Here’s an interview I did for Destination Hollywood Radio, in which I discuss my history at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, the BHP Approach, specifics on career administration, actors v. writing, actors v. agents, and why Brits and Aussies deserve the work they’re getting. They did a partial transcription, and below that is the link to the full podcast.
Acting Training for Professional Storytellers
For almost 4 decades the Beverly Hills Playhouse has helped actors hone their craft of professional storytelling. Recently, DHR’s Patty Lotz sat down with Beverly Hills Playhouse Owner/CEO Allen Barton to talk about the “new normal” for actors in this Internet age and BHP’s unique approach to acting training that addresses Acting, Attitude and Career Administration. Here is an excerpt from the podcast interview:
DHR: Here you are the Owner/CEO of the Beverly Hills Playhouse. You stepped into some huge shoes.
AB: Yes. You know your history. Milton Katsalas was probably one of the most legendary acting teachers here in Los Angeles for a long, long time. And I came out here right out of college.
DHR: From where?
AB: I grew up in Boston and went to Harvard University and then came out here because I wanted to be in the entertainment business although I didn’t really know in what capacity. But a girl who I had a big crush on who was staying out here… she studied at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. So she said “You should study at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, it’s a really cool place.” I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know anything about Milton, but I knew this pretty girl was telling me to go study so…(laughs). Many actors have started studying for such reasons.
So I started as a student here in 1990 as an acting student. I pretty quickly moved into directing, and got to know Milton early on because I’m also a pianist. When I was a young student here he was working on a workshop production of an opera he wanted to direct with professional opera singers. They needed a rehearsal pianist so my name came up because I play piano. So I played rehearsal piano for him for this opera he was directing and he and I got to know each other and we got along and I just understood his thing, his “way.” So we just started to working together because I was broke and couldn’t afford the classes. So I just started coming here to the office at the school and said, “Hey, do you guys need any help? I will perform some services in exchange for tuition.” And they asked if I could alphabetize the student files so I said yes, I went to a good school and I know the alphabet. So I would disappear into the basement and come up 2 hours later and say OK, the files are organized.
I became what I called the Vice President of Stuff & Miscellany. I would just show up and they would think of things for me to do. Fix the computer. Hook that thing up. Can you figure out that problem? Can you solve this, solve that? And I kept on doing that just to help make some money to pay for my tuition. Meanwhile, I was studying very hard in class. I became a director and Milton was guiding my work as a director. And I was his gopher and helper and when he was directing projects I would go and help him out. There was no plan, it just what was happening day to day. This happened year after year after. I just got to know how the entire organization ran from top to bottom. So accidentally I just absorbed a Ph.D. amount of knowledge about how to run this particular acting school, how the teaching gets delivered, and how the students respond to that teaching. So I ended up becoming the CEO, runing the entire business for Milton in 2003.
DHR: Tell me about your style of teaching.
AB: Well it’s Milton’s approach and basically it’s the idea of teaching acting with 3 prongs: there’s the acting part of it, there’s attitude, and what we call administration. Administration means what are you doing to actually make your career happen. So we’re talking to actors across all three of those topics. So our classes are not just “Hey, in this scene I think this particular character should do this and that.” You can talk to actors for years about this kind of improvement in their work and they will actually move nowhere, because they leave the class and they’re critical of their agents, they’re bitter about the business, they’re living some sort of chaotic existence and they actually do nothing to run the business of their career, which is they’re a professional storyteller. That’s what I try to tell the actors. You’re a professional storyteller. That’s your job. You help tell stories. And you’ve got to market that skill. You’ve got to get to know people in this town. So what is unique is we cover not only how to act but how to be a professional actor.
DHR: What I’ve noticed is that interaction between actors and agents and people have changed due to the internet. There’s been a major change. What do you suggest to the actor to still continue to connect with people because it seems like there are a lot of closed doors?
AB: Well there are 2 aspects to this. One is that the whole industry model is breaking down before our very eyes. All of the gatekeepers who have been keeping their gates for decades are finding that there is no gate to keep. So the business has completely changed. You have vastly huge distribution channels where there used to be 5. All these windows are opportunities for story telling which means basic supply and demand. There’s a huge amount of story telling. There’s a huge amount of supply, thus the money comes down. Which I think is good. So it’s probably less likely that your average actor is going to make a huge amount of money. But I think it’s good in the sense that…let’s find out who’s good at telling stories and telling them well. And if you’re good at that, I still think you can make a decent career in this business. So, the model is broken apart and I think that’s actually to the advantage of the actor.