This is a transcript from the Launch Yourself Today podcast interview with Damien Lorton, the co-founder of One More Productions along with Nicole Cassesso. Since 2004, they have mounted and produced over 50 different musical productions, plays, and special events together in Orange County, California. They have helped raise over $250,000 for other non-profit organizations in Orange County including the Speech and Language Development Center of Buena Park, The Garden Grove Rotary, The Soroptimist Club and many others. Damien is proud to be a part of a theater that not only produces quality musical theater, but also gives a home to actors to study and learn about their craft, preparing them for the next step in their careers. Since co-founding OMP he has been instrumental in helping more than 25 actors go into professional ventures such as equity performances, national tours, New York City, cruise ships, industrial performances, as well as major colleges and career arts development programs across the United States and Europe.
Damien, thanks so much for taking time to hang with us today.
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be a part of this.
Tell me a bit about your journey from an early age. When were you introduced to theater and acting?
Actually, I was introduced to theater quite early in life. When I was young, I didn’t talk a lot because I had a really bad speech impediment. I had a stutter. My mom sent me to speech therapy and in the 70’s it was really big to do vocal speech therapy. So, while I was going through it my speech therapist told my mother that I could sing. My mother somehow or another found a vocal coach for me and I just started singing. That was when I was about 6 or 7 and then I ended up joining a boys’ choir and I travelled singing all over the world. For years I travelled all through Europe and all through the United States and Canada. When I was getting ready to go into high school my voice changed and the Orange County High School of the Arts had just opened up. So even though I had never done any theater, I had always been a vocalist. I ended up auditioning and getting accepted there. That’s where I really found out about theater and musical theater.
We cannot skip over this. You were 6 or 7 and you are travelling the world? You are that young travelling the world with a choir group?
I started with a boy’s chorus; The All-American Boys Chorus. I was a boy soprano and I sang with them. Then I ended up singing with the London Symphony Orchestra for a little while as a boy soprano for them also.
Were your parents with you? Or were you travelling alone with a suitcase? I’m trying to get this in my head.
No, my parents never travelled with me. My mother didn’t travel with me. When I was with the boys’ choir, I travelled with them and their staff. I had a teacher that would travel with me when I was with the symphony.
This is amazing. Were the other kids that young?
I think I was nine on my first tour and I toured until I was about 15 or 16. There were other kids that young with us as well. And then there were some kids that were a little older as well, 13 or 14.
So, at that time you weren’t acting, but you were singing? What was the most exciting thing about that as a young kid travelling the world?
I really think I didn’t realize it. I thought it was just a normal part of life. I got to sing for Pope John Paul and Princess Diana. I got to sing for Ceausescu in Romania. I got to go behind the Iron Curtain when there was an Iron Curtain. And I was able to travel through the Soviet Union at a time where very few Americans could do that. I remember going to Easter Mass in Moscow. It was amazing to be able to go to a Catholic service in Moscow during the time of the Curtain. So yeah, I got to do some pretty amazing, wonderful things.
What were some of the most challenging aspects of that as you think back on it?
Probably being homesick for the very first time. It was so funny, I got so used to travelling and about 4 years into it my mom came out on the road to visit me. Once she left, I got so horribly upset that they literally had to send me home. I had never been homesick until she came and then left. That was the first time and I think that was probably the hardest thing. More importantly though, it gave me a sense of responsibility and discipline that I’ve carried with me the rest of my life.
So, you applied and then attended the Orange County High School of the Arts? That’s here in Orange County California. My son actually attends that high school and our producer Kristin, who is a good friend of yours, her daughter attends there as you know. How did you hear about the high school? Did you have to apply and audition to get in?
It had just opened and it was advertised all over the paper. At that time the Orange County High School of the Arts was located on the Los Alamitos High School campus. My family and I lived in Santa Ana at the time, so I went up and I auditioned for the school and got accepted. I was the first class to go through the programme. It was amazing. It was a wonderful program. I learned skills there that I’ve carried with me my whole life.
Did they have different conservatories at that time? My son is in the film and television conservatory. I know there is one for dance, one for theater and so forth. What was it like back then?
Back then we had musical theater. We had a classical dance department and we had an orchestra and a tech department. I think during my second year the classical dance department broke into commercial dance and a classical dance department. I think there were only five at that time, now I think they have several different.
Lots of conservatories, I’m not sure how many. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a charter school that is funded by outside sources as well as the parents of the children who participate in the programme. I don’t know the exact times, but basically from 8 to 3, you go through general education. And then from around 3 to 5, Monday through Thursday, the child has a conservatory they attend. You have to audition for and try out for it. It’s really rigorous.
It really was and at the time that I was going it was just starting out so the classroom and the days were much longer. We would have to take a zero period class and start at 7AM. We’d take our regular academic classes until about 2PM and then we’d have a small break and then after that we’d start our arts classes. We’d be in arts class until at least 6 or 6:30 in the evenings. And then if you were doing a show at the school or anything extra-curricular, you could be in rehearsal until 10 or 11 at night. So, for a few years, I was going to school from 7 o’clock in the morning and not getting home until 11 o’clock at night. And then doing homework on top of that.
What was it about that school experience that was transformational for you?
The biggest thing that was an eye opener for me in life was our director of the musical theater department at the time. His name was David Green and he really took an interest in what it was that we were doing. He was more than just a teacher, he was a mentor for us. He brought in a lot of professionals who were working in the industry to come work with us. We were able to have classes with Paula Abdul, she was a former student of one of the teachers there. Bebe Neuwirth came in and taught master classes. We were able to work with amazing people that he would bring in from his experience in life. Watching and working along these professionals or watching people like Laurie Freed, who was an acting coach at the time. They didn’t treat us like kids, but they treated us like artists and gave us the responsibility and the tools to live up to those standards. That is something that was the most impactful part of that education for me.
So that must have been a shift from just singing to now acting as well. What was that like for you? How did that play out?
It was awful for me at first. I loved singing and I was trained to sing. I knew how to sing. I had never acted before and I knew nothing about acting. That first year, I was terrified of everything. But it was because of the guidance of Anne Edwards and Laurie Freed, who are amazing acting teachers at the time, they introduced Uta Hagen to me and introduced me to a respect for acting. They introduced the true technique and the art form of creating and becoming a role. That’s when I truly fell in love with theater itself.
For parents who have kids that are trying to figure this whole acting world out, what would you say is the difference between acting in TV or film, versus a theatrical performance? Is it the same type of acting? Help me understand that more.
Oh, it’s two totally different types of acting. With theatrical acting, there is an entire sense of performing in front of a live audience. There is also a sense of teamwork and it’s bigger than you are when you are in a team. It gives you a sense of working together as a group and achieving a goal and striving towards that together. Theatrical acting is a lot more raw and more emotional in a sense.
Whereas with film or commercial acting, it still takes technique, but it’s a different type of technique. It’s something that’s smaller and slighter. You are not performing for someone who is 15 feet away or 100 feet away or 500 feet away. You are performing for a camera that is two feet away. There is a subtly that comes to the TV and commercial acting that is very different then theatrical acting. It’s like painting with water based paint and then painting with oil. Watercolor to oil is completely different. It’s still an art form. It’s still the same art form, it’s just takes different techniques to create that.
Why did you pursue theater versus TV or film?
To be honest with you, I was really bad with film acting. I’m very theatrical. I’m very big and I’ve always been like that. So, it didn’t work well for me. Also, the passion and working as a team was something that was so motivating to me. Plus, musical theater has always been my first love. So, to be able to not just act, but to sing, dance and act and carry the story through that way has always been my most joyful event.
I remember in my own high school and college experience; the musical theater kids are a little bit flamboyant. They are like, “Woo! Here we go, we are having fun!” You know?
Yes, definitely some are and I think that that’s something that comes with youth as well. When you get into it and get a little bit older and really find your creativeness in it, it calms down a little bit. But yes, musical theater people are a lot of fun.
I have done three documentaries and then my first scripted feature film just came out recently. One of the main characters was in theater, so I had to tone him down a little bit every once and awhile and say, “I’m having problems keeping you in the frame.”
Yes, exactly. In musical theater they like to move. Finding their marks in front of the camera is not one of their greatest talents. Hitting that line is always difficult.
So, once you graduated from Orange County High School of the Arts, what did you pursue from that point forward?
I ended up going on the road for a little while. I did a few shows and I started working that way. Unfortunately, I lost my mom when I was still in high school, so even though I had applied for colleges, I didn’t really think college was accessible for me. I didn’t think at the time that I could afford it. I was on my own. I was 17 years old. I didn’t know to reach out for help. So, the only thing that I knew how to do was to sing and dance and I just went to work.
I went on the road for a couple of years and I would pick up whatever gig I could do, whether it was theatrical or cabaret type work. I would sing and do my thing. My father became ill and even though I was never really close with him, I came home to take care of him. That’s when I fell into directing. I couldn’t go out on the road anymore so I ended up musically directing and teaching music for shows. One thing just lead to another. My career took this huge shift in my early 20’s that I wasn’t expecting it to take.
What are some of the things that you like more about directing then you do acting? And vice versa?
As an actor, you are working with your director and with your team to create something. But as the director, you are overseeing it. You don’t just get to work with the actors and the singers and the dancers, you get to work with the other artists; the technicians. From the costume designers, to the lighting designers to the set designer, to the builders. Even working with the front of house staff and the ushers. Directing allows me to be in complete control of the art that we are creating, but at the same time getting to acknowledge that everyone else on my team has something to bring to the table. Honing it all together to produce something that’s in service.
That’s how I look at theater. I look at the fact that we get to be in service. For three hours a night, we have the power to give our audience the gift of joy or laughter in a time that they may need it more than you might ever know. It’s not always and it shouldn’t always be about the artist. It shouldn’t be about me being on stage and looking for that applause. It should be about me in service to the audience. You don’t know who is sitting there in the audience that has just lost a loved one or who is fighting cancer or some kind of illness. This may be there only escape for a while. This may be their only place to come and have joy for just those three hours. I think that’s what I like about directing the most. Taking all these individuals and creating one final outcome that is in service to everyone, both the artists as well as the audience.
That is such a unique perspective. I love that. I love that the actors and everybody on the team is there in service of the audience as opposed to the audience being there to give accolades to the performance.
Exactly, it’s never about that. What other person in their career can say that on any given evening there is going to be 200 people that are going to get in their cars, come home from work, drive on the freeway, get dressed, go out and have a nice dinner and their entire point for that evening is to come and share it with you. This might be their one outing for the month. This might be what they can afford for that month or that week or to take their children some place. So, you should definitely be in service to them. It’s not about getting applause and it never should be about getting applause. It’s about creating something that only you can create with your body, with your soul and you give it freely and openly and lovingly. I think it’s the closest thing we have to either magic or God’s love or whatever you want to call it. It’s something that only you can create and give.
Do you find that children or young people that are getting into acting understand that more or less quickly then adults? How do kids and young adults get that into them? How do you teach them that?
Like I said from the get-go, for me it’s all about teamwork. I want everyone to realize that there is no one star in the performance. A lead to me is just a leader and a leader leads by example. A leader leads by being responsible and by being disciplined in our art and by being off-book and knowing what they are taught. When they are taught something, they come back and they know it. So, it doesn’t matter to me if you are 70 years old or if you are 7 years old, you all have the same responsibilities to create this work of art together.
I think it’s amazing to watch young people walk into my theater and to see their lives change and to see them grow up. I’ll say these words all the time, responsibility and discipline are so important in our lives as adults. Whether you are going into theater as a young person and you come out wanting to be an actor, or you come out wanting to be a lawyer or a teacher. The same skills you are going to learn in creating this show, are going to carry you on for the rest of your life. It’s amazing to watch these young people come in and grow up through the years and come back and watch who they are and what they’ve become.
Sports is not for everyone. A sport team is not for every single person. Some kids are great at English. Some kids are great at Math. Some kids are great in the Arts. Unfortunately, with all the budget cuts and restraints and everything that has been going on in the last 20 years in schools, there isn’t that much opportunity for young people to perform. So, I think it’s important for them to come and be a part of a team and to learn how to fend for themselves. And also, how to create for themselves. Give them an outlet to express their emotions and give them someplace where they belong. Give them someplace where they can feel important and where they feel that they can be contributory to something that’s bigger than them.
For my son, that’s one of the things that he’s learning the most at the Orange County High School of the Arts, we call it OCHSA here locally. He’s in film and television and so many times independent filmmakers will think just because they have a camera that they can do all the work on their own. In the world of TV and film its obviously not independent at all and there is so much teamwork involved. A big focus at OCHSA is teamwork. You have to rely on your producer, the director, the DP, the lighting, the sound and all of this stuff.
That can be tough for young people to learn, how teamwork is in that environment. You’ve got different personalities. You’ve got different ways of seeing things. How do you deal with different personalities and help young people negotiate that through your programmes?
Communication is the key. To be able to communicate and be clear about what your idea is and to be clear about what your goal is. To surround yourself with a team that understands each other and understands how to communicate with each other. To be open to ideas and to be open to change and to listen. Listen to what other people are saying and listen to what they have to bring to the table.
Even though I’m a director and even though I’ve worked in this field for a long time, I still want to make sure that I’m listening to my team because they each have their own expertise and place where they shine. The smartest thing I can say when you are putting a group of people together is number one, hire people who are smarter than you. And secondly, trust them. Trust what they have. As a director you always have the final say, but you want to listen to what they are bringing to the table.
That’s one of the reasons that we’ve been so successful at The Gem. It’s because we listen to each other and we bring the best out in each other. I think that’s one of the most important things that you can learn from being on a team. That’s what I love about schools like OCHSA. They allow these young people to get that out of the way now and to learn how to communicate. It’s so important. Again, no matter if you go into the arts or you go into business, those skills are going to carry you for the rest of your life.
My son will come home and say, “I can’t believe, this person had this idea in the shoot…” And I’m like, “Bud, you are learning things that I didn’t learn until I was probably in my mid-20’s. Of how to process with other people and ideas and bring things together.” It’s painful as a parent to watch, but it’s also really good to watch them learn these things at such a young age.
Definitely, like anyone my biggest breakthroughs in life have been through my biggest breakdowns and my biggest challenges and my biggest mistakes that I made. I look back at and I laugh now but in my 20’s when I was sitting there just sobbing and broken, that made me the person that I am today. It gave me the skills to be able to stop and listen and say, “No, I’m not going to make that mistake again. I’m going to listen this time and I’m going to be open to that.” I think that is part of growing up and it is hard to watch. I’ve never had children and I know I’ll never have children, but in having this theater for the past 15 years, I have these children that have become part of my family. I’ve watched them go through these trials and I’ve watched them make mistakes. As much as you want to go and pick them up and say, “It’s fine,” you can’t. I just do the opposite, I just yell at them and tell them to walk it off.
You could have done so many different things. You could have gone to New York, you could have gone to London, but you chose to be in Orange County, California and start a company called One More Productions. Why did you start this production company?
I really think it goes back to David Green at the high school of the arts. He was such a mentor and gave so openly to so many younger people. Many of the people in my class have gone on to do such amazing things with their lives and I think one of the main reasons why is because of people like him who stepped up and said, “This is how you do it.”
Nicole Cassesso is my business partner and a brilliantly talented woman. When we looked at where we wanted to open our theater, we had other options and we looked at other places but at the time the state of Orange County theater was really starting to fall from what it was. We wanted to be able to give local actors the opportunity and a place to hone their skills. When I was younger, we used to have Civic Light Operas. We had all these wonderful theaters and they were stepping stone theaters. We’d go there and we’d get our equity points and our equity credit and we’d learn and we’d work with professional actors. It was a launch pad and it gave us the opportunity to jump off and to go do other things. We don’t have that anymore in Orange County. All those theaters are gone. We have Musical Theater West in Long Beach. We have the new 3D, but we really don’t have anything in Orange County that does that.
That’s really been mine and Nicole’s goal. To open a theater that is a launching pad. So, one of the lucky things for us, because of the connections we have in theater and because of who I had grown up with, I’m able to bring professionals in to work with our actors. So, all of our choreographers, all of our designers, all of our musicians, we are able to bring professionals in. So now, these actors get the opportunity to work in a professional setting. This way they are a little more advanced and they are ready to take a bigger step and go out in the world and do something bigger. In the 15 years that we’ve had The Gem with One More Productions, we have had over 47 young actors that are out there doing everything you could imagine. Off Broadway, on Broadway, national tours, international tours. They are working with performers all over the world. Cruise ships, every major theme park that you can think and across the entire globe. It’s because we stayed here in Orange County and it makes me so happy and grateful that we can give back to the community that gave so much to us.
We’ve heard a little bit about it in the intro, but the One More Productions and The Gem Theater, how do those work hand in hand? And what are they?
The Gem Theater is a theater that has been in Garden Grove, California for over 90 years. It started out as a silent movie house and then it became a movie house. It closed in the 70’s but they opened it again later and turned it into an actual live theater. Over the next 30 years there were different performing groups that had been in and out of the building, but for some reason they could never get it to work. It’s an odd sized house. It a 157 seat house, so it’s not big, but it’s not small. Getting a community of people to rally behind it had always been an issue. Nicole and I moved into the building, 11 years ago now and it took time to do it but we have a very large patronage that comes and continually comes. Our doors are open 187 days out of the year doing performances.
That is tremendous. That’s over half the days of the year you are performing there?
We do five major musicals a year. This year we are starting with Disaster, which is a great, funny 70’s disco musical. It’s a takeoff on all the old Disaster’s. We are doing West Side Story, Nine, Bright Star, Beauty and the Beast and on top of that we’ll do a Cabaret series. We’ll also make sure the theater is open for local theater companies that don’t have a space. We have a group called the Braver Players, which is a wonderful children’s theater organization. They will come in and use the space to do shows as well. On top of that, we’ll do some one night events. Those 187 days are open to the audience and the other 100 and so many days, we are doing rehearsals or designs or building sets. So, the theater is always active now.
The theater itself is owned by the city of Garden Grove, California, is that right?
That is correct and One More Productions is the managing theater company there. We have a lease with the city and its our building. We actually just resigned our lease with the city so we will be there for another ten years now. We manage the theater and we keep the theater going and we produce musicals.
How does a musical get produced? You are the director and you have 15 years of being there but if somebody wanted to audition, is that possible? Do you have open auditions? Or are they closed?
All of our auditions are open. If you are an actor and you want to find out about auditioning for a show, we advertise all of our stuff on Backstage West. We also do Playbill.com and Broadway World. We do a couple of other things through agents and managers, but everything is open. We always make sure that all the auditions are open calls. We do pay our actors but we don’t use union actors at this point in time. We will every once and awhile for specialty things, but we don’t generally use union actors.
Everything is audition based and we open up the auditions to anyone. We might have people that have been doing theater for 30 or 40 years and we’ll also have someone who’s auditioning for their very first time. We don’t like to consider ourselves a community theater, only because community theater has such a bad rap. But we really are a theater for our community and our goal is to train and advance people who really want to take the arts seriously and would like to somehow have a career in the arts. Whether it’s as a performer or an artisan or a musician.
I haven’t been to a production there, but the reviews online are just tremendous. Whether its articles or Yelp reviews, it is out of this world. I’ve seen reviews of you personally even though you rarely act there, but people love you.
I did my first real show in 12 years; The Producers, last year. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m so glad that I did. It was so wonderful to get back up on stage. One of the things for me is, we didn’t start the theater company so that either one of us could be actors or either one of us could direct everything. We did it so that we had something valuable, something that really promoted the arts in Orange County. Something that gave back to our community.
How does One More Productions exist? Is it purely through ticket sales? Do you also do fundraisers? Or you have patrons?
We are a non-profit theater company. We are a 501(c)(3) and we do most of it through our ticket sales and private donations. I would love to be able to say that we have corporate donations, but because we are a 157 seat house, that’s hard to get the corporate donations to come in. Most of it is word of mouth and ticket sales. We do a couple of fundraisers a year. We have a big anniversary dinner every year and this year will be our 15th anniversary. We are very excited about that. We do this big dinner party on stage and serve a five course dinner. We bring in executive chefs from different restaurants who come in and cook for us. All of our actors throughout the year, they actually serve all night long and they take care of the guests. Once again, they are in service to our audience. We will do a silent auction that night, but most of it is through ticket sales and small private donation.
So, you’ve talked about how a child or a young person would benefit from responsibility and discipline. What are the other benefits? Some parents who might be listening might think that sports is an easy option to put their kids in, but maybe their kid wants to sing or act. What are the benefits that you would say getting involved in theater can bring to their child?
Getting involved in theater gives a young person the opportunity to express their emotions in a healthy, safe environment. It allows them to be creative. It takes a different set of brain skills to be able to tap and sing and move your hands at the same time. I had a young man who I’ve watched grow up over the years, he started with us as a little elf and he’s actually an OCHSA student as well. This year he was in The Producers with all adults. I think he was 17 years old at the time, he is a junior at the high school of the arts.
To be able to watch this young man figure out how he was going to get through a two hour show, with nine costume changes, eight dance numbers, four fast changes, two wig changes and seven shoe changes, while still getting on stage and doing what he was supposed to do and on top of that go to school ten hours a day and have three hours of homework, it was brilliant. To watch him grow from a young adult into an adult and to watch his self-esteem grow. To witness him finally allowing himself to make a mistake, but to also learn from that mistake. And then just watching the joy in him as a young man walk out the door and know that he did something and that he did it well all within an environment of adults where no one treated him like a child. They would tell him, “Either step up or step up. These are your choices.” He stepped up completely and he did his job.
To watch that joy in him and then to talk to his parents afterwards and to see that lesson that he had learned in that show or the lessons he had been learning at the theater are all over his life. And he’s a better student now. He’s a better human being now because of that. That’s the gift that theater can give these young kids. It’s sad to say, but a lot of the theater kids like you said earlier are a little rambunctious or are maybe not the most popular kids in school, this gives them the place to be popular. But more importantly it gives them a place where they have to learn to trust themselves. To trust their instincts and to work along other people. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.
So, there are lots of different ages, everything from five years old up to fifteen years old but maybe they haven’t had any experience yet but they are expressing an interest and their parent wants to get them involved. Showing up at The Gem Theater for an audition is probably a huge step and maybe too big of a step. If they aren’t ready for something like that, what would be a couple of small steps that you would suggest? How could they start to test the waters?
The most important thing is taking them to see theater. Take them to any theater to see anything. Whether it’s just your local community theater, whether it’s The Gem Theater or whether it’s the Pantages Theater, a lot of colleges in the area offer theater for children also. That’s where adults put on shows for children. Let them experience what it’s like to be an audience member first. Let them see what it’s like to watch the magic happen in front of them.
Then I’d recommend finding a school that teaches dance or a small class like that. Get into that type of thing first and introduce them to it slowly. Give them some of the skills, if they want to do musical theater, give them some of the skill like tap or ballet. Simple things and things that are fun. Find some theater classes that they can take that aren’t expensive. Do not invest a lot of money at first especially when they are young, just make sure they are enjoying it. If it’s something that they are good at, then go to the next level.
I think children’s theater is great, however I have always been against pay for play. That’s just me personally. I understand that these organizations need to support themselves, so I don’t mind a tuition based programmed. But I think any time it becomes tuition based, you are paying for your costumes and you have to sell $300 worth of magazines. Then you have to donate your time. That always scares me a little bit. But start there, as I said, there is a really great children’s theater based in Costa Mesa, it’s called Braver Players. Jimmy Hippensteel also runs another wonderful children’s theater. I think its MTA but I’m not sure. If you look up Jimmy Hippensteel, you’ll find it. They do wonderful theater for young adults. It’s not overly exorbitant in fees and they are really going to learn great skills at places like that.
What is pay for play? And what are some other things that people should watch out for?
You should never, ever have to pay for an agent. You should never pay for a manager. They take 10% of what you make after you have a job. Of course, they will tell you that they want you to get a headshot and tell you which photographers they prefer, those things are fine. But you shouldn’t be paying more than $400 for a month’s worth of acting classes. Voice lessons range from $50 to $125 a lesson. You shouldn’t be paying more than that.
You should also be able to watch the improvement in your child. As a parent, you should be able to walk into whatever class they are taking or whatever rehearsal they are doing. You shouldn’t go all the time, but you should feel free to walk in the door and say, “This is my child, I’m going to walk in when I want to walk in.” Watch them for a few minutes. If the kids are running around and not doing anything or there are 100 kids on stage, your child is not learning anything. Give them a place where they are in a classroom or on a stage with less than 30 and no more than 35 kids. Also, be aware of how much money you are actually spending. If you are paying $1000 a month or more, you are paying way too much money. Things are going to get more expensive as they come along but you shouldn’t be paying a college tuition.
The other thing is if you do have a child who goes into the arts and they start getting work and they start working and the really start to fall in love with it, you are the ones that support them through it. You pay for their voice lessons. You pay for their dance classes. You pay for their acting lessons. Number one, make them be responsible for that. They are not going to learn anything if they aren’t. I tell all my voice students, “Are you grateful for this? This is expensive. This is $320 a month for you to take a voice lesson once a week. Are you grateful for that? What are you doing at home to help?” That’s number one. Don’t just give them anything, make them work for it. Because once they go into this as a career, no one is going to give them anything. They are going to have to work for it themselves.
Secondly, and most importantly, if you are going to create this space, your kid might be good at it and they might want to go into as a career or go to college for it. I’ve seen this happen so many times, where parents have created these amazing artists and paid all of these fees for all these classes and then the kid says, “I want to go to school and get a BFA or an MFA,” and the parents go, “No. You are going to go be a doctor. Go to school and be in business.” You’ve created this for the past 15 or 17 years and you’ve given them all these wonderful skills, now you are telling them they can’t go and pursue that career? As any of us adults know, you’ve got to allow your young adult to follow their passion, especially if they are good at it. Give them the skills to do that.
So those are my two big things for parents. Number one, watch how much money you are spending. Walk in the door and make sure that your child is improving. If your child is not improving after 2 or 3 months, then that’s not the right place for them. And number two if you are going to support your child all the way through, know that there is a possibility that they’ll want to go into this as a career. I can tell you this is one of the most fulfilling and passionate and joyful things that you could do with your life. Because you are following your passion, but very rarely are you going to have the house on the beach and drive the newest Lexus or the newest Mercedes. Those are the compromises that we make as artists.
That’s really great wisdom. Okay, if a young person has a dream of acting and they’ve been to the theater and they are watching the YouTube clips and they are following their favorite Broadway stars and maybe they’ve even been to see some shows in New York. They are really passionate about this, what advice would you give him or her?
Start reading everything you can about acting; Stanislavski, Uta Hagen. Pick anything up that you can and start reading it. Get yourself into some classes. If you are a young adult, South Coast Repertory offers some really great young adult classes. They also do an amazing summer program for acting out there that I think has opened up to 16-year olds. Go see as much theater as you can and start auditioning. Just get in front of people and start honing your skills. Start working on your art. Don’t be afraid. Fear does not serve you at all. Especially as an actor. Break through that wall, break through your fears and just enjoy it. You only get one opportunity to be you in this life, so be the best you that you can be. No matter what it is, if it’s an artist or if it’s a businessman. Just be the best and find your joy in it. As a young actor, read as much as you can.
Most importantly see as much live performances as you can. When you are watching it, don’t just get lost in the performance, watch the actors and watch what is it that they are doing. What do you like about what they are doing? What don’t you like that they are doing? What works for them? What would work with you? How would you do this? Ask yourself those questions while you are watching and keep a journal. Write down your emotions. Write down the things that you enjoy from people’s performances. Write down what your day was like. As an actor, we always go back to our emotions. I might play a father who has lost a child and even though I’ve never had a child or lost a child, I know what it’s like to lose a dog or to lose a friend. And since I know what those emotions are, I can bring those to forefront when I need them. That’s what young actors should start doing now. Feel your feelings and express them in an honest and safe way.
Damien, I appreciate you sharing your wealth of wisdom with our audience in regards to this subject because there are a lot of parents who have kids who either are involved or want to be involved and your wisdom is priceless, so thank you.
Thank you so much for the opportunity. Thank you for letting me share my story and share the story of our theater. Both Nicole and I are really grateful for the opportunity. Thank you so much.