How to become a star!

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A moment of self reflection around the Lake in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Friday, March 19, 2021. Raining off and on in New York yesterday and well into the evening, temperatures in the low 40s.

A Life in the Theatre. I started yesterday’s Diary recalling dinner I had Wednesday night with Philip Carlson, an old friend I first met when I was a very young man in New York and briefly pursuing a career as an actor, as was Philip. 

Circle Repertory Company co-founders Lanford Wilson, Marshall Mason, Tanya Berezin, and Rob Thirkield.

We met when were both appearing in an off-Off-Broadway play called Christopher Columbus at church over in Brooklyn Heights. I cannot remember anything about the play – even my small (beginner’s part) except the title and the names of several who were involved including Rob Thirkield, director Marshall Mason, playwright Lanford Wilson and Tanya Berezin, all of whom shortly thereafter started a theatre company called the Circle Repertory Company.

The Circle Rep became a very important theatre company that performed at the Sheridan Square Playhouse from 1970s through the mid-90s. Mel Gussow writing for the New York Times considered their venture as the “chief provider of new American plays.” 

The lesson I learned from my experience, surrounded by such truly dedicated and talented people was that I lacked both the talent and the dedication  to pursue such a career. Within a couple of years I went to work as a stockbroker on Wall Street, and later a retailer for a few years before I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a life as a writer.

Philip’s late wife Leslie Revsin, who was the first woman chef at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Philip in the meantime, however, moved up the ladder to a hit play off-Broadway (“Until the Monkey Comes”) and then to Hollywood where he signed on as a contract player with Universal Pictures. Several years later, he left the performing side and joined a talent agency here in New York where he naturally blossomed in the role of developing talent until he retired in the early 2000s, mainly to care for his wife, a trailblazing chef, Leslie Revsin when she was ill with cancer. The couple moved to Seattle where she could be near her daughter, but in a couple of years, the cancer took her life.

Philip returned to New York and the field of acting talent. In the years he represented actors as a manager and agent, he served as the New York head of talent at three of the most prestigious agencies in the business as well as his own agency. He was the first agent to sign Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Liev Schreiber, Claire Danes, Idris Elba, Kyra Sedgwick, Adrien Grenier and Paul Giamatti, and had represented Viola Davis, Kathy Bates, Brian Dennehy, and W.H. Macy among many gifted others.

In the 30 years as a talent agent, the business had changed dramatically. From an agent’s point of view, it had gone from agents developing talent to the bigger agencies poaching it from those developing it. It began to happen so frequently that the joy of developing would be overrun by the poachers. The disappointment finally got to Philip to the point that  he quit the agenting entirely.

Philip Carlson with Lois Smith at a book party in 2016 for Breaking and Entering: From Auditions to Agents to a Career.

However, the boy loved his business, basically that of being a teacher, a guide, a mentor of talent. He decided to challenge himself into putting it all in a book. He published it in 2016. It’s called “BREAKING AND ENTERING: A manual for the working actor in film, stage, and TV, From Auditions to Agents to a Career.”

Click to order Breaking and Entering: A Manual for the Working Actor: From Auditions to Agents to a Career.

In it he shares all the practical trade secrets on how to get into show business. It’s a guide for the curious as well as the serious business on how to make it work. The topics are specific but Phil takes you on a fascinating ride with it. There are The Schools, the Showcases, the Casting Directors, Agents, How to Approach Auditions, How to Figure Out Where You Fit; all about The movies, The TV Shows, Staying Real, Negotiating, Where Do You Fit; plusWhere’s the Money, and Hollywood, and New York. 

It’s an actual education that the acting schools all recommend now because once you’ve got the techniques and training down, it’s how do you sell the product – which is you, the actor.It’s also fun because fun is always a part of creating a personal success. And Philip is full of stories of how, who and what happens when you embark on the voyage of a career as an actor. And it’s about a deeply serious endeavor.

As a result my friend Phil has been an adjunct professor at NYU and at SUNY Purchase. He’s been on the faculty of The Atlantic School; has taught, spoken on expert panels, and lectured at many schools including ACT Theatre School in San Francisco, Juilliard, Vassar, The University of Washington, Emerson College, Dean College, Fordham, The University of Tennessee and Hamilton College. He also does consulting for talent agencies, casting directors and theatre companies.

Philip in a mini-doc about him and his craft called A Passion for Finding Talent.

Besides the series of 8 workshops which are his offerings outlined in his book, he now also offers private tutorials for all actors as well as career consultation for more established actors who are seeking feedback or wish to take greater charge of their career trajectory.

I was personally interested in his private tutorials. Back when he and I were pursuing (I use the word lightly in retrospect of my own ambitions) a career, we studied with a man named David Craig, a playwright and tutor in How to Sing a Song. Sounds simple but aha! like everything else in the theatre, it’s a technique that gives the performer the opportunity to make it look simple and Real!

Phil studying the talent.

David was also married to Nancy Walker, the famous Broadway star of stage, screen and television who was also nationally famous playing Rosie in the Bounty Commercial. He had a specific technique in how to audition a song that would define your character (with the material) as well as deliver the lyricist’s message most effectively. 

Many Broadway stars, even musical stars even the pros took his class because it was a truly a Before And After experience. To this moment of writing I can specifically recall his lessons on performing a song. It wasn’t about the melody; it was about you, acting out the material with an objective for the audience.

These days of lockdowns, pandemics and worries, Philip offers a similar lesson as clearly and diligently for the actor — from the moment he or she walks into a room to audition or even just to meet a casting director (which is always The Beginning of great possibilities). He does his consulting and teaching over Zoom (an hour and a half session/$195). For the really curious, he can be reached here.

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