Actors' showcases tend to get a bad rap in Los Angeles. Audiences have tired of seeing the same scenes played out time and time again by struggling artists. There is one shining exception: Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase has enjoyed a healthy L.A. run of packed audiences for close to a year without any sign of stopping.
Who is Beverly Winwood? And what is the secret of her success? Back Stage West sat down recently with the winsome Winwood and some of her students to discuss technique, selling out, and the value of a good wig.
Beverly Winwood and Danger
Winwood is not only a lauded acting teacher but also a humanitarian. Her prize student, Danger, is a young man who was on a path of self-destruction before Winwood entered his life. Now he only acts dangerous (his showcase scene is from Hedda Gabler).
Back Stage West: Beverly, as a teacher, what do you think makes good acting?
Beverly Winwood: It's not that you're sure of the character, it's just that you're sure of the accent. That's good acting. It's OK if you don't understand the text, you just need to memorize the lines. Good acting can be taught, and that's what I teach.
BSW: How did Danger find his way to your class?
Beverly: We started when he was in prison, and I'd go in and we'd do monologues in the cell.
Danger: It was more like Juvie—it was the California Youth Authority. But it was a trumped-up charge—you know how it is. But the acting really helped me find my freedom within my jailed-ness.
Beverly: So I told him about this group that meets, and I've noticed he hasn't broken any laws—that I know of—since he got into my workshop.
Danger: All my checks are not bouncing. 'Cause that was a problem early on.
Beverly: Originally I gave him some free classes, and now he's able to pay because he's working like crazy.
BSW: What have you been working on?
Danger: A lot of dating shows. A lot of them reality shows. They don't really pay so much, but I can make a demo tape from them and sell it on the street.
BSW: Is that profitable?
Danger: Mostly, people will give you money just to get you out of their face.
BSW: What do you charge for a class?
Beverly: It's a sliding scale. When Danger first came, it was low—about $200. But some of the local people here in Beverly Hills, I might charge them upwards of $1,500 for one class. But it's a real good class, and you're going to make that money back on a residual from Port Charles or The Nanny. I tell my students: "You got to spend it to make it, dawg."
Danger: She says that all the time, especially when it's time to pay her and we might be feeling like we don't want to pay.
BSW: What qualifies you to teach this class?
Beverly: My one qualification is passion. I have done some TV work. I was a contestant on Card Sharks. I was a milkmaid in Dr. Quinn.
Danger: In fact, she screens that once a month in her home, and it's a requirement that we come and watch. And she only charges us $25.
Beverly: But I don't charge for parking. And we get to watch my reel.
BSW: Is there a screening process to get into your class?
Beverly: Well, the check needs to clear. Other than that, it all goes back to passion. If someone comes up to me and says they're passionate about acting, who am I to stop them? Welcome! Bring a check—and welcome!
BSW: Danger, have you received any auditions as a direct result of this show?
Danger: Mostly a lot of really, really, really independent films. But you know, Beverly always says, you got to start somewhere, even if it's in pornography.
Beverly: I got a couple people cast on Schindler's Fist, and they're being seen for pilots this year.
BSW: Beverly, what is your philosophy of acting?
Beverly: I give out a brochure when people have paid and the check has cleared that features a couple things I teach my students. No. 1: Never say no to a wig. No. 2: Perfume is a costume choice. No. 3: Always tell the casting agent you'd like to do the scene a third time, maybe a fourth. It's your audition. And most importantly: Don't be afraid to play the opposite sex. When I first started the workshop, for example, I played the little boy in Kramer vs. Kramer. I don't want to be limited by my race or my sex.
Danger: One time she had me play Danny DeVito in Taxi. And I never knew I could be a midget, you know? But I can, I really can! I believe now.
BSW: Would you compare yourself to Stella Adler, or are you more from the Meisner school of acting?
Beverly: I'm just like: Show up, have passion, bring a check… that's my method. Have some heart. [Becomes increasingly emotional] I don't go with Russian theologists or theorists or people that have backgrounds. Nothing except show up—I'm sorry… [becomes too choked up to speak].
Danger: I remember one time I was doing this real dramatic scene from The Wiz, and Beverly wanted me to cry. I said: "Give me a minute, let me think about something sad from my past." She said: "Forget that! You don't want to be real, it's acting. Just sprinkle some water on your eyes, and let's go!"
BSW: What's your advice to people interested in becoming actors?
Danger: My advice is, Hey, if you're pretty, come on out here. If you're ugly, don't be an actor, 'cause you're not gonna get no work. But if you're pretty, do it, because eventually somebody's going to want to sleep with you. Get your act on.
Jeff and Joanie Sanchez
From Donny and Marie to Jeff and Karen Carpenter, brother-and-sister musical duos have always had a place in Hollywood. Get ready, eager world, for the talents of Jeff and Joanie Sanchez, who came to Beverly Winwood more than 12 years ago, and are now the only two members of her elite Musical Workshop Class. Jeff and Joanie's showcase scene is a medley from Hair.
BSW: You two are brother and sister. Is it difficult to work with family?
Jeff: Oh, I love it.
Joanie: We get along so well together—we work very well together and we live together.
Jeff: We share a headshot, and Beverly Winwood always says to put a headline on it. Ours is "Twice As Nice!"
BSW: You mentioned you not only work together, but also live together—
Joanie: It's a huge one-bedroom, and I do put up a curtain. I don't want anybody to think any bad thoughts about us; we do have our own space. But we prefer to be together, that's just the way it is. I was married. But I don't get along with anyone like I get along with him.
Jeff: Thank you. Can I have a kiss? [They kiss.]
BSW: Um, you bring this same closeness to your act. Do people respond to that, or do they ever seem a bit uncomfortable?
Jeff: On the contrary, I think most people who've seen our act think there's so much trouble today with family…
Joanie: Dysfunctional family. People not getting along, a lot of baggage being thrown at each other. You know, whatever happened to us in our childhood, we don't remember.
Jeff: A lot of it's a huge blank.
BSW: How did you get involved in acting?
Joanie: I was lost. I wasn't good at much. And one day I was crying and sobbing in fifth period in elementary school, and a teacher named Mrs. Junico walked by, and she started laughing at me. And I looked at her, and then I started laughing. And she said: "That is good acting!" And I thought, Wow, maybe I'll get into the theatre.
Jeff: God bless Mrs. Junico. For me, I used to play semi-pro football… and about the time my knee blew playing for the Dolphins, we saw a flier for Beverly Winwood. She was offering six classes for $662.
Joanie: We realized it was the chance of a lifetime.
BSW: What have you learned from working with Beverly?
Jeff: It really freed me. Beverly has an intro class called Pan Parade. Everyone brings in a pan and a big wooden spatula and you go up and down the street banging on your pan, saying, "Acting-is-rhythm. Find-your-own-rhythm."
Joanie: And we did. Within a week.
BSW: And now you two are the only members of Beverly's musical workshop?
Jeff: Surprisingly I never sang a note before this.
Joanie: I never heard anything out of his mouth other than "Stop it!" or "Where are you going!" or "Give me some more money!"
Jeff: You weren't a very good singer, either, as I remember. Mrs. Junico said you had a voice like a frog.
Joanie: She said: "Stick to acting but do not do anything with your voice musically." And, just like the rebel that I am, I said no.
Jeff: She was half right and half wrong.
BSW: After almost 13 years, how do you keep challenging yourselves?
Joanie: It's Beverly. She's constantly challenging us. I remember six months ago she had a course in "Getting To Know Your Feet," and I have never danced better in my life.
Jeff: She's so encouraging. Right before you go onstage she'll whisper in your ear, "Don't blow it!" and she'll pinch you on the rear.
Joanie: That just gets you going.
Jeff: She slapped me a few times on my cheeks but only because my cheeks are not naturally flushed and I think she wants to make sure I glow.
BSW: Finally, do you have any advice for the millions of hopefuls out there looking to make a career in acting?
Jeff: If you're a girl, starve yourself. Get as thin as you can.
Joanie: If you're young. If you're old like me, it's a bit more difficult.
Jeff: But you've taken out a couple of ribs.
Joanie: You need to constantly change your image, your look, your personality. Don't settle for who you are.
Honey Thayer and Thad Ripple
Most actresses don't like to talk about their age, but not Honey Thayer. Thayer is a proud 12 years old and loves Beverly's class, particularly working with handsome scene partner Thad Ripple, as she does in their showcase scene from Oedipus Rex.
BSW: How did you two meet Beverly and come to be in her class?
Thad: I was bartending at Islands, and she came in, and she thought I had a pretty kick-ass look because I wear my shirt pretty low. She told me I could probably get a lot of work. I knew I was destined for something.
Honey: She had a niece who went to junior high with me and saw me playing Annie.
BSW: What have you learned from this class?
Thad: Your body can get you far in this business. And play intense and angry if you don't have another choice to play. People like intense people. That's why Christopher Walken is so good.
Honey: Age in acting doesn't so much matter. You can play anything. And if we were in love, age still doesn't matter.
Thad: But we're not in love.
Honey: That's what you say.
BSW: Has this showcase led to any big opportunities for you?
Honey: I had a casting director come up to me after a show and ask me to play with his kids.
Thad: And I had one ask me to come over and play in her pool.
BSW: You're both pretty young. Is it difficult to pay for these classes?
Honey: Beverly has told us the more you pay, the better actor you'll be.
Thad: You have to invest in you. If I have to pick up another shift at Islands, I'll do it. Because I know that shift just got me a part on Star Trek.
BSW: How do you like working with Beverly?
Honey: Beverly is amazing. She's a great actress. She brought in some stuff she did on Falcon Crest and she was amazing.
Thad: She did a really cool arc on The Nanny in one episode.
BSW: What do you say to people who say acting can't be taught?
Thad: I think it's true. If Beverly hadn't come into Islands, I don't know who would have finally told me that I had it, but someone eventually would have.
BSW: Do you have any advice for your fellow actors?
Thad: Work out. Get to be good-looking.
Honey: And, like Beverly says, don't be afraid to go mainstream.
Kathy Macholick and Vickie Glick
Kathy Macholick met Winwood when she was selling real estate a year ago, and she has been a star student ever since. Because Macholick needs a constant scene partner, she signed up her housekeeper/nanny, Vickie Glick, for the class; the two perform a scene from The Color Purple in the showcase.
BSW: What have you learned from working with Beverly?
Kathy: I've learned just to take me and play it to 10.
Vickie: I've learned I have to take these classes so I don't lose my job.
BSW: What do you think is the main component of good acting?
Vickie: Meryl Streep.
Kathy: Vickie is very real in her acting; I don't know what her secret is.
Vickie: I try to think about something else. I pretend I'm at home.
BSW: Has this showcase led to any work for you?
Kathy: There's certainly a buzz around town. I'm between agents but I've got my fingers crossed.
Vickie: She's made a lot of calls but they never get returned. But it's worked out for me. There's a good possibility that Dennis Franz needs a housekeeper.
BSW: Do you have any advice to people interested in acting?
Vickie: You have to really want to do it. Because it's hard for me to get out of bed every day and do these things I don't want to, and I hate it. So you should be sure you want to do it.
Kathy: Or, to paraphrase Boo-Hoo's advice: If you want it, you should reach for the stars. BSW
"Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase," at the Canon Theatre, 205 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills. Mon. 8 p.m. Indefinitely. $25. (310) 859-2830.
Beverly Winwood (Susan Yeagley), Danger (Jordan Black), Jeff and Joanie Sanchez (Mike Hitchcock and Mindy Sterling), Honey Thayer and Thad Ripple (Christen Nelson and Nat Faxon), and Kathy Macholick (Melissa McCarthy) and Vickie Glick (Mary Jo Smith).