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Insiders Guide to NY Acting Studios - The William Esper Studio

Written by: Kelly Calabrese

Become Alive!

To be a really good actor, in your heart and soul, "You have to want to be alive," shares Bill Esper of The William Esper Studio. "You have to want to be able to discover how to create real life inside yourself and live at a very intense level."

“Acting is a creative art and the very best actors are teachers, teachers about our own humanity. It is a very noble undertaking.”

Bill Esper is an internationally recognized authority on the work of Sanford Meisner, as well as the co-author (with Damon DiMarco) of The Actor's Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique, published by Anchor/Random House in 2008.

After studying with, and teaching alongside, Sanford Meisner, Bill Esper opened his own studio because he "felt a lot of actors weren't able to take a full time conservatory program but still thirsted for the kind of training he could offer.”

Today, along with 20 other teachers, Bill Esper teaches acting as well as voice, speech, movement, script analysis, and stage combat. They offer, "a really full program with students who come from all over the word."

If you want to learn more about how to come alive as an actor, check out this lively conversation with Bill Esper of The William Esper Studio.

Q&A with Bill Esper

Q: How does your acting technique help actors come alive?

Our school has a particular identity in that we are the leading institution, we believe, in the world really that is dedicated to the Meisner based actor training. We are fiercely dedicated to truthful acting. An actor doesn't pretend that he is playing the character, he is actually living through the inner emotional experience, as well as the external.

From the point of view of an artist, the opening of the unconscious is a very important thing because that is where the most rich and profound material is for an artist. 90% of the brain is beneath the surface, with 10% above - like an iceberg. To get to the unconscious, we work with basic improvisational exercises and evolve from day to day. It is a carefully laid out progression of work, and throughout it we are always doing everything we can to force the actor into complete spontaneity. The worst thing that can happen to an actor is to get stuck in their head.

Q: How do you help actors – get out of their heads?

We constantly force their attention off themselves so their whole energy, and concentration, is always consumed by something outside of them. Usually, it is another actor. Sometimes, it is an object. When all the attention is off yourself, then a lot of truth starts to happen because you are not using the controlled responses that you already had in line. The actor is no longer trying to be who they think they ought to be, which may be very different from what they really are. When an actor finds out who they truly are, that is when the work becomes exciting. We also use wonderful physical training with music, sound, movement, and fantasy - to promote a kind of emergence of the true person.

Q: Should an actor pay attention to the 10% above the surface?

The actor has to always be self aware, but not self conscious. They aren't really watching themselves, but they are aware of how they are acting and responding. And, as always, they are working on leaving themselves alone and not trying to make things happen.

Q: How does your technique stand out from others in the form of helping actors succeed long term in this biz?

We believe there is such a thing as the professional craft of acting, and we teach it. We give students a craft they can depend on for the rest of their lives. When you talk about craft, you are talking about condition, about habits - and that is true in all forms of art whether you are acting or dancing or playing music. You have to rely on the habits that were trained into you in the studio. For example, a good actor doesn't think about listening because they can't help but listen. In a certain way, it is just a part of them and once they learn how to process the experience inside of them, and follow the basic principles, the work stays inside of them forever. Most actors we work with for 2-3 years and then we want them to get out into the world. They seldom seek additional training. They may seek to do a workshop or training for a certain part, but their basic work is done. The habits are ingrained in them. Adler said, "You can't have art without craft," and the craft is meant to be forgotten - with the habits carrying you through.

Q: How does your approach give New York actors an edge at auditions?

The best impression you can make when you go into an audition... is to show them that you are a really good actor. They will pick that up by the way you walk into a room, the way you act while holding a script, and the way you make choices. If you help someone to have a habit of listening, to know how to really listen, that is going to improve their auditions right off the bat. It is a small thing, but also huge.

We teach auditioning at the studio as well, at the end of the process.

Q: Do you encourage actors to audition while studying with you?

It is an individual thing. If you have an actor who has an ongoing career with an agency, you can't say, "don't act for two years." The continuity of the work is what is important. We do everything we can to help actors maintain that continuity. Most jobs are short, 3 days or 4 days, so we can work around that and help the actor maintain the continuity until their work is over and they come back into a day program.

Sometimes, when people are in the middle of learning, it is better to not audition. Suppose you play a halfway decent game of recreational tennis and then you go to a tennis pro and they say, "look how you are holding the racquet." Then, of course, your game gets worst until a new habit is made. So it depends on where someone is in the process and how good they are. You don't want someone to go out with embarrassing quality work. Better to wait until it improves. So, our advise differs from actor to actor.

Q: What type of person is best suited for your style of training?

I think someone who has a real artist in them, who has a dream of being an artist and wanting to create life - wanting to do things that have real quality to them. Sometimes the industry can force you into doing other projects, but there is always that sense of aspiration, someone who wants to be all they can be and experience themselves in as many facets as they can.

I love it when someone comes in and says they saw one of my students in a play and had to come to my studio because they want to act like that person did. I know we will have a success story with that actor because they are not just looking for "A" acting class.

A couple of months ago, I had a young kid come in who found my book in the library (The Actor's Art and Craft) and it set him on fire. He had to come to New York and study with me. It was a very moving thing.

Q: If you were to choose Theatre, Film or TV - what would you say is your niche? What are you the GO TO studio for?

We train actors for everything. We train them to be able to improvise with enormous confidence and security, to walk onto a stage or set and let each moment unfurl - one unanticipated moment to the next unanticipated moment. The people we train are able to recreate that whenever.

I don't think you can just train people for theater today because it is very hard to make a living. The big mistake about film is that you don't want to put actors on camera in the beginning of their training. In the beginning of their training, it is all about freedom and you don't want to put them into a little box. You want them to be free to jump and roll on the floor and do whatever their impulse tells them. And once that is done, and you have a very alive actor on your hands, then you can pull that in.

Q: Any inspirational words of wisdom or advice to share?

In terms of training… I would say be careful as a consumer - look out for yourself. You have to seek out the training that is really valid and good and speaks to you.

In terms of passion… Acting is very difficult, not an easy life, but it has very rich rewards for the person who makes that journey.

THANK YOU BILL ESPER - for helping this article come alive!

For more information on The William Esper Studio go to

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