The best acting class in LA is the one that is right for you. So, the answer is going to vary depending on what your focus is and who you are. You could be studying with a renowned acting coach but if there is a personality conflict, that could get in the way of you learning what you need to know. And, not all classes are the same. I am going to break it down into categories: Scene Study, On-Camera, Improv, Commercial, All-Around, and Marketing. I will NOT include Casting Director Workshops here. While they are educational and essential for any serious business-minded actor, I am focused in this post on classes that can help you get where you need to be BEFORE you get in front of casting directors, OR IMPROVE if you are doing workshops and not getting called in. I’ll tell you which classes I’ve taken personally, and which I’ve heard about from fellow actors whose work I admire. Ultimately, my suggestion would be to audit at least three classes before you choose one. If the studio does not allow audits, ask for a one-on-one interview with the coach to be sure you jibe with their personality and teaching style.
1. SCENE STUDY: A class in which the actors memorize and present scenes, receive critique from the coach, and then apply that coach’s technique to improve the scene. This often involves script breakdown, which is about identifying the writer’s intention for the scene. These are basic foundation classes.
For comedy, I have heard great things about Lesly Khan. The actors who work with her are always able to identify “switches,” where a beat, or a change in attitude/emotion occurs. This is especially important in comedy. And, I’ve noticed actors coming from her studio are always aware that the pacing in comedy (fast!) is of the utmost importance. Her classes also do some work on marketing and cold-reading or audition technique.
Diana Castle teaches her own technique and philosophy based on story. Friends who have studied with her give rave reviews and, honestly, you can’t go wrong if you focus on telling the story. She also offers audio recordings on auditions and more. Her site says that The Imagined Life is the practical application of your natural empathetic imagination to the art of acting. And, my friend and co-woker at Act Now, Erika Lamkin, said; Diana provides “…such a beautiful safe environment where we play pretend like emotional athletes. After over 3 years The Imagined Life continues to make me a better artist, poet, creator, and empathetic human being.”
Many working actors stand by Howard Fine’s scene study class. This is more old-school, basic technique involving objectives, moment before, emotional transfer, etc. There are various levels from beginner to master. Fine’s studio also offers classes in Alexander Technique which is meant to aid actors to become more free.
2. ON CAMERA & COLD READING: a class in which each actor performs for and is recorded by a camera, usually with minimal time to prepare. This is good preparation for auditioning.
I have personally studied with Jamison Haase at LA On-Camera Training Center. His technique involves script breakdown, cold reading, taping, and then re-direction and re-taping. He also gives instruction specific to the “frame,” meaning a close-up vs. a wide shot and what an actor can do to maximize those moments. Haase and his partner, Jackie Geary (she does the comedy he does the drama) are both working actors themselves and bring a wealth of experience to bear. In today’s “on tape for producers” world many times the person hiring you never meets you in person until you show up on set, so an actor’s facility with the camera is pivotal. This is fantastic boot camp for auditioning. Both coaches are also fantastic and affordable for individual sessions in the case of an important callback or network read.
3. IMPROV: These classes teach actors how to improvise comedy scenes based on their various techniques. Improvisation is another necessary tool for every actor, but especially for anyone wishing to be competitive in the comedy or commercial market.
I have been to The Groundlings theatre to see friends graduate from classes there and was impressed with the performances and with the program in general. They offer Improv, Sketch Comedy, and Writing, including classes specifically for teens. This school puts more focus on character development. They do claim quite a few very funny and successful alumni.
4. COMMERCIAL: This is a class that will focus on techniques specific to acting for commercials. I will say all three of the ones I recommend are with Casting professionals and I have taken all of these classes myself.
First, a good class for beginners is Scott Wissner’s. Scott is an Associate Casting Director at ASG Casting and teaches at many studios in Los Angeles, although I know him from Act Now. He gives general instruction on the basics and also puts the actor on-camera for review. He is supportive and good-natured. A great place to start.
For more advanced commercial acting I’d suggest Chris Game. I also studied with him at Act Now, but he teaches throughout Los Angeles. Game is a Casting Director and a teacher. His techniques help an actor to come into a commercial audition with not just one take, but a “menu” of choices. He also works with the actor on-camera to help the actor become aware of “getting seen.” Game also offers private coaching at an affordable price, which is a great idea for an important callback in today’s competitive environment.
And finally, Killian McHugh. McHugh is a Casting Associate with Alyson Horn Casting. While he offers classes from beginning to advanced, even his level one class feels a bit more advanced right out of the gate. McHugh helps an actor find the “feel” of a commercial to make the sharpest choices possible, as well as learn how to “make it your own” in an appropriate way. He puts every actor on camera and after redirects will give each actor a second opportunity. His “Improv for Commercials” is the only class of it’s type in town and is ESSENTIAL to the more advanced actor who wants a career in commercials. He’s direct and honest. He does offer a follow-up class for a relatively inexpensive price so you can keep up your chops.
5. ALL-AROUND ACTING CLASS: These are classes that focus on a specific technique and may include more than one category.
I studied with Stephen Book for four years. He teaches what he calls “Improvisation Technique.” We start of with simple Improv exercises base on Viola Spolin’s theatre games. Then we move to scene study and script breakdown. Then there is character work, including both voice and physicality. Book has specific techniques for emotion work that is less personal and (in my opinion) more psychologically healthy for an actor. His technique is perfect for anyone looking for a solid foundation or a way to freshen up a tired technique with the ability to improvise the performance while sticking to solid choices. He works with both comedic and dramatic material. He does do one-on-one coaching for callbacks or network but it’s pricey.
6. MARKETING: So, you have the skills, now how do you get paid to use them? You run your career like a business, because that is what it is. If you want to get paid. Otherwise, community theater is fine. But you didn’t come to LA for that did you?
Having worked personally with Sam Christiansen I can say that he is inspiring, insightful, and also creative. His unique approach to helping an actor understand him or herself as a product creates an environment where the actor can handle his career like a business but stay in the realm of imagination. Sam’s experience as a casting director does come into play, as he talks to actors about the parts they might be right for and helps them discover their unique “brand.” Actors present work and Sam, along with other class members, give descriptions of how they see that actor’s “essence.” His Myth workshop is also especially popular, where each actor discovers the “myth” they are here to work on in this lifetime. Having done both workshops, my experience was that anyone could actually benefit from this both personally and professionally. Sam also offers an ongoing acting class, which I also did, and which incorporates the branding into the work of acting. Sam also offers frequent follow up classes that are very reasonable.
I’m sure there are many more coaches in Los Angeles. If I’ve left out someone you adore, please leave a comment and tell us all about it! And remember, there is no better way to learn than to jump in and DO IT!