Is SMFA Foundations Over?

So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. We’ve opened registration on our five-week SMFA Foundations class in Los Angeles because, at the last Thirsty Third Thursday, Keith and I were bombarded with, “When is your next in-person class?!?” “I wanna get in on your next ongoing class!” “Please, bring back your in-person class! I’m sooo in!”

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Armed with such enthusiasm and love for the class we adore, we announced a new round, February 12th through March 12th. I alerted the mailing list. I tweeted. I Facebooked. I Google+ed. And here we are a little more than a week out just over two weeks out (we’ve pushed class back a week to accommodate two new ninjas) with not enough folks enrolled to cover rent on the space, much less to have a thriving, expansive experience together.

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This is beyond frustrating. I remember a time when we had to turn away up to 28 actors per cycle of class, because it had gotten so popular and we just didn’t have enough room to accommodate everyone (nor did a class size of over 20 really work for all that we cover in five weeks). From November of 2008 through March of 2013, with *very few* weeks off here and there for me to travel to other cities and teach Self-Management for Actors around the world, we held weekly classes… even three sessions per week at some points, because the demand was so great.

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Now, slowing down the weekly… WEEKLY… WEEKLY of it all so that I could travel and offer courses online and deal with the demand for private coaching sessions *was* a good decision, but something about the momentum of those weekly classes kept them always full. Until last year. We launched three cycles of SMFA Foundations after April of 2013 and had to call all three off. I conducted an survey of everyone on the “let me know about classes” mailing list to find out, “Okay… is it a date thing? WHEN do y’all want the class?” Of course, everyone wants a different day of the week, a different time of day, or is out of town for part of the year, or, or, or….

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More than anything, I heard, “I’m implementing! I don’t need to come back right now. You’ve taught me so much. I’m putting it to work.” But what about all the actors new-to-LA who show up to Thirsty Third Thursday talking about how they’ve heard that my classes are a *must do*? Are they all talk? My alumni — many many many of ’em — do indeed jump a tier then join me for private coaching, because they don’t need the weekly class anymore. Now they need to be drilled on working the pressline at their film’s premiere.

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That’s awesome! On *many* levels! Believe me, it’s the best hourly rate I get, working with actors, but what sets me on FIRE is making connections. What lights me UP is helping people jam with one another, get inspired by the creative ideas that flow during our classes, and then go off and make magic together, using all the tools I helped bring into their lives.

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So, here I sit, just over a week away (we’ve just shifted one week to accommodate two new ninjas) two weeks from the start of our next SMFA Foundations course in Los Angeles, fully aware that without more participants, I’ll be calling it off soon. Again. And I’ve decided, if that comes to pass, that’s it. I’m done. The emotion and frustration and anticipation and let-down (not to mention how much it SUCKS to disappoint those who *did* enroll, seeing how excited they were for a class that now isn’t happening) is just too much for this old broad.

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You know me: I’ll keep working on something. I’ll shift my energy into our guided mastermind groups and creating more exciting downloadables for actors around the world. I’ll devote this time to my awesome private coaching clients. It’s fine.

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But I’m writing this post because I wanted a place to point actors who ask, “When is your next ongoing class opening up?” I understand I killed off the momentum we once had, by trying to build in “breaks” during which I could travel to teach and work with private coaching clients outside of LA. I understand that there is power to a seriously, ongoing, never-really-stops-being-available weekly class. But after this many subsequent attempts to populate the course — and after all the TALK (but no action) on the part of the wonderful actors I’m here to serve — I just have the overwhelming feeling that it’s time to shift gears.

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If you’re seeing this post in the last week of January, 2014 or the first week of February 2014, knock yourself out sending people to this link to enroll and join us for the last-ever SMFA Foundations five-week course, in which we work through the four pillars of Self-Management for Actors (type and brand; targeting casting directors, talent agents, and managers; content creation and incorporating; and pitching and networking). We even offer an affiliate program because we so appreciate your referrals.

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I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with so many thousands of actors over the years. These in-person classes have always been some of my very favorite experiences because of the magic that comes from our spontaneous moments together. I will never forget our time in the circle. Some of the most memorable moments of my life have taken place in our classes. I’m sorry to know the momentum for these offerings has waned. But I know there are other adventures to come. There always are. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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So, this post is a thank-you. It is an announcement. And it is a call to action. I’d love to fill our last class up… and I’d love to hear what you crave next, from the world of Self-Management for Actors. Change is… change! And it’s the only thing we know to expect, for sure, in life. Onward!

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How do you deal with change? Do you get excited about what’s to come? Do you mourn what’s no longer a part of your life? I understand that some businesses have someone on staff called the “change strategist.” Maybe it’s time to look into that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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25 Comments

  1. Susie Mordoh January 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Bonnie this post is so heartfelt and I can imagine you must be feeling all sorts of emotions. Homoting what lights you up and put most of your focus towards that is my intuitive reaction. How did you connect with your group to begin with? Does it make sense to revisit the hat? As for your devoted implementers., maybe you can offer them something for any recommendations that book into your workshop. Just a thought.

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 26, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks, Susie. I had a coaching call with Becky Sammis last week and she asked me the same sort of thing. Going through the chronology of how class evolved (it was Fight Club. Referral only. NO advertising. Never even named the dang thing until its third year), we discovered that part of what made it a must-do was its “underground” status. That it was this cool thing you could hear about only through someone who had done it… and you might not get in, when you tried.

    Fast forward to today: There’s a mailing list of thousands worldwide, there’s the SMFA store with all SORTS of self-study options, there was a cover story in the calendar section of the LA Times about my course… and all of that seems to have watered down the intensity that used to exist among those who were enrolling in our classes, and among those who couldn’t wait to do so once they got here. It’s VERY strange.

    Of course, there’s also the fact that every single thing I teach, I write about, weekly, in my columns, so no one ever really HAS TO *take* a class. It’s all THERE for those who can learn by reading without any feedback or interactivity. Of course, that’s a small sliver of the population. What has also happened, sadly, is some opportunistic marketers out there who do NOT have the experience that I have in the entertainment industry have basically read all my stuff (of course, they should. It’s good. Most of it is free) and they are better at marketing (by a LONG shot… it’s just *not* my thing; never has been), so they sell a lot of sizzle. That cuts into my pie.

    Sadly, much of my private coaching time is spent UNDOING damage that these marketing gurus have done, because they don’t KNOW the business and they enthusiastically suggest actors submit to agents who are SHADY and to managers who are SKEEVY and they give them wholly unprofessional advice that gets the actors blacklisted for doing what the “guru” said would keep them “proactive.” It’s gross. It’s heartbreaking. But I don’t think it’s gonna stop, either.

    So… I’m ready to change. ๐Ÿ˜€ Oh, and we do offer a referral fee to anyone whose friend registers for our classes using their affiliate link. We are VERY grateful for the word-of-mouth. It truly always has been our best marketing. (And, for a long time, it was our ONLY marketing. Things were better then… but I guess that genie is out of the bottle. How do you go back underground after you’ve made it big?)

    Thank you for the questions, Susie. Very helpful! <3

    Reply
  3. Dave January 26, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Bonnie, I’ve been wanting my daughter to take this class with you for ages (she’s 17), but when you came to Chicago we couldn’t afford it. I’ve been hoping she’ll have another chance. It will be so sad if you have to stop, but I understand where you’re coming from.

    Dave

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  4. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Oh, Dave, thank you. This shouldn’t affect out-of-town classes. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love making the trips to Toronto, NY, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta, and Sydney (as well as other cities, of course — but those are the more recent rounds I’ve made) to teach SMFA! Love love LOVE it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    So, make sure you stay plugged in about my “roadtrips” (even though I fly… but, y’know, same thing) because I’ll most likely always offer SMFA in other cities for one-day events. And that’s probably what we’re switching into, format-wise, here in LA (the one-day intensive). It’s easier to get folks to commit to a single day than to five weeks, these days.

    Thanks for encouraging your daughter to learn the BUSINESS of acting. It’s so important and such a great foundation. One of my retreat ninjas just yesterday said she’d been reading my stuff since she was EIGHT years old, because her mother turned her on to my columns and books. *sniff* I love that!

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  5. Elizabeth MacLeod January 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I have no doubt they will find you . . . they will find the truthโ€ฆ it’s just a little tough in this ‘instant action’ worldโ€ฆ I get the struggle. I am sending this link off to a few actors I knowโ€ฆ I love your honesty โ€ฆ and so ‘from the heart’ no nonsense approach. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you, Elizabeth, both for sharing the link and for the encouragement. As for my approach, I know no other way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s just the whole “I yam what I yam” of it, as Popeye would say. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This will be an interesting transition, for sure. I’m sad but excited (is that a thing?!?). XO

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  7. Bernadette January 26, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    I was looking at the classes today, knowing that I love the energy of a ninja group but after a lot of thought I was contemplating a private session with you. That’s why I did not sign up for the 5 weeker. Your day seminar class was so great and so inspiring – I left feeling my roots again in the thing I love more than anything. That is something no one can take or steal from you with their spicy branding…You have a true gift for helping people realize their dream. I will definitely put the word out on the 5 week session. And sign up for a private session. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 26, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Bernadette, that there is NOTHING like what goes on in those five weeks. I’m glad you’ve had the experience. And I’m so grateful you’ll spread the word. Super eager to work with you privately. I know it’ll be a rockstar experience. ๐Ÿ™‚ Stay awesome!

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  9. Tania Mercer January 27, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Bonnie I can feel your passion oozing out form my screen! Love the way you write. So heartfelt.
    P.s. I used to be a Hollywood girl as well ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. april January 27, 2014 at 10:28 am

    i’ve had to do the same, bonnie – cancel classes that did not fill up. and wonder how and why that could happen when the same courses were so lively and motivating in the past! different moment in time/different people? i don’t know. i can honestly say i look forward to change with excitement, and mourn it as well. i admire your obvious passion for what you do!

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  11. Robyn Lessley January 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    This my friend is a blessing. It is a time to step up and create something better. If everyone raved about your classes and you have thousands that have been through it, create a new advanced course.

    Make sure all of your info that makes you unique is password protected. If you have something of major value that people are stealing and you have the reputation of the go-to gal, people will pay for your stuff. You can have a membership where people get fresh content that they can only get from you.

    I’m not sure exactly what you do, but you just have to change your strategy. If you suck at marketing, either get better at it or outsource. It will be worth the money. I am a coach and you just need to change your prospective. This will be a brand new line in the sand for you. I promise! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  12. Ben January 28, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Where are your classes held? I can’t find an address anywhere on your website.

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  13. Suzanne Smart January 28, 2014 at 4:59 am

    Oh Bonnie! If I lived in LA I would so sign up! Your passion for what you do is so overwhelming clear. One of my goals is to have enough money saved to work with you the next time you’re in NYC.

    I don’t have a lot of connections in LA, but I will be forwarding this to the ones I have!

    Another perspective is that this is The Universe’s way of allowing you to be even more available to travel so folks outside LA can get the joy of experiencing you in person! But then again, maybe I’m stretchin’, ’cause I want more opportunities for you to come East!! :o)

    I’ll do my best to spread the word…

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  14. Jeff Masters January 28, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Just sent the class info out to a group of actor friends. Hopefully you’ll get this class filled. – Either way, I’m excited for what’s ahead for you!

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  15. Derek Houck January 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

    As a recurring alumni to the SMFA program, I will greatly miss the Foundations class. I’ve got the concepts down, but it’s still nice to come in every year and get new information from new people about new shows and new agents. If there’s any way to keep that aspect of the Foundations class, that’s what I want from SMFA going forward. It’s the best place I’ve found to download all the data that will inform my career strategy for the coming year/season/tier/etc.

    And I got to meet beautiful women. So many beautiful women.

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  16. Connie Hunter January 28, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Hi Bonnie,

    My partner and I are writers and we are still utilizing the wonderful help you gave us on a script a couple of years ago. I think this is partly the case with your terrific actors. You filled them up, inspired them, taught them, and now they are moving forward achieving goals that you helped them bring into being.

    Personally, I think you are great at marketing. However, life is often compared to tides. Writing this to you, it suddenly occurred to me that a better analogy is currents. Sometimes the force and direction of our life needs a change to take us to โ€œthe next level.โ€ We can fight until weโ€™re exhausted with our old strategy or grab the current and go with it.

    Last summer, I almost drowned for the first time in my life. Iโ€™m a bit fish-like and swim with these fins (Australian Shinfins) that turn powerful legs into unbelievable flippers. I had taken them off to swim to shore just when I realized that I was caught in a powerful long shore current that carried me swiftly toward the jagged rocks of a jetty. The only reason that I wasnโ€™t trounced immediately is that the giant washing machine motion of the current carried me up and away at the last moment of each rotation. I fought to get to shore, more exhausted by the second. Suddenly, a little voice told me, โ€œdonโ€™t fight it. Go with it!โ€ This was a little daunting because it would take me way out beyond the jetty into deep water. But I knew from all the beach posters how quickly rip currents drown an exhausted swimmer: about three minutes. So, I turned for open water. I rode the next whirl of the washer for all it was worth. Before I could have possibly imagined (about forty-five seconds) I was bobbing in safety. I stared at the end of the jetty and rested for my trip to shore on the other side. I was tired but happy. The kids on the jetty who were terrified and made me more scared by the looks on their faces also looked relieved and like kids again instead of people about to witness an untimely death.

    So, you are a genius for finding the current and I know you will be stunned at how fast you are ensconced in your knew paradigm.

    Thanks for all your help to us,

    Connie Hunter
    (Connie & Julie)

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  17. Sarah January 28, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    My Bonnie, you have taught me so much and I share it with every actor I know, but you can’t force people to spend their time and money on something amazing and legit when they’ve been brainwashed by the bullshit. I thank you so much for helping me, and counting to help me, navigate this business with confidence and a strength I never had before.

    This news makes me sad and I wish I could tell work to shove it and leave early. I completely understand where you’re coming from and change is necessary. I will definitely be looking into solo classes with you ๐Ÿ™‚

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  18. Bon January 29, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Wow! Y’all rock. Thank you for all this love and support. I’ve been away from the ‘puter for a couple o’ days. Let me get caught up now.

    Tania–Thank you. I write like I talk and I am always heartfelt/passionate. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m so glad that comes through in my writing as well. Thank you for stopping by and saying hi!

    April–I’m definitely embracing the excitement of what might be next. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a better choice than bemoaning a shift that I can’t understand. The good news is (good news?) I keep hearing it’s like this ALL OVER right now. So, I’m glad I can share my feelings and know it may help someone else who might feel all alone, when everyone seems to be talking a good game about how packed their classes are, out there.

    Robyn–I love your post. Thank you. I am indeed changing my strategy *and* trying to get better at the marketing thing. I’m so good at helping others figure out how to market themselves, but I always feel so pushy when I email or tweet that we’ve opened another class. Gotta get over that and realize that folks who opt in WANT to know. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you for the tips and for your encouragement over on the Facebook. So grateful to you (and our entire community) for the support and fresh ideas! Because so much of my life’s work is out there, free, searchable, online, it’s not like the content CAN live only behind a paywall. Obviously, there’s a personal touch that comes through for the in-person experience, and my private coaching business is off the HOOK crazy busy (thank goodness). But something about these groups… ah… I love them and will miss them.

    Ben–Hi. We disclose the address upon registration because we don’t want folks just dropping in, hanging around, popping by, showing up without having registered or having done any of the pre-class homework, etc. ๐Ÿ™‚ But the location is in West Los Angeles. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope that info helps!

    Suzanne–We will have a blast together when I’m back in NY. I hope to make another trip in May, but we’ll have to see how things shape up over the next couple of months. I’m excited to work with you too! THANK YOU for spreading the word. Every little bit helps! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jeff–THANK YOU. I’m excited too. We’ll have an adventure, as always. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Derek–Thanks, hon. I’ll miss the Foundations class too. It’s just so dang good. What would be ideal — and we’ve talked about this before but can’t figure out how to execute it — is to offer a membership where we’ll be available to whomever shows up to sit in a circle and get going on whatever concepts need tuning up. Of course, we’ll be doing this with the SMFA Tune-Ups with quarterly group phone calls, and we’re doing a mini version of this with the guided masterminding, out of our office, but what I fantasize about is an Actors’ Network-style SPACE where members can always drop in. We just don’t have the luxury of renting space for that to happen, without knowing how many folks may show up for tune-ups, week to week. *sigh* Someday! ๐Ÿ™‚

    And yes, we always surround ourselves with really smart, really attractive people. ๐Ÿ˜‰ What a perk of the job!

    Connie–You’re awesome. I know you’re right. Unlike some other coaches out there, I provide tremendous value that is all “teaching you to fish” and the implementation that comes next can’t happen along WITH more learning of new concepts, simultaneously. At least not easily. So people go away to get to work on it all… and then they come back at higher tiers, and want to work privately instead of in a group.

    I know this is a wonderful “problem” to have. I am grabbing the current, my friend. I am so glad you shared your near-death experience with me, here. That’s some inspiring stuff! And you’re a phenomenal writer (you know that). This is all just really great JUICE for where I’m headed. Thank you! I feel ready. More so every day.

    Sarah–Thank you, sweetheart. I have loved working with you and look forward to doing so again. There’s a lot of *noise* out there and while I love getting to sit in the circle and have those “a-ha moments” happening as creatives share in the SMFA experience, I’m gonna have to embrace the mini-moments of the one-on-ones. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And trust that there is another time for me to have the circle down the line.

    I’m excited to see where this takes me (and all of us, really). So very grateful to each and every one of you for reading, commenting, and the private emails as well. You’re all such wonderful people and I’m honored to be on this journey with y’all. <3

    Reply
  19. Sarah January 29, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Bonnie~ it sounds like you created an incredible place for actors to feel safe and to learn and grow. But I’m glad that you’re listening to your gut. I’m positive that your new adventures will be just as amazing! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  20. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Sarah–Thank you. I did create that… and then they DID that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s been inspiring to watch my alumni shift and grow and tier-jump and thrive. Thank you for the support and love. You’re inspiring, too! <3

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  21. Denise Marie Filmore January 29, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Embrace the blessing Bonnie! You have grown and it is time to re-brand yourself and your business to newer, bigger and better things. Your calling is taking you on another adventure. Prepare for the new chapter.

    Denise

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  22. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie January 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Yes ma’am, Denise. I am *on* it. Thank you! ๐Ÿ˜€

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  23. Jenney June 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    As a new transplant to SoCal I was very much looking forward to attending your classes in person (as I learn best that way – hands on, face to face communication). I’m so disappointed to hear that this is no longer taking place. I hope your new direction is exciting and full of joy! I very much appreciate your pouring yourself into your books and online materials. They’ve opened the door to understanding the business for me.

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  24. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie June 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Jenney, we do still have our retreat! ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe you will join us for that? The next one is August 2nd and you can enroll here: https://tinyurl.com/SMFARetreat

    Stay inspired, darlin’! We will work together someday. I just know it!

    Reply
  25. Jenney June 10, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Fantastic! Thank you and hope to see you soon.

    Reply

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