Reviewed by Moira Cue
If I have one complaint about Backstage West’s 2011 Actorfest held November 5th at the downtown LA California Market Center, it is also a compliment; With so many simultaneous panels and workshops to choose from, with many experts and powerful people in the industry, it was hard to make a selection. But, since it’s impossible to be in more than one physical place at the same time, I had to choose one event per time slot to attend. I chose Succeeding in Voiceover, Television Drama Casting, Working Actors Tell All, and Second City Improv: An Essential Tool for Actors. The Hollywood Sentinel editor attended Voiceover for On-Camera Actors with David H. Lawrence XVII, who gave an excellent presentation.
Which means we missed out on amazing panels with casting directors Chris Game, Danielle Eskinazi, Jamison Reeves, Heidi Levitt, John Papsidera, Kerry Barden, Laray Mayfield, Jeff Greenberg, Brett Benner, Tim Payne, Holly Powell, Carolyne Barry, Michael Testa, Mark Teschner, Chadwick Struck, April Webster, Fern Champion, Craig Campobasso, Kerry Barden, Chris Game, Caroline Liem, Kerry Barden, Russell Boast, and Dorian Frankel. Whew! Imagine all these folks in one place. So sorry I missed you.
Other speakers included career coaches, image consultants, acting teachers, directors, voiceover artists and hosts. The Succeeding in Voiceover workshop panel was moderated by Jeff Hixon, whose website, voicebank offers would-be voiceover actors the chance to hear successful voiceover artists’ demo reels as well as post their own online for free. Panelist and lovely young voiceover artist Ashley Russo encouraged members of the audience in a complimentary manner, while voiceover veterans Bill Ratner and Rick Zieff swapped tales about their big breaks and how the industry has changed.
The Television Drama Casting speaker panels’ credits include “Dirty, Sexy, Money,” “Shameless,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Bones.” No wonder they had to use the Fashion Theatre downstairs; there were several hundred actors sitting in chairs trying to wear their best game face. There were model types, and every other type you can imagine, all breathlessly sitting on the edge of their seats out of deference to the Casting Directors. Because let’s face it, actors flock to casting directors like bees to honey. Which explains a few of the speakers’ sordid confessions about “the worst audition” and the like.
It’s really flattering at first, I suppose, to be the target of so many hungry actor’s attention. But after time and a few bad experiences with some weirdos, the casting directors develop very slick, actor-resistant, charm-proof exteriors, evident here in full regalia, and all their urbane shimmer. What made it so fun to be there was that Mary Jo Slater, John Frank Levey, David Rapaport, and Rick Millikan, perhaps in part because they were elevated, well-lit, and together at one table whilst the actors sat in a dimmed expanse well below the speakers’ eye level, is that the casting directors had such repartee between themselves.
There was a lot of exciting stuff going on that I could have learned more from, but I thought that the most inspiring thing I could do would be to take advantage of the Working Actors Tell All workshop. Stephen Tobolowsky, Stephen Root, and Dale Dickey were open, honest, and most of all, wickedly entertaining. While Stephen and Stephen are well-known character actors with over 300 feature film and television credits between them, Dale Dickey is best known for her breakout role as Merab in “Winter’s Bone,” for which she won a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress. (If you haven’t seen “Winter’s Bone,” I highly recommend you queue it up on Netflix or rent it from your preferred local DVD rental location.
Dale’s performance opposite Jennifer Lawrence is rave-worthy.) One of the funniest moments occurred when Stephen Tobolowsky told how he heard there was a breakdown out where the producers were looking for a “Stephen Tobolowsky” type. He called his agent and asked why he hadn’t been submitted for the role. “Your not right for the part,” his agent replied. But Stephen insisted, and took a meeting…after which they told him, “You’re not the right type!”
After spending the day in chairs listening, it was a nice break to end with Second City Improv: An Essential Tool for Actors. Marc Warzecha, Associate Artistic Director of the Second City Hollywood, was the “official” speaker, but he brought along several other alumni and instructors and got everyone up and moving. We quickly assembled into small groups, and learned to think on our feet by playing games that had us all laughing. It was a great way to wrap up the day (aside from the after party a few short blocks away.) I had a great time at Actor Fest, and will definitely go again. For more information, please visit Backstage.com.