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Treat Yourself Like an MFA Student: 10 Things to Do Every Weekend

Plenty of actors would love to get an MFA.  They may want the piece of paper, the training, the immersion.  But the cost, the time away from the industry, and the fact that your social and family life is taken hostage, can be less appealing than the accomplishment itself.

The one thing you can’t argue with, though, is the discipline that an MFA program forces on you.  You have a tight schedule that you must adhere to, or risk expulsion.

When it comes down to it, though, all you need is a schedule and willpower.  After all, MFA students choose to stay in the program (for the most part), and they are following a tight, full schedule.

Many of my students wonder if they should have gone for an MFA, when they bemoan not having enough auditions or the types they want.  My answer—create your own MFA program!  Plenty of actors on Broadway and on camera had no formalized training.  The lack of an MFA doesn’t stop people—lack of discipline, willpower and belief in self does.

What you’ll want to do is take these 10 things and make sure they happen on your weekend.  For those of you with jobs that are not M-F 9-5, try to persuade your boss to regularly let you have 2 days off in a row, since that will work best for you.  Will you be super busy?  Yes.  Will it be worth it?  Absolutely, if acting is your goal.

1.       Movement

  • 90 minutes both days
  • Try a class in Viewpoints, Suzuki, Laban, or another acting movement foundation
  • Take a class in:  dance, trapeze, martial arts, yoga, gymnastics, stage combat, etc.
  • No class?  Make sure you spend 90 minutes that day being creatively physical, from dance choreography to a complete yoga session—whatever pushes you.

2.       Voice

  • 45+ minutes both days
  • Full vocal warmup you’ve learned along the way
  • Class in Linklater, Berry, Fitzmaurice, Rodenburg, etc.

3.       Singing

  • This is important even if you are not a singer
  • Non-singers:  20+ min both days.  Find some recorded vocal warm-ups with a great guide, and warm up your singing voice, no matter how wobbly.  Then get the sheet music for a song you love to sing and that you don’t sound half-bad at, and have the accompaniment recorded, or download online with the recording already there for you.
  • Singers:  45 min both days.  Fully warm up your voice and go through the songs in your book that are active right now.  Make sure you are performing the song, not just singing it, whether that is with stillness or simple blocking/choreo.

4.       Run your pieces

  • 30 min both days.  Take all your monologues and run them!  Choose a few to work and play with, continuing to discover and deepen; and polish up the ones that are just about there.

5.       Acting Class

  • 2-4 hours either day.  Take a class that lands on one of your MFA days.  Think: scene study, monologue workshop, camera/voice-over.  Something where you are working on character.
  • Partner rehearsal – 1-2 hours either day.  Schedule rehearsal for your class scene/project with your chosen scene/project partner, if you have one.

6.       Acting Coach

  • If you are in the industry, always always always have a coach.  My students range from beginner to AEA MFA working actors, and they all get far more gigs when they are regularly studying with me or with any acting coach.  I’ve heard my actor colleagues say the same.   At minimum, I recommend 45-60 min sessions every other week to keep your momentum, for auditioning, character work, stretch work, new monologues, etc.

7.       Read a Play

  • Most MFAs are required to complete a very long reading list in order to earn their degree.  Read all the titles off of a list.  You can Google MFA Play Reading List, or here is a link to a pretty good list.
  • Once you are done with the list you’ve chosen, read the Pulitzer Prize-winning plays that were not on the list, as far back as the list goes.
  • Once you are done with that list, start reading the plays that were Tony- and Obie-nominated the past few years, and then keep up that habit going forward.

8.       See a Play

  • Never go a single weekend without seeing a play, whether it is a friend’s or on Broadway.  Make it happen.

9.       Watch a movie that won best actor

  • Check out the Academy Awards and Golden Globes websites and watch the movies that had best male actor and best female actor wins.  Go as far back as the list goes.

10.   Rehearse/perform

  • Perform in something.  If you are currently rehearsing or performing a role in a piece—perfect.  If not, volunteer for a staged reading, or do a monologue at an open mic night, or create a webcast/YouTube video that folks are going to see.  Just put yourself out there in front of an audience to continue to learn and hone that skill.

Remember, treat yourself like an MFA in training.  Be serious about your work and play, by turning down social engagements, creating your uninterrupted space at home for it (or finding space, indoor or outdoor), and putting your money toward it.  Truthfully, if you would have been willing to earn an MFA and come out the other end with easily $50K+ in loans, then putting your hard-earned cash toward these things should become a priority—especially if you do it well and do it right.

Questions?  Contact Reneé at renee@organicactingcoach.com.

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