Carson School launches Professional Development Series for performers

Casting director Sylvia Gregory, C.S.A., visits with students and faculty virtually in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film on Feb. 26 as part of the new Professional Development Series.
Casting director Sylvia Gregory, C.S.A., visits with students and faculty virtually in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film on Feb. 26 as part of the new Professional Development Series.

Carson School launches Professional Development Series for performers

calendar icon03 Mar 2021    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Lincoln, Neb.--The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film has launched a Professional Development Series to bring guest artists in monthly who focus on professional development for performance students.

“I created the Professional Development Series to provide our performance majors the opportunity to engage with industry professionals in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the professional expectations and business practices related to the profession,” said Associate Professor of Theatre David Long, who is the head of the performance area in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

Beck Damron, a senior theatre performance major, said it was helpful for students to hear from these industry professionals.

“It is so helpful to hear from working people in the theatre industry because we get the unique chance to hear their perspective on everything,” he said. “I hope to get more knowledge about what’s going on in the real world so I can be more ready to start my career. This series is important because it is giving me more comfort going out into the real world after I graduate.”

Hannah Mason, a junior theatre performance major, said their training has had to look different than usual in the pandemic, and this series is an important part of filling that gap.

“We are currently in a global situation that has forced our training to look a lot different than usual, and we are no longer accessible to hands-on learning opportunities, such as filming on-set or performing in a play,” Mason said. “Since we are now limited in the ways that we can educate ourselves, bringing in current and accomplished professionals from all areas of the film and theatre industry is a great alternative because we now have the chance to ask these questions that only experts can answer. At UNL, each day I am improving as an actor, but I’m reaching the point of my training where I have to start thinking about post-graduation and learn about the business side of theatre so that I can have a healthy and successful career. Learning about other’s experiences and how they got started is extremely beneficial because it serves as a point of reference for all of the different options I can take in the future. Also, each individual presents their own tips and tricks to make you a better performer, so I want to take advantage of all these educational opportunities to make me more fit for this career.”

The series began Feb. 26 with a virtual casting workshop with Sylvia Gregory, who fielded questions from students and answered the question: What do casting directors look for in a good audition?

Over the last 10 years, Gregory has cast SAG (Screen Actors Guild) feature and independent short films, video games, commercials, web spots, print ads and ad campaigns for numerous national and regional commercials. She got her start casting as an associate at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts and then partnered with Cathy Reinking, former casting director at NBC. She opened her own agency in 2010 and has since cast the episodic films “Encrucijada” for PBS and Univision, which won the Heartland Regional Emmy in 2015. 

She is currently the casting director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. She is also a member of The Casting Society of America.

“I loved Sylvia Gregory’s presentation so much. It was so great to hear from a current casting director about what is working and isn’t working in today’s market, especially with Covid-19 still being a common thing,” Damron said.

Michael Zavodny, a senior theatre performance major, said Gregory’s presentation was helpful.

“On top of giving a good overview of what a casting director looks for in an audition and call back, she gave lots of useful tips and information about specific aspects of the industry, including theatre, film and commercials,” he said. “She put things into the perspective of the person hiring. A good example is how every detail and word of a commercial is agonized over by the writer for marketing impact, so it has to be performed precisely as written when you audition. She made it very clear that if you know why the casting director wants specific things, and you can give them that, you are much more likely to get the gig.”

Mason said the information aligned with what she is learning in class.

“Coincidentally some of the things that Gregory mentioned perfectly aligned with our current unit in my Intermediate Acting II class, so it’s reassuring to know that the information being taught in my courses is up to date and accurate with the modern industry,” she said. “At one point in her presentation, Gregory mentions that you should continue your training after college because even if you only learn one thing from a class, then it was beneficial to you. Between discussing professional websites, self-tape techniques, the equipment you might need, and other content, new ideas and concepts were brought to my attention, so I would consider this class to be very helpful to me.”

Damron appreciated Gregory’s advice on what to do and not to do when self-taping auditions.

“A very real thing in the arts right now is self-taping for auditions since we can’t be in person at the moment,” he said. “She brought up the do’s and don’ts for submitting a self tape, including having good lighting, gesturing less and having a plain background.”

On Friday, March 5, students will have the opportunity to attend an acting workshop by Jake Robinson and his industry friends from New York, who will present an interactive and informative workshop to inspire students. Joining Robinson will be New York talent manager Laurie Smith of Smith Talent Group and casting director David Caparelliotis of Caparelliotis Casting, along with other guests to be announced. 

Robinson graduated from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and then relocated to New York, where he found work in several independent productions. He picked up greater screen roles after his breakthrough on “The Carrie Diaries” (2013), where his role on the series spanned two seasons.

Zavodny is looking forward to his presentation.

“He’s a young, successful TV/film actor, which is where I hope to be in a few years down the road,” he said. “I’d love to hear his advice and experiences, plus the advice of the other professionals who will be part of the session. In this particular session, we’ll have an opportunity to perform scenes in a mock casting call. Getting that kind of professional feedback is an incredible opportunity.”

Long said the School plans to offer these professional workshops each month throughout each semester.

Damron said hearing from these guest artists helps him see a fresh perspective on the theatre industry.

“It’s a great learning series for young actors about to graduate and move on into the real world,” he said. “Mentally, it helps me calm down, and with all this knowledge, I know I am going to be alright. I love that they bring these guest artists in, and I hope they keep this series alive and keep it growing. It’s an amazing opportunity for us students.”

Mason also hopes to attend the future workshops in the series.

“Post-graduation, we won’t have as many opportunities to connect and talk to accomplished individuals in the industry, so I want to take advantage of this resource as much as I can,” she said. “This is the time to ask those burning questions to agents, casting directors, actors and others in a supportive and educational environment so that I can be as prepared as possible for when I graduate. Also, this is a great networking opportunity, so I hope that by asking these questions and attending this series, I can begin to make a name for myself and build those connections.”

Mason also said the series opens up career options for theatre students.

“I feel like when many young artists come to college, they think there are only two career options in theatre: an actor or technician,” she said. “Workshops like these show young professionals that there are a myriad of job opportunities that need to be filled within this industry. Between line producers, camera operators, on-set acting coaches, dramaturges, fight choreographers and more, there are so many opportunities to create a successful career. Knowing this information allows for this profession to appear significantly less intimidating and emphasizes that there is space for everyone.”