Zak Barnett Studios today launches their Membership Program providing actors access to award-winning industry executives.
As an aspiring actor, you watch legends on screen that can be identified by just their first name- Meryl, Tom, Denzel Washington- these are all names that are synonymous with tremendous work done on the silver screen. But how did they get there?
For every aspiring talent, the lure of Hollywood is great, but the chances of burning out are equally great. Successful thespians rely on a team to get them to their career achievements. For many, that includes great acting coaches and a supportive environment to learn, train, and expand their craft.
One of the top studios in Los Angeles is Zak Barnett Studios, with almost 80 students currently working as series regulars!
We sat down with Zak to discuss the studios methods and their new VIP program which launches tonight with a party and panel featuring: Kenny Ortega (Creator: High School Musical, The Descendants, Julie and the Phantoms); Jonathan Abrahams (Emmy and WGA Winner, Creator:The Arrangement, Producer: Mad Men); Dailyn Rodriguez (WGA Winner, EP & Showrunner: Queen of the South); Stacey Osei-Kuffour (Emmy Nominated Co-Writer: Pen-15); Korin Williams (Emmy Nominated, Co-EP: Roots); Ashley Glazier (Producer: Glow) and Micah Schraft (Co-EP, Mrs. America and Jane the Virgin.)
Tell us about your background- you started as an actor- and how you came into the world of acting and acting coach.
I’ve been an actor, writer, director since I was a kid. I remember the first thing I ever said I wanted to be when I was a kid was a great poet. Never a fireman, or police officer– always a great poet. Although I’ve worked in many different art forms since I was a kid, including being a teacher, coach and business owner, being a poet has always been the throughline. To me that means looking below the surface, and searching for the beauty, connection and meaning in all things.
When I was 17, I went to NYU, Tisch School of the Arts for Dramatic Writing. A year and a half, I suffered a traumatic incident, where I lost my proprioception-my mind’s ability to know where my body was in space. No one could explain to me what was happening, or how to fix it–I was deemed psychotic by a psychiatrist who never looked up from his prescription pad, and walked out into the world for the first time, without any roadmap, or path to healing.
Refusing the doctors diagnosis, I dropped out of school and moved to Japan in search of answers. At this point, the expression “wherever you go, there you are” comes to mind. Realizing I needed to find my own way through this, and running to some foreign land was not the answer, I moved to San Francisco and set up shop. The only way I really had of putting the world together was acting, writing and directing, so I started a theater company with my late partner/creative genius, Dwayne Calizo, and attempted to put my mind, body and spirit, literally, back together again. Acting and creating new work, became a path to healing for me. The themes of spirituality and activism were steeped in our work and process, and it got me on a path to creative and spiritual practices that would be my path to healing and reintegration.
We performed at this radical college, New College of California, and the President and Dean of the school were so interested in the work we were doing, they asked us to create a BA, MA and MFA Performing Arts Program for them. I spent seven years Co-Chairing that program which was the first BA, MA and MFA program in the country that focussed on the themes of experimentation, activism and spirituality.
I then Co-directed and starred in a film called “Less”, which was about a man who gave up all of his worldly possessions, and “chose to be homeless” in search of meaning after losing his family in a rafting accident. The film brought me to LA.
While auditioning and getting to know the LA Market, I taught at one of the big acting studios in town. I worked there for nearly a decade with actors of all ages–taught 6 or 7 classes a week, coached literally thousands of actors, and got to know intimately the needs of auditioning and working in LA. It was a great Hollywood apprenticeship and I literally put in my second round of 10,000 hours in this art form.
In creating ZBS, I wanted to put together the focus on artistic process, healing, spirituality and activism from my healing and professor days, with the rigor and specificity of my Hollywood coaching days. The ZBS curriculum and culture focuses foremost on the art and craft of acting, while integrating deep personal development work drawing on the themes of activism and spirituality. We look at acting more as a martial art–a self study and application that is done in service to one’s spiritual balance as well as to the healing of the audience and society at large. This results in actors that are extremely connected themselves, know who they are, and how they want to influence the world. This kind of work breeds charisma, and a heightened presence, or as we say in Hollywood, “star quality”.
What were the steps that led you to open the acting studio?
Step 1: Be an alienated kid, without a sense of belonging.
Step2: Begin to find a sense of belonging through acting, writing and directing.
Step 3: Lose my mind–literally.
Step 4: Treat acting, writing and directing as a way of healing myself.
Step 5: Make stuff
Step 6: Head up a BA, MA and MFA program.
Step 7: Move to LA and be an acting coach working thousands of hours.
Step 8: Realize I have something specific I want to offer the world with what I know of this art form.
Step 9: Find the best business partner in the world, Anne Hawthorne Mcpherson.
Step 10: Work harder than I ever thought, and do my best to get a good night’s sleep.
Step 11: Write a book in all my spare time.
Step: 12: Talk to you.
Tell us about the new membership program being launched by way of Party and Panel.
Membership has been something we’ve wanted to do from the very beginning. Our tagline is “A Whole Self Conservatory for the Working Actor.” We offer two distinctive versions: one designed for actors that live in or around L.A., called the “L.A. Membership”, and one designed for actors that live outside of L.A., called the “Jetsetter Membership”.
We believe our membership programs are the answer to several struggles actors find themselves in.
In terms of services, our two membership programs integrate many of the things a working actor needs most: ongoing weekly classes, audition coaching, role prep for that critical role, self-tapes, weeklong intensives like our upcoming pilot, episodic and signature “Art of the Breakout” intensives, summer camps for kids, along with community and networking events, as well as ongoing feedback and mentorship by some of the best acting faculty anywhere.
It also keeps in mind an actor’s unpredictable life and schedule, allowing maximum flexibility for bookings and travel. Finally, it provides a homebase for actors at all stages of their career to develop over many years–which in an industry that is so rife with ups and downs, knowing that you have a creative community and homebase where you can hang your hat, and will at the same time, always challenge you to reach your greatest creative potential, is invaluable.
You teach acting “for the whole self” and the importance of connecting to one’s spiritual being. Tell us about that and how it helps with the acting process.
Spirituality is a big, loaded word. Perhaps one of the biggest, and most loaded. Let me be clear, I don’t mean any specific religious orientation. However, I do believe that if you think you are alone in the universe, you won’t have the courage to let go enough to become a character. Acting is part craftsmanship and part revelation. We use our craft to create the framework for another character, understand their motives, their history, the way they walk and talk, but it’s not until we let go of what we think we’re supposed to do that the character comes to life. In that moment, we are both ourselves and someone else at the same time, and time does not exist. I don’t know how to explain the mystery of the moment when a character comes to life, without referencing the spiritual. True acting is not the art of pretending, it is the art of becoming–and that is a mystical experience.
What is the ultimate goal for an actor that studies at the studio?
To create an orientation to their process that has deep meaning and purpose for them. With that as their orientation, success becomes inevitable.
You can find out more about Zak Barnett studios, the instructors, and how to enroll by clicking here or visiting their Hollywood location.