My first acting teacher was a dictator. My experience of her was that she could be combative, cruel and controlling. I studied with her exclusively for almost 2 years because I thought that’s just how it is, acting teachers are mean; like the nuns at parochial schools who’d hit your knuckles with a ruler. I never questioned whether there could be a more nurturing approach. I was in my 20’s and easily influenceable by authority figures. While I felt abused, psychologically, I also felt she was a powerful acting teacher and that she was teaching me to be a strong actor. She’d sometimes bully people to tears, and then tell them to act from that space. I recall 2 different women not agreeing with her teachings and were met with her verbal wrath and then put out of the school. There was one girl, that I witnessed, stand up for herself, before leaving for good. I thought, wow, she’s bold.
By the time this teacher was done with me, I knew how to be a very controlled actor, a performer who would do exactly what was expected to make it appear as if I could act. There was no organic play in my work, it was always a planned performance; I feared the repercussions of her disappointed grimace or words. Like the film Mommie Dearest “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!” It was a futile experience, like nothing I did was worthy of her compliment. I didn’t believe I’d ever be a good enough actor to make a living at it.
Our relationship ended after, what I thought was me paying her compliment, she perceived as an unsolicited opinion, to which she wrote me a scathing email to let me know that I had no right. That was my final straw with her, and I moved on to another teacher. But, it was not all for naught. By the time I left that school, I had a strong foundation, I learned about the craft of acting, the importance of breathing, body work, commitment to character and how to engage a strong emotional life. Best of all, I met my first career coach there, who was instrumental in my understanding the business of show business for years to come.
The next teacher I chose to study with was a vocal and diction coach. I didn’t realize at the time how fortuitous this choice was, being that I had lost my voice (to speak up for myself) while training with my first teacher. We weren’t allowed to have an opinion with her. This new teacher was focused on removing psychological blocks from the body so that we’d have a better range during voice acting, especially for emotional dialogue. He was kind, nurturing and always had a smile on his face. I was like an abused puppy shuddering in the corner, it was difficult to trust him, initially. I kept waiting for him to lose his temper and be apoplectic, he never did. One day, after completing a monologue, he looked at me with a smile on his face and said, Tiwana you’re a good actress, but you’re too controlling. You’re afraid to trust your instincts. I WAS APPALLED! I had never been called controlling. Highly offended, I asked my best friend and then boyfriend if they thought I was controlling. Both replied, lovingly, and matter-of-factly, yeah. I didn’t know this about myself. During this class I began to release control in my acting and in my life. The experience I had with this voice & diction teacher was light-hearted, refreshing and I learned that not all teachers are tyrants. From then on, I vowed to never study with a teacher who has a repressive approach. That was 2001. I’ve done a lot of self work to rebuild my confidence in the area of acting, finally getting to a place of enjoying acting and not caring how I’m perceived. Trusting the journey of growth through constant training.
Fast forward present day, 2014. I am in a place of mastery as an actor. I may get nervous for an audition, but when I get stuck, I know what works, what doesn’t and why not, that’s a phrase from another nurturing teacher. Now, I only train with teachers who want their students to thrive, and use an approach that is conducive to being firm, helpful, and nurturing. I’ve learned to audit a class before taking it. Aside from skill, I look for a teacher’s happiness with life their own, do they have joy, do they want people to win, do they like people, are they mean-spirited, do they take teaching too seriously, and most importantly are they mentally healthy? Now that I’m older, no longer influenced, and have the power to do what I want regardless of others opinions, it’s easier for me to walk away from a situation, with no charge.
Here’s where I get to the topic at hand. I’m enrolled at a school, where we don’t know who our teacher is until the first day of class. But, it’s a school for comedy, so it shouldn’t be too bad, right? Well, I have a teacher, who on the first day I was excited to work with, but with time made me dislike her teaching style. She’s passionate, she has a strong comprehension of the subject, and is a well-known name in this genre, but, her teaching style doesn’t allow me to play while making mistakes. She’s just not a person I can learn from because no matter what I do, I am made to feel, like it’s not good enough for her, and that takes a toll on my confidence.
One night, after finishing a scene, she told me what was wrong with me, not the skill, with a look of disgrace on her face. The feeling was reminiscent of my first teacher. Once I sat down, I didn’t want to participate any more that night, it was no longer fun, but I did anyway. When the class met again, I had anxiety all that day and didn’t want to go, but I went despite of how I felt. I was bent on pleasing her (which is never good), to give her what she wanted. When my turn came I made a good effort, and was still met with its not good enough, with no acknowledgment for what went well. I began to take notice of how all of my classmates’ excitement for play had diminished. Everybody looked afraid to make a mistake. This is a comedy class, shouldn’t we be having fun while falling on our faces. Why am I reverting back to trying to please a teacher?
I’ve explained in a previous blog that I get inspired thoughts while meditating. My subconscious mind breaks through and tells me what’s real. I was having angst about the class and the thought said, you can quit, you know. What? Quit? I’m no quitter. I’m not a punk. She’s not going to run me off. I paid $500 for this class, I’m not going to let the remaining $250 of this class go down the drain. And the thought came through again and said, what’s more important? Your confidence in your ability as a performer or $250? Here’s the lesson I’ve learned from this episode. I’ve worked hard, for the past 14 years, to be a confident performer. Confidence and Skill go hand in hand. My confidence in my talent and ability is how I book jobs. It’s one of the main factors in earning a living as an actor. It will cost me much more than $250 to rebuild my confidence if I complete the remaining 6 classes. There is book of daily affirmations that I read yearly called The Wealthy Spirit, which was shared with me by my career coach from my first teacher back in 2001. The best part of the book, in my opinion, was learning that every person is not the person for me. That I had to recognize what kind of people do I thrive around and seek them out. The people who I don’t feel that way with are not my people and they never will be no matter how much I try to impress them. With that information, I’ve decided to quit that class, any other class that doesn’t feel good. I learn better from my kind of people, so why waste time and energy. The money will come back. It was an investment. Some investments earn monetary value, some learning value.
Will I go back to this school later, that remains to be seen. But right now, I have so much peace around quitting this class.