F A Q
+ How large are the classes?
I try to keep the class size relatively small so that the work can remain intimate. The Tuesday-Thursday evening classes have about 15-16 students, while the Friday afternoon class is somewhat smaller, with about 10 students.
+ Do you adhere to any particular style or method?
No, I don't. Each student is different, and as such, each may have a different challenge that may exist at any particular point in time. Also, a challenge that may be present for one student may not necessarily exist for another. What's important for me is to gain a clear understanding of each student as an individual. The more I get to know the student, the more I can help that student grow as an actor and as an artist.
+ What are your classes like?
They're exhilarating! But I think you may be asking how are the classes structured? Each class is divided between exercise work and scene work. The exercise work, be it exercises going toward acting technique, emotional work, or improvisation, is designed to expand your instrument in order so that you will have more to give. To get you in touch with your impulses so that you can begin to originate behavior as opposed to simply copying it. It is the ability to make original choices that is the hallmark of great acting and of great actors. The time that is spent on the exercises is dependent upon how much scene work and monologue work is to be done.
The classes are very active, with everyone working in every class. If you have a scene scheduled, you do it. A monologue, you do it. Wear comfortable clothes and be prepared for a workout. I believe strongly that you should leave each class on a high. I know that I do. It takes me a while to wind down after each class. Class is an amazing process. I feel privileged to be a part of it.
+ You mentioned "great acting". Do you think everyone has it within them to be "great"?
Absolutely. It is simply a question of how much are you willing to risk. And by that I mean how willing are you to see the world as it truly is? How far are you willing to go to abandon your preconceptions? How willing are you to accept chaos that may exist in your life, instead of turning away because it scares you? How willing are you to let go of control, to break free of those binds that keep you tethered to the ground, and finally to let your imagination soar? Greatness comes from that. It takes work. And a lot of commitment.
+ How much work? I mean, how long do people normally study with you?
It truly depends on the individual. I have people that have been studying with me for 6 years and I have people who have started last week. And I have students who return after being away for a while because of work, or because of life.
+ Do you help your students find agents or work?
Yes, in many ways. I got my first agent through my acting teacher, so I think it's important to continue that process. Because of my work as an actor as well as the reputation of the workshop, I know many agents to whom I frequently introduce students when they have advanced to the point that they are ready and prepared for agency representation. The excitement of being in the race for an acting job is vitally important for a student. Apart from the absolute thrill of the prospect of getting paid for something that you would gladly do for free, it greatly invigorates a student's work in class. In turn, this energy improves their performance at auditions, which in turn reinvigorates their work in class. It is an altogether positive flow. Also, as a director, I always look first toward people in the workshop to be cast my productions. Apart from wanting to give them an opportunity, I much prefer to work with people with whom I have already established a basis of trust. In addition to my own productions, I frequently recommend students to other directors as well as casting directors for their productions.
+ You have a "mixed levels" class. Why is that?
By "mixed levels" I assume you mean that the class is filled with people of varied levels of experience, which is the case of the workshop. I feel that to segregate classes as 'beginning', 'intermediate', or 'advanced', is somewhat artificial. First of all, because of the kind of work we do in class, it doesn't take a great deal of time for the work to progress to a profound level, regardless of one's background. And there are people who have never set foot onstage who enter the class and are immediately brilliant with an inherent knowledge of technique. For others, it takes a little bit of time. Regardless of one's level of experience, truth be told, it isn't even necessary to take an acting workshop to act or even to get work in the business, though I wouldn't recommend that route. However, George C. Scott, for example, one of our greatest American stage and film actors, never took an acting class.
Personally, I don't believe the body of the work is based on technique. Technique is important, but what is essential is who you are, and what you have to bring to the work. Whether you have been studying acting for 20 days or 20 years, it still boils down to your ability to let go and free the imagination. In class, as I mentioned, this frequently takes a lot less time than one would think. With regard to experience and study, however, it certainly accounts for something. It counts for a good deal, especially when it comes to the level of confidence that an actor has onstage or in an audition. In the workshop, what occurs, is that the people with less experience learn from those with a greater level of experience, especially in the technical aspects of breaking a scene down into beats, actions, objectives, obstacles, etc. But what also occurs, is that the people with greater experience learn from the newcomers in that, like any art, or sport, or anything that requires technical expertise, there are certain rudimentary aspects that are continually emphasized. To hear these aspects consistently reinforced is extremely important, regardless of one's level of experience.
+ How do you choose your students? Do you have to audition?
This dovetails with the last question. The entrance into the class is by interview. I don't ask people to audition because I am more interested in the person than their ability to do a monologue. Provided that they commit to the process, everyone has the ability to reach their potential and be ready and able to seek work, so it doesn't matter where someone is in the work when they come to me initially. When I meet with someone as a potential student, whether they are planning to pursue or to continue a career as an actor, or whether they are interested in self-exploration outside of the acting field, what is most important is the commitment to the work. Meeting someone gives me a good sense of that.
I like to work with dynamic people who have something to offer the class as a whole. When a new student enters the class, they are immediately accepted by those who are already there. The current students understand that the person entering has met with me has something new to give, and always look upon the new student with a great deal of interest. Also, when I teach, I devote a good deal of time to each individual student, so it is important to me to feel that the time that I spend with each student is time well spent. I take the responsibility of teaching seriously and my desire is to enhance the growth of those that are in the workshop. I like my students to meet me halfway.
+ How do you feel when a student leaves?
There are many students with whom, after working with them for a considerable time, I have become close. But I know that the point of teaching is to celebrate the process of letting go, and to support the student to go out into the world and be prepared to act on a professional level. There have been times where I have insisted that a student no longer be in class because they may be using class as a way of not taking that step. On the other hand, I will also encourage a student not to stop studying simply because they have gotten an acting job because there still may be potential for enormous growth. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to help shine a light on whatever path already exists. Sometimes that path clearly leads away from the workshop.
+ Is there a difference between film acting and stage acting?
I get this question a lot and my answer, having acted and directed onstage and on film, is always the same.
Acting is acting just as truth is truth. There may be minimal adjustments that one has to make regarding the camera versus a large audience but these adjustments are as natural as how one would behave when having a conversation with someone across a dinner table, versus speaking to someone from across the street. Because you are onstage, it doesn't require you to behave in a "theatrical" way. One should be as natural in one's behavior onstage as on film.
There are classes that believe there is value to on-camera workshops. I don't. It would be nothing for me to set up a camera and monitor to record the work, but I strongly believe that it puts the emphasis on how an actor looks, rather than their internal experience. Also, if you look at the greatest American actors, actors that we all admire, very few have ever taken on-camera class. What they have taken, in the 70 years or so that training has been available to the American actor, is a class where they can learn their craft and grow as artists.
+ Do you allow auditing?
A trial class is allowed, but I don't allow auditing, per se, for two reasons. The workshop is about exploration as much, perhaps even more, than it is about performance. The work that is done leads to performance level, however, getting to that place often involves going through a process that involves taking risks. In order to take risks, it is necessary to feel that the space is safe and free of judgment. With someone auditing and not participating, the space becomes a bit less safe and a bit more judgmental. Additionally, for the potential student, it is much easier to see if the class is something that feels right for you when you are actually participating and participating fully. With a trial class, you do the work, (including a monologue if you have one) as if you are fully enrolled in the workshop.
+ Do you do private coaching?
Yes, I do. However, I wouldn't recommend private coaching to take the place of class. When I coach privately, it is always done for a particular purpose. For example, private coaching can be very useful if you have a specific audition for which you need to prepare or if you have the need to break through a challenge that has been consistently standing in your way. In general, though, being in a class environment offers the student the kind of interaction that is necessary to experience the acting process in its purest form. Nothing can take the place of giving to, and receiving from another actor.
+ What is the average age of your students?
My students run the gamut from late teens to septuagenarians and everything else in between. That being said, I think the average age is somewhere in the mid - late 20's range. Age, however, is one of the most delicate questions in the business. People are always wondering what is the "right" age to begin the process, and almost universally concerned with whether or not they are too old to start. A few years ago, a seventy two year old man called me and said that he would like to join the class. When we met, he told me how he had developed a love of acting as a teenager and had been forced to give it up at age nineteen in order to go to work. Fifty three years later, and still working, he wanted to return to that love. Needless to say, I took him in immediately where he became a beacon of light for all of us. He is now working in the business all the time. Age doesn't matter.
+ What was it like to work with John Travolta?
I wish I had a nickel for every time I've been asked this question since 1977 and I understand completely why the question consistently arises. "Saturday Night Fever" has come to be an integral part of American Cinema history and there is a good deal of curiosity about the making of the film. John is a wonderful actor, something that has been proven time and again since the release of "...Fever". But back then, it was an amazing experience to go to work everyday with someone who was, at the time, a television icon and still largely unproven as an actor. The first day of shooting in Brooklyn, our trailers were mobbed by thousands of fans all trying to get a glimpse of John. Teenage girls were literally climbing over our trailer trying to see inside, or break in, or touch John, or touch us -- God knows what. The police had to be called to calm what was quickly becoming a near riot. John had not experienced anything like this before and on this scale. I think he was a bit unprepared for the kind of wild adulation that was being hurled his way. And I think he must have felt under extraordinary pressure to move from television to film. It was a lot less common then to make that kind of move. But through it all, John handled it with amazing grace. He was, and is, a gentle person, with enormous sensitivity, and greatly committed to the work.
Not many people know or remember that during the filming of "Saturday Night Fever", John's girlfriend at the time, Diana Hyland, was terminally ill with breast cancer. He would frequently fly back to be with her in Los Angeles on the weekends, and then fly back to New York after the weekend to continue filming. Diana passed away during the shoot. John went back for the funeral and returned on Monday for work. I remember going into his trailer early Monday morning and asking him how he was doing. He was studying his script. He put down the script and we talked for a while. He said it had been a tough time. And I could see the kind of pain that he was carrying. But through it all, he was in that trailer, script in hand, doing his job, focusing, preparing, with extraordinary strength and courage. All this at twenty three.
Sometimes, it's difficult to come to class, or to act, or to be an artist, or even at times, to live. It takes courage. It takes commitment. Watching John, I learned that.