Lesly Kahn: The Anti-Guru

Disclaimer: I am in no way receiving any compensation for this post. No kickback, no referral bonus, not even any discounts. I've written this purely because I wanted to share my opinion. Lesly doesn't even know I wrote this. Yet. UPDATE: She read it, and I'm not dead, so I guess she's cool with it.

I searched high and low and couldn't find a headshot of the woman. She's so frustrating that way. But it also proves my point.

I searched high and low and couldn't find a headshot of the woman. She's so frustrating that way. But it also proves my point.

Are you an actor dissatisfied with your career? Here are two pieces of advice I would like to give you:

  1. If you struggle with nerves, talk to your doctor about beta-blockers.
  2. If you have the money, go to Lesly Kahn.

Lesly Kahn changed my career. Early in my time in LA, I had wasted nearly two years doing scene-study classes that prepared me NOT ONE BIT for the realities of pursuing an acting career in this town. The year I started working with Lesly was the year I started making a living as an actor, and it is entirely due to what I learned from her.

Maybe you've heard of Lesly Kahn. Maybe you've even met her. You probably have a strong opinion of her--not many walk away without one. She's polarizing. Challenging. And very, very loud.

The Queen of Comedy

The thing you're most likely to hear regarding Lesly is that she's "good with comedy." Having gone through the whole Kahn-machine, I can you tell you: Yes. Yes, she is. But that doesn't mean what you think it means.

It does not mean that Lesly focuses on comedy at the expense of other "genres." It does not mean that Lesly herself is particularly funny, or even that you'll be entertained by her quick wit and acerbic observations (she IS, and you WILL be, once the terror subsides, but that's more of a bonus).

It means that Lesly is SO GOOD she can teach someone who is not naturally funny how to "do comedy" well enough to BOOK A PROFESSIONAL ACTING JOB.

This is the part that a lot of actors really hate. Many of us have been told that we'll "make it in Hollywood" because we have some God-given, innate gift. How horrifying to think that it can be taught.

It can.

And Lesly does.

And she starts with comedy, and makes every student start with comedy, because that's the easiest way for her to teach you her language--or "non-technique."

The Kahn Non-Technique

Lesly herself calls what she teaches a "non-technique," which is what makes her--in my opinion--the anti-guru. If your perception of Lesly Kahn is that she is some narcissistic acting dictator who insists you do things her way, you're missing the point.

She's the first person to tell you that her "technique" is pretty obvious--do what's on the fucking page. Do what you're being asked to do, by the writers and producers and executives. Lesly's genius, of course, is that she has actually figured out the secret code these requests so often come in, and she wants to share that language with every actor she teaches.

That's what sets Lesly apart from the gurus, from what I can tell. At other schools, you may spend years chasing the dragon of Inspired Brilliant Acting--maybe by plumbing your past, or identifying and tackling personal obstacles, or unlocking your imagination, or whatthefuckever. That stuff's awesome if you're independently wealthy and can spend your time doing acting projects that fulfill you artistically. Lesly, however, downloads pretty much her entire framework in the first class you're required to take--then it's up to you how quickly you can roll that into your repertoire (and how long you can afford to stick around). She teaches you what you need to know to work.

How Does the Kahnstitute Work?

Any student may sign up for any of the Acting Workshops or the Acting Buffet at the Kahn (short for the Kahnstitute, which is how we lovingly refer to the studio). The Acting Buffet is designed for beginning actors and what I DESPERATELY wished I could have taken instead of those two years of scene-study.

But if you're already familiar with acting, you are funneled into the core classes--the Comedy Intensive, Clinic, and Ongoing--which must be taken in that order. You can read more about what exactly is covered in each of these classes here.

Before you can start your Comedy Intensive, however, you must first sign up for a Triage session. Triage prices range from $35-132, and trust me it's worth every penny to get in front of Lesly herself in the smallest group you can afford. This session introduces you to Lesly and the principles of the Kahn, and it also introduces Lesly to you and where you are in your acting journey. I recently observed a Triage and it lasted for five hours--it's basically a sample class. One of the most frequent complaints about the studio and Lesly is that she charges for Triage--there is no auditing. You can read her defense of that policy here, and you can listen to me when I say: get over it.

I say "get over it" because I used the think the same thing. I wanted to go "audit" different schools until I found "the right fit for me." But what the hell does that even mean? Why are you looking for a school that fits you? Unless you're perfectly happy with how you're doing things, you do not want a school that fits you. You want more tools to add to your toolkit, and that is exactly what Lesly offers.

Lesly is a Tool

Think of yourself as a craftsman--your craft is professional acting. Hollywood wants to hire you to do a very specific acting job. Maybe it's Office Guy #2. Maybe it's a Marvel superhero. Or maybe it's Hamlet. Maybe, during the course of your career, it will be all three.

Each of those roles requires a different set of tools. Your job, as an actor, is to collect all the tools you need to perform each of those roles, given maaaaaaaaybe 24 hours between the phone call from your agent and your audition.

Every acting teacher with whom you study offers different tools. No acting teacher--or workshop company, or career counselor, or MFA program, etc.--can give you ALL the tools. Which means that no matter how much money you spend or how much you click with a certain teacher, there is no Working Actor master tool-kit you can just go out and buy.

Let me repeat that in a different way.

As much as you may wish it to be true, YOU CANNOT SIMPLY GO OUT AND PURCHASE "BEING A WORKING ACTOR."

I feel like this is, unfortunately, what a lot of actors try to do when they try to "find an acting studio." They think Howard Fine or Ivana Chubbuck or even Lesly Kahn will, given enough commitment (i.e. time and money) from their students, somehow be able to impart all the secrets of becoming an actor.

Ain't gonna happen.

So sometimes, students leave the Kahn disenchanted because they were disappointed in Lesly as a guru.

That's 'cause she's not. It's not her job to give you all the answers.

Instead, every teacher, every philosophy, in fact every acting experience you ever have, constitutes exactly ONE tool in your tool-kit. Those tools will be helpful for some acting problems, but not all. It's Lesly's job to give you all HER answers.

Which she does.

At What Cost?

It does come at a price, of course. It's not highway robbery, but it's not a pay-what-you-can yoga class in Griffith Park, either. Classes at the Kahn aren't cheap, which actually works in your favor. The high cost of tuition weeds out anyone who's just an acting hobbyist. They'll go check out one of the lower-cost scene-study classes around town to get their feet wet, as they should. The Kahn is for serious actors only.

It's been a bit since I was regularly enrolled in classes so I don't know how prices have changed, and there is a wide variety of classes offered, but if you're in the regular core classes you can expect to be spending somewhere in the ballpark of $300-500 per month.

Is it worth it?

For me, it certainly was. I made back the cost of the Comedy Intensive during the first week of Clinic, when I booked my first guest star role. Then I made it through maybe two months of Ongoing before I had to go spend three weeks in Cape Cod filming an Adam Sandler film. (More recently, unfortunately, I haven't been working enough to afford classes. Ebb and flow, you know.)

Is this typical? Hard to say. There are plenty of actors at the Kahn who are regularly working actors; there are also plenty who are still waiting for their first job. It depends on a lot of other variables, obviously.

Because Lesly Kahn and what she offers is one tool. Turns out, the Kahn was precisely the tool I needed at that exact moment in my acting career. No one can tell you if your results will be like mine.

I tell my friends that if they have money to burn, they should absolutely check out Lesly Kahn. If they DON'T have the money, I tell them to wait until the moment they decide to quit acting. If you're ready to walk away, cough up one last $1,000 (roughly the amount that will get you through Intensive, Clinic, and a month of Ongoing) to see if Lesly Kahn is the one tool you're missing.

You may not like Lesly (like I said, she's super loud). You may not like the Kahn (you have to take your shoes off inside). You may not like your classmates (it can be like any class, that way).

But if you pay attention to what she's trying to tell you, I don't know how you could walk away without learning something very, very valuable from the inimitable Lesly Kahn.