Diane Christiansen, an award-winning acting coach and teacher based in Los Angeles, says the number one way to become a great actor is by doing.
“Watching movies and studying your favorite actors is fine, but experience is the best way to learn,” she says.“Do that small student film, the play at your local theater, do anything you can to practice your craft. That’s the best way to grow and improve, and those credits will help build your resume and ultimately your career through experience.”
Diane grew up as a dancer/actress in Chicago and moved to New York City when she was 18 after being accepted into the Rockettes. During her time in the big apple, she studied acting at the Strasberg acting studio and the Actors Studio. Diane moved to Los Angeles in her early thirties, and prior to moving from Las Vegas, she booked a role on The Young And The Restless, which rerouted her career as an actress in Los Angeles--and eventually—as a teacher. Diane began teaching 27 years ago, and she has grown an impressive string of students that include Miranda May, Jason Dolley, Niles Fitch, Amy Bruckner, Danielle and Kay Panabaker, Joey Luthman, David Henrie, and Academy Award nominated Hailee Steinfeld.
With her extensive resume and experience, Diane has trained many talented actors in the industry, but says that there is one crucial skill that many new actors lack.
“They may be talented, but many don’t know how to audition,” she said. “It’s more about knowing what not to do in the room. I’ve seen some actors really blow it by being too chatty or they come in with props, when that simply isn’t done.”
Statements such as “I just got this script last night”, or “I just said that out loud for the first time”, and questions like “Should I sit or stand?”, or asking how to pronounce words that you can easily look up at home are never a good impression, she says. Actors need to prepare and research everything, including the casting directors they will be auditioning for.
With auditioning being a skill set on its own, Diane says that all actors need to train in audition technique and pay attention to what they learn throughout their journey as an actor to know what works and doesn’t work in the audition room.
“For cold read auditions, I have three important steps that I start with and share with my students: who, what, and where. Who is this character, what do they want in the scene, and where are they? From there, you can branch off and layer breaking down the sides. But those three are the most important steps to take when you only have a short time to review your audition sides.”
Diane says that actors will usually have a least 30 minutes in a cold read situation to review the sides when revisions are given. The more you can practice breaking down scripts in class and at home, the better prepared you’ll be when you do audition with or without a lot of prep time and will be much more comfortable in the room.
“There are tiny little things you’ll learn along the way that are critical,” she says. “Every actor needs to be taking commercial and audition technique classes to compete in a major market.”
Diane offers classes in scene study and audition technique for kids, teens and adults, as well as commercial classes for kids and teens. The audition technique classes are separate classes for all ages. She also offers private coaching and her team produces professional self tapes.
“We focus heavily on Method acting techniques in my adult classes, but the kids and teens receive Method and a little bit of Meisner for variety, so they can discover their own ‘style’” she says. She throws in a little from all of the American Masters in her kids and teen class curriculum.
The Method techniques originated from Russian theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski in the first half of the twentieth century, and is based on the “art of experiencing”. Actors are trained to use emotional recall and sense memory when approaching their work by recalling past experiences and memories and bringing them into a character or scene. Meisner technique originated from Sanford Meisner, however is rooted back to the early teachings of Stanislavski, and focuses on “living truthfully under any given imaginary circumstance”, and encourages actors to act on their emotional impulses and instincts.
“Bradley Cooper, who just gave an excellent performance in ‘A Star Is Born’, is a long-time trained Method actor,” says Diane. “He had the skills to become that character through years and years of training and focus. He even became a musician for the role,” she said.
Diane also offers educational casting director workshops and a unique experience through her studio— an agent showcase with some of the top agents and managers in the industry, several times each year. ‘Screen Test Live’ is by audition only for kids, teens and adults.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in audition rooms both as an actor and a director and I’ve developed great relationships with many casting directors, as well as agents and managers, which has allowed me to host these workshops with some of the top agents in the industry” she said. Actors must audition to be considered, as being ready to work is important in these showcases, she says.
“We only accept those who are ready to work. Agents and managers know what they want and what they are looking for, so the actor has to be ready to go to auditions, and that also means having all the right materials in place, like excellent headshots and a standard industry formatted resume,” she said.
With a 90% success rate, Diane’s workshops are beneficial to those actors who she accepts, as most of them end up landing the A List agents in attendance.
“We also keep it super affordable. I know some workshops that charge a ridiculous amount of money, and I would never do that to an actor,” she says.
Most importantly, Diane says to get out there and learn, no matter where you are in the world.
“Experience is the best teacher. Get out there and do things. Act in student films, even if they are bad. It will all come into play and help you in your career. Get a lot of theater credits. Don’t just sit at home and read or watch movies, make sure you’re active.”