Whether you are working or not, there comes a time in an actor’s life where you consider perfecting your craft.
I am currently teaching two acting classes and one filmmaking class.
For many of my students, it is the first time they had ever had formal training. For others, it might be a refresher course or a lifetime desire to take an acting class and see what they have been missing. And yet, I have a few working actors that need coaching on an audition or on a role they booked and we workout what the character is all about. In all my classes though, it’s not about giving the students dogma or to teach them my “method” and what works for me. The emphasis on my teaching is in the self-discovery of the actor. It is only when an actor knows him or herself well, that an actor can attempt to portray other stories, lives, and roles. At least that what was instilled in me at a very crucial time in my training and career.
It was the late nineties and I had just come off the cancellation of a television show that was supposed to put me on the map and in the minds of those powerful people that would take me to the next level in my career. In fact, I had an interview with a up and coming agency that was replenishing their stables and were looking for new unknown talent. My meeting was actually the same day the show was cancelled. The agent was very kind and said to me that now that I was no longer on television every week on prime time on CBS from August to February, I no longer existed. He was a big time agent and I was a fledgling actor, I believed him. Suddenly my career took a hit and remained stagnant for the foreseeable future.
Up to this point, I had been working steadily and in between jobs, I was acting in student and Independant films. I even did a few plays and joined several theatre groups to keep my acting chops up. But I felt somehow, like it was my fault that I wasn’t working. Perhaps I shouldered some of the blame, but what to I do about it. I decided to seek out an acting teacher, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I did before. I would carefully vet the next coach. I audited a few classes that were taught by some out of work New York actor who tried to make it on Hollywood and on the strength of one great credit, thought they were qualified to teach. I sat in a small run down theatre in Hollywood, hearing how working with Pacino was the highlight of this actor’s career. I felt lost and confused.
Then one day I was reading the back pages of Backstage West, through the adverts for photographers, demo reel companies, and acting teachers. The ad that stood out to me was a small 2×2 inch box with the simple words, “Now accepting students for a master class with George Shdanoff. There was a number. I called it and I was given a time, date, and location of the audition. The audition was held in his small Westwood apartment. I knocked on the door and I was greeted by a statuesque woman named Ia, with a Georgian accent. She invited me in and there was George. He was a man about 90 years old with a fierce intensity in his eyes. He was being helped by a young Russian man called Sergei. George was escorted to a chair in front of me and he gave me a warm smile and the audition began. An hour an a half later, I emerged as if I had run a marathon of emotional and psychological proportions. I had never acted better in my life and I was tested and prodded using every bit of feeling and imagination I had. He had reached inside my mind and pulled out the child in me.
I had the great fortune of being accepted in his last master class that consisted of eight to ten people. He was a maestro and a lovely human being. I learned that in the late thirties, he had come to American with the late great Michael Chekhov. George worked with and taught three of my heroes; Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and Yul Brynner. He passed away about a year later, but he gave me the gift of self-confidence and a reverence for my profession. He used to like to say, “Turn off the Calculator (pointing to his head) and use your imagination (pointing to his heart) to guide you to your work.” Thank you George.