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Readers' Choice Los Angeles

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Readers' Choice Los Angeles
Dear Readers,

Thanks to the more than 2,400 of you who participated in this year's Readers' Choice Survey: Los Angeles. It was the most votes we've received thus far for this annual survey, now in its third year. Outside of a couple of recurring winners, you selected new favorites this year. Still, all of the winners are familiar fixtures in the Los Angeles acting community and deserving of this distinction. Congratulations to this year's winners and runners-up. And we hope you find the content helpful.

I'd also like to congratulate the winners of our survey contest, Paul A. Brown and Kate Louis. Brown will receive a free headshot package from photographer Kevyn Major Howard. Louis won a free workshop series from Margie Haber Studios. Thank you to Howard and Haber for their generosity.

As for Brown's tips to his fellow actors, he says, "Even established New York stage actors like myself can find L.A. daunting. My advice is to find a group with whom you are comfortable, who will tell you the honest truth about the industry and especially your work. A couple of groups I've found are Signature Studios LA, which holds workshops with top-notch directors and producers, as well as helps get your work in front of the people who are actually casting current projects." Brown also recommends Actors' Promotional Services, run by Rock Riddle, who Brown says "is passionate about taking small groups of professional actors and getting them introduced to actual working producers."

Brown also recommends voiceover coach Mandy Kaplan. "She really tells it like it is and gets to the heart of voiceover work very quickly," says Brown. "She only takes six students at a time in order to give everyone microphone time with very frank and honest one-on-one coaching. She's fantastic."

As for Louis' hot tip to her fellow actors, she recommends acting teacher John Sudol. "It's really refreshing to meet someone like him," she says. "He is truly devoted to his students. He really takes the time to know his students and know what their goals are and help them make steps on working towards them. You really feel that he is passionate about what he does."

Should you wish to comment on this special edition, scroll down to the bottom of this page for our new Comments section. Readers can now comment on all Back Stage articles.

Sincerely,
Jamie Painter Young
National Editor-in-Chief


Favorite Actor: Meryl Streep
As if last week's New York Readers' Choice issue was not triumph enough for her, Meryl Streep was similarly chosen as favorite actor by our West Coast readers. From her early beginnings in the New York theater through her award-winning film performances, Streep has never taken a wrong step yet remains among the most human of "stars." Our readers say it best:

"The first film I ever saw her in was Defending Your Life when I was very young. But I remember immediately being drawn to her character and wanted to know more about her. My mom would tell you that I made her pay late fees so we could keep the video from Blockbuster longer so I could watch it over and over. When it finally had to go back for good, we began to explore other Streep films, and from there my interest in acting was born." -- Lowe Taylor

"Meryl's acting has taught me to be more natural. To take a breath. To let the moments come. And that, often, in between the lines are when the best moments happen." -- Roberta Cassidy McMillan

"She has a wonderful line in Postcards From the Edge that won me over: Someone is explaining to her that 'you always raise the inflection at the end of a line as a comedy rule.' She replies, 'That's a comedy rule?' This single line said volumes as her character and her wonderful process of developing what was on the page that Carrie Fisher had written." -- Tony Pinizzotto

"She is meticulous in her preparation for her roles, and I love the fact that she is known for her ability to master any accent. Nothing she does is an anticipated false emotional move." -- Shirley Butler

"One specific thing that I am really and truly awed by is her ability to fearlessly and completely embody each character. She embraces both the light and dark aspects of each archetype that she brings to the particular role she is playing. It makes every character whole, complete, and human, therefore making them relatable to so many people on so many levels." -- Teresa De Fonte

"I respect Meryl Streep for her craftsmanship and integrity to the art. She gives justice to every detail of a character; you know she has done an extraordinary amount of research for even the simplest of moments. She has formed relationships with every object and person in her character's environment. When watching her, it is what is not said that moves you; it is what she has circulating inside her mind and body. She is a reminder to always focus on the details." -- Brionne Davis

"My favorite Meryl Streep movie is Sophie's Choice. She plays a Polish immigrant. I could particularly relate to this role because I was born in Poland. Not only her acting but her language skills are phenomenal. She speaks with a heavy Polish accent -- German and Polish. What a talent! She simply is the best." -- Joanna Iwanow

Runners-Up: Cate Blanchett, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Kate Winslet


Favorite Scene Study Teacher: Aaron Speiser
People tend to think Aaron Speiser, recipient of Back Stage's L.A. Readers' Choice Award for favorite scene study teacher, is younger than he is. He believes that's because at age 58, his passion for the art of acting is as strong as ever -- like a young man's. Head of the Aaron Speiser Acting Studio in Los Angeles, he teaches, holds private sessions, and coaches on set. Each of the three jobs challenges and re-energizes him, he says: Classes provide a theatrical excitement; coaching one-on-one offers a special intimacy; and on-set or on-location work is the most amazing because "no matter what your theories are, you may have to throw them out if they're not working. On the set, it's not about process; it's about result."

Among the celebs he has prepped for auditions and/or roles are Will Smith (whom he's coached on every one of the actor's movies since Ali), Jennifer Lopez, the Wayans brothers, and Virginia Madsen (for Sideways). Currently, Speiser is coaching Jada Pinkett Smith in a new TV series.

Speiser grew up speaking Yiddish as the son of Holocaust survivors and got a B.A. at City College of New York and an MFA from Brandeis University -- heady stuff for a kid from the hardscrabble streets of the Bronx. When he read Stanislavsky's autobiography, My Life in Art, he knew something was missing in his acting. It wasn't until he saw an iconic production of American Buffalo -- starring Robert Duvall, John Savage, and Kenneth McMillan -- that he understood: Those actors were living life on the stage. "That was revolutionary to me!" Speiser exclaims. So he studied with McMillan, Uta Hagen, and Bill Hickey, and he acted in New York for about 15 years.

In 1981 his mentor, McMillan, asked Speiser to take on some of McMillan's students, telling Speiser he was a born teacher. A baffled Speiser thought, "Who, me?" But the timing was auspicious. Although still passionate about acting, Speiser hated to audition and realized that "if you cannot embrace the audition process, then it's time to leave acting." He promptly fell in love with teaching and never looked back.

Now, almost 30 years later, Speiser's joy in the craft and his belief in the necessity for organic life when acting are undiminished, but some of his methods have inevitably changed. For example, now he encourages his students to videotape themselves when prepping for an audition. And, like many teachers, he rarely invokes emotional memory in the classroom: "I tell students to use it only when they have a very difficult entrance or when a director specifically insists you have some type of emotion and you're not feeling it." He also emphasizes the use of imagination more than ever, saying it's the most powerful tool there is. But, he adds, he'll never stop teaching one crucial technique: script analysis.

Speiser tells his students if they're passionate about acting, he can give them the tools, the inspiration. "You won't get any baloney from me," he promises.

"Aaron isn't just a teacher; he's a friend to the actor. Like the best friend that hides in the bushes and gives you pointers when you're trying to talk to a beautiful girl, his advice makes you good, makes you get the girl.

"Aaron touches everyone on a personal level and treats them like family. He won't send anyone on anything he wouldn't do himself. He connects with his clients, asks them what they want and need from his class, and keeps working with them until those goals are achieved." -- Brandan Davis

"Aaron's main goal is to turn students into working actors by creating a feeling of community where everyone can succeed. He really listens to ideas. Every six months Aaron takes everyone out to eat and checks in with them, asks how auditions are going, how everyone feels. He goes to exceptional lengths to be accessible.

"Aaron believes nothing sets the successful actor apart from his students but one yes out of perhaps a hundred noes. No magic. No fairy dust. Aaron feels his students have the same potential as any successful actor." -- Melissa Hughes

"Aaron is constantly on film sets coaching actors like Will Smith and Virginia Madsen, so he doesn't just bring theory to class; he brings real-life practical knowledge. He is also a walking encyclopedia of human behavior, which is what an actor's craft is really about: how different human beings really behave in any given situation. The more accurate and believable the behavior, the better the acting.

"Aaron spends time working to undo the old-fashioned theatricality of acting, which doesn't work on camera, and teaches a 21st-century technique specifically designed for multiple media. He will teach you to do classic Shakespeare but in the 21st-century method." -- Dan O'Callaghan

Aaron Speiser Acting Studio, 1644 La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90035; (310) 399-4567; info@aaronspeiser.com; www.aaronspeiser.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Stephen Book, (323) 461-4263; stephenbook@stephenbook.com; www.stephenbook.com.
-- Richard Seyd, 4949 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 203, L.A., CA 90027, (323) 668-1475; Phoenix Theatre Annex, 414 Mason St., 4th floor, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 354-1762; studio@seydways.com; www.seydways.com.
-- Howard Fine Acting Studio, 1445 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 962-3188; info@howardfine.com; www.howardfine.com.
-- Kimberly Jentzen, (818) 779-7770; info@kimberlyjentzen.com; www.kimberlyjentzen.net.
-- Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211 or 1816 N. Vermont Ave., L.A., CA 90042, (310) 855-1556; 100 Seventh Ave. South, N.Y., NY 10014, (646) 200-5790; interviewer@bhplayhouse.com; www.bhplayhouse.com.

-- Jean Schiffman


Favorite Voiceover Workshop: Kalmenson & Kalmenson
It's a rarity for 10 minutes to pass, listening to the radio or watching TV, without hearing a commercial voiceover job cast by Kalmenson & Kalmenson. Husband-and-wife team Cathy and Harvey Kalmenson founded the Burbank, Calif.-based company in 1993 and have a combined 50 years of voiceover experience, including time spent as former agents. In addition to their bustling casting department, they currently oversee a faculty of 25 teachers and engineers who make up the company's education department. Instructors are trained in the Kalmenson Method, based on the Stanislavsky system. In addition to teaching commercial voiceover, K&K offers specialty classes in animation, promos, demo preparation, comedy, improvisation (taught by notable actor Stephen Tobolowsky), and "The Art of Being Present." "Our classes run the gamut, and our subject matter is based on the current dictates of the industry's whims," says Harvey. Cathy adds, "Our daily contact with the producers keeps our finger on the pulse of the industry, keeping us current with trends and attitudes that are in demand."

Classes are divided into three levels: Foundations (for nonactors), Voiceover for Actors (geared toward those making the transition from on-camera to voiceover work), and Working Pro (for those making a living in voiceover and seeking high-level refinements). Says Cathy, "Our education program allows for each phase of the voiceover actor's career. The driving force in class: We provide acting method for voiceover, which is expressed during the voiceover performance as truthful responsiveness, emotionally and naturally."

Beginning students in Kalmenson's six-week curriculum can expect to learn recording-booth etiquette, a glossary of industry terms, perspective on the business, and, of course, an introduction to the Kalmenson Method, the backbone of all training at this school. So get thee to a class if you've ever had an interest in voiceover. And above all, expect to spend years honing your craft and further refining your technique. "As is the case with any creative craft, especially a craft which exists within a subjective form, learning and becoming proficient with the basics is an absolute must," says Harvey. "Be prepared for continual study. Acting in any form is a lifetime endeavor."

"They get you going from the moment you walk through the door. You get a binder and a tape and individual attention. They record everything you do. Not only the instructors but also the students were really in tune with the voiceover world.

"They engage you and genuinely want everyone there to reach their goal. The funny thing after my first class, a neurosurgeon I know and work with at Cedars-Sinai asked me to do the narration on his instructional brain-surgery video." -- Dan Gilvary

Kalmenson & Kalmenson, (818) 377-3600; www.kalmenson.com

Runners-Up:
-- Susan Blu, www.blupka.com.
-- Braintracks Audio, Nancy Wolfson, www.braintracksaudio.com.
-- David Lawrence, www.voiceontap.com.
-- Marc Cashman, www.cashmancommercials.com.
-- Bob Bergen, www.bobbergen.com.

-- Heidi Schooler


Favorite Bar: The Cat & Fiddle
Atmosphere, a central location, great service, and that gorgeous patio area are just a few of the reasons actors voted The Cat & Fiddle their favorite bar in Los Angeles.

Beth Geiger finds that the traditional British pub is a great place for cast parties after shows, especially at Second City because it's within walking distance. "One night I went there after a commercial class, and everyone there, about 15 of us, had a different way of paying. The waitress ran separate checks for everyone," Geiger says of the patient wait staff. "Now that's great service."

The building that houses the bar is steeped in history. In 1929 it was a studio commissary and housed makeup and wardrobe departments for neighboring studios. Scenes from Casablanca were filmed in the private party room now dubbed the Casablanca Room. More recently, such stars as Morrissey, Rod Stewart, Christopher Lloyd, and Woody Harrelson have dined at the establishment.

Sokrates Frantzis likes it because it ties patrons into old Hollywood. "The term Hollywood has negative connotations, but I think there is a lot of history here in Los Angeles," says Frantzis. "There's great people-watching there."

Edgar Schulz thinks it's a wonderful place for him and his industry friends to decompress and hang out: "It's got a great, laid-back atmosphere, which is a nice change when people are all trying to be seen or make a scene."

Two of the family members running The Cat & Fiddle, Paula and Ashlee Gardner, have a message for all of their actor patrons: "After 27 years of surviving Hollywood, we want to thank you for helping make us a tradition and being a big part of our lives."

The Cat & Fiddle, 6530 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 468-3800; www.thecatandfiddle.com.

Runners Up:

-- The Abbey Food and Bar, 692 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069; www.abbeyfoodandbar.com.
-- The Edison, 108 W. Second St., #101, L.A., CA 90012; www.edisondowntown.com.
-- St. Nick's, 8450 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048.
-- Amalfi Ristorante & Bar, 143 N. La Brea, L.A., CA 90036; www.amalfiristorante.com.
-- Birds Café-Bar, 5925 Franklin Ave., L.A., CA 90028; www.birdshollywood.com.

-- Cassie Carpenter


Favorite Casting Director: Scott David
Scott David is known to most actors as a prolific casting director with a multitude of credits in film, TV, and theater. But prior to his casting career, David worked in a decidedly different industry: He was in sales, hawking pumice stones for stone-washing jeans. Still, says David, his sales skills come in handy in the casting realm. "That's the business side of it," he says, "dealing with agents and managers and deal-making and negotiating."

Currently, he is a casting director on Criminal Minds and Leverage, along with April Webster. He also recently cast the pilot Washington Field for CBS. His previous credits include The Day After Tomorrow and the TV series LAX. Recently, he chatted with Back Stage about finding talent, championing actors, and what not to include in your headshot.

What's your process for finding talent?

"The process is via breakdowns, via relationships with agents and managers, actors that are friends, and workshops. In probably that order."

What's your advice for actors who read for you?

"Just to be themselves. Try not to be nervous. Don't be desperate. Make sure that your essence is the type of role that we're asking for. Not everyone can play a cop. You have to know what your essence is, and I have to know what your essence is before I'm comfortable giving you an opportunity to come in for a role. I learn that by meeting people, reading people, or watching their demo reels."

What catches your eye in a headshot?

"I know what I don't like. I don't like hands and feet and animals and cars and motorcycles and hats -- anything extraneous, forget about it. I like a really simple headshot that is very neutral and shows expression in your eyes."

How would you describe your style of working with actors?

"Sometimes I like to read with people, but I usually have my associates read. I love to direct [actors] if and when possible. It's always a fun, safe environment, which is key. We're always rooting for the people. We try to make it a nonstressful-type situation -- happy and easygoing."

What kinds of actors are you looking for on, say, Criminal Minds?

"We have a basic format of what we look for. We look for our killer of the week. We have a bunch of victims. We always have a detective, some extraneous cops, family members. That's our palette."

What about Leverage?

"The style of Leverage is a little bit lighter -- I call it dramedy. So there are larger-than-life-type roles and attitudes and tones to the show. The show's now shooting in Portland, so we're only casting a couple of roles here from Los Angeles."

What do you like most about casting?

"Meeting people. The most rewarding thing for me is when somebody gets that job and it's just so evident that they really did you proud. I've championed so many people -- from a no-line role to a one-line role to a guest star to series regulars. When that person gets the job, it's so thrilling."

Scott David, Quixote Studios, 4585 Electronics Place, L.A., CA 90039.

Runners-Up:
-- Mark Teschner, ABC Television Center, 4151 Prospect Ave., L.A., CA 90027; www.markteschner.com.
-- Debra Zane, 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 536, L.A., CA 90036; (310) 558-0400; www.debrazanecasting.com.
-- Nan Dutton, 16161 Ventura Blvd., Suite 212, Encino, CA 91436.
-- Bonnie Gillespie, Cricket Feet Casting, P.O. Box 1417, L.A., CA 90028; (310) 395-9540; www.cricketfeet.com.

-- Sarah Kuhn


Favorite Casting Director Workshop Series:
Talent To Go, Judy Kain and Pat Tallman

Although casting director showcases had been productive for actors Judy Kain and Pat Tallman, they desired a new platform to show the quality of their work in a stronger setting. "We wanted to do plays [for casting directors]," says Tallman. "But it didn't make sense financially or timewise." Together, five years ago, the two created Talent to Go, a casting director workshop series that showcases actors in performance-ready scenes -- a format, Kain and Tallman say, that more closely resembles the audition process.

Talent to Go welcomes actors of all ages, but it is not for beginners. Prospective members need to audition to join TTG, a process, Kain and Tallman say, that ensures the quality of the work and the integrity of the company. "It's not fair to take an actor's money if they aren't ready," says Tallman.

To be considered for membership, auditioning actors must perform a two-and-a-half-minute scene with a partner. If chosen to join, the actors will perform the audition scene in the workshops. Kain and Tallman say this model empowers actors to put their best feet forward in the time allotted: The actors can choose a scene that showcases their strengths and work with an actor they know and like.

Performers accepted into TTG receive a complimentary coaching session to ensure that their scene is performance-ready. A one-year membership package starts at $60 and includes the option to upgrade for additional services. TTG also offers a variety of acting classes at a discount to members. There are monthly mixers at which members and nonmembers can hear an industry speaker and network with fellow professionals. Says Tallman, "We are here to help actors and are constantly coming up with new ways to do that."

A maximum of eight scenes per workshop are presented to the casting director in an hour or less. Actors have the freedom to ask questions, and Kain believes that casting people feel more comfortable because there isn't a big crowd. She adds, "Casting directors love that actors come in with material that is right for them. This allows CDs to give feedback from an advanced place."

Kain and Tallman are committed to helping members hone their audition skills. "It's like going to the gym," Tallman says. "If you're on your feet a couple of times a month, when you do get called in for that big audition, it's not cold." Actors get written evaluations on their scene work and interview skills from Kain and Tallman, as well as the casting director. "When actors start to report back and say, 'Hey, I did a great job in an audition this week...' " says Tallman, "that's why we do this," finishes Kain.

Although Kain and Tallman originally set out to empower their own careers, their journey through the creation of TTG has empowered the careers of countless actors. "The true success," says Kain, "is that many of our members who joined five years ago are still with us today."

Talent to Go, Judy Kain and Pat Tallman, 13351-D Riverside Drive, #107, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423; judy_talenttogo@yahoo.com; www.talenttogo.net.

Runners-Up:
-- Reel PROs, 13437 Ventura Blvd., Suite 220, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423; (818) 788-4133; support@reelpros.com; www.reelpros.com.
-- SAG Foundation Casting Access Project, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 124, L.A., CA 90036; (323) 549-6022; www.sagfoundation.org/programs/cap.
-- The Network Studio, 11967 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604; (818) 788-2075; www.thenetworkstudio.com.
-- The Actors Source Online Workshop, www.theactorssource.com.
-- TVI Actors Studio, 14429 Ventura Blvd., Suite 118, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423; (818) 784-6500; www.tvistudios.com.
-- The Actor's Key, 2019 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91506; (818) 456-8798 or (818) 926-7399; actorskey@gmail.com; www.actorskey.com.

-- Stacey Jackson


Favorite Cold Reading/Audition Class: Margie Haber Studios
The advice may seem counter-intuitive. You come into a studio looking to prepare to portray another human being, and the instructor informs you that to do the job correctly, you'll have to do the opposite of what the assignment calls for. "My main focus is to teach actors to stop acting," says Margie Haber, whom our readers selected as a favorite instructor for auditions and cold readings. "Whether they're shooting a movie or doing a play, whatever. Actors want to act. I teach them it's not acting; it's living. It's not a scene. It's a slice of life."

Or suppose you're at an audition, and the casting director or person reading opposite you isn't giving you enough to work with. Common complaint, says Haber, and one that should not be defeating. "What they're not giving you is something," says Haber. "A human being sitting in front of you may not be looking at you, but you have feelings about that. Never ignore what's not being given to you, because that's part of communication."

Haber and her staff have been dispensing their wisdom and technique via the Margie Haber Cold Reading Workshop for 25 years. With studios in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dublin and quarterly workshops in New York, Haber travels the country and teaches internationally. Locally, the self-described "compulsive teacher" handles the advanced instruction as well as the out-of-town classes.

She is the author of How to Get the Part Without Falling Apart and boasts a past-client list that includes Halle Berry, Stephen Collins, Kelly Preston, Tom Arnold, and Laura Innes. In the early 1990s, a pair of Haber's clients were working with her while hoping to grab a small but pivotal role in Thelma and Louise: Michael Eastman lost the role to a then largely unknown young actor named Brad Pitt. "It's not that Michael wasn't talented," says Haber. "Brad was able to get more charisma out of the role, and the rest is history."

The competition for work may be fierce, but Haber contends that an opportunity to ply your craft -- even briefly -- should not be squandered. An actor may only win two out of 25 roles he auditions for, but the other 23 readings are still a chance for him to step into someone else's skin.

"It's the glass-half-full approach. You need to be excited," says Haber. "Twenty-five opportunities to live another person's life! That's pretty amazing. And don't just live it in the audition room. If the part calls for a homeless person, walk around Santa Monica and look at the homeless. Don't just use the room as your audition."

Haber studied with Lee Strasberg and Milton Katselas, and her training guru -- who would later become a Haber studio cold-reading instructor -- is Rebel Without a Cause actor Corey Allen. "He's from the old school. He looks like Moses and acts like Yoda. Wise, wise man," says Haber. "He taught me that the story and the character are not as important as the relationship. That's what I teach: relationship, relationship. It's all about connection."

"Margie really breaks down the audition process in a foundational way, down to the nuts and bolts, making it accessible, practical, and effective for everyone. She finds the specific things each person needs to focus on and works it." -- Dan Billet

"First off, Margie cares deeply about her students and what she's doing; you can tell from her passion both in and out of class. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, her technique works. If you commit yourself to it, you can deliver a connected, natural, and interesting performance with a minimum amount of time with the script beforehand, every single time.

"I can't claim to have worked with every cold-reading teacher in town, but Margie has every quality I could want, both in a teacher and in a technique. She's also smart enough to surround herself with equally brilliant teachers: Jim Gleason was absolutely remarkable." -- Jade Carter

Margie Haber Studio, 971 N. La Cienega Blvd., Suite 207, L.A., CA 90069; (310) 854-0870; www.margiehaber.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Kimberly Jentzen, (818) 779-7770; www.kimberlyjentzen.net.
-- Richard Lawson Studios, (818) 793-8767; www.richardlawson.net.
-- Scott Sedita, 526 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A., CA 90004; (323) 465-6152; www.scottseditaacting.com.
-- Craig Wallace, The Wallace Audition Technique, (323) 960-7852; www.wallaceauditiontechnique.com.
-- Caryn West, (323) 876-0394; groups.yahoo.com/group/CarynWest-ActorsLA.

-- Evan Henerson


Favorite Commercial Workshop: Carolyne Barry
Carolyne Barry happened upon her teaching career in the most serendipitous of ways. Living in New York in the 1970s and early 1980s, she booked so many spots, she was known as "the commercial queen." Other actors in her theater company -- Etc. Theatre Group -- started asking, "What is it that you do to book commercials? And can you teach me that?"

"I said, 'I have no clue,' " Barry says with a laugh. But it turns out she could teach them. As she began to hold classes for her colleagues in the theater company, she realized teaching was her true calling. Now she offers a full range of classes and workshops on acting, commercial audition technique, improv, and auditioning in Los Angeles.

One huge misconception about working in commercials, says Barry, is that many actors assume it's not about, well, acting. "I have people calling me all the time going, 'I want to be an actor,' " she says. "Well, great, let's talk about an acting class. 'No, I want to start with commercials.' Well, if you want to be an actor, you start with acting. When people come to me and interview for my classes, I try to get them to do acting workshops and improv first, so that they can bring more of that into the commercial classes and be better."

Because of the emphasis on acting, says Barry, her commercial classes aren't what one might call tip-oriented. "It's not just 'Do this and hold this product and smile here.' It's more about acting," she says. "Really know who you're talking to. And I really challenge people a lot. If they do well, then I push them to the next level of where they could go."

But Barry, whose book for actors, Hit the Ground Running, will be released this month, offers these tips here: "Study acting and improv for at least six months before you take a commercial class. Improv is very important for commercial auditions. Select whatever teachers you work with very carefully. And if you're going to be a commercial actor or any kind of actor, be smart about money."

And what about advice for that terrifying moment when you make it into the room at a commercial audition? "Listen," she advises simply. "And really trust what you've learned as an actor, and don't try to impress. The biggest mistake actors make is that they're trying too hard to be different from everybody else -- especially in commercials, 'cause there are so many people up for every job. But there's nobody that can be you but you. So when you're you, you truly are already different."

Barry also still acts and works as a casting director, but her main focus is teaching. That, she says, is her true passion. "I love making a difference in people's lives and their careers."

"In the commercial world, Carolyne Barry is superior to most teachers for her nuts-and-bolts approach. No pipe dreams here. She's a working professional and treats you as one too.

"I think she pretty much created 'the button,' that verbal or nonverbal moment an actor can create at the end of a commercial script." -- John McCormick

Carolyne Barry, (323) 654-2212; www.carolynebarry.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Stuart K. Robinson, 8950 Ellis Ave., Suite B, L.A., CA, 90034; (310) 558-4961; www.stuartkrobinson.com.
-- Chris Game, chrisgamecasting@gmail.com.
-- Sandra Merrill, 8899 Beverly Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; (323) 662-7720; www.sandramerrill.com.
-- Killian McHugh, (323) 717-0737; www.killiansworkshop.com.
-- John Sudol, 11650 Riverside Drive, Suite 11, North Hollywood, CA 91602; (818) 505-1223; thejohnsudolactingstudio@yahoo.com; www.johnsudolstudio.com.

-- Sarah Kuhn


Favorite Demo Reel Producer: SpeedReels
Since opening its doors in May 2004, SpeedReels has caught on in the casting community as an alternative solution to the traditional picture-and-résumé submission process.

Although the industry was initially slow to catch up to the electronic revolution, online casting has become not only an essential tool for casting convenience but also one that is necessary for an actor to be competitive.

"The 60-second online reel was initially started as a great way for actors to get to an agent who may not otherwise invest a lot of time or may not give an actor a second look," reports Matt Draper, who owns the company.

As casting changed, however, SpeedReels' role in the casting community expanded.

"Nowadays, if a casting director puts out a breakdown for a four-line role, he may get up to 400 submissions," says Draper. "He's not going to look at 400 people for a four-line role. This way he can go directly to the searchable database."

In addition to the 60-second online reel, SpeedReels also offers full demo reel editing, as well as SpeedAuditions (auditions on tape). "The marketplace is expanding with more and more films accepting taped auditions," says Draper. "An actor says, 'Hey, I can still submit myself there and be here too.' Also, the quality of the video is very good and the link opens right away as opposed to having to go to a website and search for it.

"We are not a big company," Draper notes proudly. "When you come in, you know us. We are here; we work with you."

SpeedReels, 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 410, L.A., CA 90036; (323) 931-1712; www.speedreels.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Planet Video, 1617 N. El Centro, Suite 12, L.A., CA 90028; (323) 651-3600; www.planet-video.com.
-- Secret Handshake, 7931 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046; (323) 822-4000; info@secrethandshake.com; www.secrethandshake.com/reels.
-- Brian Hammers, www.myspace.com/brianhammers.
-- Quick Nickel, (818) 752-4391; info@quicknickel.com; www.quicknickel.com.
-- EditPlus, 14429 Ventura Blvd, Suite 101, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423; (818) 380-0126; info@editplus.tv; www.editplus.tv.

-- Heather Langone


Favorite Hangouts: The Actors Center, SAG Foundation
As a young actor in New York City, Marcia Smith spent her downtime at Equity relaxing, networking, and building friendships. "After a day of making rounds, auditioning, etc., it was a wonderful place to go and chill out," says Smith. After moving to Los Angeles, she began to realize that, although the city was full of actors, there weren't many places available for them to hang out.

For the past 15 years, Smith has served as the executive director of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and on Aug. 25, 2008, the foundation opened the Actors Center as a place where Los Angeles actors could hang out. The center boasts a beautiful screening room, a lounge, a computer lab, and a conference room. Nearly every night it houses one of the foundation's programs, including Casting Access Project, Conversations, and LifeRaft, each designed to help actors further their careers.

With its state-of-the-art equipment and welcoming environment, Back Stage readers chose it as their favorite hangout. As convenient local coffee shops may be, they won't have Wi-Fi, free parking, friendly staff, editing software, entertainment-industry trade publications -- including Back Stage -- and more, available in one place.

The Actors Center, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., CA 90036; (323) 549-6081; www.sagfoundation.org.

Runners-Up:
-- The Actors' Network, 4370 Coldwater Canyon, 2nd floor, Studio City, CA 91604; (818) 509-1010; www.actors-network.com.
-- Aroma Coffee & Tea Co., 4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, CA 91604; (310) 836-2919; www.aromacoffeeandtea.com.
-- Samuel French Bookshop, 7623 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90046, (323) 876-0570; 11963 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604, (818) 762-0535; www.samuelfrench.com.
-- IO West Theatre, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 962-7560; http://west.ioimprov.com.

-- Jessyca Dewey


Favorite Headshot Photographer: Vanie Poyey
A common compliment Vanie Poyey hears from clients is that they were completely comfortable during their headshot session. How does she achieve that comfort level so often? "I feel like so many [actors] come in here, and they're really nervous because they don't get much direction from other photographers -- not everybody, but not all photographers direct," says Poyey, who has been shooting headshots for 13 years. "And so [clients] feel like they're really good in front of the moving camera, but they're really stiff in front of a still photo. They don't know how to pose, and they're in their head. And I think that I'm in tune with that, and I'm really conscientious about people's comfort level. I don't try to impose anything on them, and I try to make it about their day in every way. But also I direct them so that they're acting and ad-libbing with me and I'm throwing things at them."

Personality is the key to a great headshot, according to Poyey. "Everybody says it's the eyes. But I don't think so," she says. "I mean, of course, technically the makeup, lighting, and eyes should pop. But you have to treat your headshot as a business card. So you want to have as much personality in that headshot to sell yourself as an actor as you possibly can. And you also want to have as much range as possible."

In addition to range, however, a headshot must be targeted, says Poyey. "The trend now with all the agents I work with is they want to get very specific looks. They want to get the businessman, they want to get the young dad, they want to get the girl next door. So I approach it more, 'What's your target market going to be? What auditions are you trying to target?' " Poyey says the bulk of her clientele is seasoned actors, many referred by their agents, but she is more than happy to work with those less experienced.

"She is extremely personable and professional. She takes an interest in you as a person, which creates a comfortable and creative atmosphere in which to shoot. I never had a sense she was forcing me to be anything other than myself, which came across in the final product. Not only does she have a great eye for composition but also, and more importantly, she has an instinct for finding and bringing out your natural qualities. I've had more responses to the headshots taken by Vanie than any other photographer I have shot with." -- Matt Ryan

"One of the best things about shooting with Vanie is that it feels like a friend taking your photos, so it automatically makes you feel more comfortable and at ease. She takes one glance at your wardrobe selection and decides almost immediately which location would best represent the look you are going for. She truly cares about making sure her client is completely satisfied and uses as much time as needed to get the right shot. She has a great eye and is just an all-around great person who loves what she does and just so happens to be very good at it." -- Melissa Guillaume

"She has a talent for bringing out the soul of her subjects. Her work is more than static shots with good lighting. When you meet someone she has shot, you feel that you know them because she has captured the essence of the person within her shot. She's relaxed and easy to be around and very professional without being pretentious." -- Charles Allen

"Of all the photographers I have worked with, she had the best eye for lighting and composition, made me feel the most comfortable, and really got a 'character' out of me. Her shots show the most personality and book me the most gigs even five years later." -- Jennifer Shumaker

Vanie Poyey Photography, (323) 856-6156; info@poyeyphotos.com; http://poyeyphotos.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Blake Gardner, (323) 445-9845; www.blakegardner.net.
-- Kevyn Major Howard, (323) 664-9564; www.kevynmajorhoward.com.
-- Dana Patrick, (877) 505-0008; www.danapatrickphoto.com.
-- Paul Smith, (323) 463-8864; www.paulsmithphotography.com.
-- Kenneth Dolin, (213) 415-1838; www.kennethdolin.com.

-- Jamie Painter Young


Favorite Improv Group: The Groundlings
For the third year in a row, the Groundlings was named the favorite improv group by Back Stage readers. Actor Noelle Lem echoes the sentiments of many other voters in saying, "The Groundlings is the best improv group in L.A. I've never laughed so hard for an extended period of time in my entire life. After every show, you leave with a great feeling; it's a must-see." Lem and reader Piper Coolidge cite Groundling Jeremy Rowley as one of the best performers. Coolidge adds, "The Groundlings' shows are good old-fashioned hilarity at its finest. The cast always delivers, and they improv so well, it seems as if it were scripted."

The Groundlings' Melrose theater has become a Hollywood institution since the troupers made it their home in 1975. Since then, it has launched the careers of Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, and Lisa Kudrow. The Groundlings seems to have a show for everyone's taste. Fridays through Sundays, members of the main company perform a combination of sketch and improv. Wednesday nights are home to The Crazy Uncle Joe Show, which features long-form improvisation. And Thursday nights host Cookin' With Gas, in which alumni come and play with current company members. Past guests have included such luminaries as Mike Myers and Quentin Tarantino.

The Groundlings, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90046; http://groundlings.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Upright Citizens Brigade, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028; (323) 908-8702; www.ucbtheatre.com.
-- IO West, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 962-7560; http://west.ioimprov.com.
-- Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036; (323) 525-0202; www.acmecomedy.com.
-- The Second City, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 464-8542; www.secondcity.com/?id=theatres/losangeles.
-- Hothouse Improvisation, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601; (818) 331-2611; www.hothouseimprov.com.

-- Jenelle Riley


Favorite Industry Blog: Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily
Nikki Finke's blog unapologetically goes after the industry's big guns. But apparently she has a soft spot in her heart for the working-class actor. The feeling is mutual. Back Stage readers voted Deadline Hollywood Daily their favorite industry blog.

"Most people who cover Hollywood grew up in the trades," she says. "To me, the preparation for covering Hollywood was covering the Soviet Union and then the Reagan Administration." She's not kidding. She served as foreign correspondent for the Associated Press in Moscow and London, Washington correspondent and L.A. correspondent for Newsweek, and became West Coast editor and Hollywood correspondent for the New York Observer and New York magazine. "I've always been interested in covering institutions that don't want to be covered," she says. "It's the ultimate challenge."

She likes a challenge, refuses to be part of the herd. "To me, I think the function of Deadline Hollywood Daily is to question the powers that be, not to obey them," she says. She has no editor, no publisher. "I own my website, I have total editorial and design control." Thus, she says, she kowtows to no one and plows through the spin. "I read a lot in the mainstream press that I know to be 100 percent inaccurate," she says. "I don't tolerate the bullshit."

Finke says she is touched by the plight of the Hollywood actor. "Actors get such a raw deal, and I consider it part of my job to fight for them," she says. "I do tend to champion the powerless. It's my nature. I root for the underdog.... I'm talking about the young wannabe struggling for a break, or the middle-class actor who's fighting to be a series regular, or the senior actor whose best earning days may be behind him or her. Those are the people I think about all the time. I want to give them a voice. And I'm very proud that the comments section of DHD has become a place where actors can go and talk about their struggle, especially as it relates to union activity."

To the Back Stage readers who took the time to vote for her, she says: "I was really, really excited to be their favorite blog. I can't tell you how meaningful that is to me. I'm really proud of that. And not all of them agree with me, and they fight among themselves. It's a very vibrant community. It's opinionated and feisty. But in the end...I hope actors never lose the ability to make a living acting and that it doesn't become just a hobby. I worry. I know personally so many actors who would be decimated financially without residuals, and the moguls have to understand that the entire economy of the entertainment community would change drastically if writers and directors and actors and IATSE didn't have this income to supplement their wages."

Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily, www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Back Stage, www.backstage.com/bso/blogs/index.jsp
-- Bonnie Gillespie, http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice.

-- Dany Margolies


Favorite Litho/Reproduction House: Reproductions
For the second year in a row, Reproductions, which expanded in 2001 from its New York location to Los Angeles, has been named our readers' favorite litho-reproduction house -- an honor that general manager Robert Browne doesn't take for granted. "I think it's clear to customers that we care about the quality of our work," Browne says. "Our highly skilled staff is here to provide advice and services that give the customer the best finished product." The company's trademark product is the MasterPhoto/Heavy, which uses heavyweight photographic paper with an inkjet printable reverse side that enables actors to self-print résumés on the back for a more professional look. The MasterPhoto/Heavy also is available for business cards and post cards.

Even on days with 100-plus clients, Reproductions provides a headshot proof within 24 hours; a final order can be prepared a day later. Though its services have remained the same over the last few years, Browne sees a change in the photographs actors provide. "The advice I would give is to come up with the best possible image from the start," he says. "The advances in digital technology means we're seeing a lot more photographers who aren't professionals. People are trying to save money, but they are shooting themselves in the foot." Yes, Reproductions retouches images, balances color, and advises on layout and type fonts. But without a solid starting image there's only so much magic that can be accomplished, Browne says.

To help newcomers, Reproductions includes on its website a list of Los Angeles and New York photographers, along with links to their portfolios. "Actors should treat their careers like a business," Browne says. "This is the most competitive field there is, so you need to hire the best people available to help you create the best image to promote yourself."

Reproductions, 3499 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., CA 90068; (323) 845-9595; www.reproductions.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Argentum Photo Lab, 6550 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90028; (323) 461-2775; www.argentum.com.
-- Isgo Lepejian Custom Photo Lab, 933 N. Highland Ave., L.A., CA 90038, (323) 876-8085; 1550 17th St., Santa Monica, CA 90404, (310) 264-2622; www.isgophoto.com.
-- Prints Charm'n Inc., 657 Sawtelle Blvd., L.A., CA 90025, (310) 312-0904; 1020 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604, (818) 753-9055; www.printscharmn.com.
-- Ray the Retoucher, 1328 N. Highland Ave., L.A., CA 90028, (323) 463-0555; 12345-B Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91601, (818) 760-3656; www.raysphotolab.com.
-- Pixels Digital Imaging, 6907-1/2 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90038; (323) 954-1582; www.pixelsla.com.

-- Jeff Favre


Favorite Secondhand Clothing Store: Out of the Closet
Out of the Closet bills itself as "the world's most fabulous thrift store." Back Stage's West Coast readers second that notion. And in these rough economic times, the store's popularity is bound only to increase. Actors can seek out hidden gems to create a unique style, and designers can outfit their characters and their stages on the cheap. From clothes and shoes to books and bric-a-brac, shoppers perusing the well-organized racks will find a cornucopia of gently used items, including furniture. And those shoppers can help a great cause at the same time.

The chain was founded in 1990 by AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide a cash flow for HIV/AIDS patient care, according to Out of the Closet general manager Jonathan Kreuyer, who notes that 96 cents of every dollar spent in the stores goes toward that primary function. In itself a huge portion of the retail revenue, it's even more impressive when the customer base of more than 1 million people is factored in. From its original Atwater Village location in Los Angeles, Out of the Closet has grown to 13 branches in the Southland, four in the San Francisco area, one near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and another coming soon to Miami. Several stores offer onsite HIV testing, some contain pharmacies, and this year the organization plans to add a healthcare center to a location in the Bay Area.

Is there a particularly good time to shop? The best guess is "frequently," as stock is constantly refreshed based on daily donations -- more than 60,000 a year. "It doesn't really matter when," says Kreuyer. "People come in looking for that jewel, that gem. Usually what you see in the malls last year you're gonna see in our stores this year. We have a great donor base; we have celebrities that donate." And when you find you need more room in your closet for your new duds, you can drop off your tax-deductible donation or arrange for pickup seven days a week.

Out of the Closet recently put on its first fashion show, emceed by Julie Newmar, where 35 models paraded spring ensembles -- beach, evening, sports, and more -- pulled together from Closet stores. Of special interest were the re-designer jeans: "a concept...of how you can come to Out of the Closet, buy a pair of jeans between $7 to $10 or $11, take them home, spend a half hour, redesign them, and kind of come out with a designer jean," says Kreuyer. Your turn!

Out of the Closet, 13 Southern California locations; www.outofthecloset.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Aardvark's Odd Ark, 85 Market St., Venice, CA 90291; (626) 583-9109.
-- Buffalo Exchange, www.buffaloexchange.com.
-- Crossroads Trading Co., www.crossroadstrading.com.
-- Goodwill, www.goodwill.org.
-- It's a Wrap, www.itsawraphollywood.com.
-- Jet Rag, 825 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90038; (323) 939-0528.

-- Janelle Tipton


Favorite Temp Agency: Apple One
Few actors are looking for a permanent, full-time clerical position. But Apple One can provide extra income, earned in a nonstressful environment, while waiting for the next acting job in a commercial, play, or movie. "I think we're a good fit for actors and people in entertainment because we specialize in clerical and admin work where there's not much pressure and you don't have to take the job home with you," says Christine Duque, a spokesperson for Apple One, which celebrated its 46th anniversary last month. "Also, we can help you find work that's flexible, that fits your schedule."

Though it's no longer part of the company's portfolio, Apple One had an entertainment placement program -- and remnants of that program remain. "Our offices around Los Angeles still have contacts with various entertainment companies," Duque says. "And even if it's not an acting job, getting your foot in the door at a talent agency, for example, doesn't hurt." There's a wide range in pay scales, but Duque says most temp employees earn $10-- $16 per hour. The company doesn't take appointments for applicants, but anyone is welcome to sign up online at appleone.com, go to the nearest office (there are about 20 in the L.A. area), and join the team.

Apple One, www.appleone.com.

Runners-Up:
-- Blaine and Associates Inc., www.blaineandassociates.com
-- Kelly Services, www.kellyservices.com

-- Jeff Favre


Favorite Theater Company: The Elephant Theatre Company
For the second year in a row, Back Stage readers have selected the Elephant Theatre Company in the two coveted "favorite" categories for theater. Now in its 14th year, the company has been smiled upon handsomely during the past two years by the Back Stage Garland Awards and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Meanwhile, enthusiastic reviews from the local press continue to greet many Elephant productions.

Founded by artistic director David Fofi and a few fellow graduates from California State University, Long Beach, along with Don Cesari, the group is under the umbrella of Elephant Stageworks, which includes the Elephant Theatre, the Lillian Theatre, the Elephant Theatre Lab, and the company's diverse production services. Fofi and his colleagues have consistently upped the ante on quality and continue to foster the development of new works and the presentation of challenging fare. We heartily congratulate this worthy artistic haven. And each season, we look forward to the surprises the Elephant has in store.

"As mainly an audience member, I am always impressed by the professional quality of the productions. Whether it is a comedy or a drama, I always know I am in store for something special. Since the addition of producing director Lindsay Allbaugh about five years ago, the Elephant has really made a name for itself and is the one to watch in future years." -- Kristin Hetrick, choreographer

"When I moved here from NYC, I searched for a place that would match the caliber of performances in the Big Apple, and the beauty of it was that it found me in the form of the Elephant Theatre Company. Now I am part of the family, and each time a new production goes up, I have full faith that it will be a great one. We collectively work hard to make the dream of each [artist] in the company a reality." -- Yecenia Torres, actor and company member

"They take their work seriously, not themselves. They let the work speak for itself. And because they love what they do, it can." -- Dylan Jones, actor

"I have followed the [company] since its inception. The remarkable dedication and artistic direction of David Fofi has spearheaded the vision of a dynamic organization with genuine commitment to its family members." -- Louis S. Toth, Ph.D., instructor and video producer

"I have had the pleasure to work with the Elephant Theatre Company in various capacities: co-producer, director, and actor. What I enjoyed was the down-to-earth, feet-on-the-floor nature of the company. In the past I have described David Fofi and Don Cesario as the Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp of the theater world. It has always felt like we were a construction crew putting up a skyrise. I don't mean they miss the art. On the contrary, they get there with grit and common sense in unconventional means, which in the end make the message clear to any audience." -- J. Damian Anastasio, multitasking theater artist

Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., CA 90038; (323) 962-0046; www.elephantstageworks.com.

Runners-Up:
-- The Actors' Gang, www.theactorsgang.com.
-- Acme Comedy Theatre, www.acmecomedy.com.
-- Camelot Artists (favorite company to work with), now known as the Katselas Theatre Company; www.katselastheatre.com.

-- Les Spindle


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