Dog Eat Dog
by Step Rowe
Sometimes the workings of this business can make it difficult to be optimistic. This May I learned the value of giving back.
"There's still a lot of good left in the world. Tell Dallas.
I don't think he knows."
(the spirit of the character after his death)
The above quote was spoken by a character that died saving children from a fire in the stage production of The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. You may remember the classic movie with little bitty newcomer actors like Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Ralph Machio, etc. Well, the production I directed was comprised of middle school students - some really, really talented middle school students, who'd spent a year training with me and were putting their talents to the ultimate test. Despite huge community successes, we received news just before the run that the theatre arts program at the school would be discontinued the following year. I decided that I had to do everything possible to make the year memorable for a lifetime.
Previously in the year, I had toyed with the idea of putting together a field trip to Austin for my San Antonio acting students with the intention of giving them an exciting introduction to the future of the local film industry. But if I did it, I really wanted to make it incredible, and wasn't sure how possible it would be. What I envisioned was taking the group in style in a motor coach bus to the biggest film capital in Texas. We'd first stop at the Austin Film Studios, then tour the 501studios (dropping in on any number of residents), interview a guest panel of professionals, including a director, acting coach, and talent agents, and then finish by auditioning with a real casting director and getting some feedback. Too much? Maybe the kids won't even appreciate it, I was thinking. What a scheduling nightmare! Impossible! This involves too many people giving up their time and knowledge with nothing but a good feeling in return.
On Friday, May 16th, after much red tape and pulling strings with the ever-loving public school district, our motor coach departed San Antonio for the Austin Film Studios - home of the Austin Film Society. Waiting for us was Suzanne Quinn, who spent the next 45 minutes opening the eyes and imaginations of 40 kids who'd never so much as been extras in films. Just seeing the hangers and the props workshop filled their heads with Hollywood. Next we headed south to 5th street.
We walked-through the 501 studios, stopping at different offices where invited to learn more about individual contribution to TV/Film. We waved at Mike from Actors Clearinghouse Talent Agency and put our noses up against the glass while he worked diligently inside. At Beth Sepko's Casting office, we were invited in! The students were excited, yet intimidated at the thought of meeting her, until Beth's cool, down-to-earth personality made them feel welcome. They loved seeing the early stages of the casting process with headshots everywhere. They didn't realize that they would soon witness the next step in the process.
At Casting Works LA, Donise Hardy and company were insanely busy with casting a national commercial. With permission from auditioning actors, students were allowed to sit in on the actual casting. From saying their names to the camera, to improv situations, auditioning actors that day contributed to the education of our young group. During what should have been a break for Donise, students were invited to try out the audition themselves! She even gave them the opportunity to be filmed and see it played back. The lights, the camera, and the action made them feel like a million.
After lunch, Donise's office hosted a guest panel. Director Joe Napolitano, Talent Agent Liz Atherton, Acting Coach John Lanch, and professional actress Elizabeth Gaston all answered questions that inquiring minds had been bursting to ask. They spent nearly an hour in a small, crowded room, giving advice, stories, and information. Some students were so enthralled that they were quietly requesting autographs at the end.
So there are many people in this business that would sell their mothers if it would benefit their careers. But there are also those who are extremely successful who give to benefit the global good and out of the goodness of their hearts, expecting nothing in return.
I'd like to thank Donise Hardy, who hosted us for most of the day, despite a crazy schedule, for introducing me to so many great people over the years, and for giving some of the kids a dream come true moment; Joe Napolitano, for his genuine love of the creative process and willingness to share; Liz Atherton, for answering honestly and helpfully, despite the knowledge that doing so might flood her office with submissions for representation on Monday; John Lansch for stressing the importance of self-confidence (to the age group which needs it the most); Suzanne Quinn for her role in the Austin Film Society, which lives and breathes the goal of local film daily; and Elizabeth Gaston for jumping in, allowing us to put her on the spot, and shining bright.
There's still a lot of good in the world. I'm reminding you, if you don't know.
(Step is currently acting and coaching in the Austin and San Antonio markets)