5 Reasons Modern Actors Should Study the Classics

Training in classical material might be thought of as unnecessary by actors with no interest in showcasing their talents on the stage, but even if you never trod the boards doing Shakespeare, the skills acquired from that kind of practice are applicable to all kinds of film and television work. There are a few schools (including ours) that find teaching the classics to modern actors greatly impactful to creating successful careers and here is why.

1. Multi-camera sitcoms have their roots in restoration plays. Contemporary, multi-camera sitcoms are all largely based on the same formulas. Familiarity with the masterpieces of the comedy genres greatly serve an actor who wants to adopt those particular rhythms and stock characters and understand the dynamics of those comic situations. Restoration characters like the womanizing rake (Barney from “How I Met Your Mother”), the silly fop (Will from “Will and Grace”), and even our modern prototypes for blonde bombshells like Marilyn Monroe all have their roots in the classics. Many years ago, Joanne coached an Emmy award-winning comedian who first discovered her dry, sarcastic, witty signature sitcom character while in acting class working on the role of the maid Dorine from “Tartuffe!”

2. Actors are challenged to master vocal skills necessary for everything from current dramas to commercials. By the same token, the vocal work and breath control necessary for the effective rendering of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter can be the same techniques used when rattling off information in a procedural drama or racing through the poetic dialogue penned by Aaron Sorkin. “The Social Network” and “The Newsroom” are written and performed in a speed that require Sorkin’s actors to have mastered the vocal dexterity and breath control that classically trained actors must acquire. Even commercials often require the articulation and pace that classical training affords an actor.

3. Classical training develops physical skills required for specific characters. Classical training requires the development of physical skill and expressive movement often demanded for characters in modern films and television. From James Bond to Spider-Man to characters on television shows such as “Grimm,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Once Upon A Time,” possessing a disciplined physical life is essential. Actors training in classical movement can acquire a free flow of vitality and achieve the technical mastery to do real justice to a great variety of stylized characters and heightened realities. This facility, however, requires training over time and cannot easily be achieved overnight, so simply getting coached a few times for an upcoming audition that requires a specific movement may not be sufficient to land the role.

4. Classically trained actors work. Working on classical material gives an actor various techniques for how to finesse a role. English and Australian actors are grabbing up a large proportion of American parts. A whole lot of those actors dispatching zombies on “The Walking Dead” now saying “y’all” got their acting chops saying things like “thou art” and “egads.” It seems their classical training creates a vocal, physical, and behavioral facility that is giving them an advantage.

5. Classical training creates confidence. To use a musical metaphor, if you can play Bach, you can play the Beatles—and you’ll look really good doing it. Adding to that the gratification you get from feeling yourself join a tradition of artists who’ve applied themselves to these historical and iconic parts can greatly deepen your confidence.

So, while the classics may seem a part of the past, they ought to be very much part of your training in the present. Modern, American actors with the ability to live truthfully, organically, and emotionally in updated Stanislavsky's methods who also train classically give themselves the greatest advantages of all for success tomorrow!

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