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Q&A with Gregory Berger-Sobeck

by Diane Miller | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Theatre | October 10th, 2013

Top LA acting teacher to host workshop in Fargo

Gregory Berger-Sobeck, a top Los Angeles acting coach and MFA graduate of the Yale School of Drama (the same acting school that brought us Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand) will be giving a workshop here at Theatre B.

While pursuing an acting career in LA in 2007, Fargo-native Justin Barnum was looking for a good scene study class. After seeing a friend give a dazzling performance at a theater in LA, he couldn’t help but ask who her teach was. She told him about Berger-Sobeck’s class at Berg Studios.

Not longer after this conversation, Barnum audited Berger-Sobeck’s class and then became a student.

“The technique that he teaches has been instrumental in my development as both an actor and a teacher,” said Barnum, who got his master’s degree in acting from Western Illinois University and now has his own acting studio in Fargo.

“There is no one in the country teaching acting in the same way that Berg is, and this has been duly noted by casting directors, agents, managers and actors all over Los Angeles,” Barnum said. “If you look at his website, you will see the working actors that attribute their acting success to the technique they learned in his class. Berg has won best scene study teacher, best private instructor, and best monologue coach multiple years through Backstage reader’s choice awards.”

Those with a strong interest in pursuing acting as a career could highly benefit from this workshop. Folks are welcome to attend one or all three workshops, either as an observer or participant.

“I’m hoping that this workshop will expose some people in the community to the fact that there is good acting training being done in Fargo,” Barnum said. “And that students who are passionate about their craft, like the students that I’m working with, can take advantage of this opportunity before they go on to college or grad school or New York or LA cause sometimes you don’t know when the opportunities exist and you don’t get to take advantage of it.”

Berger-Sobeck graciously offered his insights on acting to the High Plains Reader to give people an idea of what to expect at the workshop.

HPR: In reading through your website, it seems as though one of the biggest barriers we face as aspiring actors is our tendency to focus on ourselves and what we are doing right and wrong, rather than the script, our imaginations, etc. What is one of the key ways you help actors combat that?

GBS: The best way to combat self consciousness is to focus on what you personally are saying with the material -- what you are trying to release in yourself or change in others.

When I am considering things more universally I can speak my truth through the character and not worry about judgment. Orson Welles says, "The work is as good as it expresses the artist who creates it." So, it is a strange dichotomy that the farther I go into myself, the more I can escape into fantasy and imagination (which are the real things we are after as actors.) It should always be childlike and fun. No kid ever begins to doubt the games they create through wrong or right.

So I create an atmosphere of exploration rather than execution, discovery rather than result and, finally, encourage the actor to consider their own visceral experience rather than how it may look to others. Ultimately, imagination can hopefully become a tool to help others reality.

HPR: What do you mean by "Freedom is the ultimate goal of technique"? Freedom of the imagination? Freedom to mold yourself into the mind of another character? Freedom from you "inner voice"?

GBS: Technique and structure are a means to freedom. That freedom is simply living in the unknown where there are no specific predetermined goals. Now that is scary, as we all have our ideas of how and what we should be and do … mostly given to us. But, the unknown is the place for the artist to live. The unknown allows us to see our own lives in a vibrantly new way, to constantly reevaluate and reconstruct what we want out of life. So that we are really paying attention to our own lives and constantly guarding ourselves from cliché or predictable behavior. So that we can grow ... To allow the character to educate and teach us through his or her own imaginary experiences is freedom. The freedom for us to listen.

HPR: Knowing how extraordinarily competitive the acting world is in LA, what do you think it is (besides perhaps fame and fortune) that motivates people to want to pursue such a daring career?

GBS: I think acting is not a choice. It is a necessity to those who pursue it. It is a passionate need to challenge a deep inner voice that has to speak through someone else's humanity ... and by doing so you explore your own humanity. Acting takes patience and dedication and to move from asking yourself "How am I seen" to "What do I see?"

This takes selflessness not ego, because you speak on behalf of someone else's soul -- the character. And then that character speaks his or her own truth. If someone is not voraciously curious about life and exploring their own motivations, it may not help them through the unstable times. It’s about what I can bring to the table, not what I can take.

HPR: Do you teach different techniques to stage actors as compared to on-screen actors?

GBS: I think there is no difference in screen acting training and theater. Hopefully, I just teach good acting. There are a lot of myths surrounding what is screen acting. Those myths are exposed by how many people from classical programs (Juilliard and Yale etc.) become great screen actors without training for the film. Meryl Streep is a good example.

I will be doing a workshop at Juilliard eventually, as I have taught a lot of their graduates, and my discussion at Juilliard was that there has to be a way for formalized training to translate to adventures, practical choices in the LA casting room. A lot of people reduce their spirits and creativity here for the concept of what they think screen acting is. That reductionism explains why a lot of the Australian and English actors are taking over the market here. They don't have a lot of acting for the screen there. So I am here to joyfully debate those myths.

HPR: You have three days to spend in Fargo with aspiring actors. What do you hope is the biggest thing those who attend your classes will take away from this experience?

GBS: I would first expect we have great fun and experience. If it is not fun, it is not worth doing. That the actors come out with seeing those around them and themselves slightly differently and that they have more empathy to their own perceptions. And lastly, for them to get a realistic taste of what the work is and for a few to be able to consider if this may be a path for their lives. But most importantly, to explore and have fun!

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