Daphne Kirby Acting Workshops

"Although I had many other acting teachers in New York, Larry Moss is the one who I consider to be my mentor. He helped me lose my fears, get technically clean and really understand the process of acting. But I think the greatest gift he gave me was a very gentle, nurturing, supportive attitude while maintaining very high standards of work.

When I moved out to Los Angeles in 1980, I started working professionally and didn’t study until Larry moved out here - and then I joined his professional class. When I win my academy award, he’s going to be the first one I thank.

When I started teaching, I looked deeply inside myself to see what helped me as an actor, because I think I was pretty typical in the sense that most actors have baggage from their childhood, judgments about expressing emotion and a lot of fear about being vulnerable.

You know, acting felt very scary to me in the beginning. So I have great compassion in my teaching and a reverence for the art, and I use the techniques that I have found to be most productive.

Even though I'm known as someone who helps people master the auditioning process, my work isn't limited to that. When someone calls me up, I often have a private, hour and a half interview with them and we cold read together. We talk about the process of how they have learned to break down a script: do they work with intentions; what's their past training; what's worked for them? And I start working very gently and intimately with them to make more specific choices in the script.

I like to work with intentions right away, which gets them to be active rather than passive. I'll then share with them what level I feel their work is at. And in this session, they can also see if they like the way that I work, and my energy.

The acting student and teacher relationship must be based on trust, for the actor must feel comfortable enough with the teacher to expose their most vulnerable areas - which are usually the areas of fear and anxiety. It is an essential ingredient for an artist’s growth, because you’re exploring human behavior and you’re exploring your own process, your own psyche, your own emotions, sexuality and intellect.

I adore actors. My class has a very supportive environment and what I try to do is build on and reinforce the actor’s strengths. I consider myself a very honest teacher. So it’s a delicate balance between pushing somebody to go forward and still supporting what they have.

My class is primarily about approaching the work for TV and film. So when the students come in, I give them a three or four page script based on their physicality and their type. They then have about 40 minutes to memorize the script, make their choices and practice it out loud.

Then I start putting them on-camera as if this were the actual audition and I work with them to get the audition to the level of either a call-back or a booking. If the emotional condition is off, I will work with the actor emotionally; if the physicality of the character is off, we’ll work on that; if the choices are non-specific, we work on coming up with different intentions and using their own life to call forth theses experiences. So it’s very individualized.

I also try to simulate as much as possible the things that actors are faced with - the pressure of auditioning for the networks, or for producers. Out here in Los Angeles, it’s really the whole package that they’re buying, which is very uncomfortable for some actors to realize. And it’s not always the best actor who gets the job.

I don’t have very many real beginners in my class, I consider it more a professional class. If an actor is way below the work level of my class, I’ll offer to teach them for several months privately until they get up to snuff.

In my private coaching I work with people on preparing for specific auditions and I also work with people who are very fragile, who have a lot of fear and they’re scared to go into a class.

I think my strength is my personal knowledge of the business because I’ve been an actor for 24 years myself and I’m still a working actor. So I know what it requires to have a professional career. And the other thing I do, which I could have benefited from when I was a young actor, is career counseling.

So the actors in my class are not only working on the art and mastering the craft of it, but I do everything from helping them write letters to agents, to submitting themselves, to counseling them about their pictures, to getting them very clear on how they’re going to be cast and what their strongest suits are. I get them very aware of what I call their trump cards, which are their individual strengths as actors.

I teach a class with very high motivation in the sense of going out there and making careers happen. I make goals with the actors and I usually have actors enthusiastically keep them. It’s not me being a task master, but we sit down and make goals together in a very realistic game plan of getting the career going. And I’ll even go as far as advising people that they’re not dressing right, their personality is off or they need to do some work in therapy.

I take on the whole person; I guide them and hold their hands because Los Angeles can be very scary and very frustrating.

I love the people that I have in my class and I love seeing them grow. I love seeing people get excited about the possibilities that they can create. Also, I teach with a lot of humor.

I try to lighten the load, because I usually find a group of actors to be very anxious, frustrated, tense and very scared that their careers won’t happen. So, we have a lot of humor, a lot of rapport and I can’t think of any place that’s more fun.

Sometimes, when I’ve worked all day and I’m exhausted and I go, ‘Oh no, I have to teach tonight,’ all of a sudden the class is an hour over and I’m high as a kite and I can’t sleep at the end of it."

(Reprinted from ‘The Actor’s Guide To Qualified Acting Coaches In Los Angeles’ by Larry Silverberg)

Daphne Eckler-Kirby