Tag Archives: actor

Walking the walk: Art for art’s sake is simply not enough anymore

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by Bobby Steggert

About two years ago, I completely turned my back on an acting career that I had spent twenty years building. I found myself increasingly discontented by the lack of control that every artist must submit to, and I found myself nauseatingly self-concerned in a job that threw me off balance enough to never quite feel stable. That, and as the world spiraled into the surreal chaos that continues to swirl around us today, I found it harder and harder to justify my contribution as enough to make a significant difference.

The classic argument for the necessity of art (and a deeply legitimate one) is that is holds a mirror up to the human condition. It asks the important questions and gives voice to the voiceless. I suppose my goal in leaving the theater was to make a difference that felt more practical, or somehow quantifiable — instead of giving metaphoric voice to the voiceless, why not up the ante and work to give them a voice directly? And so I have spent the last two years pursuing a master’s degree in social work. I’ve been given a crash course in anti-black racism, in the horror of our immigration and criminal justice systems, in the forces behind gender and sexual discrimination. I’ve met some incredible social justice warriors — people putting all of their heroic energies into fighting to inspire essential shifts in the cultural fabric.

And may I unequivocally stress, I still believe that artists of all kind — playwrights, painters, musicians, and actors — wield equally powerful heroism in the same aim. In fact, the irony of walking away from the arts is that I am now more convinced than ever as to the necessity of you, the artist. But here is my ultimate argument, and hear me out– you are more powerful than the work you do under the proverbial lights. In fact, it’s only a part of why we need you.

Let’s face it — it is too late and the world is too far gone to celebrate art for art’s sake. It’s simply not enough anymore. We as a collective culture have forgotten what true greatness is, as the paradigm shifts and we are bombarded with the most toxic and pathetic expressions of selfishness masquerading as strength. But here’s the good news — all humans are outfitted with potential greatness, and yours far outstrips your craft. It is a superpower in this ever isolated and polarized world, and it is your responsibility to use it. Many of you already do.

The greatness I speak of is your bravery in offering authentic compassion in the flesh — a space of physical, emotional, and ideological vulnerability that, though out of fashion in our current climate, is the only thing that can save us. Lots of people practice empathy, and every human is endowed with it, but fewer have the experience you have in using it so flexibly.

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Bobby Steggert

At the risk of getting too personal, this is another reason I felt I had to leave acting — it was easy for me to bare my soul under the safety of the blinding lights and a two-hour time limit. What was far more challenging for me was to translate that freedom of expression into daily life. The most distilled version of my disappointment was that, in my deepest knowledge, I wasn’t walking the walk. I was proclaiming an artist’s social responsibility whilst hiding everywhere but onstage. I was vulnerable and brave at work and I was stuck and afraid elsewhere.

Ultimately, I did what felt necessary to create a chance at more sustainable balance in my own life, and I don’t have any regrets today as I work towards something happier. And in no way do I argue that anyone in an artistic life should change course. Instead, I am simply urging you to look at what you have in the moments when you feel frustrated and powerless — the enormous opportunity in every moment of your waking life, regardless of the audition you just aced, the job you just booked, or the brilliant performance you just gave. And equally important, the higher purpose you have despite the audition you just bombed, the job you just lost, or the brilliant performance you wish you had the opportunity to offer the world. You (like all of us) are bigger than your job, but it just so happens that your job has prepared you for the war ahead.

You are trained through your exceptional sensitivity to be generous of heart. You are more comfortable with the vulnerability of emotional expression than most anyone else on Earth. You can look deeply into the eyes of another human without flinching from the terror of being exposed. You understand that silence and stillness are not passive, but radical acts in the digital world of never ending status updates. You realize, even beneath the tidal wave of “self expression” that powers our culture of narcissism, that to listen is the only way to truly honor another’s humanity.

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These qualities are not unique to actors, but they are ones that you have spent a lifetime cultivating. You are also in an industry that threatens the very qualities that brought you here. It surely did mine.

Whether your work reaches dozens or millions, it can only represent life. It cannot stand in for it. I have to believe, from experience, that a “tortured artist” is someone who is unable to integrate their work and their life, so that the only place they feel understood is in the privacy of their work. But I have come to realize that the work is just as much to understand as it is to be understood. And as the world becomes increasingly disembodied and dehumanized by fear and greed, it is your flesh and blood — your eyes and breath and heart — that can bring change to every space you enter. You must remind others, whose gods are money or fear or status or fame, that their worship is futile.

Do not compromise in using the gifts that make you special. Do not allow an industry that asks you to be selfish to take away your generosity. Create no boundary between the stage and the street. Look up from your screens and feel the power you already contain. There are people fighting the good fight at every turn, but it just so happens that your special skills are applicable anywhere you go. When it comes to professional contribution alone, a surgeon is limited to saving lives in the operating room. You are not.

Strange, that I had to completely reroute the entire trajectory of my life to learn that I already had everything I needed to make a difference. My master’s degree will be a piece of paper, but my life as an artist will make me a great social worker, this I know. And if I ever return to acting, it will be with this knowledge (and I hope it reminds you of of your own possibilities) — that the work does not stop when unemployed — that you are an artist every day, if you so choose — that art is an obligation, and that it must be lived, not simply offered to those who have paid the price of admission.

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Actor Dor Gvirtsman embraces a complicated role in hit play ‘The Chosen’ at Fountain Theatre

Dorian Tayler

Dor Gvirtsman

After taking a brief hiatus for the Passover holidays, our smash hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen restarts its critically acclaimed run this weekend. With every performance sold-out since it opened in January, this second and final extension continues to June 10th. 

We caught up with actor Dor Gvirtsman as he prepared to leap back into the role of Danny Saunders, the brilliant and troubled son of the tzaddik Reb Saunders and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as the leader of his ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. 

Where were you born? 

I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily in Mountain View. Mountain View is a delightful, quiet suburb whose flashiest and most famous resident is Google.

Where did you train as an actor?

I started acting when I was in fourth grade, but I would say my formal training began at the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2011. It was the first time I was immersed in a conservatory-style program, learning about and actively training in theatre, day in and day out. Being involved with that program the summer after my junior year of high school solidified my decision to pursue a degree in acting.

The majority of my acting training occurred at the University of Southern California. That was where I truly learned the craft of acting: breaking ideas down into techniques that I could polish and practice through exercises, scene work, analysis, and performance. My third year I spent a semester training classically at the British American Drama Academy in London. It was a delightful opportunity to build and polish my technical skills by studying and working on Greek plays, Shakespeare, and Restoration Comedy in one of the greatest theatre cities in the world.

How long have you been in Los Angeles?

Six years. I came down here to study at USC, and then I made friends, fell in love, and started working.

In The Chosen, which aspect of Danny’s character do you identify with most?

Danny and I share a desire to understand people. Danny is raised in an absolute, fundamentalist world. The Biblical texts provide astounding analytical insight into law, sociology, and even general insights into the human condition, but provide fewer answers about detailed interpersonal dynamics. Those who are closest to Danny are a mystery. His father is revered by his friends and neighbors, yet provides Danny with no direct guidance or advice on how he is to fill his large shoes. Freud provides Danny with the tools to start understanding how and why people do what they do, in more absolute, specific terms than the Golden Rule.

One of the reasons I love acting is because it gives me the opportunity to think like, behave as, and understand people different than I am. A character I play may make choices I would never make, but in order to play those choices truthfully on stage or on screen, I must learn to understand why they are being made. What Danny sees in Freud, I see in acting: The opportunity to make sense of the people and the world around me, to embrace the complexity of a world that is far from absolute.

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Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel

The difficult relationship between Danny and his father is key to the The Chosen. What’s it like acting opposite a partner who rarely speaks or looks at you?  

The onstage life between Danny and Reb Saunders is a delicate balancing act. When we do interact, we each need to respond to what the other is doing in as thoughtful, specific, and vulnerable a manner as possible. This is not only for the audience’s benefit, but also for each other. It’s how we can communicate: If I know exactly what Steve means by his action, it is easier to respond, and vice versa. The rest is built on the trust that when we aren’t interacting, we are each forwarding our story in our own way. This is developed through conversations between the actors and with the guidance of our director, Simon. Simon’s eye it vital when we actors can’t see each other.

When we do finally get to look at each other, I find many of the denser ideas in the play give way to the human story: A relationship between a father and a son who love each other. Danny defends his father throughout the play, even through his confusion and fury. When Red Saunders and Danny finally speak at the end of the play (spoilers!), the complexities in their relationship seem to give way to one of the most basic things adolescents hope to hear from their parents: I love you, and I am proud of the adult you have become. Having only recently come into an age where I could share moments like that with my own parents, its tremendously emotional experiencing that on stage. 

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The play served as important trigger in your artistic life. 

The Chosen was the first professional stage play I ever saw. I had seen, and performed in, school plays, but seeing The Chosen was the first time I saw theatre in the real world. They were using the medium not only to entertain, as school shows primarily do, but to ask real questions that pertained to my Jewish life and my prescient adolescence. It helped me regain confidence in my desire to act at a time when I was almost dead-set on giving it up because “that’s not what kids with actual friends do” in the mind of a young teenager. The Chosen was the right play at the right time, and it helped set me on my path to where I am today.

What’s it like being part of such a hit production?

It is a humbling, extraordinary privilege. I am touched and amazed by the fact that audiences continue to want to share their afternoons and evenings with us.

Deep into our run, we still have the pleasure to perform for sold-out houses. The jokes still land, the energy still changes in the room when we arrive at an emotional moment, and the role and the show provide new layers and moments to be uncovered. As we head into our extension, I’m starting to realize it may be a good long while until I have the pleasure of being a part of a show like this again. I’m thankful for every bite I get. It’s a little hard to not get sentimental about it.

What’s the most memorable thing an audience member has said to you after a performance?

I have gotten a few Brooklynites who come up to me after then show and told me they have seen and met some Williamsburg Hasids, and that I could pass for one. That is not only a fun premise for an Ocean’s Eleven style heist, but a profoundly moving comment to hear.

Even as a Reform Jew, the Orthodox world seems distant, and at times even foreign. It is often hard to reconcile the fact that people who are part of the same Jewish community as I am could see the world so differently than I do. Knowing that someone who is more intimately connected to the New York Hassidic community sees truth in Danny Saunders makes me feel like I have learned a little about a world I am not a part of. To me, that’s beautiful.

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What’s it like working at the Fountain Theatre?

Oh, it’s tremendous. To me, working at the Fountain is a gift for a young actor. To get to work on a play of substance with people of substance who care about this art form is special. I recognize that. We had the luxury of a long rehearsal process, so we had time to play with this show and experiment with our characters and relationships. We had the extraordinary privilege to work with our director, Simon Levy. He is an artist as passionate as he is compassionate, a patient and specific director with a beautiful vision. I always felt listened to and cared for, as a person and as a professional. Atmospherically, it was great getting to work at a theater where the staff like each other and enjoy working together. It’s not obvious. Artists don’t always get along, and that warmth goes a long way in making the artistic process feel safe and supported. I absolutely understand how the Fountain has cultivated its excellent reputation.

Dor Gvirtsman is an unusual name for an actor. Why did you revert back to it after first changing professionally it to Dorian Tayler? What led to that decision?

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Backstage at ‘The Chosen’

Dor Gvirtsman is the name on my birth certificate. It’s the original. Unfortunately, it’s not a typical “show business name”. People would ask me: What kind of a name is Dor? Dor, like a door? For years, people told me I would likely need to change my name if I want to be an actor. Gvirtsman has lots of consonants in a row; It wasn’t marketable. And I want to be an actor, so I ran with it.

People meeting me for the first time thought Dor might be short for Dorian. I’m a big Oscar Wilde fan, and I love the name Dorian, so that part was easy. Tayler came about as the result of my working at a summer theater program. The kids took one look at me and decided my name was Taylor. I thought it was odd, but interesting that the pure eyes of children decided this name was right for me. I liked the flow of Dorian Tayler: it sounded akin to the names of the English celebrities that I admired and were popular at the time.

However, in the past few years, the world has begun to change. We seem to be seeking a popular culture that reflects more of the population that consumes it. As a result, being your authentic self is becoming more celebrated. I thought, “If Saoirse Ronan could use her guest segment on Stephen Colbert’s show to explain how to pronounce her name, then there is a future for Dor Gvirtsman”. As more people in my professional acting life found out my real name, and didn’t run away in disgust and terror, I became more comfortable with the idea of using my real name in my acting career. When I was cast in The Chosen, I had the opportunity to join Equity. The application asked me what I wanted my professional name to be – I chose my authentic one.

It seems you guys in the cast get along well. What’s the backstage life like?

We get along fantastically well. It’s quite remarkable. We trust each other and love each other as artists and people. It made rehearsing this play a safe, special artistic experience, and it makes for a wonderful long run. This is a group of people I am excited to come in and work with every week.

On another note, we are a cast comprised of men spanning generations. John and Steve have had more experience in the industry than Sam and I. They will sometimes tell us stories about shows they’ve done and experiences they’ve had over the years, and it is delightful to hear and learn from their experience. We are all quite silly and irreverent for a cast of a show so full of ideas and tenderness. 

Any plans after this long run of The Chosen finally ends?   

I’m traveling back home to Israel to see my family and celebrate with them at my aunt’s wedding! After that, I want to dive right in to a new project. Any takers?

The Chosen is now playing to June 10th. More Info/Get Tickets

‘The Chosen’ actor Sam Mandel shares advice on hustling between acting jobs

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By Linnea Sage

Name: Sam Mandel

Side hustle: Chief operating officer of the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles

Years acting: 13

Favorite acting credits/opportunities: I had a blast working with Chris Rock as recurring guest star Fisher on “Everybody Hates Chris.” My favorite would have to be the role I’m performing right now, making my stage debut as the lead in the west coast premiere of a newly revised version of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. We opened Jan. 20 and it’s been a life-changing experience for me; by far my most challenging and fulfilling role to date.

What do you do when an audition or shoot comes up? 
I let my team at the clinic know that I’m going to be out and to plan accordingly. I have a staff of seven; they’re great! They work hard and are very supportive of my acting career. I move meetings and conference calls with outside companies to different days. I catch up on work from home. It’s not always easy, but I give people as much advanced notice as possible and put in the work before and after filming to meet my responsibilities at the office, even if that means catching up on emails at 2 a.m.

Have you ever felt like your side hustle was in jeopardy because of acting? How long did it take you to feel like you had security at this side hustle, even if you took time off for an acting project? 
I don’t think I ever felt like my side hustle was in jeopardy, but I have felt that my acting hustle was suffering. Managing both has been very intense and stressful at times. I am fully committed to both. Acting is my life, my career, my passion, and it means more to me than anything.

On the other hand, I started a business that now has many people counting on me. Not only is it how I eat and pay my bills, but I’ve invested substantial time and money into it. Our patients come to us deeply depressed, some even suicidal. The treatment we offer is the last hope for many of them. It’s literally life and death. That’s a big responsibility and one I don’t take lightly.

I felt I couldn’t fully pursue acting like I wanted to for the first three years of starting my company. I still auditioned and booked work occasionally—a commercial here, co-star spot there—but wasn’t hustling like I wanted for my acting because I was grinding for the clinic. In the last 12 months, I’ve finally started to turn up the heat on the acting and it feels great. That’s largely a result of dedication, patience, and persistence to establish a strong foundation for the company. It took time, but I now have a wonderful team in place. They say, “good help is hard to find” and no aphorism could be truer! No matter how hard you work you need teamwork to create exceptional outcomes. I’m very grateful to my team at the clinic and my team who represent me for my acting.

What skills or talents did you need for this side hustle? How long did it take you to qualify or complete training for your side hustle? 
My role is very expansive. I create policies and procedures, I’m HR and do hiring and training of staff, marketing, advertising, social media, press, website design, establish and maintain relationships with vendors, budgeting and profit and loss, patient satisfaction, and more. If I had to narrow it all down, I’d say the top three skills needed are to be very detail oriented, creative, and relentless.

As far as qualifying for this job or completing training, I’ve used skills and knowledge from every job I’ve ever had since I was a little kid walking my neighbor’s dogs. I draw a lot from the service industries I’ve worked in and my restaurant experience, which I have a lot of. Naturally, as an actor, I’ve held every position in the restaurant at over a dozen places. I focus heavily on the patient experience from our website to the moment they arrive at the clinic, to continuing care from afar long after they’ve completed their treatment. I grow every day in my ability to do my job more efficiently and successfully and lead others to do the same.

How does this side hustle fulfill you? Do you feel like you’re helping people/society/humanity in a tangible way? 
I truly love my side hustle. It’s very fulfilling. I get to help people who are suffering and be part of a team that provides them measurable relief. I get to offer an innovative solution, something new and different. Applying a wide variety of skills and knowledge in my job helps keep it interesting. New challenges and opportunities come up all the time. I love my team. They’re great people with a strong work ethic and they inspire me to keep reaching higher. The creative control and flexible schedule are nice perks too!

Has your side hustle made you better at acting or achieving your acting goals? 
Absolutely. I’ve grown as a person in so many ways through the experience of starting a company. Much of what I have learned I’ve applied to my acting career and the business side of “the industry”. I don’t overthink my acting choices and preparation for roles as much as I used to. I get to it, give it my all, and move on. Less dwelling on “shoulda, coulda, woulda…” after auditions and performances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, but there simply isn’t time; I gotta get back to the other work!

Why did you choose to do this side hustle instead of more stereotypical acting side hustles like serving? 
I got tired of serving. I’ve done every job in the restaurant industry more than once. I also worked in retail, drove for Uber, was a Task Rabbit, dog walker, babysitter, sold stuff on Craigslist, and all the other stereotypical gigs artists do to get by. I’ve done em’ all. I also worked at less stereotypical jobs for an actor like at a bank, other financial companies, real estate, and more. I wanted to make decent money and not stress about the rent while also enjoying some freedom and flexibility. Acting classes and good headshots aren’t cheap! I got a unique opportunity to be part of something great and I jumped on it. I threw every ounce of my being into it, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

If you produce your own work, do you feel like this current side hustle allows you the freedom/resources to do that? 
Yes and no. My sketch comedy channel on YouTube, Gamer Guy and the Guardians (soon to be renamed The Jungle), is very flexible. My partners Michael Tomasetti, DB Wilson, and I usually shoot on the weekends. We can shoot a whole sketch in eight hours, sometimes two sketches if they’re short or improvised. Bigger projects like a music video I wrote, produced and directed have been tougher. It took significant planning in pre-production, filming, and post-production. That project had some unique challenges and it was my first go at it. I’ve learned a lot from that experience and my clinic is in a totally different place then it was then, so I think taking on a bigger self-produced project would be different today. I plan on creating a short film to direct and act in this year and it will be interesting to see how that goes. I have flexibility within my schedule and financial cushion, but the pressure of keeping things going at the clinic, which is rapidly growing, while also giving all my creative energy to a film is no small task.

Do you have any advice for actors that aren’t sure what path to take while they are waiting for acting to pay all the bills? 
Never give up and work your ass off. Work hard and work smart. Be creative about how to make ends meet until you “make it.” I don’t say this as someone who has “made it” yet, but I feel I am well on my way. I have a long road ahead; one I’m enjoying traveling on. While staying open-minded, I urge actors to explore all work opportunities outside of the clichés with caution. A lot of less-than-savory characters prey on actors for our outgoing personalities and big hearts. If you end up sticking to a restaurant, that’s okay too! There are many advantages to restaurant work, that’s why so many of us do it.

Most importantly, never let go of your identity as an actor and your vision of where you want to go. Whether one week or five years go by without an audition or acting gig, if you are truly an actor in heart and mind, and you stay training and honing your skills, you can come back to it with passion and purpose and create a new rendition even better than where you left off.

This post originally appeared in Backstage. More Info/Get Tickets for The Chosen.

Smash hit play ‘The Chosen’ extends to May 7th at Fountain Theatre

TC_A0482In the wake of nearly two-dozen rave reviews and six weeks of sold-out houses, the Fountain Theatre has extended its run of The Chosen and increased performances from three to four per week. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from Potok’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Chosen will now continue through May 7.

A moving coming-of-age story set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is the story of two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. Danny (Dor Gvirtsman) is the son of the charismatic but forbidding Reb Saunders (Steven B. Green, stepping in for the extension), an ultra Orthodox  tzaddik who has raised his son in strict silence. Reuven (Sam Mandel) is the son of the more traditionally Orthodox scholar and fervent Zionist David Malter (Jonathan Arkin). When Danny injures Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.

In its “Critic’s Choice” review, the Los Angeles Times calls the play “deeply emotional,” noting that the Fountain production “reminds us to reach across divides.” L.A. Splash writes that The Chosen is “a universal story of relationships in their multitude of forms, mak[ing] this play something for everyone – Jewish or not.” Stage Scene LA says, “’The Chosen’ is a must-see for audiences of any age, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.” BroadwayWorld hailsThe Chosen as “a moving coming-of-age story… funny, poignant, timely and timeless,” and Stage and Cinema declares it to be “vital, alive, and important.”

“We are thrilled that this production is resonating with so many people, and that we are touching so many hearts,” says director Simon Levy.

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Backstage with veteran actor Alan Blumenfeld from ‘The Chosen’

 

Actor Sam Mandel shares how the message of ‘The Chosen’ is so timely and universal

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Video: Actor Leith Burke finds hope in powerful world premiere ‘Runaway Home’

Runaway Home Now playing to Nov 5th More Info/Get Tickets