ABOUT MIRIAM LAURENCE
Miriam Laurence coaches, trains, and directs actors. She has taught her own technique, The Integrated Acting System, at her studio for over 30 years.
Ms. Laurence trained at New York’s Circle-in-the-Square Theatre School with Madeleine Sherwood. She studied with Lee Strasberg for three years and was granted ‘finalist/working observer’ privileges at the Actors Studio East and West for four years. She also studied with other teachers through the years. This background enabled her to distill what she found to be the most useful acting techniques into her system. Ms. Laurence holds an MA in Theater Arts (Directing and Critical Analysis) from UCLA and a MFA in directing from York University. From 2016-2018, Miriam was a member of the Playwright/Director’s Unit at the Actors Studio West.
Ms. Laurence has been influential in the evolution of a long list of recognized actors, directors, writers, and teachers. As well as being in constant demand as a private audition coach for actors of all ages, she has worked as an acting coach on many productions and she is a personal role preparation coach on film projects for a growing number of actors. Miriam has also served as a language/dialect coach for numerous projects — most recently for George McKay and Daniel Webber on 11/23/62.
In addition to directing plays whenever she can, Miriam Laurence has directed several short films. Rue the Day was screened at the Los Angeles International Short Films Festival in 2005. In 2010, her documentary about the acting process was screened at the Victoria Film Festival’s SpringBoard program. Her recent short, Magic Madeleines, was an official selection at The Los Angeles Skins Film Festival in 2018. She is currently teaching and coaching while writing the feature version of Magic Madeleines.
1 – WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING AN ACTING TEACHER/COACH?
I had the good fortune to meet Madeleine Sherwood when I was seventeen. Madeleine sensed something in me and kept contact. She brought me to New York where I trained with her at Circle-in-the-Square Theater School. At the same time, she recommended me to the Actors Studio as an Observer. For the next five years I was privileged to watch the bi-weekly sessions being led by Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Ellen Burstyn, Shelley Winters, Estelle Parsons, amongst others. Their insights, and the breadth of work I saw there, expanded my knowledge.
The next year, at Madeleine’s suggestion, I was admitted into Lee Strasberg’s Master Class. There again, I witnessed a variety of scenes and was trained in an array of techniques that have informed the work of many major actors from the 1950’s to the present day.
In New York I also met and observed other teachers such as Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and Uta Hagen. These experiences, along with my love of the literature of theatre, prompted me to apply for directing programs. I was accepted into a number of them, but ended up going to UCLA for directing. It was through a professor there that I got my first teaching experience.
When I came to Toronto with my husband a few years later, I was hired at Young People’s Theatre School and for the Tarragon Theatre Training program. Rose Dubin took me on at The Leah Poslun’s Theatre School and also gave me work teaching a variety of courses for Seneca College’s Performance Certificate Program.
Meanwhile, I was expanding my knowledge by taking many classes and going through the MFA directing program at York University. In terms of training actors, the most formative was intensive voice training with David Smukler at Equity Showcase Theatre and acting with Samantha Langevin at the Brooke Studio. David and Samantha’s belief in me also propelled me to further opportunities: David suggested me for my first film coaching opportunity and when Samantha went back to Los Angeles, she chose me to take over her classes. Suzanne Brooke took a chance on me. That was in 1987, and I’ve been developing my Integrated Acting System classes ever since.
2. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANYONE AT THE BEGINNING OF THEIR PERFORMANCE CAREER?
Train. Train in a variety of techniques. Take voice and movement classes. Educate yourself in theatre and film history. Read and watch live theatre and classic films. Find a few teachers whom you trust and who you sense will push you. Try to train with them consistently for a few years. Most importantly, develop discipline: if this is what you want to do, if it is your passion, you need to practice every day. Create a daily ritual for your artistic practice – 20 to 60 minutes a day. This ritual should include work your instrument –physicality with voice and emotional exploration as well as work on reading technique – then emotional connection to scripts and characters. My web-series, “ABC’s for the Actor”, helps actors to create a continuum to achieve their highest potential in the craft.
3. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR TALENT TO HAVE A DEMO-REEL?
It is important – but only after a year or two of study. If an actor is in their late-teens and twenties, it’s more important to get into a program or create their own program. They should audition for small theatres or Fringe productions and for student films. If cast in a student film, they should make sure that part of the agreement is that the takes they are in and the final cut, are made available to them. Only then should they really look for an agent. Agents are fine with looking at short segments from class videos or student films. Actors do not have to spend that much money on photos or demo reels before they get an agent.
4. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE THAT PERFORMERS MAKE WHEN AUDITIONING?
Not preparing. Not knowing how to relax; not learning the lines, if required; not refining script reading technique. Preparation helps to let go and to be spontaneous in the casting room and on set.
5. ARE THERE TIPS THAT YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS TO HELP THEM STAND OUT IN THEIR AUDITIONS?
In my classes, actors learn how to inhabit their truth moment to moment while fulfilling the needs of the script. I cover how to relax in stressful situations. They warm up with physical, vocal and emotional stretching techniques that challenge their instruments. They acquire skills for learning lines so that they sound like a real person talking; they study themselves and connect with the situations in the scripts they are bringing to life. I cover natural techniques for listening, thinking, reacting and methods that create eye movement in the frame. They practice for script and cold readings on-camera. They develop characters from plays and film scripts in scenes and monologues. These skills and long-time study give the actors who train with me an edge. For an example of what goes on in my classes, you can watch a class video here.
6. WHEN PLAYING A NEW CHARACTER, WHAT ARE TWO QUESTIONS A PERFORMER SHOULD ASK TO UNDERSTAND HOW BEST TO PLAY IT?
Again, these are classic questions and processes. Preferably, committed actors learn how to develop an approach to a ‘character’ in a safe and active environment where there is an exploration of choices, analysis, and their own instruments. However, the two main questions would be: Have I ever experienced anything like this in my life … and/or what if I did?
7. WHAT IS A BIG MISCONCEPTION THAT THEATRE PERFORMERS HAVE ABOUT FILM ACTING AND VICE VERSA?
The biggest misconception is that theatre and film acting are different, while at their source the preparation for each is indistinguishable. That is, the foundation of truth and identification are the same. But actors should develop skills in both mediums. Know the stage: develop your voice and body and learn about motivated movement and activities. Be able to do all that at the same time as you do lines. For film, know the frame: film acting is more about the movement of the eyes in true thought, listening and experience. There are times on set that an actor has to do very complicated activities and actions and experience huge emotions while talking. That is why adapted and natural theatre training in voice, movement and emotional exploration are essential. Since I have directed and coached for film, television and theatre in an array of styles, the actors who train with me learn how to adapt in a natural way.
8. WHAT ARE TWO CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH BEING AN ACTING TEACHER/COACH?
Teaching is a huge responsibility and I take it very seriously. Like I said, I want to avoid techniques and comments that are not useful or downright dangerous that I’ve witnessed used in some classes. My classes are long and I have to stay healthy and tuned so that I can consistently work with each actor for an even amount of time. I want to give them my best. That’s why I work my instrument every day. Another challenge is to know when an actor needs to be pushed with energy or treated gently. This goes for in class or on set as film coaching for acting or dialects. On set coaching is a very delicate position to be in – knowing when to go in to give a note, when to hold back, etc. Oops. That’s more than two challenges, but as you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about all this.
9. WHAT CAN CANADA’S ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY DO DIFFERENTLY IN ORDER TO GROW?
As many have said, we have an incredible reservoir of well-trained actors in Canada. I encourage Canadian actors to reach the bar that English and Australian actors (many of whom have theatre training) have set. The media needs to be involved in promoting our talent. The networks could be more vigorous in the promotion of the talent in their series. Aside from that, the filming and originality needs to be augmented; series like Flashpoint and Orphan Black – amongst others – come to mind. They set a high standard in Canadian writing, acting, production values and shooting. We should always be striving for that kind of quality.
10. WE ALL HAVE MENTORS. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE US THE HOPE, INSPIRATION, AND THE DRIVE TO KEEP GOING. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MENTORS AND WHY?
I trained with many other teachers, and have taken from them what I thought was beneficial, and what might be thought of as not useful. In that sense, they all informed my approach. But my first and most important mentor was Madeleine Sherwood, who, despite our age difference became my life-long friend. I was very lucky to be given permission to film her teaching at the Actors Studio before she died. I was also fortunate to be in Lee Strasberg’s Master Class for a length of intense time with other committed actors. Despite his tendency not to avoid students outside of class, Lee seemed interested in giving me encouragement and advice. Finally, in Toronto, David Smukler and Samantha Langevin helped me go deeper and become more grounded and gave me major opportunities. All of them imparted a vast wealth of knowledge with humour, warmth and great skill. They were constantly evolving their techniques – it was individualized for each actor. Their words and training were so powerful that, at times, I still hear their voices. They instilled in me a code and communicated a sanctity about the craft of teaching; they believed in me and freed me by giving me my voice.
For a list of upcoming classes – Click Here