In Atlanta’s growing film/TV industry, very few acting schools have been able to gain the respect of top acting coaches in Los Angeles. Husband and wife team, Bob Harter and Della Cole, of yourAct Acting Studios have done just that.
Offering various classes for all age groups, as well as hosting workshops with such esteemed Hollywood coaches as Margie Haber, Bob & Della understand how important it is for Atlanta-based actors to receive proper training. I Am Entertainment Magazine sat down with Bob & Della at their Atlanta studios to talk about film and TV in the Southeast.
Please tell us where you’re from and how did you get your starts in film?
Della: I’m from Mobile, Alabama. I’ve always wanted to act, but I started my actual career in dinner theatre in my late 20’s. My first on-camera acting gig was a national commercial for Dollar General and I was pouring iced tea. I was so excited, and I think my pay was something like $50 (laughs). I wound up in Atlanta and was an understudy at the Alliance (theatre) on the production, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ which lead to me replacing the lead actress in the show. The morning after the opening of the show, Kathy Hardegree at Atlanta Models and Talent called me and said they would like to represent me. That began my on-camera career.
Bob: I’m from Knoxville, Tennessee. After graduating college, I had no clue what I could do with a Psychology degree, so while working at the Hyatt (hotel) in Knoxville (TN) I decided I wanted to be a movie star (laughs). I had to get to Los Angeles, so I sent my resume to all the Hyatt hotels in California. I only got back one offer, and it was from the Westwood Hyatt (near UCLA) to be an “Assistant Food & Beverage Director.” So I flew to San Diego, stayed with a friend and bought a car. I learned how to drive a stick shift on the freeway from San Diego to Los Angeles (laughs). Fortunately, when I got to LA I got a good acting coach and an agent. I got my agent with a fake resume (laughs), which I’d never do today, but I did it then. I stayed in LA from 1977 to 1988, and while there (LA), I did ‘Three’s Company’ and a couple of other things but that was it in over 10 years. So I moved to Atlanta and took an improv workshop where I met an actress who introduced me to her agent. That agent was Kathy Hardegree from Atlanta Models and Talent, the same agent as Della.
When did you decide to establish yourACT Acting Studios in Atlanta, and what prompted this move?
Della: Actually a play we were doing where we toured various military bases prompted the move. I was directing the show when 9/11 happened, and we didn’t think the tour would be happening since we were backed by the military, and companies that supported the military. But we got the call that we were needed more than ever, and the show kept going, mostly on airbases. I had more bomb dogs sniffing my butt than ever. (laughs)
Bob: After 9/11 we started to ask ourselves, “What do we really want to do?” As actors get older, they sometimes work less and less, and we had always had the dream of having our own school/theatre. So one day, Della happened to be driving down North Druid Hills Road (in Atlanta) and saw a small 1,000 square foot medical building with a lease sign out front. We decided to lease the place but by the time we remodeled it into two separate little rooms with an office, it was barely enough space. Within a year we outgrew that location and had to move to a 3,000 square foot space, where we stayed for 3 years. We then relocated to our current location (in Atlanta), which we share with Sketchworks Theatre. So now yourACT has three large on-camera studios, a studio where Della teaches voice-over, a recording suite for VO demos, 2 offices and a lobby. Sketchworks is a 100 seat theatre complete with dressing rooms, prop and costume rooms, concessions, office and a very cool lobby.
We often hear actors ask, “What is a good monologue for me to use?” Can you address that?
Della: Monologues can be a difficult thing for some actors. However, we all need a dramatic and comedic monologue. It’s always great to have one prepared but it’s the scariest thing to do. I actually wrote a book on monologues called, “Unraveling the Mystery of Monologues.” In this book, and at yourACT Studios, we teach that a monologue is still a dialogue; you have to have a beginning, middle, and an end. And you should choose a monologue that gives you levels of emotions—lots of colors to play with. And you must know who you’re talking to and why. This is why I think so many people struggle with it. It’s because they forget that they are still talking to someone, it’s just that the other person isn’t talking back. And for some reason, actors tend to “perform” monologues. I guess they still relate them to theatre. But they should be very real and just live the life of the person they are portraying.
Bob: Della was an agent for a few years, and she can tell you that agents and casting directors know within the first 30 seconds if you have it or not; actually, about the first 10 seconds. Also, from the actor’s point of view it’s kind of hard to do a full range in such a short span of time. With monologues you have to remember that, just because the person isn’t talking back, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have to be able to express why what you’re saying deserves that other person’s attention. If you are interested and involved with them, the agent will be interested and involved too.
Della: One of my goals with, ‘Unraveling the Mystery of Monologues,’ was to have something that actors don’t have to set up. There’s nothing worse than having to tell agents or casting directors what’s going on in the monologue. If those listening can’t figure it out, then it’s not working. Also, actors should keep in mind that many agents and casting directors don’t want to see a monologue from a movie, because it’s very difficult to erase the wonderful performance that was giving by the star that did it in the film. If you must choose to do a film monologue, bring your own life and personality to the piece. Make it yours.
With so many films shooting in the southeast over the past 12 months, what are some of the most common misconceptions that many new actors have about acting as a profession?
Della: Not being prepared for what is expected of them on the set and in the audition process. In the excitement of getting into a major film, or even an indie film, they might think they can just wing it. You don’t want to learn on the set. Also, the actor will have a lot more fun when they are confident and prepared.
Bob: At yourACT, we try to duplicate what the actor will experience in an audition and on a TV or film set. On-camera classes are important. We can talk until we’re blue in the face, and actors can dismiss what we say in class, but when you let them see themselves on camera it puts things into perspective.
What are some of the classes that you offer at yourACT Acting Studios?
Bob: We teach actors of all levels, from beginning to advanced, Kids to Adults. We teach specialized workshops such as Voice-over, Teleprompter and Monologues. We also have some of Atlanta’s top directors
and producers teach specialized workshops. And of course we are the only studios affiliated with Margie Haber Studios in LA. Margie was voted the top cold-read coach in LA. She’s amazing and teaches worldwide. On the last night of our ‘On-Camera 1’ class the actors get a one hour, ‘Business of Acting’ seminar that covers the basics of an acting career. We cover things like, headshots, resumes, agents, audition dos & don’ts, etc. But it only scratches the surface of a film career. I tell our actors not to submit to an agency until they’ve gone through ‘On-Camera Acting 2,’ and they’ve got a couple of monologues ready to go. The reason being, what happens if they do call you and you’re not ready?
Della: I recommend that actors don’t do headshots until after they’ve completed On-Camera I so at the very least they understand the Business of Acting. Then they’ll know whether they really want to continue, and if so, they know what they need to do at the headshot session, how to put together their resume’, etc. And when they get their materials, they are going to start submitting to agents but the agents need them to know what to do. They aren’t going to take them on and then wait for that talent to train enough to be sent out. It doesn’t work that way. You have to be ready to go out for commercials, film, corporate videos and TV. I know it’s hard to take steps when you’re excited about becoming an actor, but you could shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t.
If you could change one thing about the film industry, what would it be and why?
Bob: Ironically, in our “Intro class” we have our students do an improv monologue that says, ‘If I could change one thing, I would (blank).’ But they have to do it in some character that they must create.
Della: What I would change about our industry is already happening, in that we have been slowly raising awareness in LA about what we have to offer in the southeastern film market. Every phase of our business
from casting to post-production is stepping up to accommodate the films and TV series that are coming to Georgia. And they’re continuing to come. Plus events like ‘Atlanta Film Festival’ and ‘Atlanta Film Festival 365,’ who offer Independent Filmmakers ways to learn their craft. Georgia Production Partnership and Women in Film and Television Atlanta (WIFTA) are other ways to be a part of and become familiar with our industry. And sources like I Am Entertainment Magazine are a big part of the movement that’s promoting and educating Atlanta’s growing film market. We are Hollywood East. We have to step up to the plate and we are.