Major change is coming to StoryAtlas!
I’ll explain the process that lies ahead for the studio, but first, I want to look back at our remarkable evolution, to put this new phase in perspective.
When I founded StoryAtlas in 2013, our first instructive offering was a men’s only class called “Actors as Emotional Athletes” that included a small but incredible group of artists, including Alexander Dreymon, Jerod Meagher, Vincent Montuel and Jason Fracaro. At that point in my career, I felt more suited to helping men – most not much younger than I was at the time – with some of their specific and unique challenges to developing characters. That class wound down in 2014 with a beautiful scene between Bob Dallmeyer, a sprightly man in his mid-70s, and Jason, a hard-working, generous-of-spirit young man who ended up becoming my producing partner. The two of them performed a scene from “The Shawshank Redemption.” In the scene, Bob’s character expressed that he may not have it in him to reach the fabled Zihautanejo. Simply put, it was great work. After class, I took Bob out to dinner at Bossa Nova on Sunset. He gave me advice about both career and romance, in an inversion of our roles as teacher and pupil. He told me that I should find a way to become a father, that I would be a good one. Less than six months later, Bob died. But the remnants of the work of those two men remains a symbolic highlight of the purpose of that first incarnation of StoryAtlas: to fortify and inspire men to be vulnerable and real with one another with the pretext that the vulnerability was all about the craft of acting. It was and it wasn’t.
The second incarnation of StoryAtlas has been our own two-year journey at Studio A on Hyperion Avenue. When I re-started teaching after wrapping up the shoot for “Guys Reading Poems,” I knew that I wanted to teach both men and women this time. Two fundamental principles were important to me in this second go-round. I wanted to create an environment that fostered a welcoming, community of artists and I wanted to teach acting free of the confines of one particular method. I wanted to use the class as an experiment for how to approach the craft of acting, even if that meant I risked looking foolish or had an exercise fall flat. I’ve seen a room full of StoryAtlas actors swim in tanks with sharks during our “Creating Realistic Fear” cycle and a dance-studio full of you pretending to be one of four types of drunk. I’ve seenCamille channeling her brassy mother and Shereen suddenly and remarkably take on the mannerisms of a boorish but somewhat charming New Orleans bar owner. Perhaps most of all – at least today – I still remember Yuki cradling a make believe baby as an exercise for our “Death and Dying” cycle. I’ve noticed that you’ve become Facebook friends with each other, thrown joint birthday parties and truly supported one another. And that means the world to me. You see, I’ve seen L.A. and its uncaring power structure tear some people down. In some ways, I’ve even been part of the tearing myself. But with our group, we built something up and supported one another, regardless of status within the industry…and I’m so proud of that…and grateful to all of you for being part of the current incarnation of StoryAtlas.
And yet, despite it all, I’ve come to realize that StoryAtlas must continue to evolve, that there’s another phase demanding an incarnation.
A new ruthlessness is emerging within me that desires – with my remaining time, to the best of my ability – to make a lasting contribution to both cinema and the craft of acting. Also, I am no longer satisfied for actors in my studio to make progress. I want to see career-changing breakthroughs as a regular course of events, such as the breakthrough we saw with Mauricio just last night. I feel that the work we stumbled upon in January’s “dream” cycle is the best possibility I’ve seen so far of being able to make a significant contribution to the craft I care about so much and to spurring individual players in the studio to new career milestones. For those who didn’t take the class, we experimented with analyzing our dreams and bringing figures of the dream out through active imagination and then rolling them into character development and scene work. It was compelling, exciting, even revelatory work, but advanced. To truly benefit from this type of work, actors need a grounding in the fundamentals of overall objective, scene objective, beat work and script analysis. Support and an empathetic environment are important, but to fully develop and execute this emerging technique will require a group of actors that are committed, ambitious and very, very well-versed in the fundamentals of the craft.
So, to accomplish my new goals for the studio, our flagship class on Sunday night will be transitioning to a Master Class by invitation only, with a new Intermediate level class to be established in six weeks time. Our upcoming cycle – Dark Side Rising – will remain open to all registrants and the change will not take effect until our late May/early June cycle. I will also continue teaching the on-camera class on Wednesday nights for the next six weeks and that drop-in class is open to all StoryAtlas actors. The fate of the on-camera class will be determined by its attendance over this six-week period. However, it is certain that – in six weeks time – we will establish an amazing Intermediate class that works to provide the fundamentals of great acting: beat work, objective, script analysis. It is unlikely that I will teach this class myself, but I will personally train a new StoryAtlas instructor to lead this new group. The Intermediate class will also go in five-week cycles and I will attend the final class of each cycle to provide feedback. The idea of the Intermediate class will be to empower actors with such a secure grounding in the fundamentals that you can then fully benefit from the newer, emerging techniques of Sunday night. And who knows? Maybe the more traditional approach of the Intermediate class will naturally appeal to some and that’s fine, too.
Change can be unsettling. But I’m a risk-taker by my nature and it feels like the right change.
If you have any questions about the new classes, please let me know. We will send out invitations for the flagship Sunday night master class no later than Monday, May 15th.
Hunter Lee Hughes