In the course of doing business Inside the Bubble of soapdom, we are often asked by aspiring actors “how do you break into soaps?” Our answer is always the same. Preparation, honed acting ability, and perseverance.
Recently, Soapdom had the pleasure to chat up Joan See, actress and founder of The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, who not only acted on soap operas, she trains the soap stars of tomorrow.
Many of The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts students have landed contract and/or recurring roles on all your favorite soaps. For example, in her very first acting audition ever, Shelley Hennig, 21, former Miss Teen USA, a graduate of The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, captured the part of Stephanie Johnson on NBC’s "Days of Our Lives" by being what the producers called “completely professional and camera ready.” Her comfort and professionalism is a testament to the intense training she received in classes that included “Process for the Camera,” “Movement,” “Scene Study” and even a comprehensive “Daytime Drama” class – all of which are uniquely calibrated to work together as an organic whole. Shelley has successfully appeared on more than 89 episodes in 2007 and is still going strong on the show.
See, a talent Geiger Counter, has also trained Scott Holroyd, who was booked for a contract role as Paul Ryan on CBS’s “As The World Turns” before he even graduated in 2001; 2004 graduate Don Money, who plays Rob Emerson on “As The World Turns” and John-Paul Lavoisier, who has played Rex Balsom on “One Life to Live” since 2002.
Additionally, an increasing number of today’s most promising young actors see soap operas as a final destination, not as a stepping stone. Further, they know it takes top skills both in front of and behind the camera to be successful in this arena. And nowhere is this new attitude as strong or prevalent as at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.
Bonnie Swencionis, 20, another beautiful, bright and extremely promising actress who is now a second year student at the Conservatory, says that her aspiration is to find a “permanent home” on a soap opera. Extremely practical (her mother is an MD, her father a professor), Bonnie, who also loves soap operas as a fan, cites the fact that soaps offer artistic challenges along with some rare benefits in show business: financial security, predicable hours, and the ability to bond with an ensemble “family.”
See has been an actress all her life. “I studied in college and with Sanford Meisner,” she shared with Soapdom. “I have worked on stage in New York, The Public Theater for example. I have worked in film and soap opera and have sold you more things via commercials than you have ever wanted to buy. I have been First Vice-President of Screen Actors Guild. I started to teach in the late 70's as a way of developing and expanding my opportunities within the business. I never planned to found a conservatory. I just keep walking thru doors that opened in front of me. I love teaching. Helping the young people at the school develop their dreams is an energizing and serious responsibility.”
Here’s her take on acting, acting for soaps, and how best to break in.
SOAPDOM: How does training help the soap opera actor?
JOAN SEE: I would like to say that there is no such thing as a soap opera actor. There are actors who work in soap operas. That immediately clears up what kind of training they need....good acting training. Scene study on-camera is invaluable.
SOAPDOM: What types of training do you recommend? Is some better than others?
SEE: Because of the nature of the material and the fact that it is filmed, it is not necessary that the actor have a heavy background in classical theater performance or a lot of style work. The actor on a soap should be grounded in a naturalistic film-style of performance. Sandford Meisner, Stella Adler or Uta Hagen training are really good for the actor who wants to do well in this type of performance.
SOAPDOM: Can bad habits be broken? How?
SEE: Bad habits can be broken. Once a bad habit is identified, it takes consciousness and assumption of good habits to break a bad habit. Patience, practice and determination are what is needed.
SOAPDOM: Does the conservatory offer student “showcases” for soap opera casting directors so that new talent gets exposed to the people who hire? If not, how does the school help students get work during and after their studies there?
SEE: There are several ways in which we mentor our students into the professional arena. At the end of the unit of study of daytime drama, we invite a casting director and an agent to do a workshop with the students, answer questions and view work. We also have a professionally juried presentation of monologues where our students can do their work and receive feedback from those who hire and represent actors. We also produce totally professionally shoot scenes for our students. Students have these scenes on DVD and can show them on anyone’s office computer as a way of showing off their work.
SOAPDOM: Why is attending your program a good thing for an aspiring soap actor?
SEE: I believe that we have one of the most demanding and comprehensive acting programs available to the young actor. It is rooted in the work of Sanford Meisner and focuses the work toward the naturalistic style required in the daytime drama. 90% of the second work is done on-camera.
SOAPDOM: In your opinion, what is the best way for an aspiring soap actor to hone his/her craft? Do you recommend ongoing training?
SEE: Ongoing training is always a good idea for any actor. Going to class for an actor is like going to class for the dancer. Once an actor has a good acting foundation, they should be looking for a teacher who can work with their individual needs whether that be voice, body, scene study or camera training.
SOAPDOM: Was John-Paul Lavoisier already on One Life to Live before coming you to, or did he attend the school before landing the role on One Life? How have you seen him progress in honing his craft? Is he still enrolled or did he graduate?
SEE: JP Lavoisier was a student in our Part Time program some years ago. I believe that he had acting training prior to attending our classes. He came here to learn about daytime and its demands and work that kind of scene work on-camera. He certainly has taken his training and made the most of it.
SOAPDOM: What advice would you give to an aspiring soap actor who lives in the fly over states (namely not LA or NY) on how to land their first soap job?
SEE: It is virtually impossible to land the kind of beginning roles on a soap -- an extra or an under five or a recurring role --and not live in LA or NY. IF you got a contract role and lived outside of these cities you would have to move to the city in which the soap was being shot.
SOAPDOM: Do you believe this statement to be true and if so why? If not, why not? “You can’t make a plain looking actor beautiful, but you can teach a beautiful person to act.”
SEE: Of course you can teach a beautiful person to act, particularly if they are smart, imaginative and work hard. There is no better example then the beautiful Shelley Hennig, a Teen Miss USA. She had no training when she won our scholarship. Two months before completing her two years of study, Shelley booked a contract role on Days of Our Lives and has continued to learn and blossom. It is also true that a talented, plain looking person can be made to look beautiful on film. Some people are better looking on film than in life.
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