By Matt North
In every industry, there’s an inevitable changing of the guards. In the Los Angeles industry of acting teachers, where few studios last longer than a year and others infamously over-populate and over-charge, Richard Waterhouse has been a rising name in LA’s handful of in-demand teachers known for producing working actors.
A former student of Roy London’s, Richard’s background includes four years of teaching scene study at The Cameron Thor Studios before leaving to open his own space and coach privately three years ago. Now having just completed directing his first independent feature, “Young, Single, and Angry,” Richard Waterhouse speaks candidly about his teaching career and the world of acting studios.
MN: When I watch you teach it’s obvious that you love what you do. When you were auditioning for roles and training with Roy London, did you feel any urges to eventually become a teacher?
RW: Yes. As soon as I understood things about acting I always wanted to share them and I remember my friends were able to receive things from me. You know how some friends can say the difficult things while others, well, you really don’t want to hear it from them? My friends could hear it from me and, one by one, I began coaching them for auditions. I remember feeling more comfortable helping people with their auditions than I felt getting ready for my own. It was fun for me. I could look at material without any emotional attachment and know exactly what someone else should do.
MN: It sounds like your friends picked you as a teacher before you picked yourself?
RW: That’s true. Although when I was in Roy’s class I could envision myself doing what he was doing. I used to get very inspired watching him work and I’d think, “I can do that. That’s what I want to do.” It was more powerful than any vision I had about myself as an actor so it felt natural to follow.
MN: Roy London’s name is now mentioned among the short list of our most known and respected acting teachers. As a former student, how have you seen Roy’s teaching style inform your studio?
RW: The sincere passion he displayed in front of class really rubbed off. He loved teaching acting and his excitement was infectious. I think it was the first time I had seen a passionate teacher embody what he was teaching his classes to do – which was to simply have an affect on someone. And I just connected the dots and saw how he made choices to change his students’ lives just like actors make choices that change their scene partners. As a teacher, that’s exactly what I do: I have to inspire my students to do things that change other people.
MN: A lot of teachers promote themselves by using a known method or specific approach. I can tell your style isn’t pinned down to “one way” and allows students to eventually discover what works best for them. Is that accurate?
RW: Yes and no. I want students to discover what ignites them, but those discoveries usually happen after trying things that feel unfamiliar. A large part of my job is to guide actors through the things that they’re resisting. I don’t use a name of a famous technique to define how I teach since I think so much of acting is about personal choice. And since personal choice is so unique to each individual I focus on sharing what I’ve seen be most effective to large numbers of people. I don’t think there is an “only way” or a right or wrong to this.
MN: What have you seen be most effective for actors?
RW: Simply taking action, focusing on something other than yourself or what you’re “supposed to feel.” I think actors and artists are people who feel things on deeper and different levels. That can be a great motivation to create something, but actors often sink into what they’re feeling as opposed what they’re doing. What makes art great is that it changes people and I don’t think great acting is any different. This isn’t a new concept. We’ve all heard it, but I’ve said it enough and seen it work in enough different ways that I finally realized this is it.
When I was starting out, I used to think, “If I’m feeling this, how could those 300 people in the audience not feel it too?” And it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a very selfish approach if you expect others to feel the same way you do. Life sure doesn’t work that way. Then I started working this way with Roy and reached people. Sometimes I wouldn’t feel anything, but the audience would. I learned that you can’t discount what audiences feel if it’s not aligned with your experience.
MN: Actors can put so much pressure on themselves to create a fourth wall or have “out of body” experiences. Do you think it’s possible (if an actor is committed to taking actions that affect other people) to do great work without putting any energy into those pressures?
RW: It’s possible and the great paradox is that, once actors take the pressure off their shoulders to do all those things, they actually experience them.
MN: I’ve seen you get incredible work out of actors who show up with premeditations and high expectations of how a scene “should be.” Would you say if an actor simply knows the job they have to do and the actions to take to do it, then all the interesting emotions appear as a byproduct?
RW: Yes and another way of talking about that is a lot of actors don’t think that they’re interesting by themselves. Most don’t have faith in how unique they are without adding on those little extra flares to stand out. When they just get focused on what they’re doing no matter what gets in their way, all the true weirdness and humanity starts to come out.
MN: You’ve been teaching in LA for 8 years now. How have you changed as a teacher over that time?
RW: I’m tougher and I needed to get tougher. By nature, I’m a compassionate person, but a lot of times in an acting class, being compassionate for students – feeling what they’re going through and being sensitive to that, etc. – just doesn’t help them. Compassion can definitely help, but it can be difficult. I can tell when a student wants compassion from me, but often as their teacher, giving that compassion might be the last thing they need. Everyone’s different and I adjust from person to person.
MN: Do you intentionally keep strong boundaries between yourself and your students during breaks and outside of class?
RW: I have to. I’m very accessible, but once that wall goes down between and a teacher and a student there’s an infinite amount of criticisms I can’t give anymore. I can certainly give the criticisms, but they won’t be received the same way if the student perceives me as anything closer than a teacher. It’s my job to say the things that are tough to hear so I keep that freedom for myself.
MN: I’ve noticed that you’re tough on your students when you know they need that extra push, but you’re never tough in a way that uses intimidation or discouragement. In other words, you never seem to abuse your power as the authority. Is that a conscious choice?
RW: It is, but it’s also just not in my nature. I’ve certainly had my share of acting teachers who made me feel horrible and I went into this refusing to have that impact on students. I’m aware of what that can do to certain personalities. Humor is very important in the way I teach and there’s a fine line to walk with it. I never use humor in a way where the student feels laughed at by me or the class. I try to make clear that we’re laughing at the absurdity of what’s happening among all of us as opposed to targeting anyone.
MN: It’s refreshing because you don’t behave like the kind of teacher who needs to be the wise sage with all the answers, but by the same token, you never coddle students or hold hands.
RW: That’s true. I have no interest in holding hands and I can always feel it when a student needs that. If I bought into that, I would not be doing my job. I’d be creating a dependency. It’s one thing to nurture somebody, but part of my job is a lot like being a parent: you raise a kid to go out into the world and take care of themselves. You don’t raise them to grow up and stay at home and need you for everything. And these are adults we’re talking about – so I try to get them to be adults. One of my secrets is that I look at everyone – regardless of their background - as if they’re the next big thing, as if they’re a potential star. I learned a long time ago that you don’t know who the next star is. You just don’t know who (in any acting class) is going to be landing huge roles in the future. And I can tell you, after spending so much time in Roy London’s class or Cameron Thor’s classes; it’s so often someone who was the last person you ever expected to get jobs. I learned to respect that everybody has potential, everybody has something special about them if the time is right. There’s that saying that luck is when opportunity meets preparation and I’ve seen it happen enough to know that everyone has that chance. So now, every person that comes into my class, I look at them as if they could become a name actor. I see them as if they could be working tomorrow on a major film (because they could). I’ve found that if I choose to see them that way then I treat them with much more respect and, most interesting, they begin to see themselves that way and plenty go on from there and make it happen.
For information on The Richard Waterhouse Acting Studio visit www.waterhousestudio.com or email him at Richard@waterhousestudio.com.
Matt North teaches a screenwriting class for actors at The Original Screenplay
Workshop: an 8-Week Story Structure Class (for info visit: WWW.OSWLA.COM
As an actor, he was a recurring on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and starred
opposite James Woods in the Golden Globe winning movie "Dirty Pictures."