Learning to Act an Hour at a Time

Sanford Meisner, the most famous acting teacher in the history of the United States, said that it takes 20 years to absolutely master acting. He was probably just being illustrative. There’s nothing magical about that number, but what he was implying is that it takes a long time to learn any skill, and acting falls into that category. It’s a marathon run towards a successful career, and you’re probably going to get disheartened several times before you finish. Here are a few tips on keeping focused on the goal when those hard times come.

You need to focus on each individual hour you put in at a time. The reason it takes so long to really ‘get’ acting is not that you need to learn any special skills but that you need to completely internalize the basics by performing them over and over and over again. You will need to practice developing characters, performing in shows, improvising, writing comedy, and whatever else you want to do, as just the simple act of performing these acts will internalize them deeper and deeper. This is how you develop true skill.

You also can’t apologize for the work you do before this point. Every single successful actor had their first show at some point in their lives, and they were hesitant, nervous, and probably critical of themselves afterwards. Don’t be. You should celebrate this moment, because you are actively launching a long career. How can you not be excited about the butterflies you feel when you get up there and start performing for the first time?

Finally, don’t skimp on the work. This is active work. If you are in a class and find yourself zoning out or being too passive, stop. It takes years of work, not just clocking in, to turn yourself into a talented actor. Don’t waste these days and classes, as you’ll never get them back again.

When learning how to perform or how to be funny, you need to prepare yourself for work. Putting in the time is the difference between the success stories and the also-rans. Don’t let yourself give up halfway into the process.

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