“You Can’t Teach Talent”

Maybe this is true. I am not sure it can be proven either way. However, I do think it is far too slippery a sentiment to espouse when debating weather students/people can achieve greatness in the arts.

First off, how does one define talent? The natural or inborn ability to DO something really, really well? If so, what would a NATURAL ability to ACT endow one with? Looks? Charm? Wit? The keen ability to memorize? A lifelong childlike imagination?

I argue that acting CAN be taught. And good acting DOES come about through practice and study. Screw talent! Yes, certainly, when it comes to acting or performance, some people, children especially, are less inhibited and seem to have a “natural ability” and “great instincts.” However, just because there are child stars and actors who seem to explode onto the scene, most “stars,” “heavyweights,” or “people with chops” have earned their reputation and success through practice and study.

Now, of course, just because acting CAN be taught and learned, that does not automatically mean that anyone who studies will become great. Or successful. I have seen many an actor with the big caps on their resume – MFA – stink it up on the stage. Now, of course, my experience is my own, and there is a lot of subjectivity when it comes to judging people’s performances, but you get my point. An education which costs a boat load of money does not necessarily guarantee the birth of an excellent artist.

This is my theory. What do you think?

7 thoughts on ““You Can’t Teach Talent”

  1. What’s tricky in this topic is the definition of terms. I submit that there are people who can act, workaday actors, who get a job done, who would never be pointed out as a great “talent.” Then there are others who leap off the screen (or stage) and draw the eye no matter what they do. I believe some have that star quality, an inner something that makes them fascinating. That cannot be taught. So talent, if it means beliievability and getting the job done, that can be instructed. X factor can not. You can have training and do just fine, and you can have that special something, and be fine, but to me, the very best of the best in this field, have both–star quality and the training to apply that quality to each job.

  2. Great post, David, thank you for writing it. I think anyone’s natural abilities can be drawn out and they are capable of learning how to make the best of them. If they want to learn and are capable of applying themselves.

    What I’ve really noticed that holds people back, is lack of emotional development.

  3. I believe that talent is dormant and is waiting for the right set of circumstances to become latent. In my acting career, I started acting before I had training. I played some pretty good roles, but never would have dared to tackle Shakespeare until I had some training, which I got via a BFA at Cornish after 9 years of being a semi-pro. Now I feel more complete and equipped to deal with any roles I’m hired on.

    Rik Deskin
    Artistic Director
    Eclectic Theater Company

  4. I feel like deterministic statements on these matters create a lot of confusion and little else. No, you can’t teach talent, or authenticity. You CAN teach diction, dialects, physical stability and agility, and, insofar as instruction focuses on the objectively identifiable parts of language (nouns, verbs, plosives, contractions, conjunctions, hypotaxis, parataxis), text analysis. Some people may need more or less help in any one of these, but it’s nice to know that people teach it. I have less faith that authenticity or emotional transparency are teachable, which is, I think, the erroneous belief behind much acting instruction, but that may be another topic.

    I am neither the uncarved block/radical autodidact I sometimes claim to be nor the long-schooled theatrician that many of my colleagues are. I really don’t disdain either path; I’m more concerned with people who hold themselves to be above schooling, or, conversely, those who allow their schooling to imbue them with undue delusions of superiority. I’m mistrustful of our educational institutions to make interesting art, only because I feel like too much time in school keeps you in a subservient position through the years that you should be burning to tear the world down and remake it; it’s why I feel like theater never really benefited from (or even noticed) the cultural influences of punk and postpunk. But then, some people don’t want to be Gang of Four or Throbbing Gristle; some people want to play Mozart and Bartok (the symphonic/classical/Shakespearean route), while some people would be happy play Eagles covers at weddings (the Neil Simon route). Well and good. Ideally, I would love to be agile enough to do all of the above.

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