I was extremely lucky to be referred to one of NYC’s most sought-after acting coaches, known for his biting, honest insults. Tough love, as it were. He was a coach to the stars, ones that I admired, and I hoped to burn as brightly as they did one day. But it was not so easy. You couldn’t merely pay to work with him. You had to audition for him first so he could decide if you were worthy of his efforts.
I sought out his home studio on a quiet, beautiful West Village street and went downstairs to the basement to await my audition with the great teacher. A pleasant woman, whom I later learned was his wife, told me to wait in the hallway and asked if I wanted some tea. As I waited, I eavesdropped through the walls on another actress working with him. After a while they wrapped up, the door flung open, and let’s suffice it to say that a VERY famous actress, one we all know and love, rushed past me to the exit, giving me a quick smile as she went by. If I was nervous before, I was then about to vomit. Then a tiny, bespectacled man in a black turtleneck peeked his head around the corner and beckoned me to come inside.
It was him, the great acting coach. I made some bumbling comment about the VERY famous actress who just strolled by me, and he just shrugged, shushed me, and threw a script on my lap. “Read the page I have marked,” he said. No hello, no where are you from? Just “Read it.”
It was Chekhov. I giggled and said, “Oh, we’re starting with something light.” He just looked at me for a minute and then nodded toward the script. I opened it and began to read the highlighted monologue.
I got through the whole thing, put the script down and looked up for a response. The coach just looked at me and said “Read it again, and this time, STOP ACTING!” Oookay, I thought. I read it again, this time not getting through two lines before he growled, “Start over!” Okay. I started over. “STOP ACTING!” He yelled. “OKAY!” I yelled back. I read some more, getting through the first few lines, hesitant, knowing he would stop me. He yelled, “Just SAY it, stop thinking about me and just SAY it!” Okay! I started over, and then stopped to take a breath. My hands began to tremble, but I kept reading. “Do you even know what you just said?” he barked. “Keep reading!” I did. “Again!” I started over, and once more he yelled, “Do it again, start from the beginning!”
Suddenly angered, I threw the script to the floor in frustration. He slowly got out of his chair and left the room. Oh shit, what had I done? I blew it with the great acting coach! Where did he go? I sat awkwardly in his bohemian living room full of books and photos, and started to look around. Suddenly the door swung open and a sassy, little white dog strutted into the room and sat down across from me. Like his master, he looked at me expectantly. I looked back, not sure if a show of friendliness would cause him to bite. The coach re-entered the room, sat down, and said, “I wasn’t sure about you until you threw the book onto the floor, so I am giving you one more chance to read.”
I took a breath, feeling annoyed that the little man, and his little dog, thought I might not be able to hack it. Then I began to read. I relaxed and just read. I said the words, I spit the words directly at the great coach and he smiled. When I finally finished the whole monologue he said, “Okay, let’s do this.”
And that was how I began a new, somewhat abusive, journey with one of the world’s greatest acting coaches. To this day, I can’t utter a sentence without “stripping it of its bullshit,” and the best piece of advice I can give any fellow actor is to “STOP ACTING and just f*cking speak!”