Kim Tobin Acting Studio Houston, TX

Professional Training for the Serious Performer

Frequently Asked Questions

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What should you be looking for when you research acting teachers?

It is very important to know exactly what you are getting when you sign up with a particular teacher or training institution. If you do not do your homework you can end up paying a lot of money for advise and instruction that is not based in any type of established method or approach and then find that when you try to enter the entertainment work force you do not have the necessary skills to work successfully as an actor.  This part of my website is dedicated to helping you understand what questions to ask and what to look for in an acting teacher.  

First let me say that there is a short list of teachers whose approach and technique of acting training are considered established, proven methods of creating the work.  This is important in that when you approach an acting coach you should always ask them what school of thought they teach, what their own training entailed and who they studied with.  Before I go into what I will call my “red flag” area, let me list for you the teachers whose methods you will want to know and train in if possible, when you are developing your craft.  Look for teachers whose training has involved work or study in the methodology of Constantin Stanislavski, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Lee Strasberg, and Sanford Meisner.  These are the standard “classic” teachers whose approaches have been accepted as the most established and proven methods of acting.  Do your research before you interview a teacher.  Know some basic facts about what these teachers thought and taught.  Don’t be afraid to directly ask a teacher candidate to tell you what they know about any of these teachers’ approaches to acting.  If they are unfamiliar with these names I would consider that a bad sign.  Now there are a number of reputable teachers who studied with these people or under others who studied directly with these people.  A few names I am familiar with who are great teachers are: Larry Moss, Ivana Chubbuck, Sandy Marshall, Seth Barrish, Terry Schreiber, David Mamet.  There is a long list of good instructors out there and you will have to research anyone who you speak to and find out more about them.    

That is the most important question you can ask a prospective teacher – who did you study with and where did you study?  If they answer with any of the following educational institutions then you know their training included all these techniques, brought to them by people who actually studied them with the originators of the approaches or with direct teaching descendants of the great classic teachers.  The following schools will let you know your prospective teacher is highly qualified.

Recommended Programs
Actor’s Studio/New School American Conservatory Theater, American Repertory Theater, California Institute of the Arts, Columbia University, Herbert Berghof Studios, Julliard School, The Neighborhood Playhouse, New Actor’s Workshop, New York University, Northwestern University, Stella Adler Conservatory – New York, University of Illinois-Urbana, University of Washington, University of Houston, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Yale University, ACT in San Francisco, RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), The Barrow Group, Circle in the Square, HEB Studios, The Gene Frankel Studio, Actors Theatre of Louisville, San Diego Globe Atlantic Acting School, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Carnegie Mellon.

I am sure I am leaving some great programs off this list but this is a good start.  This is only a list of what I know.  There are obviously other places to study with great programs that I have not listed.  I can only speak about what I know and have researched myself.   If someone gives you a name not included in this list go to the University’s website and research their theatre department and find out who is training their actors and what their experience is. 

What you are hoping to find here in Houston is an acting coach who has lived, worked and studied in New York or Los Angeles with protégé’s of the great acting teachers above.  When you are interviewing a teacher candidate ask them to give you their methodology and where they developed it from.  If they cannot answer that questions specifically and clearly and do not know the basic information about the approaches of the great teachers above then they are not selling you actor training they are selling you actor impersonation skills.  I like to use the following metaphor in describing what a poor acting teacher is doing; anyone can spend a few weeks with you practicing and rehearsing how you should act, speak and look if you go into an accounting job interview.  They can instruct you in the “jargon” you should use to sell yourself and make yourself sound professional and skilled in that profession.  You can be taught to “sell” yourself in such a manner that you will eventually land an accounting job based on the interview alone.  BUT, once you get the job and you sit down at the desk – if you have not been taught how to do the “math” you can’t do the job.  You are looking for an acting teacher who can do the “math,” and subsequently teach you to do the “math.”  Because after all, if you show up on a set, or at a theatre and cannot take whatever adjustment the director tells you and turn it into an action and perform the product they are looking for, you will be fired - no matter how charming and qualified you appeared in the interview.

All that being said, I am going to give you a set of questions you should ask teachers you are considering working with.  You should write down their answers and go home and check their answers.  Because remember the metaphor above – if their strength is in teaching you how to “sell” yourself without any real skill, then they can probably do it for themselves as acting coaches.  I have provided some links on my methodology page which will direct you to information about the teachers I have listed above and their approaches.  I have also included information about some of the most prominent teachers who studied with the greats and what they are doing to pass it on, and what their approaches are.  Immediately following the suggested question section I am including my “red flag” section which is some things you should recognize as signs that you are dealing with someone is under qualified.  Please note that these are my opinions and are based on the last fifteen years that I been a working actor, constantly training and/or teaching in both New York and Los Angeles and now here in Houston. 

Questions you should ask anyone you are considering training with.
  • Where did you study and with whom?  What is the method or approach you take to acting?
  • What acting work have you done?  Have you worked in all three mediums – stage/film/TV?
  • How do you approach script analysis?  What do you think is the most important part of script analysis and how do you teach it?
  • What is your definition of character work?  How do you teach character development?
  • What is the approach you teach an actor to use when breaking down a scene?
  • What is your definition of what it means to “act?”
  • What tools do you use to help an actor get to the emotional place they need to be in any given scene?
  • How did you get started in the business?
  • What do you hope a student leaves your class with?
  • Can you provide me with references from both students and industry professionals?

They should be able to answer these questions easily and specifically.  If they give you general answers that do not include applicable tools then they can not give instruction in a class that is based in action and things the actor can do to tackle and fix a problem.

Red Flags to look out for in interviewing a potential acting teacher.
  • If a teacher has never studied with anyone who has actually trained with one of the great teachers, or those who trained directly with them – then they are teaching what they think, not what they have actually done.
  • If they have never performed in the theatre or been trained in the theatre.  This is not an absolute as a bad thing, BUT – it tends to put them in the category of the “can teach you to get through the accounting interview but can’t teach you the math.”
  • Any one who does not tell you that you need to be going to as much theatre as you can to watch actors work.  The reason theatre is vital is because it is live acting – not canned like film.  Film is a director’s medium and what you see on the screen could be the 40th take, or adjusted in such a way that it is not a great representation of the actual performance in the studio. 
  • If a teacher will not let you audit a class to see if you like it (watch and not participate). 
  • A teacher who makes it a point to notify everyone whenever someone they have worked with at some point is “famous” or getting awards etc. as a way of trying to gather more students.  The actor should be crediting the teacher (if they are so inclined) - not the teacher using the actors accomplishments to credit themselves.  Someone who is trying to establish themselves above others through the accomplishments of their students tends to not have the background or training in the field to sell their services through their knowledge.
  • If a teacher guarantee’s that if you study with them you will book work in any field.  There are a lot of factors that go into booking work on TV and Film.

These are a few of the things that might tip you off to do a little more research about your prospective teacher.  A teacher should always be able to provide you with past student references as well as references from professionals in the business.

This is only a beginning set of ideas to help you start your search.  If things come up I have not covered and if you want to talk to me directly you can e-mail me and I will get back to you.

What is the difference between Film Acting and Stage Acting?

First of all let me demystify this question by saying – NOTHING!

There is no difference between acting for film and acting for stage!  There are differences in some technical aspects of performance for the stage and performance for the camera.  BUT ACTING IS ACTING!!!  Understanding how to be invested in a characters journey in a story and what steps it takes to make that journey real and personal for you, and what you need to do in order to make a series of choices that are active and result in dramatic action between yourself and the other actors is acting – not film acting or stage acting – ACTING. 

But if we were to break it down generally..

  STAGE FILM

 

Obvious differences in performance aspects:

Projection

On the Stage you need to deal with vocal projection depending on different venue sizes.  You also will be presented with some physical projection issues in very large venues. 

On film vocal and physical projection are obviously not an issue.

Continuity of Story

The story is played out in one long continuous segment and you do not get the luxury of a re-take if you get it wrong or just want another shot at it.

Often a story is shot out of sequence.  You also get additional opportunities to get the right “take” on a particular piece of material.  If the director thinks you “did not emotionally bring it.” He/she can tell you to get more of “whatever emotion” they want, give you 15 minutes to go prepare, and you get another shot at it.  You have the luxury in film of only having to prepare small segments at a time.  BUT, also the handicap of not having the momentum of the bulk of a story having built up behind you when the climax arrives.  Also, if the director does not like what you did they can cut you or use the shot from another character’s point of view.

Environment Differences

On stage once you and the other actors enter the playing area, it is just you out there with the other actors and the audience so just the members of the play and the audience inhabit your world once the play begins.

You deal with a large amount of technical crew and materials when you shoot a film, that are in the world of your play.  Part of your story is interrupted constantly by people and objects in your sight line that do not belong in the world of your play so your focus must be very narrow and sharp to exclude them.  You also have a great deal of technical language that is involved in shooting that if you take a film class you will learn (i.e. action, rolling, cut, that’s a wrap, etc.).  You will also need to learn about hitting your marks and what is in a camera’s “shot” and what is not.  If you are interested in working in film I always advise my students to do some extra work and pay close attention to all the technical aspects of what happens around them and watch the shooting of the leads and main action if they are permitted when they are not involved in shots.  You will also spend a lot of time sitting around between shots.  You may shoot 3 pages of text for 10 minutes and then spent 2 hours waiting for the next shot to be ready to go. 

 

Not So Obvious Differences:

Reading Emotions

Emotional information about exchanges between people/characters is fairly broad and generally follows a path that expects the audience to do some of the work and hopefully make decisions on their own and have some varying opinions and interpretations of their own on stage.  Some nights fight scenes will reach higher climaxes then others and emotions can be slightly different etc.

The camera see’s things very specifically so the director and the audience will interpret your emotional life in a film much more specifically.  If you are “empty” it will show.  You cannot be casual or disinterested, your lack of preparation and your lack of feeling will be extremely evident to the camera.  A director may want an exact emotion at an exact moment on film.  Even more interesting, a poor choice or wrong choice of emotion is often like nails on a chalkboard on camera. 

For some advice/comments about film/theatre from other folks in the industry:
Visit youtube and watch some of the interviews or classes from great teachers and actors about film acting (Larry Moss’s interview is very good).

Michael Caine wrote a great book about film acting.

KTAS now offers an Acting On Camera Technique class with Courtney Lomelo.  Check out our classes to see the schedule!