Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Actor's Technique

E has always liked to perform. I wasn't always working full-time like I am now and had time to take him into NYC for auditions. I did commercials and stuff like that as a kid because I lived in NYC until I was two and a half. There was a woman who had an agency in my building- All American Talent. She asked my mom if she could use me in something and that was that. I feel like it was a lot easier to get work in NYC back then. There were so many soaps, kids on Soaps, there were even kids on game shows like "Child's Play". I actually played John Quincy Adams as a baby in the first Adams Chronicles in 1974. We moved to NJ in 1977 and I guess that was the end of my budding acting career. Moving and my mom having more kids. You have to be able to drop everything and go to auditions when you're trying to be in the acting scene. With one kid, it's relatively easy. With two or three, not so much. And in Jersey? Well, it's not like living on 8th Avenue.

I had a friend whose children were working through an agency and she gave me their contact information when E was two years old. I took him there, they "accepted" him, and then they proceeded to be as good of an agent as Estelle on Friends. He got one small job but I could've gotten it myself through a casting website we're also signed up on.

He had a yearly contract with this agency and I knew it was up sometime in the spring. I wanted to see if I could get him new representation and with an agency that does more TV and movie work instead of just print. In May I took him to a very reputable agency for a meeting and they basically told me they liked his look but he needs to be more conversational. They asked him some questions and when he didn't know the answers he got kind of shy. What we didn't know is that he had the beginning of Fifth's Disease. For those who don't know, it's not as bad as it sounds, but you don't know you have it until the rash comes out. Once the rash comes out, it isn't contagious anymore. But his personality was a little off that day. They said to work with him and bring him back in two months. I was bummed because I really thought they'd be a good match.

Coincidentally, I got an email from Actors Technique NY started and owned by Todd Etelson. I'd known Todd Etelson peripherally. I'm not even sure how we started talking but it was like ten years ago or more. Since having a child, my memory is Swiss cheese. Todd is an actor in his own right, but I'm pretty sure actors are like lawyers, more that aren't working than are. Especially these days. I've read all over the place how Reality TV has knocked off a lot of scripted TV. There are less and less jobs for working actors. It's much easier to follow people around with a camera documenting their daily life than to write a show. It's also much cheaper when you're paying someone who isn't already famous or with a proven acting resume just to be themselves. Todd started this acting school at least ten years ago. I know it was before I met B, got engaged and got married. I'd never paid much attention because I wasn't trying to be an actor. I would get the emails, not open them and that would be that.

Then I went home after this Fifths Disease agency meeting with E to an email about a Tots improvisation class starting a six week session at ATNY. How perfect?! Six weeks is around two months and maybe he'd be ready to go back to the agency. It was $299 for the six weeks. That wasn't bad considering there are some Mommy & Me classes around for around the same price. Plus, Todd has no issue with helping people out with a payment plan. I've definitely encountered children's programs that basically said if you can't pay upfront you're out of luck. Todd also seems to know every kid that's in the program. There seem to be like a hundred kids, adults, parents, and who knows who else milling about, preparing for classes, auditions, preparing to teach, etc and Todd knows them all. I saw him switch a kid from one kind of a class to another because I guess he thought they needed some other direction more. He remembers everybody's name and their stories. I guess someone who has been on a Soap Opera (One Life To Live!) would be able to memorize well since Soaps have pretty much the most pages of dialogue of any type of show. It's nice to know you're not just a number representing $$$. I went to Barbizon- "Be a model or just look like one". Clearly I am no supermodel, so I know what being representative of money is all about.

There were anywhere from 4-8 kids in the class over the whole six weeks. It's a manageable class with a lot of personal attention. E was one of the youngest, if not the youngest at almost four and a half in his first session. I think the ages are pretty even in this session of maybe four kids. Tots is considered ages four through six years old. E was totally able to keep up in the class with the older kids though. He had two different teachers during that first session and was a HUGE fan of Alex. Alex has a British accent and to E, sounds like Harry Potter. Alex was really great with the little kids. We (the parents) didn't go into the class, which I like, because I find having parents watching distracts the kids and negatively influences their behavior. Maybe with older children it's fine but the younger ones can't handle it.

At the end of the semesters or sessions, ATNY invites industry professionals like agents into the last class. That's great because as the parent, it takes out the pain of trying to get appointments for an agency to see your kid and having to run into NYC numerous times if you don't live there. We don't live in the city and I can do without having to run in there during the week. Parents were invited in the last class of E's first session there but luckily, only one or two other children showed up that day- it was summer and people had a lot of commitments. The one or two other parents there, including me, all decided it would be better to conduct the class as usual, with the parents not coming into the class. I'd already warned E that there might be a mom in there because there was one I was afraid was going to go rogue stage mom. But it didn't happen. He knew I wouldn't be in there and was ok with it.

Industry people were brought in and we were told if there was interest in our child, we'd be contacted. I was disappointed I didn't hear anything. But there are no guarantees. There are no guarantees in show biz and the school doesn't make guarantees. Any school or agency that guarantees work is most likely a scam. But at least the right people are being brought in so I know he definitely has a chance.

Truthfully, I'm not even looking for E to be the next Macaulay Culkin. I think an improvisation class is just good for conversation life and people skills in a general sense. A help in being able to express himself properly. At four, he is very talkative and expressive. He can convey his thoughts and ideas pretty well. But there are definitely times he gets shy or reverts to baby talk out of the blue. Kids are so unpredictable to begin with. However, I do want to know he can converse with an adult if he had to- even if he got lost or needed some kind of help. A class like this will assist him with articulating what he needs to get out there.

Now that fall is here and school is in swing, it's the time to decide what activities your child will be involved in. Last year E took swim, yoga, and tap/ballet. I found swim to be ok, but if he isn't going to take a private lesson, he's not learning all that much just holding on to the wall with five other kids for only thirty minutes a class. It's a lot of work, for me, with little return for him. I don't have the money to get him private lessons because it's something you have to then keep up all year to remember and better the skills. He liked yoga but he gets to do yoga at school too. The only thing I have him in this year for sure is dance. So we threw in the improv class too. It's all along the same lines of performance.

People ask me if he likes it. He likes everything. If I tell him in an excited voice and demeanor that we're going to get water filters, he's happy to go get water filters. I go by what he seems to be learning. It could be just age- with little ones, even months seem to make a difference in maturity and articulation. But I think the classes over the last session definitely helped him express himself in conjunction with what B and I teach him as parents. The other day a friend of his was at the park with his mom and grandparents. The other child's mom introduced E to the grandparents. E put out his hand to shake and said "Nice to meet you". He wouldn't have done that last April. But after the class and some practice, I think he's gained a confidence in speaking to adults that he didn't have as much of prior. He was always confident and outgoing, but he's added another layer which I attribute to what he does in this classroom.

I also just like that it's different. It's not your typical extracurricular for four year olds. Or five or six year olds. Most of his friends are in soccer. Or basketball. Or some kind of sport. And that's fine. E can play eventually if he asks. I have no problem with it. But while he's so amenable and happy going to stuff that's a bit outside the box for boys, I'm all about it. I want him to be a well-rounded kid with interesting experiences and stories. He's a natural storyteller so we feel like we're just giving him something else to talk about.

ATNY has classes for Tots, Kids, Tweens, Teens and Adults. For a full schedule and information go to If you sign you or your child up- tell Todd I sent you because I get credit for it! Or if you have any questions, email me or post them here.

There are also other Actors Technique classes in other places for anyone not in the area. I believe there are classes in LA, Maryland, and CT. But you'll have to ask Todd.

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