Teachers Hear Students’ Concerns at 2018 Congress of Nat’l Alliance of Acting Teachers

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 1.47.03 PMby Brian O’Neil

On Monday morning, June 18, a panel of exceptionally well-trained students and actors assembled to voice their concerns to teachers as part of the New York segment of an annual meeting of the Congress of National Alliance of Acting Teachers. On board for the panel were: Condola Rashad (TV’s “Billions” and 2018 Tony nominee for “Saint Joan”); Santino Fontana (TV’s “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and Tony nominee, “Cinderella”) ; Keziah John-Paul (currently B’way’s “Book of Mormon”); Ben Graney (B’way’s recent revival of “The Heidi Chronicles”); Susanna Stahlmann (The Acting Company and The Guthrie Theatre); Ysabel Jasa (a recent graduate of the BFA/New Studio on Broadway at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts); and Cloteal Horne (presently a student in Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium’s MFA program in acting).

The Alliance itself was founded in 2014 as an independent offshoot of the long established organization known as The Actors Center. The Alliance’s mission, per its website (http://actingteachers.org), is to “clarify and nurture the highest ethical and artistic standards in the education of actors and acting teachers. Expanding our programming to now include an Annual Congress, a Professional Society, regional events and workshops, and the forthcoming launch of ‘Parodos’ – a publication devoted to teaching acting- our work is born from a collective desire to maintain excellence in our craft, while providing a creative home and ongoing dialogue for those in the field of actor training.”

A series of topics was introduced and presented by the seven-member panel, whose educations ranged from training at such schools as: the BFA program at the University of Minnesota/Tyrone Guthrie Theatre; The Graduate Acting (MFA) Program at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts; The New Studio on Broadway in the BFA program of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts; the BFA program at California Institute of the Arts; and the earlier mentioned Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium MFA program.

Topics of the actors concern ranged from a desire to see more collaboration within various departments, specifically with regard to more co-produced projects between acting departments, writing departments and filmmaking departments.  The actors felt this was not only a necessary part of a more inclusive aspect of training itself, but also of the all-important nurturing and development of relationships to take out into the “real” world upon completion of their education.  Also voiced was the desire for more teacher interest and attendance at student-written and produced works presented at the institutions; not only in support of the students for its own sake, but also to see what the actors were creating and performing as a way of showing teachers and directors new ways to look at students’ casting potential for future projects.

Interesting to hear, also, were the different policies for casting at different institutions.  Santino Fontana, most recently of Broadway’s “Hello, Dolly!” and an alum of the BFA program at University of Minnesota/Guthrie’s BFA program said that he was assigned roles that his teachers and directors felt would further his needs as an actor in development, whereas Keziah John-Paul of NYU/Tisch’s BFA New Studio on Broadway said she had to audition for everything.  Both saw similar advantages in the different policies. Fontana saw the growth of his range and John-Paul said that having to “audition for everything has made me ready and willing to audition for anything.”

Ben Graney, an alum of NYU’s MFA graduate acting program, is the co-founder of The Artists’ Financial Support Group, an organization which covers practical concerns which include everything from financial planning to student loans.  Graney’s desire was for educators to have a greater awareness of exactly what their students are going through as they enter and grapple with the world that they will soon be facing.

Condola Rashad recalled one of her most treasured memories that was passed on to her from a teacher, and something perhaps all actors need to remember at all times.  Said Rashad, “Never freak out over an audition. You don’t have the job going in. And if you don’t have the job when you leave, you haven’t lost anything because you didn’t have it in the first place. Never freak out over an audition. Never.”  Wise words indeed.

Perhaps most noticeable of all was the keen interest with which the teachers were listening to the actors on the panel and seeking to hear their concerns.  No one in the room at the Conference’s location at The New School was required to be present on what was an especially sweltering Monday morning in mid-June. Every educator present was listening. Really listening. All told, this was a highly productive event to help enable the bringing of teachers and students closer together in the increasingly difficult and complex world of the performing arts in the twenty-first century.  For more information about the National Alliance of Acting Teachers, please visit: http://actingteachers.org

 

brianoneilBrian O’Neil is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success, Fifth Edition. A former talent agent, he is currently a faculty member at NYU and The Juilliard School. For more information, visit http://actingasabusiness.com

“Curiosity Killed the Cat” Why I started Entertainment(x)

entxpodcastartworkfinalby Clayton Howe.

Ever hear that saying, “Curiosity killed the cat?” It means if you stick your nose in the business of others you may wind up dead.

But how then do you learn faster and realize quicker the habits and thoughts of successful people if not through.. curiosity?

As I get older and continue to find my purpose in the world, I want to have more in-depth conversations with established performers in entertainment. Granted, I can and will learn many things as I get older, but life is short so why not cut through all the noise and get straight to the point.

We as humans are information hungry. Why do we spend so much time on Instagram, Facebook, or reading this article? A lot of the noise is just filler or dare I say JUNK, but if we look in the right places, there is a whole lot of actionable advice and solid information for us to consume.

I am a musical theatre performer in NYC, but I wanted to learn more about living life, creating happiness, and maximizing a day. So, I began writing letters to many top performers in entertainment but to little or no avail did I receive answers back for obvious reasons.. I’m sure they were thinking, who the heck is Clayton Howe? Why does he want to know about my life? Yet I didn’t even get those responses.

In November, I looked in the right places and found Tim Ferriss. This guy is smart, intuitive, an amazing achiever, and you guessed it CURIOUS. Check out his podcast ”The Tim Ferriss Show.” Specifically those episodes that feature Terry Crews, Jamie Foxx, Tony Robbins (Part 1 and 2), and Arianna Huffington just to start you off.

While having dinner on 8th Ave a good friend of mine said, “You have so many questions, you should just start a podcast.” I thought, that’s a great idea, why didn’t I think of that? Thus, the idea for Entertainment(x) was born.

I started with cold calls, but got a bit more intelligent with my asking style; I now go to friends and ask for the introduction rather than cold call. Cold calls work and I am still doing that (actually in the form of writing letters) but why not build stronger relationships through friends instead? This means I will be starting off by interviewing top performers, specifically actors and friends of friends, on Broadway but eventually I want to expand to any and all top performers in the entertainment world because, WHY NOT?

Now recently I have enacted a new way of looking at events/projects I want to participate in. Thanks to Derek Sivers, creator of CD Baby, I’ve learned that if it’s not a HELL YEAH! then it’s a No. HELL YEAH! is exactly the response I am getting from everyone I ask. To me that’s a good sign, as though I have struck a chord within my community and people are truly interested in being a part of this project.

Entertainment(x) is considered a long form podcast, coming in close to an hour per interview. My guests and I discuss life paths and struggles along the way. We also discuss books, movies, and quotes that inspire them. I launched at the beginning of February 2018 and am looking to release one episode per week!

While curiosity may have killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back.

This could be the case for me…or maybe I’m just down to 8 lives.

Either way, Stay curious. Ask questions. Tune in to Entertainment(x).

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Clayton Howe is a performer, podcaster, and tv show creator. His inclination to create thoughtful storytelling has brought him across the world in various types of performances and to the creation of “inclaynation media” which distributes his podcast “Entertainment(x)”. All of this has brought Clay to a higher understanding of what it means to change the world through storytelling, which is why he created the podcast “Entertainment(x).” Clay believes in understanding the roots of one’s successes and struggles so others can learn from them and live a more fulfilled life. 

Five Basic Things You NEED to do in your acting career by Martin Bentsen, NY Photographer and Filmmaker

fiveNo matter where you are in your acting career, you need to do these five, basic things if you haven’t done them already. Even if you’re just starting out, the sooner you get these five things done, the more established you’ll seem and the more comfortable casting directors and filmmakers will be with hiring you.

1. Buy a URL (domain name) with your name in it… Like www.martinbentsen.com. Think you don’t need a website? Think again. These days, simply having a social media presence isn’t going to cut it. It’s absolutely vital if you want to be taken seriously to have some sort of web presence, and buying a simple domain name is the first step. Visit a website like www.godaddy.com and buy your domain name before someone else does. If your domain is unavailable, try adding the word “actor” next to it, like www.martinbentsenactor.com.

2. Create business cards with your headshot, name, URL, and email address. I like to use VistaPrint because their prices are very affordable and they have professional-looking templates you can use if you’re not ready to drop $300 or more on a professional graphic designer. Make sure you include your headshot because it’s a way for people to remember who you are when they first meet you. And as a side tip, if you don’t already have a professional email address, make sure to create one. Using Gmail is great because it’s free and looks more modern than a Yahoo or AOL email address. Keep it simple like your URL: first.last@gmail.com or first.last.actor@gmail.com. If you have a long and complex name, try just using your first name so it’s easier for people to spell.

3. Go through your emails from a long time ago and make a list in Excel with all the people in your industry you’ve worked with. Include their name, phone number, and email. Also, be sure to include a simple note of something you remember about them, whether it’s just the project you worked on together or something interesting and unique about them. You’ll later use this list to network and get back in touch with people. Remember, keeping top of mind means you’ll be more likely to get requested to audition for projects. Having an “in” with someone gives you a leg up on everyone else.

4. Create a free YouTube account and upload anything decent you have of yourself performing. When you build your websites, having a YouTube channel with up to date work will make the website creation process faster since you won’t have to worry about uploading everything again. You can just embed your YouTube videos, and then every time someone watches one, you’ll also get a view, which, as you gain more views, increases the likelihood of getting subscribers. The more subscribers you have, the more marketable you are to casting directors. Also, be aware, you should delete any bad footage of yourself. If there is anything online that shows you in a not-so-good performance, get it down as soon as you can so casting directors don’t accidentally see it.

5. Get a great Demo Reel made and upload it. A professional demo reel puts you well ahead of most actors who don’t have one. Casting directors really want to see your performance abilities on camera, be able to hear your voice, and see how you look on screen, and not having a demo reel makes this much more challenging.

I’ll be back soon with more great actor marketing and promotion strategies. Feel free to reach out to me at martin@cityheadshots.com if you have any questions.

Martin Bentsen has spoken numerous times at New York University, has run educational seminars at Actors Connection and other acting studios on branding and marketing strategies for performers, and has written a 60 page informational book called Get Cast™, which focuses on marketing tactics actors can use to find more consistent work. He is a member of both the National Association of Sales Professionals and Sales & Marketing Executives International, two highly acclaimed marketing organizations in the United States.

Martin graduated in 2011 with honors from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Film and Television program with a focus on directing, and in 2010 he founded City Headshots®, which, according to Yelp, is ranked the top headshot studio in New York. Martin’s long term goal is to run major business and actor marketing seminars across the country while expanding his City Headshots brand to go international.

LAUGHING ON SET by Martin Bentsen, NY Photographer and Filmmaker

couple of actorsHaving a good laugh when you’re on set can be fun, but every once in a while it’s not appropriate. It’s important to know when you shouldn’t burst out laughing not only because people could get offended, but worse, they could think you don’t care about their production.

In general, when you’re first starting out on a production and you don’t know the crew well, it’s best to let things happen and try not to show too many emotions (unless you have to for the scene). The more emotional you are in real life (whether it’s laughter, annoyance, anger, or sadness), the more people will form opinions about you. And because you don’t necessarily know whether those opinions will be positive or negative, it’s better not to get too involved until you get used to everyone and know who they are and how they think.

I’ve worked on set where new actors can’t seem to get a line right and just burst out laughing in multiple takes. Not only does this look unprofessional, but it can say to the director that you don’t take their project seriously. This could lead to your getting fired and even bad word of mouth since there are lots of people on set who are watching you. Some of them could talk to their friends in the industry about you.

Also, be very careful of laughing when someone on set messes something up. I’ve been on another set where a steadicam operator was running through a field grabbing shots of a war scene, and he tripped and fell over a root. It looked absolutely hilarious, but the camera fell and one of the lenses got damaged. A couple of people laughed when he fell, but the director and primary crew were not amused at all.

They actually seemed really annoyed and disappointed that some people laughed. The behind the scenes videographer actually captured the fall and played it over and over again for people to their amusement, but the steadicam operator approached him and asked him to delete the footage because his career could be completely killed from a mistake like that getting out.

Now all of this isn’t to scare you into never laughing on set, but it is to get you consciously thinking about when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. Since you’ll never know for sure, I recommend avoiding laughing during the first few shooting days unless you see the director or a higher up laughing. If everyone else is cracking up and having a good time, by all means, feel free to join. But if the crew seems somber and quiet, it’s best not to be the laughing one in the group so you don’t stand out in a negative way.

Martin Bentsen has spoken numerous times at New York University, has run educational seminars at Actors Connection and other acting studios on branding and marketing strategies for performers, and has written a 60 page informational book called Get Cast™, which focuses on marketing tactics actors can use to find more consistent work. He is a member of both the National Association of Sales Professionals and Sales & Marketing Executives International, two highly acclaimed marketing organizations in the United States.

Martin graduated in 2011 with honors from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Film and Television program with a focus on directing, and in 2010 he founded City Headshots®, which, according to Yelp, is ranked the top headshot studio in New York. Martin’s long term goal is to run major business and actor marketing seminars across the country while expanding his City Headshots brand to go international.

Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver: How the “Star Wars” Stars Are Helping to Alter the Face of Hollywood

gallery-1450794162-movies-starwars-poe-finn-1by Brian O’Neil

“Where are the Pacinos? Where are the Hoffmans and the DeNiros? Where are the up and comers like the guys who made the edgy, grimy films of the 70s so great?” So went the lament during an era when filmgoers had experienced a shift to a newer, softer and younger “model” that had burgeoned during the 1980s.

And oh, had the teen-agers piled in and piled on: Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and others had become known as the “the brat pack” and largely became the “newer” breed of film star. There were traditionally trained actors in the mix, to be sure, but Hollywood latched onto “kids” whose training was either flat-out nil, or who learned their craft not on stage as had so many of their predecessors, but while the cameras were actually rolling.

The trend continued with an endless stream of children and adolescents: Leonardo DiCaprio, Andrew McCarthy, Meg Ryan, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Tobey Maquire, Reese Witherspoon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Lawrence, to give just a small sampling. “Kids”, many of whom started in television and proving themselves in that medium, were moved along the Hollywood conveyor belt and then graduated to roles in feature films. Increasingly, this had became the process of development for the new American movie star. And so, with some exceptions, most notably foreign actors from English speaking countries (e.g. England and Australia), it continues.

What happened? Certainly, there was no dearth of the swelling numbers of conservatory trained actors coming out of the increasingly popular and competitive degree drama programs in America. Yet many of this group seemed to be moving into an ever-expanding television market while the more “established”, if less formally trained younger actors kept advancing to the more rarefied air of film stardom. By the 1990s a seismic shift in the way Hollywood recruited their young had taken hold and the culture of men and women had now given way to the boys and the girls.

In more recent years, however, Hollywood, largely through the burgeoning power of the internet,has been able to discover, or at least “see” more of the work of actors in foreign countries who appeared to have acquired a certain gravitas– largely attributed to training –that was perceived to be lacking in the American actor. Increasingly, foreign actors were being recruited and in the minds of some at least, to be “taking over” the American film and television industry. Hollywood was aware that many, if not most actors in foreign countries where English was the mother tongue, were eager to come to work in the United States. Here the chances of having an international career were far greater than staying home in the United Kingdom or Australia were likely to provide. And most of these actors were willing to work for moderate wages, at least in the early stages of what would often turn out to be ever-expanding careers.

Still, we were told, repeatedly, that the “training” of the foreigners was key. Well, yes and no. Much of what was written in this regard did not hold up under actual research, although the knee-jerk “they are better-trained” seemed to be a de-facto association, especially with the British. However, over time a surprising number of British actors, often Academy Award/Emmy Award winners/nominees, happily revealed that they had “no training whatsoever.” Perception and presumption go a long way.

As we moved into the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century the quantity of scripted American television product was in a state of seemingly unlimited expansion, doubling and tripling the previous amount of content found on the air some years earlier. “On the air” itself took on a somewhat new meaning as broadcast television had made room for cable and both were now facing competition from the newer streaming services of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. And so, the demand for new “series regulars” expanded along with the quantity of television itself. It was then that we really started to observe the mass escalation of British, Australian, Scottish and Irish actors who were often being selected over Americans, and many Americans wondered why there weren’t “enough of us” to fill the demand.

There were. Yet there is more to being cast as a regular on a television series or a lead in a feature film than simply the ability to be able to “do it.” Much, if not most of being a candidate for employment at high levels of the industry requires being at a career level to realistically expect being considered for the assignment. Understandably, studio and network executives want/need to feel that whomever is chosen has, at least to some degree, already proven themselves and shown some consistency in quality of work and reputation.

What was unknown to most Americans was just how many of the British and Australians being insourced had attained remarkably impressive credits in their homeland prior to their engagements here in the USA. Many had already appeared as regulars on a series or two and had either won or been nominated for major acting awards including those given out by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Again, the internet radically aided and abetted an easy way to “discover” and cherry-pick the cream of the crop from English speaking countries. Increasingly, and even today, studio and network executives spend a great deal of time in their offices streaming television and film from foreign countries.

Searching for talent “over there” has become far more figurative than literal. Obviously, in times past, this method was a non-option. So to those who said “Why?” one response was: “There’s a lot of high-level casting to be done and there are a lot of highly experienced actors we can consider.” In other words, to those who asked “why” the simple answer seemed to be: “Why not?” With the influx of foreign actors, Hollywood was able to provide American audiences with new faces, but new faces who were not inexperienced- which helped to create a win-win situation for executives in Hollywood and for the actors from foreign countries as well.

Dab smack in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century there emerged in the United States a classically-trained stage actor, a man- not a teenager – who began his training as a young adult. He was getting some early “buzz” for his extraordinary work in drama school and being discussed, potentially at least, as “the young generation’s answer to the days and likes of Al Pacino.” Oscar Isaac Hernandez, born in Guatemala, was brought by his parents to the United States as a five-month old infant. The family arrived in Baltimore, moved to Louisiana and ultimately settled in Miami, where Isaac was raised and educated. Showing a strong talent for both music and acting early on, Isaac auditioned and was accepted into The Juilliard School’s prestigious Drama Division where he performed a wide range of contemporary and classical works culminating in his final production in the title role of “Macbeth.”

Following graduation, more Shakespeare beckoned with Isaac garnering a lead in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor summer production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” There is nothing unusual about a newly minted alum from an A-list conservatory being cast in a New York Shakespeare Festival production, but landing a lead role so quickly- one week after graduation- is a tad out of the ordinary. But then, so was Isaac. He continued to do more classics and contemporary productions at other A-list New York theaters including Manhattan Theatre Club, along with the expected-at-the-time New York actor’s rite de passage appearance on an episode of TV’s Law & Order, along with one film.

Then something happened. Television pursued Isaac, and in a pretty big way. Not unusual for a high-profile, well-trained New York actor appearing in lead roles at the city’s top theaters, but what was unusual was that Isaac declined. Nicely, politely, as is always his way, but nevertheless, he declined. It wasn’t that he had a different or specifically planned “other” strategy, nor was it ego, but such was his talent that Isaac pretty much found himself in a position to accept what interested him and decline what didn’t. And so, minus television he proceeded to build his career in the more old-fashioned New York style and maintained his focus by going back and forth between film and theater, very much like the career of, well Al Pacino, to whom he was now being regularly compared. None of which is to say that had he opted for a television series his film career would have derailed, but given the commitment and scheduling that accompanies most television, he would have been far less likely to have been able to choose the film projects that interested him and be available to do them as their schedules would require.

In fact, after the Law & Order episode, Isaac would be absent from the small screen for many years until he was well-established in film and an HBO mini-series called “Show Me a Hero” would prove irresistible to him. For his performance in “Hero” he was honored with a Golden Globe Award. If audiences felt they needed a young Pacino, they had one. And then some.

One major difference between Isaac and Pacino is that when Pacino decided to tackle Shakespeare it was well after he was established as a movie star and his early efforts with classical material were met with disastrous response. Considered well-trained in his era, Pacino’s background apparently lacked the training that a classics-oriented conservatory would provide the newer and equally serious actor of today’s generation. Despite a relatively recent spate of magazine articles expressing sentiments including “The Crisis in American Acting” and “The Decline of the American Actor”, (articles which proved only to be about movie stars), training in the finest American drama schools is more extraordinary and challenging than ever before. And along with that go the standards for acceptance into such programs. Many top degree programs have a one to two percent acceptance rate which consists of auditions and multiple call-backs with grueling twelve or thirteen hour days of being put to the test by the faculty and administration in order to be admitted. Those who nostalgically long for the days of the old New York theater training programs heralded in the articles to which I refer above, often forget that some of those schools of yore granted entree simply “by interview.”

And so we move to the second actor of this discussion: Adam Driver. Born in San Diego, Driver was also accepted into and trained at The Juilliard School. Again, we had a young man, in this case a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, beginning his formal training as an adult, and entering his profession fully grounded and classically trained. Immediately upon graduation, he earned admission into the highest levels of New York theater, including performing lead roles in Broadway productions of such British playwrights as George Bernard Shaw and Terence Rattigan. Driver, like Isaac before him, quickly did his obligatory Law & Order. Then something happened that proved very different from Isaac’s experience. Television beckoned in the form of HBO’s Girls and Driver accepted. And whatever Girls was or wasn’t, this was no ordinary television show.

From the very first episodes many critics felt that Driver, from an acting standpoint at least, was the heft and substance of the show. As Girls was finishing its fourth season, the future of Driver’s character seemed uncertain. Not coincidentally, the demand for Driver’s services in the world of feature film was burgeoning. At this point, many felt the show was losing its edge. Clearly, Girls wanted Driver to stay. As the seasons wore on, it was Driver who continued to receive Emmy nominations while Lena Dunham’s, at least in the acting category, had subsided.

But here’s the thing: Girls was a twenty-eight minute episode show which, with the exception of one season, ran only ten episodes per season. The amount of content along with the schedule of the show made it considerably easier for Driver to accept other projects than had it been a one hour show with twice as many episodes per season as Girls. So both Driver and Isaac had the good fortune of having somewhat flexible schedules to pursue what they chose to pursue.

What, then, is the upshot here? Just this: contrary to what has reached mythical proportions in the media, there are actors who are raised, educated and classically trained at top American drama schools who start their careers as adults, not as children or teenagers, possessed of the gravitas attributed largely to their British counterparts and who are themselves, moving forward in modern day film. As mentioned earlier, there is no dearth of such actors who are wildly successful in American television at this time, but seeing a new breed of what some feel is an older world model of actor thriving in film once again is a joy. And in the “unconventional” leading man movie star category as well. Yet, call Oscar Isaac a “movie star” and he won’t like it. Call Adam Driver a “leading man” and he says, “I’m like a sight gag.” Unconventional indeed.

I am blessed that my work allows me to see and mentor new and compelling, classically trained actors of great substance. I will continue to tell stories of their professional journey in upcoming “chapters” of this series. Stay tuned.

Brian O’Neil is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success: Fifth Edition. A former talent agent, he teaches at many of the country’s top drama programs including The Juilliard School and New York University. He coaches privately as well. For more information, please visit http://www.actingasabusiness.com.