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Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: JB ()
Date: September 12, 2008 07:20AM

Hello all,

I sure have been enjoying following the Byron Katie thread of late (especially the stuff about "curative fantasies" and how revering a person is an indicator for setting that person up as a guru).

I started this separate thread because I used to take an acting workshop from a guy who billed himself as the anti-guru but once you got into his workshop, flipped into a screaming, belittling, confusion spreading autocrat.

I want to find a specific post here, or some post or article elsewhere that can help me bullet point the warning signs of guru-like behavior. Why? A friend of mine was in a new workshop of this gurus and dropped out. She then started posting about her negative experiences regarding this teacher on an actors board. And, boy, did the disciples come out of the woodwork. Defending the teacher with the tenacity of some of the BK apologists, or a rabid Scientologist. I read some of the posts and was flabbergasted by the full-throated, though illogical defense of this teacher. Many of the apologists were long-time students (from three to four years).

I was in the same workshop and got out after a year and a half. And only because I sat down with myself and friends and discussed in great detail why it is I would stay in a group when I was

1.(occasionally) being screamed at for very minor performance errors

2. belittled in group discussions - examples of this include:
the teacher prompting me to "go for it" in a specific acting exercise and then in the post-mortem group discussion suggesting gleefully that I was gay;
referring to me (in the 3rd person) as the "slow one" when I asked for a clarification on a particular technique;
being periodically ignored when I raised my hand;
being ignored when i asked the question out loud after being ignored when i raised my hand;
being told that I played a "very small part" in this workshop when I made a quip the group enjoyed.

3. shamed in one-one-one coaching sessions:
being told that I looked like I was "shitting in my pants" because of the way I walked on stage;
being told that I was "just a pretty boy skating by on his good looks";
told to look away and not make eye contact with him;

4. being told that i had a "major" problem with the audibility of my voice even when the rest of the class could hear me clearly

These are just some of the things he did to me. I could inventory a few dozen of the many belittling comments he made towards other classmates - sexual innuendos about women's bodies as they were performing on stage, screaming at people (occasionally, but enough to raise the chronic fear level in the room to code "orange" from the usual friendly, collegial environment I've experienced in other acting classes. It goes on and on. The point: I clearly feel that this man is using many of the coercive techniques, especially "confusion" before inserting suggestion; and "trance walks" at the beginning of class, to get the group into a more compliant frame of mind.

Problem is, these are subtle intuitions on my part and I don't know how to articulate them for a lay audience (the actor's board) in such a way that they don't sound kooky, but have an impact on the people considering enrolling in this workshop. I feel strongly that this guru/teacher is using deceptive tactics, including downright lying about his role in the workshop, in order to fill up his class.

Many fine professional actors were recruited by this man into his workshop. Of the thirty or so that started the workshop, eleven left in the first year, most of them privately stating to me and other actors that they couldn't stand to be around this guy; and that they couldn't stand to see the way that the group was collectively losing it's self confidence and slowly becoming more submissive towards this person. I felt I was become more submissive, just to survive the group discussions. The remaining actors who I occasionally see in social situations are a bit more depressed than usual, but almost uniformly have nice things to say about this guy, including that the (abusive) tactics are just there to help them become better.

So I'm looking for some website with a bullet point type article/post that I can put up on this message board to let people who are in the class see if they are being bamboozled and to help prospective participants frame the guru's sales seminar into something they can look at critically, rather than with uncritical "awe".

Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated.

I should note that many of the post in the BK thread, by Corboy, Anti-Cult and helpme2times (sorry, if spelling wrong) contained much of what I think these actors could benefit from reading, and thank you all for that. I just think if it were aggregated in some other site from a single source, it might be both more credible and digestible for the actor/poster to click to and digest.

I especially appreciate the reminders about CBT, Burns book, etc. because referring back to these materials reminded me that I don't have to personalize any of the toxic comments this teacher made to me.

a votre sante,


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/12/2008 07:20AM by JB.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: September 12, 2008 09:43PM

Dear JB, for a book that is both screamingly funny and very informative,
get and read 'Why The Long Face?' by actor Craig Chester.

One thing Chester tells us is that for an actor, the hardest thing when dealing with painful comments is distinguishing when this is information one needs to face in order to improve one's craft, versus when it is just projected bullshit.

If one cannot tell the difference, one becomes vulnerable to enduring abuse. And lots of us have graduated from abusive families and this can create part of the drive that leads to an artistic career. It is all too easy for a talented but intrusive acting teacher to re-enact the role of a tyrannical parent.

And what you are describing are various manifestations of intrusiveness.

An artist has to retain access to the true inner core of his or her self, and that has to be respected and protected. Acting coaches are in a position of trust and one is vulnerable with them, much the way one is with a psychotherapist.

But...acting coaches are not in a profession regulated by law and they are not required to follow the care givers mantra 'Above all do no harm.'

One thing that may set people in the arts up for exploitation is that in order
to gain success, contacts, one has to please authority figures and this in turn sets one up to endure boundary violations and insults one would never tolerate from a peer. There is a reason why comments about the 'casting couch' are as old as Hollywood itself. That sort of power imbalance between powerful producer and aspiring actor or actress is a drastic imbalance.

Diaghilev was reportedly a tyrant and sought to monopolize the lives of his
protege artists---yet he created some of the most spectacular innovations in music and dance. The costumes for Ballet Russe inspired the Parisian couturier Paul Poiret to create designs that freed the torso and eliminated corsets.

Dmitri Mitropoulos of the Minneapolis Philharmonic Orchestra was brilliant but also infamous for put downs that were hilarious--but only if you were not the person on the receiving end. If you were, this was not funny at all.

Chester described a brutal exercise in his acting school where students had to cry. In order to make them cry, they were put through a hot seat treatment.

At the end of the book he has a chapter on New Age spirituality and comments that many aspiring actors and actresses, including himself, get interested in this sort of thing.

Here is a very old thread 'Can a Dance Studio be a Cult?'


And..fame can bring its own problems.



As for the celebrities, they are probably easy to recruit because they are vulnerable, lonesome, and when they become famous, they find that fame isolates them. They become afraid to mix spontaneously with people. They are confined to socializing in structured settings, become spiritually hungry, have murderous work schedules. As a result they are easily targeted and hooked in by cult recruiters who know how to speak to their loneliness. And celebrities are not mistreated by adroit cult leaders; they're too valuable to be mistreated--stars are used to attract the innocent multitudes who are the ones who are exploited and bled dry.

For further parallels, go to the homepage for and look up in Groups, Sharon Gans and or Theatre of All Possiblities.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: JB ()
Date: September 13, 2008 12:41AM


Thank you very much for all these references. Yes, it's sad but true what you say about boundary issues. The good teachers I've had in the past were excellent at gingerly dancing up to, but not intruding into their students boundaries. I'll be sure to check out the Chester book and read the Sharon Gans thread. Thanks again.


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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: September 13, 2008 05:35AM

Must alert you that Craig takes no prisoners. Do not read if you shock easily.

One of the chapters in the book is entitled, 'You Will Never Eat Ass in This Town Again'.

Google him and 'Why the Long Face?'and you'll find some articles.

BTW, if you want a case study of an artist and manager who respected his employees and clientele, find a copy of Paris in the Fifties by Stanley Karnow.

The entire book is fabulous--and you may find yourself entralled, staying up all night to read it.

Look to the chapter, 'The Glass of Fashion'. Karnow wrote about the French fashion industry, but focused on Christian Dior. He described Dior's artistic process, and Dior was both an artist and a manager of what was a kind of theatre--for a fashion house does have features of performance art/theatre.

Read the entire account. What got to me was that Dior demanded perfection and worked hard, but seeping through Karnow's account, it seemed, at least to me, that Dior respected everyone, while at the same time urging them to do their best.

When Karnow visited Dior's home to interview him, Dior encouraged him to roam freely around the space, and Dior also gave Karnow full access to the backstage and work space at Chez Dior.

And Dior also told Karnow that after all the horrors of designing a collection, he never attended a show. This left the buyers and journalists free to decide what they liked.

I got the sense that Dior sought to control quality--both the quality of his own creative process and also the work others did to make his dreams reality. But he didnt seek to control people--at least not from this one account.

That is very different from the intrusiveness you describe on the part of your acting coach. And the description of Dior's creative process as given by Karnow, is very interesting--a form of active imagination, in which Dior had to let himself go in order to visualize new designs.

And then he showed these prototypes to a jury of women whose judgement he trusted. So he was capable of collaboration--he wasnt a sole dictator.

You will have to read this and then generalize this to theatre and to acting, but it may offer some insights.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/13/2008 05:45AM by corboy.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: cochineal ()
Date: January 15, 2009 02:28AM

Talking about acting teachers as gurus...
Does anyone know anything about Michael Horn's
"Michael Chekov's Theater Company" in Manhattan.
see: []
Is it a cult as well?
Michael Horn is Alex Horn's son. See the threads about Alex Horn and Sharon Gans on Rick Ross.
People who really did study with Michael Chekhov claim that Horn isn't the real deal.
I also know that he charges people money to join his acting company.
Anybody know anything else about them or have any experience with them?

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: cultsurvivor22 ()
Date: December 28, 2009 10:31AM

I am always careful when any teacher approaches me. Emotions have been used to mind control me and whenever someone uses them on me or others I tell others they are being manipulated.

This page:

talks about coercive emotional techniques.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: newskycars ()
Date: June 12, 2010 12:05PM

In every field there is lot of tactics are required to get hold on it when you become teachers either school teacher or guru then responsibilities are increasing on your side so gurus think quickly but not implemented in quick time basically teachers are heart parents and never forgot them always try to pray for him

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/2010 08:35PM by rrmoderator.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: WTF ()
Date: December 27, 2010 01:46PM

Hi Cochineal,

Just begun to look into Michael Horn and his Chekov Theatre company. So far what I have heard is NOT good... A lot of the techniques of his father Alex Horn and Gans at play. Emotional Abuse and mind fucks....If you are involved I suggest getting out. Quick. And taking as many as you can with you. I hear that Gans has parted ways with her 'go to' acting teacher she used for years, and may be looking to have M. Horn fill the space....Ill keep you posted as I learn more.

Stay sharp !

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 27, 2010 10:22PM

WTF is right.

Get out immediately.

Two--dont tell anyone. RUN RUN RUN

You do not owe them an explanation. THis is not a normal human relationship. Any sense of obligation or loyalty you have will be used against you.

Dont call and say you quit. Dont send a letter.

In fact, just leave.

Not only that, change your phone number and e-mail so no one can reach you. If you are sent any mail, put it aside and dont read it for at least a year. (If you have a safe deposit box at a bank, put it there and leave it)

If they try to contact you go to the police and obtain a restraining order and have the NYPD look at the stuff on this website if they want to understand why you want one.

Again, you are not in a normal human situation. Your humanity will be used against you.

You are in the psychological equivalent of a smoke filled room. If you stay in at that acting school too long, you will become habituated to the technques.

You may be persuaded to do things you are so ashamed of that fear of blackmail may keep you trapped.

Two, it is possible that right this minute, they are reading messages on this very thread, know that WTF has given advice to you, and may lay off and get nice and flatter you---right at the moment you are thinking of leaving. You may lose your resolve, stay in and go through the decades of degradation.

Worse, you may be persuaded to marry someone and have a child born into this hell hole.

(Tey may not know you personally are leaving but may use this thread information as a prompt to go nicey nicey for awhile and lay off the overt abuse. You all might be taken out for a wonderful party or fun filled event, just to distract you from the earlier shit. You each may be taken aside and told you have special potential and--dont tell anyone else. That way you will all be given the same flattery and not know it because you are forbidden to talk to each other)

Just treat this as a smoke filled room. Fire fighters tell people to get out immediately in such a sitaution. Only reason firefighters can go into smoke filled rooms is they wear protective equipment.

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Re: Acting Teachers as Gurus
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 27, 2010 10:35PM

If you try to give them an explanation for why you are leaving, this gives them an opportunity to get into your head, flatter you, (or accuse you of being a quitter, right when they were on the point of offering you a promotion)

They'll tell you about the good times.

Here is a scenario from the Savage Love column back in May, 2009


If abusers were abusive 24/7—if they weren’t capable of doling out a little bliss now and then—no abusive relationship would last longer than one date.

Like all abusers, he parcels out the good times, doping you up with a little bliss now and then, because he knows that these glimpses of how great things could be convince you to stick around against your better judgment.

The bliss is a con, HDTH, a weapon that he uses against you, just as much a part of the cycle of abuse as his tantrums, fits, and threats of violence are.

Think of the good times as rainbow sprinkles on a dog-shit sundae—sprinkles or no sprinkles, you’re still standing there with a bowl full of dog shit in your hands.


Just get out and offer no explanation. Theyve run through plenty of other people and dont care personally about you. You are just an interchangeable object.

Its like hitting cardboard on the toilet paper roll. Throw the cardboard away and just put another roll in the holder that will have its life being being ripped to shreds into manage pieces so as to receive other persons negativity/dark matter.

Advice from Dan Savage of Savage Love


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