BY CARY GINELL
VC On Stage would like to welcome a new sponsor for the months of August and September. Joshua Finkel’s Creative Combustion Acting Studio helps its clients build and polish audition or callback material, build an upcoming role, create a one person show, build a college audition package, film and submit audition videos or create customized cabaret acts. We spoke to Joshua, who enthusiastically filled us in on details concerning two upcoming fall classes.
VCOS: First, for those of our readers who might not be familiar with you, tell us a little about yourself.
JOSHUA: Well, I’m a Broadway performer. I did Kiss of the Spider Woman and Les Miserables for eight years straight – two four-year runs for each. I then segued from that into directing and directed the San Francisco premiere of Songs For a New World, which was where I met Jason Robert Brown. Then I went on to direct Falsettoland up in San Francisco and around 2000 started really concentrating on directing in addition to my acting. Because I was directing up there, my colleague, who is now deceased, sadly, his name was Richard Nickol, we did the tour of Les Mis together. He was one of the most prominent voice teachers in San Francisco and developed the San Francisco Academy of the Performing Arts, with which I helped in the acting portion. So we would do master classes. I was working in Sacramento at the time, so on my day off, Richard would have me in on Monday nights to be the guest panelist or teacher at his vocal performance master class, which involved coaching actors on song performance. So that’s where I really began doing the coaching thing. I had a lot of his clients in San Francisco and then I started coaching in L.A. and even on Skype. It was pretty amazing. I have my undergraduate degree from U.C. Irvine in theater, where I explored many different kinds of theater and then supplemented that with my graduate MFA training in classical theater from UW Milwaukee, which has now relocated to the University of Delaware. Lots of us in that class were also very musical; I played Franklin Shepard in Merrily We Roll Along, and my wonderful classmates Broadway star Linda Balgord played Mary and Idaho Shakespeare legend Tom Ford played Charley. An amazing company of actors! There was a tremendous amount of work that capitalized on all that versatility. I’m an actor who really sings but I’m also a singer who really acts, as well as dances and moves. But I do classical theater, I do voiceovers, and I have a lot of versatile training, thank goodness, and that’s why I can pretty much coach anything. People come to me with all sorts of stuff so I’m kind of a really good one-stop-shop for building college audition packages. I can work and suggest contemporary monologues, classical monologues, musical theater, and I also make video submissions at my studio for actors to submit to casting. One of my master classes is cabaret act creation so if you’re building a one-person show, we can do it all in my studio.
VCOS: Regarding cabaret acts, one of the things that actors are most concerned about is standing out from the crowd. Having seen some of your cabaret students, I see that you stress their own unique personality. How do you apply this to your acting/coaching courses?
JOSHUA: Well, I try to personalize everything to that person. Finding their substitutions, their associations from things in their own life, things they’ve experienced, things they understand, so that they can really feel like they’re living what they’re talking about.
VCOS: So there’s a comfort level you set right at the beginning.
JOSHUA: Oh, absolutely. I like to say “how do we find the ‘you’ in your work.” As opposed to trying to be somebody else or copy what somebody else did. Ultimately that’s what I hear from doing these director/audition panels, which is one of the classes I’m teaching. All the top casting directors and agent managers who I work with always say, “Bring yourself into the room. I need to get to know you.” So instead of second-guessing what they are looking for, you want to apply yourself to what they are looking for because no one can do you better than you, as opposed to trying to be Betty Buckley or Kristin Chenowith. Of course there’s a certain box in that character that you need to fit into, but your own sensibility and character will help you get the role. It’s a combination of both things.
VCOS: Tell me about the two classes that are starting up.
JOSHUA: The first one goes on Monday evenings, beginning September 12, from 7 to 10:30 pm at New Musicals, Inc. in North Hollywood. I call that my Build Your Audition Book class. It goes for six Monday nights during September and October. Basically, what you will be able to do is build and polish four or five new audition songs that are perfect for you. That’s what the focus of the class is. Every week you will get rehearsal tracks in your key for a sixteen-bar, thirty-two-bar, and full version of the song you are working on, so you’ll have a library of tracks for you to rehearse before you go to auditions. We work on the emotional breakdown and the physicality and vocal styles of the song. So by the time the class is over, you will have several songs that are really right for your current casting. You start by bringing in one or two pieces so we can get a sense of your voice and who you are. Then we start to suggest, based on your casting, your vocal type, and what you bring into the room, roles and songs that would be good for you. We build a legit up-tempo, a legit ballad, a pop-rock up-tempo, and a pop-rock ballad, and then any kind of speciality song that would accent that – it could be a comedic cabaret number, it could be jazz-blues, it could be country, whatever would fill in what is missing from your book. You might need a sixties pop song for an audition that’s coming up. So we can build that into your book. If you want to take more time and build only three songs and work on them longer, I go along with that, too. I just want you to feel really comfortable so that by the time you leave, you’re ready. But it’s a chance to gather and get as much material and prep as you can. And I always offer discounted private coaching anytime anyone takes my class. So if you want to come to me privately during the time of the class, you get that for 40% off what you would have to pay to study with me normally. Also, if you mention VC On Stage when you come in, I will consider that a referral, which would entitle you to fifteen minutes of free coaching at your first session. So if you pay for an hour, you get an hour-fifteen. And then if you refer me to someone else, you would get fifteen minutes of coaching, which would be good for a year. I track the packages and I track the referrals. So if you refer four people and they come in and do their first session, you can get an hour of coaching for yourself for free. It can add up pretty quickly.
VCOS: What is the second class that’s starting up?
JOSHUA: The second class is my ongoing Director Audition Panels. Those are two-session classes: a prep session and then a panel session where you get to meet, work with, a build a great relationship with a top director, casting director, or agent and manager of theater in Los Angeles. That is a really rare commodity. There are film and television workshops every two feet in this town, but we bring in people that specifically cast Broadway and the Broadway-on-film stuff. These are the artistic directors of the top theaters in this area. These are only eight-person classes so there is a lot of one-on-one time. You can have a Q&A session with that panelist; everyone gets a thoroughly filled out four page questionnaire where the panelist tells you everything you wish you knew about them – how do they like you to dress, what do they like to see, what don’t they like to see, all that stuff where you would say, “Oh, I wish I knew all this before I sang that song for them.” That’s all in the questionnaire. Then we prep the work that that panelist has requested on the questionnaire during the prep session. It might be songs or monologues or scenes, cold readings, whatever that panelist wants to see. Then, the following week, we do it with the panelist, and then there’s a fun feedback session where you can ask the panelist things like “What songs or roles do you think would be good for me,” “How do you box me?” or any final thoughts on your next step in the process. You will really feel like you met and worked with Lewis Wilkenfeld, for example. And you will feel that the next time you go and meet with him in a real audition room, you will have a completely different level of comfort and familiarity where they will know your rainbow and will have a whole different perception of you when you walk in. Building relationships like this are really important for you if you want to work in this town and get jobs in the theater. And this is a great way to get that to happen and get fantastic in-depth information about that person. You can customize your audition to that panelist and really be able to give them what they want. We have six different panelists coming in for the fall class, and that starts on Wednesday, September 14. The first panelist is Mark Measures, who is the head theatrical agent of KMR, Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates. He heads up theater departments for L.A. and New York. This is the head of the agency, so that’s an incredible opportunity.
There is a lot more information about Joshua Finkel’s master classes at his website, www.ccactingstudio.com, so by all means, check it out. You can go directly there or click on the ad at the top of our home page to find out more about Creative Combustion Acting Studio. In a few weeks, we will talk to Joshua about his upcoming starring role as accused murderer Leo Frank in the powerful and emotional musical Parade, which is being readied by Panic! Productions for a September debut.
If you would like to become a VC On Stage sponsor and have periodical articles written about your theater-related business, write to Cary Ginell at [email protected] for rates and terms.