Yale MFA Acting Teacher Takes a Hard Look at Competing Techniuques

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Andrew Utter, founder of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco, has begun a series of pieces in his blog (http://sfacting.blogspot.com) discussing the merits of some of the approaches to the craft of acting that are getting the most attention in the marketplace today. The approaches he has looked at to date are Meisner, the "practical aesthetics" of David Mamet, and Anne Bogart's viewpoints. Utter attended the directing program at the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1997.

Andrew Utter, an alum of the Yale School of Drama's directing program, finds that many of the approaches to teaching acting that generate enthusiasm at the moment have significant deficiencies, although it is also true that they each possess strengths as well,. Utter wanted students who are in the market for an approach to acting to be aware of the assets and liabilities of each, so he started writing a series at his blog, http://sfacting.blogspot.com. The first entry was about the approach created by Sanford Meisner. "I got the idea from an inquiry I received about my own classes" says Utter. "The student had studied Meisner, and proceeded to tell me what his expectations were for a scene study class based on what his Meisner teachers had told him. He was almost phobic about what he called 'text analysis', which is too bad, because the text is one of the actor's greatest assets, and there is a lot to be learned about how to approach a text in a way that feeds the actor."

So Utter decided he needed to clear the air about what kind of limitations there are to studying Meisner, which, despite its problems, has a lot to offer as an approach, After writing that, piece, it occurred to Utter that similar things needed to be said about other approaches, so he went on to write pieces about Mamet's practical aesthetics and Anne Bogart's viewpoints.

"Viewpoints is particularly troubling as the foundation of an actor's training. A big part of its appeal is that it seems very simple, but that is because it is, finally, reductive in its conception of the actor's task" Utter continues.

Utter started his program in San Francisco in 2004, and expanded to Los Angeles in 2008 He has been fortunate enough to have a student score a small speaking part in Gus van Sant award-winning picture "Milk." "I attract a lot of very dedicated, creative students to my classes. I have been lucky that way. And my students leave my class having forged lasting friendships, which is a reward in itself. They go through something challenging together, and it's gratifying."

What approach does Utter, himself, teach? "It's an approach that hasn't really been 'branded' yet" says Utter. "Part of it comes from Earle Gister, who was dean of the acting program at the Yale School of Drama for over fifteen years." But that is only one side of what Utter teaches The other part was synthesized by Evan Yionoulis and Mark Brokaw, directing students at the Drama School ten years before Utter. Both Brokaw and Yionulis have had high-flying careers as New York directors, working, between them, with the likes of Patricia Clarkson Mark Ruffalo, and Mary Louise Parker. Yionoulis took over the chair of the acting program at Yale when Gister left, and still teaches there. "They took what Earle had to say, and then deepened it, It's all about activating the actor at the visceral level, from the gut, and then letting everything else follow from that. To do that, discovering the secrets of the text, the passions the writer has woven into it, is a huge part of it" explains Utter.

Utter offers classes in Los Angeles at the Complex on Hollywood's Theater Row, and in San Francisco at Mama Calizo's Voice Factory. The classes run in ten week cycles. The next cycles begin April 6 and 8. More information can be found at http://www.utteracting.com/

"Finding the right approach is an important priority for a student" Utter says. "A lot of people will tell actors to mix it up, which can be good, but there is a danger in not going deep with any one process. It's easy to stay on the surface that way. And that is not what makes an actor succeed."

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