Is Shea Hampton the best acting coach in Vancouver?

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For about six years now on and off, I’ve attended Shea Hampton’s acting class here in Vancouver. And while everyone’s experience and preferences are of course different, I’ve come to believe that she truly is the best acting coach in the city.

I can certainly compare her methods to at least a few other approaches I’ve seen, going back to the days when I’d first branched out from my community chorus to do some community theatre at the Burnaby Village Museum. I soon realized that I’d better get some kind of formal training, as winging it the way I’d done to that point simply wasn’t going to cut it!

I signed up at the William Davis Centre, where I was exposed to a cross-section of instructors and techniques. At that point, simply studying acting in a formal way brought many revelations. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the process of “studying” acting was, essentially, inseparable from studying life. And becoming a better actor was about becoming a better listener and communicator – skills that obviously are of great value beyond the stage.

But – along with some wonderful teachers and techniques – I also found some approaches that very much rubbed me the wrong way. Without naming anyone, I can just say that a process whereby one was to throw oneself into imaginings of own most deeply traumatic experiences, or imagining them, and where one commenced preparation by staring straight into one’s partner’s eyes to the point of discomfort, had me feeling resentful and almost misused.

Eventually I moved on to work with Michael Bean, whose improv-based approach was an eye-opener. Still, the time came when it was apparent that what he offered wasn’t quite right for my needs at the time. He recommended Shea Hampton.

It was the best suggestion I’ve ever been given.

I found Shea’s approach to be a perfect combination of on the one hand, a common-sense practicality, tuned to the needs and requirements of film acting, and on the other hand an almost intuitive insight into the blocks and evasions – manifesting themselves as physical or vocal tics or patterns – that are preventing her students from reaching their full potential.

She zeroes in on the simple essentials – to listen and to feel and react honestly. Simple in theory, yes, but not so simple to achieve in practice. But with Shea focusing in on you, sensing what’s going on under the surface as you play out a scene with your partner, sometimes barking out a relevant direction right in the middle of it, occasionally even marching right up behind you and adjusting your posture to relieve you of physical blocks – gradually, you get closer and closer to achieving that “simple” goal.

While her approach follows a strict framework or approach, and she rightly demands an atmosphere of respect for the process and one’s fellow actors, there is no shortage of laughter and levity in a typical evening’s class. Her slightly barbed British wit is readily applied both to her students and herself. The end result is an atmosphere of genuine affection and camaraderie.

I’ve seen for myself how effective this process can be, with many of her students moving miles ahead in their skills. And booking work!

For myself, having returned to Shea’s class after a two-year hiatus (ending just before Max was born), I’m getting wonderful feedback that I’m stronger than I ever was before, more calm, more focused and just better all around. And even though these advances seemed to happen while I was away from class, I’m sure that it’s a matter of my having simply continued to move forward on the path that Shea set out for me.

So, if you’re just starting out on the actor’s path, or you’re looking for someone to help hone and refine your skills, I firmly believe you should at least audit one of Shea Hampton’s classes. But first, if you like, have a look at her new website, where you can read in more depth about her approach, and also check out some glowing testimonials from some very successful names in the entertainment world. And once you’ve seen her in person, I think you’ll agree with me that she truly provides the best acting lessons in Vancouver.

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