Industry Comes Together to Create Association for Acting Coaches and Educators

The entertainment industry has been rocked by significant shifts in thinking over the past five years. Equity, diversity, inclusion, intimacy, consent, harassment, language, mental health and Covid protocols that were barely discussed five years ago are now top-of-mind considerations for our industry. While there is still much work to do, Canadian Creative Industries can be proud of the work they’ve done to develop codes, policies, reporting mechanisms and educational resources to help change the collective culture in our workplaces. As these shifts continue, some in the industry recognized one area that fell outside any real oversight.

In 2018 Christine Brubaker and I wrote an article for Intermission magazine, Acting Training in Canada: an Appeal for Change, in which we stressed the need for reform in acting training.

“The ugly truth about sessional/guest artist-teachers is that, though they may be one of the frontline deliverers of acting training, there is no real teacher training provided to them…If artists-turned-teachers must scramble to create a teaching practice without training, they may rely on their learned industry patterns of behaviour. As is becoming painfully apparent, much of this behaviour is not only outdated but in violation of the law….How is it acceptable that a teacher’s IMDb page is more important than their education in teaching?”

The questions remain. How do coaches and educators incorporate new industry standards into their teaching practices? How is this knowledge shared in the unregulated acting training community?

After #MeToo, many brave students and former students came forward to expose problems in acting training environments. In 2018 Got Your Back (GYB) created a National Acting Training Survey with over 500 student responses.

“This survey revealed a serious need to update acting training in ways that prioritize the safety of students, reflect a more diverse and inclusive community, build a culture of consent, and allow for all students to be successful.”

A summary article called, The State of Acting Training in Canada, written by Sarah Robbins, Neil Silcox and myself for HowlRound Magazine, shone a bright light into a very grey area of our industry. A strong recommendation from both the survey and the Intermission article was that industry aid in the establishment of an acting educators association to provide oversight, education, community and standards of best practices.

“Without a national conversation, institutions will remain autonomous, siloed, and left to problem-solve in a vacuum. A national conversation will help our actor training culture evolve so that it will reflect the necessary and exciting changes happening in our industry.”

Theresa Tova, then President of ACTRA Toronto, gathered together concerned industry partners, knowledgeable and dedicated educators and students, to discuss what could be done to establish clear expectations and accountability for acting educators. They agreed with the recommendations from the survey that an association could help facilitate this. A steering committee was formed with the support of ACTRA Toronto staff and together they created a Code of Conduct and AACE Member guide. I asked Sandra Gillis, President of TAMAC, why they wanted to help build AACE. She said:

“Agents have been waiting a long time for a professional association to come along that we can refer our talent and industry partners to which will help guide them to coaches and educators with whom they can safely work. AACE fulfills that much-needed accountability and support.”

David Gale, President of ACTRA Toronto, believes that AACE is an extension of the work that has already been done:

“As part of the Canadian Creative Industries Coalition, ACTRA Toronto welcomes and supports AACE for implementing essential standards for acting coaches with the goal of keeping our members safer off set.”

All of AACE’s growing number of industry partners have agreed to this statement:

“As founding industry partners of the Association of Acting Coaches and Educators (AACE), we are in full support of the AACE code of conduct, guidelines, and ongoing respect-based education that will bring much-needed oversight, best practices, accountability, and standards to the sector. We encourage all educators to apply for AACE membership as we are committed to promoting and working with AACE-recognized Coaches and Educators in the future.”

The vast majority of coaches and educators are dedicated, passionate professionals who care deeply for student success. While oversight and base standards for acting coaches and educators are important steps, they are not enough to create safer environments for students. Building a strong community that supports coaches and educators, that shares knowledge and collectively brings accountability to the industry, is paramount to the success of AACE.

AACE members have made a positive commitment to their ongoing education, but sector-specific training for acting educators is very limited. There just aren’t a lot of educational opportunities that are specific to what acting coaches experience in the classroom, private coaching or studio. Educational conferences are standard in most other teaching professions, but glaringly absent in the acting education world. Their benefit can not be overstated, as we identified in the Appeal for Change article.

“Conferences are…opportunities for educators to share knowledge, take a holistic look at their field and update their practice. Conferences also help schools to understand themselves in relationship to each other. They play a vital role in creating standards, problematizing and creating joint defence against bureaucratic interests.”

AACE has committed to finding and creating educational opportunities geared specifically for acting coaches/educators, where we all can learn, grow and create community. AACE has already partnered with several intimacy professionals, creating workshops at discounted rates for AACE members. More workshops are being planned for this year on mental health, triggering language, power imbalances and inclusion and we are excited to announce that pre-planning has already begun for two acting training conferences in Vancouver and Toronto in 2023.

AACE began accepting individual coaches and educators for membership in the fall of 2021 and more than 100 teachers have already applied. Membership requires all coaches/educators to have at least two years of teaching experience, to have read and signed the AACE Code of Conduct, to have sector-specific training in at least two different areas and to commit to ongoing training. Membership in AACE is free and applications are evaluated by a vetting committee made up of members and industry partners.

The AACE website and social media accounts are now live! There you can read more about AACE and see our growing list of Industry Partners. Students, parents, and production companies can find our members list of respect-based coaches and access our guide for what to expect from an acting coach/educator.

If you are an acting coach/educator we hope you will join us to continue this momentum of change. Together we can make acting training safer for everyone!

Please reach out to us if you have any questions at aacesteeringcommittee@gmail.com

Jennifer Wigmore is an activist, educator and multidisciplinary artist in acting, writing, and visual art. She teaches in multiple post-secondary institutions as well as coaches privately. Jennifer appears in numerous television series and films; recent credits include Y: The Last Man, The Winter Palace, Henry G20, Malory Towers, Designated Survivor, Adult Adoption, and Happy Place. As an activist she works with Got Your Back, NSIP (The National Society of Intimacy Professionals) and sits on the steering committee for AACE (The Association of Acting Coaches and Educators).