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I’m Not an Actor – I’m An Engineer, Accountant, Banker, Plumber

Why should I take an acting class?


I’ve been a working actress for 40 years and I am struck by how so many people in social situations confess to me that they have always wanted to act – someone was the star of his high school plays, another went to drama camp as a teenager, another made short films in college – but most people ultimately opt for a different, more stable, and probably more satisfying career.


Still, especially after watching an award show or a particularly great film on Netflix, that urge comes back. So why not take an acting class?  What are the common excuses – I’m not a kid, I won’t be good, I’ll feel stupid, I don’t know where to find a class….


In a recent article in the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot writes about the joy of being an absolute beginner and learning something new as an adult. She points out that the word “dilettante” comes from the Italian for “to delight” and adds, “If you think of dilettantism as an endorsement of learning for learning’s sake… merely because it delights the mind – what’s not to love?” 


 Talbot tells the story of Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning who decided in middle age to acquire five new skills: chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. He postulates that people learn differently – not better or worse – at different stages of their lives. He said that   getting “feedback, especially the positive kind, stressing what you’re doing right, delivered by an actual human teacher or coach watching what you do is crucial for a beginner” - it’s an intellectual and emotional wake up call – and much different than learning a skill online.  He compares the “fluid intelligence” of youth, which is the ability to think on one’s feet when attacking new challenges to “crystalized intelligence – the ability to draw on one’s accumulated store of knowledge and expertise “which is enriched by advancing age. 


Talbot explains, “Processing speed peaks in the late teens, short-term memory for names at around twenty-two, short term memory for faces at around thirty, vocabulary at around fifty to sixty-five, while social understanding, including the ability to recognize and interpret other people’s emotions, rises at around forty and tends to remain high.”


Talbot talks about a recent study by neuroscientist Rachel Wu proposed several factors that are needed to sustain cognitive development – a belief that abilities are not fixed but can improve with effort; a commitment to serious rather than “hobby learning” and a forgiving environment that promotes a “not yet” as opposed to a “cannot” approach – all of these elements replicate how children learn.


Talbot writes that she has taken up jazz signing and concludes by writing, “If learning like a child sounds a little airy-fairy, whatever the neuroscience research says, try recalling what it felt like to learn how to do something new when you didn’t really care what your performance of it said about your place in the world, when you didn’t know what you didn’t know. It might feel like a whole new beginning.”


I teach intro acting classes at the Off-Broadway theater I manage. The class is six weeks and while a few of the students each session are actors, most of the class is made up of people who are successful in other fields. Some take the class to get more comfortable making presentations at work or in job interviews or even on camera (I have had several tv journalists take a class) and some are looking for a way to possibly change careers and begin the process of becoming a working actor, but most are just looking for the joy of getting on a stage in a room full of like-minded people and learning something new – and then seeing where that takes them. 


If you are interested in learning more, please reach out for a free 15-minute consultation to see if a class might be right for you.


Catherine Russell 

Russell Acting Studio 


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