercises and “games” that will seem awkward at first, but will gradually grow on you until you are not only comfortable with them, but looking forward to participating in them! An actor’s major tool is the body, and anyone interested in getting into acting will need to have complete control over everything their voice and body does. To do that, most lessons typically begin with physical exercises of some sort. You may spend some time working on breathing, such as how to properly take in a large quantity of air and use it to its fullest potential. This will aid in reducing anxiety and improving the quality of your speaking voice, which is vital in both stage and screen acting.
Next, you most likely will continue with a few minutes of stretching to loosen up your muscles. Since almost all plays, musicals, movies, and TV shows (unless you are playing a character in a coma on a soap opera) require movement, you have to be very aware of how your body works. Leg stretches, shoulder rolls, and maybe even some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing will make an appearance. The goal is to eliminate any tension your body is holding onto as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to easily engage when on stage.
Now, we enter into the more “awkward” aspects of a lesson: preparation exercises and improvisation. Acting exercises and theater games such as “zip zap zop” keep actors (in a group setting) on their toes as they have to maintain their focus and attention. While the activity may seem ridiculous at first (shouting nonsense words while making unusual gestures), this leads you develop basic acting skills such as the famous “living in the moment.” Additionally, improv games (anything from “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) will keep you on your toes as you further fine-tune important skills like paying attention, maintaining eye contact, and working together while you start to develop and craft characters, however profound they may or may not be.
Eventually, the more lessons you attend and the more advanced you become, you will tackle monologues, scenes, and perhaps even put on a full-length performance to help gain experience on your quest to getting into acting. Depending on your level and particular needs, you may venture into audition preparation and go over ways to carry yourself and present a headshot, in addition to nailing cold readings. The best teacher is real-world experience, and acting lessons will provide you with what you need to make the most out of those experiences!
Matthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here!
Photo by vancouverfilmschool