Acting is easy, right?
Wrong. It’s a craft that takes hard work and dedication. Fortunately, there are a number of local places where the mechanics of onstage genius can be learned.
So, you want to be an actor?
It’s an ambition many people harbor. But unless you’re that rarest of birds—an honest-to-God natural onstage—you’ll probably need training. You can sign up for accredited programs at local community colleges and universities. There are also quite a few private programs around town that offer opportunities for actors to hone their skills—some that have been around for years, others that are comparative new kids on the block.
Which one’s for you? Well, that depends to a large extent on what you’re looking for. Acting teachers often advocate different methods and offer different sorts of classes or seminars to prospective students.
The newest program in town is probably the B Street Theatre Conservatory, which will begin offering classes for students ages 18 and up on October 27. Handling the teaching will be Jamie Jones and Michael Stevenson, who moved to Sacramento from New York earlier this year.
Both are pretty familiar from their work on the B Street stage. Jones—who grew up in Elk Grove and earned her bachelor’s degree at California State University, Sacramento—most recently appeared at the B Street in the Cold War comedy Red Herring.
Stevenson, who grew up in Chicago, was in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at the Children’s Theatre of California, a B Street offshoot, and will appear later this month in the Children’s Theatre’s Halloween production of The Canterville Ghost. Stevenson also appeared last spring at the Sacramento Theatre Company in the Shakespeare compilation show The Seven Ages of Man, which included a memorably hilarious duel scene with Matt K. Miller.
Both Jones and Stevenson hold Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees in acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. They are also members of the Actors’ Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). And they offer a pitch that’s somewhat unique among local acting courses. “We feel that with both of us teaching as a tag team, it will be really helpful for our students,” Jones said. “You’ll get two sets of eyes, two different perspectives in terms of critique and help. Although we graduated from the same program, we have very different ways of working. Michael may be able to unlock something for someone that I can’t, and vice versa.”
Added Stevenson, “You’ll also get to see your teacher onstage and bring the process into the classroom.”
The B Street Conservatory’s classes will meet for three-hour sessions twice a week for seven weeks. For enrollment information, call the B Street Theatre box office at (916) 443-5300.
Ed Claudio is one of the veteran acting teachers in Sacramento. He came to town to appear in the B Street Theatre’s very first show, opposite Tim Busfield, in the early 1990s. Then he founded the Actor’s Workshop and the Actor’s Theatre. Claudio earned an MFA in theater from Florida State University, but the training he mentions most often is the three years he spent studying with legendary teacher Stella Adler in New York during the early 1970s. He is a member of SAG and Actors’ Equity. While he’s appeared in TV movies and an independent film, the stage is Claudio’s passion. In addition to off-Broadway roles earlier in his career, he’s gotten high marks from critics for his acting in Foothill Theatre Company’s Valley Song and the current production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at the Actor’s Theatre. He was honored as an acting teacher a few years ago by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s Arts Educator Award.
Claudio, operating as the Actor’s Workshop, offers group classes for teens and adults. “But a good 80 percent of my teaching is done privately, one-on-one,” he said. Claudio’s private students have ranged from as young as age 8 on up to retirees. “The average student stays with me for three or four years,” he said. Claudio emphasizes scripts he calls American classics, like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, as well as some Shakespeare. Several of his students have gone on to work professionally in New York and Los Angeles.
Claudio warns prospective students not to expect quick fixes. “You cannot learn how to act in 12 easy lessons. It can’t be done,” he said. “It’s got to be an ongoing thing. You have to train, just like you have to train to be a professional athlete—like a football player who catches 500 passes a day or a baseball player who fields 500 ground balls.”
For information, go to www.actinsac.com or call (916) 925-6579.
Another veteran acting teacher is Charlie Holliday, whose workshop program in Rancho Cordova is called “Acting for Camera and Theater.” Holliday’s resume stresses his film and TV credits, including the miniseries Ruby Ridge and appearances in upwards of 40 movies, such as Ed Wood, Mad City and Kindergarten Cop. He’s also done stage work locally and elsewhere.
Holliday is a member of SAG, serving on the union’s executive council, and AFTRA. His workshops—generally taught in eight sessions, but sometimes offered with double sessions on Saturdays over a four-week period—are geared toward students who are high-school age and older, though he does work with younger students privately. In addition to his courses in this area, Holliday also teaches in the master’s program at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. He also offers classes in the Mosaic Acting System developed by Jeremy Whelan and says he’s the only West Coast teacher certified in that technique.
For information, go to http://users.cwnet.com/holliday/index.html or call (916) 361-0952.
Evan Nossoff also has extensive experience as an actor and teacher. His current project is SacActors.Com, but he also produced a series of local shows (including improvisational efforts) in the 1970s and ’80s as the Modern Theater Ensemble. Nossoff’s current company enjoyed recent box-office success with a revival of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. He also does sessions, titled “How to Become a Working Actor Without Getting Ripped Off Too Badly,” at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Nossoff holds three levels of core workshops—beginning, intermediate and advanced—which lead to appearances in SacActors productions. For the second year in a row, he’s also bringing up members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe for a training session. Nossoff also offers classes in the Alexander Technique. SacActors is planning a new show for the spring. For information, try www.sacactors.com or call (916) 739-0654.
One of the newer entries in the field is Pompaneous Productions, run by popular actor Kurt Johnson, wife Tanya Domasky and son Cameron. Johnson is primarily associated with the B Street Theatre, where he’s appeared in shows too numerous to count, most recently Red Herring. But he’s also had roles at the Sacramento Theatre Company and the Music Circus, as well as at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He trained at Pennsylvania State University.
Johnson initiated Pompaneous in 1999 as a program for young people, offering sessions at community centers and schools in playwriting, play production, acting for the camera and various aspects of theater—often based on tales from Greek mythology or stories like Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“Every kid gets a significant part,” Johnson said. “The kids are part of the entire creative process, including making props and costumes.” With young people, Johnson’s focus is on learning and enjoying the experience. “I don’t try to get them prepared for making commercials,” he said.
In November, Pompaneous will open a 75-seat studio theater at 1901 Del Paso Boulevard, next-door to Ron Dumonchelle’s new comedy club and five blocks north of Ed Claudio’s Actor’s Theatre. The first production will feature versatile actor Richard Winters, who also appeared in Red Herring, in his one-man show Dancing Naked in the Universe, currently wrapping up a run in Grass Valley.
With the opening of the new theater, Pompaneous also will be expanding its acting classes to serve adults as well as youngsters. “David DiFrancesco is helping me with a hammer, building the place,” Johnson added. DiFrancesco has appeared in productions at the Sacramento Theatre Company, B Street and River Stage, but has been off the stage for several years. “He’s going to appear in our Christmas play, The Butterfingers Angel,” Johnson said.
For more information, see www.pompaneous.com or call (916) 799-8309.
Another comparative newcomer is Kathleen Furey, who teaches acting through the Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre at 1901 P Street. A graduate of the film school at the California Institute of the Arts, she is a member of SAG and AFTRA. She is directing the current production of Veronica’s Room at the Thistle Dew.
“I teach everyone from children to seniors,” said Furey, who added that the common requirement is “the ability to memorize well.” Furey’s classes run in six- to eight-week formats, with three-hour sessions for adults and two hours for younger students.
Furey likes to use a camera as part of her classes. “When a student sees himself on camera, he can take a quantitative leap,” she said. “The camera shows exactly what happens. Oftentimes a student is his or her own best critic, in terms of needing to connect with emotions or identifying funny mannerisms you need to get rid of, or needing to dress a little differently. It’s significant to see the work immediately played back, see an unbiased view, and then you’re able to make rapid adjustment and growth.”
Furey also offers instruction in public speaking for business professionals—performance skills that are not all that far removed from those of an actor in a play in terms of “creating a relaxed presence” in front of an audience.
Furey, whose family has many connections in film and TV, also advises students on the business aspects of the industry. “There are lots of ways [newcomers] are flattered or cajoled into things that can get them nowhere,” she said.
For information, contact the Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre at (916) 444-8209.
Other classes for actors are offered by the Magic Circle Repertory Theatre in Roseville, (916) 782-1777, and the Miriam Gray Acting Studio in Sacramento, (916) 448-5337. There are established training programs for actors at Sacramento City College; Cosumnes River College, where respected director Frank Condon heads the River Stage company; American River College; California State University, Sacramento; and the University of California, Davis, where Sacramento Theatre Company Artistic Director Peggy Shannon also teaches directing.
Acting classes for young people are also offered by the Davis Musical Theatre Company, (530) 756-3682, www.dmtc.org ; the Woodland Opera House Theatre, (530) 666-9617, http://wohtheatre.org; Runaway Stage Productions, (916) 207-1226, http://runawaystage.com; Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre, (916) 985-6361, www.garbeaus.com; Celebration Arts Theatre (916) 455-2787; and others.
Adults interested in “movement theater” can train with Abandon Productions, which stages several productions annually at The Space, 2509 R Street. Abandon’s rehearsals are a major physical workout involving running, flexing, miming and (usually) wordless vocals. Doniel Soto of CSUS is artistic director. Call (916) 737-2304 or contact ABANDONemail@aol.com.
One final word: This is a competitive field, and the rivalries between different acting teachers in town can get pretty political.