Many casting directors say that they read actors’ resumes from the bottom, up. When they say that, they’re letting you know that they place an emphasis on an actor’s training. While I read the whole resume (and usually look for something very specific, based on my casting needs for that type at that moment), I am a big fan of a healthy training section on a resume. While working on Self-Management for Actors, I interviewed other casting directors to find out what the general consensus is, regarding training. How do we separate out the good from the great?
Several casting directors believe there is no substitute for long-term, ongoing training for actors. “Local schools and coaches don’t turn my head when I’m looking at an actor’s resume,” said Dino Ladki (films, TV, TheCastList.com) of the comparison to league schools. “I look for the fairly traditional schools — Northwestern and Juilliard in particular.”
“NYU is currently the best in my opinion,” Geoffrey Johnson, CSA (films, TV, theatre), stated, “along with Yale and Juilliard. I am afraid most of my choices for the best acting schools are located on [the East] Coast.”
Theatre casting director Julia Flores added a few West Coast schools to the mix, but concurred that long-term training really shows. “[Actors] get more of a balanced and thorough training program as opposed to just one person’s thoughts and approach. The programs at Carnegie Mellon, NYU, UCLA, Cal Arts, and Pepperdine are so strong that even though I may not have met [particular graduates] before, I often bring them in directly for my clients,” Flores revealed.
Other long-term programs recommended by several casting directors include American Conservatory Theatre, the University of Cincinnati, the Actor’s Center, and H-B Studios in New York.
According to Matthew Barry, CSA (The Notebook, Freddy vs. Jason, Friday After Next, John Q), “there hasn’t really been an impact acting teacher since Roy London passed away. Most actors love their coaches, but that doesn’t mean they’re learning anything.”
“When I studied with Uta Hagen for three years in New York,” former actor Mark Paladini, CSA (films, TV), began, “I believed that — due to the rigorous audition process it took to get into the class — it would have an aura of importance on my resume. Working in casting for 15 years, however, and seeing Miss Hagen’s and Sanford Meisner’s names on the resumes of many actors whose performances did not live up to their mentors’ ideals, I’ve come to realize that the name of a teacher on a resume guarantees nothing.”
Indie film and music video casting director Stephen Snyder believes “the gurus are still strong,” noting specifically the training of Larry Moss, Howard Fine, and Milton Katselas. The high opinion garnered by having these names on a resume is shared by casting directors Ladki; Victoria Burrows (The Lord of the Rings, Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story); Melissa Martin, CCDA (commercials); Paul Weber, CSA (Dead Like Me, She Spies); and Billy DaMota, CSA (The Employee of the Month, The Last Second Chance, commercials).
As Weber noted, “It’s all so subjective.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t coaches whose influence is evident in the performances of the actors casting directors hire. “Anything you do as an actor to study is going to be beneficial in the room,” Elizabeth Torres, CSA (films, TV), indicated.
“Coaches can be helpful, but they shouldn’t do your thinking for you,” Flores explained. “They should just give you the tools to help you find your own answers.”
Barry went one step beyond that in expressing his take on coaches. “If actors would just trust themselves, their work would be more significant. A good coach who is smart will guide the actor through the scene but leave room for adjustment [in the room],” he said.
CSA casting director Arnold Mungioli (theatre) described training and the work of an actor as process. “Taking care of yourself as an actor — training and coaching on a consistent basis–is the best way to assure that when you are called upon to perform in an audition or performance you will be in peak form.”
The coaches named most frequently by casting directors include Ivana Chubbuck, Harry Mastrogeorge, and Margie Haber. “Margie really gets actors to transition their techniques,” Burrows said of the cold reading expert. “She knows timing,” Barry added. “She has helped many a student prepare for the horrors of going to network.”
Other coaches that top the list included Arthur Mendoza (“I’ve seen actors improve very quickly after studying with him,” film casting director Dori Zuckerman, CSA, volunteered), Belita Moreno (“I’ve heard great things about her,” film casting legend Debra Zane, CSA, mentioned), Cameron Thor for scene study (“Everyone I know who has studied with him says he’s great,” explained Torres), Marnie Cooper (“She is amazing for kids. Her kids blow me away,” commercial casting director Stuart Stone, CCDA, said), and Janet Alhanti (who was cited as being “great for comedy” by film casting director Cathy Henderson, CSA, as well as by Zuckerman and Martin).
Casting director Lisa Fields (commercials, Blind Horizon, Fearless) recommended John Sudol, saying, “We book his actors all the time commercially and theatrically. We can always count on his actors making interesting choices.” Film and TV casting director Lori Cobe-Ross, as well as Henderson and Zuckerman, recommended Piero Dusa. “He is a caring and smart teacher,” Cobe-Ross said. “His students work hard and are very well-prepared.” Zuckerman recommended him “especially for brand new actors.”
Everyone likes to laugh. Casting directors look for comedic timing and an actor’s ability to think quickly no matter what type of project they are casting. While the Groundlings (“they’ve always had a first-rate reputation,” CSA film and theatre casting director Stuart Howard opined) tops most lists for strong comedic training, it is not alone on the list.
“I prefer Second City Los Angeles to the Groundlings on the basis that they seem to be more open with their students. The Groundlings has kind of lost some of its cache,” Barry explained. Snyder described both the Groundlings and Second City Los Angeles as “good lock and load” training.
Zuckerman noted that, while training from the Groundlings is an “excellent credit on a resume, Los Angeles TheatreSports is the best improv [training] for actors who write.” ACME Improv Comedy training topped the list for casting directors DaMota, Henderson, and Martin.
Improv is important to your skills as an auditioner, no matter what segment of acting you’re looking to specialize in. I trained with Los Angeles TheatreSports and studied with Tracy Burns, Tracy Connor, Brian Lohmann, Wayne Brady, and Forest Brakeman — all of whom are excellent improv instructors.
On Training in General
“I like talking to actors about their acting teachers,” Paladini began. “I frequently ask actors about a single concept or aspect of their teachers’ curriculum that opened creative doors for them.”
Mungioli mentioned liking programs “geared toward the working professional, so that people who are already working actors can have a place to grow as artists.”
A practical question about training came from Barry. “Do directors these days have the time or patience to deal with a Method actor? Some directors I’ve worked with won’t hire [Method actors] on the basis that it’s just ‘too much work.’ So, what are [actors] left with?” he asked.
The answer is vastly different depending on the person you ask. Without question, though, casting directors do respect solid training. As an actor, that means you must do your homework and connect to your process, whatever it may be.
As for workshops, there are a bunch of those. Casting directors and their assistants conduct workshops, and so do agents and managers. The best way to know whether any class or workshop is right for you is to audit first. Auditing is important because you can get a sense of the teacher’s style and personality, plus know if the type of students he attracts are on your level. Just do your homework, keep learning from every possible source, and remember that opinions are just that, opinion — not fact. Research will pay off!
Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000119.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.