The purpose of this blog is to give a little personal touch to the events occurring around the BHP on an ongoing basis, and for me to write about whatever is occupying my head on any day about the study of acting. In a weird way, blogs are sort of the new Oral History – they have a more casual style, and generally are written more as people would speak verbally. So partial sentences? No problem. If I wanna say “wanna” – no problem. Or, “Holy shit! That was a partial sentence!” No problem. See? You sort of accept it in a way that you wouldn’t in a more formal setting. So the idea is that the BHP has an ongoing oral history in the form of this blog. Now blogs generally have voices, the voice of the writer of course – I’m the writer, so it’s my voice. The people who have encouraged me to write this blog have also said I should include my own history, so you have a sense of the voice behind all this stuff. “I hate writing about myself,” replied I. “You must write about yourself!” replied the Experts. Well I still hate it. But fine. Here follows a bit of my history at the BHP, and hopefully it will serve a purpose in the overall shape of this as it develops.
My BHP biography is kind of extensive. I’m not trying to assume that you give a shit, but like I said, as it’s been laid out for me, it’s probably good for the record to have a sense of who I am and why I have the jobs I have around here.
I thought I’d split my various functions and how they developed over some posts here. First up: Management.
I personally started at the BHP in 1990 as a student, and on the way to my current posts as Executive Director/CEO and teacher at the Advanced Level classes here, I’ve done just about every post you can do from the “mailroom” on up. In 1993, being generally pretty broke and unable to afford tuition, I showed up at the office and asked what I might do to help out. “Alphabetize those files!” I was ordered. Okay. I went to a pretty good school. I can alphabetize. “Wow! That kid sure can alphabetize!” was the response. This was very exciting to them – a little competence in the environment.
From there, I suddenly became what I jokingly called “Vice President of Stuff and Miscellany.” I organized. Reorganized. Deleted. Cleaned out. Plugged in. Hooked up (equipment, that is). Somewhere in there I started editing Milton’s stuff, which is a separate story (see below). Around 1996, some genius in Management decided that the receptionist would be a good candidate to run the finances of the BHP. This is what’s known as a BAD MOVE. She would show up at 11am or noon, smelly take-out Chinese food in hand, and pretty much screw up everything dealing with BHP finances. It became bad enough that in 1997, the new Exec Director ordered me on a special mission to Figure Out What Was Going On With the Finances. So I did.
That resulted in the quick firing of the financial staff, who routinely ignored bank statements and were probably involved in low-grade embezzlement of funds and general incompetence. I became the new CFO. I brought in Gabi Wagner, who handles tracking of student tuition payments, and together we’ve made sure the dollars and cents make sense for the last 13 years or so, even as I took on additional responsibilities. I was CFO up until 2003, when, in a little…. okay, not-so-little… in-house management shakeup, I was made CEO, or Executive Director of the the school. A whopping 35 years old, I was the youngest ever to hold the post, which I was more than a bit fearful of. I told Milton when I took it that I would only do the job if he was clear as to my intention: To ensure that the BHP as a school and a specified approach to acting would last for at least as long as I did and beyond. Milton, being an unsentimental type, grunted something vaguely disapproving, but I still think he got the message.
So between 2003 and now, I’ve essentially done both CFO and CEO duties, mainly concentrating on a longterm strategy of congealing the various brand names at this joint around the single entity of the BHP, and then “growing” that brand. What brand names, you ask? We have Milton Katselas the individual (who had 4 separate careers – director, teacher, painter, architectural designer), we have the BHP as an acting school, we have the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz, we have the Katselas Theatre Company (formerly Camelot Artists, our nonprofit theatre company), we have the BHP as a historical and known building on Robertson Blvd. – all these are separate entities that are known by some people but not known by others, and certainly was is not known ENOUGH, or at least to my satisfaction, is that most all of those are essentially one entity that is the BHP.
So I’ve been working on that, and continue to do so. For instance, the website used to be www.katselas.com. Lame, right? Milton should have his own site by that name, and the school should have www.bhplayhouse.com. Stuff like that. Rocket science it’s not, but it takes a lot of work and organization to effect those changes. My other main goal has been to change the way the BHP functions under the hood, upgrading technologies and systems to represent modernity. I put in motion the efforts to create an online theatre booking system, and an online critique recording system – both of which have really improved the quality of life for the students. They may still complain here and there, but they have no idea what it was like before! Then a couple years ago, I had a guy do a flow chart for me of how PAPER found its way around this organization, and it was a scary, scary thing. I couldn’t even look at it without wanting to get drunk. So a big project in 2008 was the implementation of a computerized, online database management system that keeps track of everything for us, and is available to me wherever I may be on Planet Earth. Exciting, right? Your pulse is racing, I know.
Finally, since Milton died in 2008 and I became owner of the joint, I consider it my job to codify and protect the BHP Approach, which is a very specific set of data applied a very specific way, and, like all communication about aesthetics, is easily fucked up and alloyed with other data that have nothing to do with the BHP Approach, etc. So another important function of mine is to standardize teacher training and its application to the classes, so the BHP doesn’t represent a specific personality, but rather a specific approach to acting. The idea is that as best as we can, we take the individual talents and backgrounds and styles of our teachers, and create from that as uniform an experience for our students as possible, all tied to the very specific approach to acting that Milton had so ingeniously developed.
So that’s an abridged version of my management history here. Next up….
Even back before I became VP of Stuff and Miscellany, I was managing classes. Six months after joining in 1990, Al Mancini and the Stage Manager of my intermediate-level class pulled me into the office, and I was fairly convinced they were going to throw me out for sucking in general. When instead they wanted me to become the next Stage Manager, who is the person who manages the class administratively and helps students along the way with whatever difficulty they were having, well, I signed on in relief that I wasn’t being booted from class.
My Google Profile
In 1992 I moved up to the Advanced level, and within six months their SM quit to pursue a different career. They were caught without any trainees, so I went up to Milton, whom I barely knew at the time, and said I could do the job, and that I wouldn’t be scared of these advanced students. He looked at me rather dubiously, but then I got the job. And never was there a LESS respected or powerful SM in history! I was 24, new to the ADV level, and would fearfully approach students about being late or whatever, mostly to be blown off with a withering look of disdain. But I’m the youngest of eight siblings, so perseverance is in my blood. I stuck with it, and ended up doing a world record 10-year stint as the SM of the Monday/Wednesday advanced class, lasting all the way until I became ED. So I saw THOUSANDS of hours of teaching by all the teachers of the BHP, handled THOUSANDS of actors and their various issues, became quite familiar with what students liked and disliked in various teacher styles, and thus inadvertently became something of an expert on BHP teaching and approach and class management. My editing work with Milton took us into a project to rewrite the Acting Class book in 2001 – that gave me a lot of insight as well, working with him every day for a few months on that project.
At some point in 2001, he called me at 6pm at my apartment and asked, “What are you doing tonight?” My answer: “Uh…. Well….. Uh…..” His reply: “Good. Get over to the Lab and teach that Orientation class.” So I subbed in that night, and it turned out I had an aptitude for teaching. (My first words as a teacher: “This is either going to be a mistake that fortunately lasts only four hours, or the start of something very interesting.” Turned out to be the latter.) That began an apprenticeship that lasted four years, subbing classes at the Orientation and Intermediate levels a few dozen times a year, until 2005 when with Milton’s blessing I took over an Intermediate level class and brought in Art Cohan to help me – we split the class. (Subsequently I was able to bring Rob Brownstein and Gary Grossman aboard in another INT level class – very proud to have brought 4 new BHP teachers online after years of stasis in the area.)
Then in 2007, when Milton was teaching the ADV level regularly to fill in for a departed teacher, he needed a sub for a month or so and called on me to do it. I was actually pretty unwilling, because I’m 15 years younger than the other teachers, and thought the ADV level students might not appreciate that – it’s not like I’m a brand name with a Tony or Emmy or Oscar to my credit. I told Milton that another guy who had occasionally come in for Milton should be the sub, but when I met with that individual, he had too many conditions, so that didn’t work out. Milton then insisted gruffly that I go do it: “I was fucking 24 years old and teaching in New York – go and fucking do it!” were his approximate words to me.
And that was that. I’ve been teaching at the ADV level since then. I have a feeling that there was a method to Milton’s madness, in that installing a younger teacher in that position provided a pivot point for the organization going forward through time, and he knew my commitment was not to my own name but to the BHP’s goals and purposes. When Milton died in 2008, and I became not just the “sub,” but the Actual Expected Teacher for those Advanced classes, I was certainly grateful for my 18 months working alonside him. I guess it makes sense – he once asked me who I thought was the person on Planet Earth who knew the most about his teaching. I hemmed and hawed and answered with a couple names, but then Milton said the answer was sitting in front of him in his office (we were in his office). After some embarrassment, I realized that I did bring an rather bizarre but complete synthesis of BHP-centric knowledge to the ADV teaching job: experience at the INT level building our class there, a ground-up know-how of the way the BHP works, experience as editor of his books, ten years of Stage Managing – handling both teachers and students, and my recent work as a director.
Okay – what the hell does being editor of anything have to do with anything?
I started editing in High School, for the school newspaper, and continued at Harvard, where I was Assistant Editor and then Managing Editor of the Let’s Go series of budget travel guides, which are all researched and written by students there. At some point around 1993, Milton wrote his now infamous material on “Blame,” which was originally a chapter in the Acting Class book. Under my VP of Stuff and Miscellany title, a draft of the chapter came my way for proofreading. Well, I got out my blue pen and inked the CRAP out of it. Moved paragraphs. Rewrote sentences. Re-ordered, pruned, cleaned up the grammar. The works. Which I thought was what they wanted. Nope. Milton was apparently furious. Who the fuck was this kid who dared ink up his writing? The ED at the time talked him off the ledge, and suggested that he meet with me about it.
I was working at Macy’s at the time in Sherman Oaks. Not on the floor, mind you, but in the basement somewhere, as an office guy for the Special Events department. I didn’t have a phone number. You couldn’t find me if you tried. So one afternoon I’m working away and the phone near my desk rings.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Is this the guy with the blue pen?”
“No. It’s Doctor Schwartz from Chicago. Your test results are in.”
“Hi Milton. Uh….. How did you….?”
“What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?”
“Tomorrow? Uh…. I think I have a…..”
“Good. Come by my house at 3pm. They’ll tell you where it is at the office. And be sure to bring your blue pen.”
And so it began – my trip as Milton’s editor. We worked the chapter on Blame over a few times. Hilariously, due to a stupid error at the office, a typo-ridden draft was issued to the students while I was away for Christmas. Never - ever! – was more blame thrown around than during the week after the new chapter attempting to ban blame from our lives was issued with typos!
In 1995, the ED came my way and asked me to read Dreams Into Action, and asked how much work it would involve to make it ready for publication. Dove Books & Audio was going to publish the book for broad release. My answer: “Twelve hours.” And so commenced about six months of daily work on every chapter, for which I was the guinea pig on each fucking concept. But did I learn alot about Milton, got a lot of help myself, and I ended up being one of the small committee to shape and structure his 1996 Dreams Into Action Seminar at UCLA, which was a big success. I am immortalized on the audio recording that is still given to students as the guy sent out to test drive the BMW of his dreams in Beverly Hills.
From there I edited his first rewrite of the Acting Class book in 2001. Another several months of daily work with him, but intensely valuable, as I was able to offer my thoughts as someone on the front lines of the classes about what the students were understanding and / or not understanding about the teaching as laid out in the book.
I edited various rewrites of chapters that were released between 2001 and 2007, and then in 2008, as Milton prepared to publish Acting Class for broad release, we spent another several months rewriting the entire book again.
I first saw Milton work as a director in 1992, when he did a workshop production of La Boheme, the Puccini opera, at the Skylight Theatre. He just worked the first act, but he had professional opera singers, and I was called upon to be the rehearsal pianist. He and I got along alright, and I went on to help out or be his assistant on dozens of the scenes he would occasionally direct for the classes. In 1994, I apprenticed on his production of The Seagull at the Matrix Theatre Company, and the next year was directed by him in a hilarious riff on a scene from Manhattan, where I played the Woody Allen part, trying to get in with the girl as we walked through a cast of 20 people playing various and bizarre characters from the streets of New York. In 2003, I was directed by him again in his series of original one-act plays, Four, and up until his death I was always brought in at some point as someone he trusted to evaluate his work or see early drafts of it, at least.
As for myself, I directed my first scene in 1996, from A Few Good Men – it was a repeat of a scene the actors had done by themselves, and for some reason I saw how it should go and took it upon myself to fix it. Milton really liked what I had done, and from then on, even while still acting, directing came more and more to the forefront of what I was interested in, and what I seemed to be good at. I must have directed 50+ scenes in the classes, including a script that Milton adapted from The Witches of Eastwick, again to his good response. There were some painful moments as well. I remember directing a scene from Chayevsky’s The Goddess, and Milton came to see it – he didn’t sit in the chair, but did one of his typical stand-at-the-side-of-the-room critiques. First off, he chastised the room for even applauding, before telling me he was upset with me because he could have spent the same hour he used to come see my scene to go have a nice dinner. Pretty brutal – but then again, I never made again the mistake I did in that scene.
Over the last few years I directed several full-length plays – mostly for the Katselas Theatre Company (formerly Camelot Artists), but also outisde the BHP community as well. In addition, I directed a few one-act plays, short films and one-person shows. None of this, in and of itself, is particularly impressive – there are many directors in town with resumes obviously far more impressive. This section is here as part of my BHP Biography because I consider my directing apprenticeship with Milton to have been some of the most rewarding time I spent with him, and relevant to my weird ascendancy within the BHP ranks, and ability to duplicate his unique director/teacher way with acting instruction.