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Reader's Choice

Meet the 2016 Backstage Readers’ Choice Winners

Meet the 2016 Backstage Readers’ Choice Winners
Photo Source: Lemonade Serenade/shutterstock.com

Favorite N.Y. Casting Director
Marci Phillips
ABC Entertainment

How long have you been in the business?
Pretty much my whole life. My dad was an actor and taught me how to read as a preschooler so he’d always have someone to do his sides with him!

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
Casting is subjective, so don’t measure your self-worth by someone else’s opinion.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
The fact that a community of unsolicited New York actors recognized my love for them and took the time to vote for me? It means everything.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
A lot more than we have room for here, but to be succinct: Honor the role that you play in every actor’s life and never underestimate or overestimate your importance in this equation.

Favorite L.A. Casting Director
Ross Lacy
Ross Lacy Casting
rosslacycasting.com

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
Two things: First, that they are super important to us. We need them as much as they need us, and our office wants to give them the best shot at having a successful audition. Second, that we have a lot of people and requirements pulling at us all the time, and sometimes that means switching specs or last-minute changes to the audition process…. So please be patient with us, as well.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had?
Wow. There have been so many, it’s hard to narrow it down! The most recent would have to be trying to find heavyset construction workers who are great on a stripper pole! We brought a portable pole into the studio, but it wasn’t strong enough to hold the guys. It was bending and shaking all over the place, so we held callbacks at a dance club and these guys let it rip. It was hilarious! Turns out there are a few out there with that look and skill set!

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special?
This is the 20th anniversary of RLC being in business, so it’s great to know after all these years that we are still doing something right and are appreciated by the actors.

Favorite L.A. Audition Technique Teacher & Favorite L.A. On-Camera Coach
Judy Kain
Keep It Real Acting Studios
keepitrealacting.com

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
Training takes time. It cannot be mastered in a short, four-week class. Some actors have natural ability, which is great and a huge asset, but training is necessary to help them grow and be competitive. Auditions are not a place to practice the craft. Class is where we work out the problems. Auditions are where we bring our A game.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
To be myself. I have to be willing to bring me, my personality, and my choices to every audition and give it 110 percent, and leave knowing I did my best. That is a successful day.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
Winning has been a wonderful affirmation of the appreciation I feel from students. It is an honor to be nominated along with such esteemed teachers and schools.

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special?
I wrote a book that came out this year dedicated to the late, great Carolyne Barry. It was a huge triumph to have that out and available at Samuel French and to my students. I think it is important to pass it on and acknowledge all the people who have helped along the way.

Favorite N.Y. Dance Teacher
Patricia Wilcox
Steps on Broadway

What do you love most about your job?
I love working with performers. Their determination, work ethic, artistry, and focus are always inspiring. Performers are like no others, and I really love seeing that moment when everything starts to click for them.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
I’m very honored to receive this award because it comes from the people who “take” class. It comes from the people who enter the studio open and ready to explore. Just entering the studio is a commitment to themselves, and they arrive with a passion and a readiness to be challenged. It’s like a pact between the teacher and the student—we’re all here to work and investigate. I’ve taught for many, many years and I’ve seen a lot of dancers, singers, and actors come into my room, but one thing has always been palpable, and that is their love for what they do. What a gift it has been to be in the studio with them.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Say yes. Find ways to do something instead of not doing something. Take a chance. I’ve been saying yes as often as possible in my career, and that word has taken me down some wonderful paths.

Favorite L.A. Kids’ Acting Coach
Donna Rusch
Keep It Real Acting Studios
keepitrealacting.com

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was from a manager at a TV station I worked for while in college. His name was Don Johnson (no relation to the actor). He told me, “Never let anyone make you think you’re not smart. They may have more experience than you, but that doesn’t mean they’re smarter than you.”

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
Honestly, I was absolutely stunned when I was nominated. When I won, I felt a tremendous amount of gratitude to Judy Kain, that she had faith in me to take on the 4–6-year-olds and later the teens; to the parents who entrust me each week with their children; to my mom who has always supported my dreams; and to my husband who made it possible for our family to move to Los Angeles six years ago. And I’m grateful that God has made a way for me to pass along the joy of acting to the next generation as a mentor and instructor.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
My advice to all people seeking a career in this or any other business is to just do what you have a passion to do! You are uniquely made, so follow your instincts. If you don’t know where to start, seek wise counsel from someone who does what you would like to do and ask them how they got there. Take good notes, and go for it!

Favorite N.Y. Voiceover Teacher
Andy Roth
Andy Roth Casting
voiceoverclass.com

How long have you been in the business?
Twenty-two years. I started as an assistant in the voiceover department at CED (now CESD) and eventually became their in-house booth director where I ran or oversaw the in-office castings and maintained the studios. In 2006, I left to start casting on my own and since then have been working with many of the biggest VO casting houses in the country. I started teaching VO about 18 years ago at the suggestion of a friend and fell in love with it. 

What do you love most about your job?
I find that of all the branches of this business, voiceover tends to be the friendliest. I love the immediacy and the human connection that comes from the audition environment. An audition is not a test; the requirements of an audition are very different from those of a performance. We need to see/hear personality first and foremost. We want to experience the actor’s personality in the specific context of the sides or copy in front of them. I’ve called someone in to audition because I know they can do the job, it’s that simple. And the audition space is where we (the actor and casting director) work as a team to prove that to the producer, director, writer, or whoever is making the final decision. Proving an actor’s ability is as much my responsibility as it is the actor’s. And we have a limited time to do it. This requires us to understand each other, and be in each other’s heads for a little while. It’s a very strong link. We connect and share an experience. Friendships often come out of it, and I love that.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
It means I’ve made people feel comfortable enough to be themselves with me, and helped them find the confidence to move forward in this business. I’m very proud of that.

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special?
This has been a very exciting year for me! I’ve won awards for my animated projects and for some of the commercial spots I’ve cast, but this is my first award for teaching what I love most. It’s the icing on the cake!

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Be a friend first and a casting director later. It’s much easier to work with an actor, colleague, or client in a positive environment. This job can be stressful. Actors get nervous, schedules fall apart, deadlines move up. New jobs, bookings, scripts, and first refusals come in at the last minute and you have to get them taken care of in between people’s auditions. It’ll feel like people don’t understand. But everyone’s got problems. Try to stay calm and deal with it. Don’t let your problems become someone else’s. The more comfortable someone feels, the better their work will be, and the faster you’ll get the best possible auditions.

Favorite L.A. Voiceover Teacher
Lynnanne Zager
Lynnanne Zager Voiceover
voclass.com and lazager.com

How long have you been in the business?
I started as an actor in New York after graduating from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and ended up in Los Angeles, where I took a typing job at Hanna-Barbera Studios. Within three months I was talent coordinator of 29 animated series. It has now been over 25 years as a voiceover actor, teacher, mentor, and casting director.

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
In voiceover it doesn’t matter how “cute” or “good-looking” you are. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you “you have a great voice” or “you should do voiceovers.”

It matters that you have a craft that you work at on a daily basis. Also, it’s your job to audition and be the best auditioner you can be. This is what I continually try to impart.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Remember, it’s not the quality or sound of the voice that counts, but the quality and emotion of the delivery,” from Don LaFontaine.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had?
Since I have done some pretty famous screams in films throughout my career, I was asked to stand up and do a bloodcurdling scream at my high school reunion. Being asked to voice cockroaches in a film was also a challenge. I ended up being a darn good cockroach!

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
I am extremely honored and humbled to accept this award for the second year.

This means that my students and their parents really support and believe in me, and for that I am grateful.

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special?
My ADR workshops and training for young actors are now helping to encourage sound supervisors and ADR coordinators to hire more kids to do kids’ voices, and they’re asking me to cast and direct them. 

Favorite N.Y. Singing Coach
Andrew Drost
The Institute for American Musical Theatre
iamusicaltheatre.com and andrewdrost.com

How long have you been in the business?
I have been a professional performer for the past 26 years, and have been teaching voice for the past decade.

What do you love most about your job?
I love when my students realize their vocal potential through the use of proper, efficient technique; sing a song that they never thought they could sing; and, of course, book Broadway shows! I have more than 20 students currently performing on Broadway and in national tours, and I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them! Seeing them succeed is the best reward of all.

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
Being a voice teacher is more than giving a student vocal exercises. It takes years to understand the mechanics and physiology of the voice so that you, as a teacher, can determine which exercises work and are needed for each individual voice, and understand why. I have developed a system of voice building called VoiceBarre that was born after discovering new and different ways of helping singers find that ultimate freedom in their vocal production.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had?
To pop out of a giant cake and sing “Nessun Dorma” for an anniversary party. Yes, that happened.

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special?
Yes, indeed! It is extra special because as this article is being published, I will be starting the first semester of my brand-new musical theater program here in NYC; I co-founded the Institute for American Musical Theatre with my good friend and colleague Matthew Prescott. The school has been a labor of love for several years, and after much hard work, we are finally opening our doors to a very talented class of future Broadway performers!

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
To aspiring voice teachers: perform. Having first-hand knowledge of what it takes to take care of your voice while doing eight shows a week is an invaluable tool. I have done more than 2,000 performances of “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway while teaching 25 to 30 students a week, and it has really enhanced my teaching and given me a unique understanding of what a healthy vocal technique should be.

Favorite N.Y. Headshot Photographer
Peter Hurley
Peter Hurley Photography
peterhurley.com

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 
It may be a little clichéd, but it has to be that you can do whatever you set your mind to. In 2002, my goal was to become the best headshot photographer in New York City. It’s been a wild ride ever since. I’m most proud of my site headshotcrew.com, which I began in 2011. There I coach the largest group of headshot specialists in the world, and we now have over 11,000 photographers on the site.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you? 
As a photographer you must believe in yourself and stand firmly behind your work, but without recognition from the industry, that belief may not hold much merit for others. I’ve always felt the work that I’ve done is special, and winning the Readers’ Choice Award has allowed that to become a reality for me. Anyone can say you are the best, but it’s way more powerful to win an award like this where the votes have proven it. 

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special? 
It means a lot to me because I became an author in the past year with the release of my book, “The Headshot.” It’s a guide for photographers on taking amazing headshots, and I like to walk the walk, so to speak, so backing up my work with this win makes it really special.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do? 
I firmly believe that if you want to be the best headshot photographer you can be, you need to get someone in front of your camera on a daily basis. I don’t care if it’s a quick shot with an iPhone. Testing the way you direct or gaining insight into human behavior in front of a camera is key. It’s the experience that allows me to handle anything that comes my way, so the need to photograph all types is really crucial for success in this business. 

Favorite L.A. Headshot Photographer
Stephanie Girard
Stephanie Girard Headshot Photography
stephgirardheadshots.com

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
That it is a collaborative process. I give 100 percent to my work and I am fully prepared when the actor arrives, and they must do the same! That means coming in rested, prepared, and being comfortable with themselves so that I can get the best out of them!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
Winning this award again, I feel extremely grateful. Being chosen by readers, clients, and people within the industry itself for three years in a row makes it infinitely more special. You guys are awesome! I have an amazing team in my studio that I couldn’t do it without, so they are very much a part of this as well.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Shoot great images. It all starts there. I get emails from young, aspiring photographers, and often they will ask what lens I have or lighting equipment, or what the “secret” is. There is no secret, there is only experience and getting to know the industry in which you are shooting. All of the gear is fun and it does matter—eventually—but a great photographer can produce an amazing image without an expensive camera. So shoot as much as possible. You certainly cannot rely on a great camera to do the work for you. I think people are quick to try to make a few bucks on the side, buy a digital camera and shoot headshots, but it is so much more than that for the actor.

Favorite N.Y. Audition Technique Teacher, N.Y. On-Camera Teacher, N.Y. Acting School, N.Y. Kids’ Acting Coach, N.Y. Introduction
to Acting, and Summer Acting Camp
Ted Bardy
Ted Bardy Acting Studio
tedbardy.com

What do you love most about your job?
I love watching actors progressively acquire the technique I’m teaching, and then seeing them experience the freedom and joy when they use the technique to express themselves as artists.

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
I wish actors understood the trust we must both have in each other. I wish they knew that no matter what, when it comes to learning from me, I’m always on their side.

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had?
To coach an 11-month-old infant. I declined.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
Winning the Backstage Readers’ Choice Award has encouraged me to continue to learn (as a teacher, I think you should always be learning), to continue to refine my teaching technique, and to develop new ways to help actors practice their art. I’m a firm believer that as artists we are always “arriving.” Once you start thinking, I’ve arrived, your art will suffer.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Study, study, and continue studying. You should be aware of the many theories of pedagogy and andragogy. I think teaching the craft of acting is an art unto itself. You must find the key that unlocks the door for each person you teach—finding that key separates the good teacher from the great teacher.

Favorite L.A. Acting School & Favorite L.A. Introduction to Acting
Alex Taylor
The Taylor School of Acting
thetaylorschoolofacting.com

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Award mean to you?
It’s an amazing honor—that my students, graduates, and clients believe so firmly in what we do together and the progress we make, and the process is so absolutely beautiful. There are some good teachers in Los Angeles. I feel blessed every day to be able to do this. 

Is there anything about the past year in particular that makes this win extra special? 
We strive to create family and a sense of community. To win this year is awesome because it recognizes Kennedy Brown for his amazing voice and movement work begun this year, and Jennifer [Taylor] for the work she has consistently done running the school for eight years. My daughter also graduated from our school this year. To pass on this beautiful way of working to her was very precious.  

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Do it out of love and from love. Be committed to your students and their growth. Be an example. Never forget what it can be and never forget what they can be. Please don’t just regurgitate information from your head. Share the experiences of what you know from your heart. Teaching acting isn’t a normal business. Our work isn’t in the physical plane and neither is our payment. Sometimes you have to let money walk out the door.

Favorite L.A. Singing Coach
Steven Memel
Steven Memel Coaching
www.stevenmemel.com

What do you love most about your job?
Working with an artist to become better, more skilled, more capable, more awesome than even they had thought was possible. Getting to see that spark of understanding light up their eyes. Feeling them experience that sense of power and confidence that comes with true ownership. And helping them reach that place where they know that no matter what the circumstances, they can deliver. For me, that’s a joy that’s hard to beat.

What do you wish actors understood about your job?
That I’m here to help them get what they want, not to teach them “something I think they should learn.” My agenda is their agenda. It’s got to feel right to them. And it’s got to make sense to them. And if it doesn’t, they need to say so. Because it’s not about “my way” or “my method.” If I’ve used something for 25 years and it’s not working for them, I’ll throw it out the door and come up with something else that does. Some of the greatest discoveries and biggest advances in the evolution of my work have come from situations exactly like that. I’m here to help them achieve their dreams or get as close to them as humanly possible.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is that “the business,” all business really, is about relationships. The question you have to keep asking yourself is how much care and support have you given to those in your world? How many people know that they can truly count on you in a pinch? I find that if I take care of my relationships, all other things seem to work themselves out.

What does winning a Backstage Readers’ Choice Awards mean to you?
That I guess I’m doing a good job. That what I’m doing is meaningful. That I’ve helped enough people and it’s made enough of a difference for them that they want to acknowledge it. That’s the biggest thing. I feel proud and honored.

There’s no question though that winning makes a difference for business as well. Backstage is a widely used reference. I won a couple of years ago and to this day, when I ask people how they found me, among the things most often mentioned is Backstage Readers’ Choice Awards. So thanks everyone!

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to do what you do?
Never stop learning. Be hungry. Develop. Evolve. Become better and better at what you do. Don’t settle. Also don’t go numb and dull out. Even if you’re “doing a good job.” People can tell the difference between someone who is deeply invested in their success and someone who is just going through the motions. Another thing is to know that you have to continue to develop as a businessperson. Learn as much as you can about marketing, influence, even copywriting and design. Follow what successful leaders do in any field. It all applies at some level and enhances your ability to achieve and maintain lasting success. And it will even help you become a better teacher or coach.

Debbie Allen (Favorite L.A. Dance Instructor) was unable to respond before this issue went to press. To read about her, please visit backstage.com.

Feeling motivated? Check out our film audition listings!

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