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  • Alum Ludovic Coutaud Brings Lunatic Clowns to the Drama Book Shop

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    New York City is a thrilling and challenging place to be an artist. For NYFA Acting for Film Conservatory alum Ludovic Coutaud, creating site-specific shows crafted to play off iconic performances spaces within the city has helped him forge a specific and entirely original path as a performer, producer, and creative director.

    Coming up this summer, Lunatic Clown And Cie, the international theatre company Coutaud founded and serves as artistic director, brings The Book Wives Club (or The Closeted Beards) to the iconic Drama Book Shop library. Here, he tells the NYFA Blog what it’s like to perform original clown shows in New York City, and why it’s important for artists to produce their own work.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?

    LC: I studied Acting for Film at NYFA in 2011, and had a blast learning from this very talented faculty. I had visited the campus two months prior as a New York tourist with my parents and loved the idea of studying acting in another language among other foreigners. That is something that makes New York Film Academy such a strong, diverse school. We were 12 students in my class and only three Americans were present. I remember liking to call my class the United Nations of NYFA.

    NYFA: Why acting and directing? What draws you to storytelling through performance?

    LC: I started directing in Marseille, France where I am from, with my first acting teacher directing the end-of-year kids’ shows. It was a true leap of understanding the craft even better, and I found myself being able to communicate my directions more specifically having known what it was like to receive notes. It also taught me the importance of collaboration.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    LC: I loved every class for several reasons. The one I discovered entirely and had the most fun with was maybe Maggie Reed’s TV Sitcom and Soap Opera class during the second semester. These formats are very uncommon where I am from (especially the laugh tracks in the background). I learned lots of new tricks and techniques that I still use to this day.

    NYFA: Tell us a bit about your company Lunatic Clown And Cie. What inspired you to start the company, and how do you juggle your multinational and genre-bending productions?

    LC: I have written, directed and produced a dozen of shows in New York City under my name and I have developed a new style through these selections of projects. I’m now six years into the process — but I’ve been called a “clown” all my life!

    For those who know, clowning is a word that resonates out of the ordinary for certain cultures. For example, here in America clowns are often associated with birthday parties and dark serial killer stories. Well, my company, style, and the values behind every show aren’t remotely close to that. I call my clowns “tall children,” or poetic souls. Many names could be found. The style is complex.

    When I first discuss it with the actors involved in my company, I share information with them — like a chart of what to do and not do, and how to find the goal to achieve. Each clown piece is one simple, heartfelt story. I want to always find all the possible nuances and converse about the topic with all my clowns one on one.

    After 7 years juggling between the arts and other wonderful jobs, I have luckily been able to maintain my main target to why I came to New York in the first place. That’s also why it was time for me to brand all of my style under a name that would be catchy, mysterious yet personable: Lunatic Clown And Cie.

    NYFA: As a producer and performer, what challenges do you face when creating your shows, and how do you overcome those challenges?

    LC: Producing a show is hard work, yes, but if you do believe thoroughly in the project, things seem to flow a bit more. Throughout the years, struggles have shifted. My hat of producer joins creative, executive (financing), and supervising roles. Where other projects would hire three people, I found myself loving to do these three positions. My style being different, I needed to have very strong collaborators by my side who would understand me 100 percent. From show to show, I have found that person to assist me along the way on one or two projects, co-direct or even invest in the shows — and most importantly, friends who believed in my work.

    To this day, gathering a group of passionate risk takers, willing to join a community of artists and be clowns, has been a challenge. From all these hats, I would say I added the one of “eager artist hunter” to amplify the panel of the performers who I had the chance to work with.

    NYFA: Your summer show The Book Wives Club (or The Closeted Beards) uses clowning to explore the theme of denial. What an interesting combo — what led you to this theme? Why this show, now?

    LC: The Book Wives Club (or The Closeted Beards) takes on the very important theme of denial indeed because it has been a subject of mine for a long time. My first short play Denial was a success, also at the Drama Book Shop, in 2016. It was a piece with words and lots of audience members came to find me afterwards and said, ”Did you write this? Thank you. I would love to see more about that theme from you in the future.”

    I remember thinking how interesting that was, so I did find the inspiration to write two new pieces: Look at Me, and now this one. This time, I decided to explore that major topic through physicality only. Again, you realize that clowning and performance art here is the same family for me.

    Timing is very interesting and the society we live in fascinates and aggravates me at the same time. I had a list of eight shows of mine waiting around and I picked this one because I got the Drama Book Shop. This the third time that I have contacted the Drama Book Shop team. Four pieces of mine have swept the stage of the Arthur Seelen Theatre already and this time I had decided to rock the library.

    That location is ideal for several reasons; it is an actor’s temple, it gathers stories waiting to be told, it is a pleasure to work with the staff and is a centered location for many involved. The show is not Rated R but for everyone. This piece is for all. I look forward to discussing this piece with the audience members.

    NYFA: What’s next for you and The Book Wives Club (or The Closeted Beards)?

    LC: The Lunatic Clown And Cie show Voyage will be next at the New York New Works Theatre Festival 2018 at Theatre Row in September.

    NYFA: Would you say that your time at NYFA was at all useful for preparing for the work you are doing now?

    LC: NYFA was indeed very helpful since I had the chance to work on several student films and learned from other departments and teachers. My curiosity and the proximity of campuses made me eager to keep learning and that hasn’t changed.

    Congratulations, Ludovic! If you’re in New York City, get your tickets for The Book Wives Club (or The Closeted Beards) here.

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  • Face 2 Face by New York Film Academy’s Matt Toronto Now on Netflix

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Instructor Matt Toronto has just signed a two-year deal with Netflix to stream his film Face 2 Face.

    Together with his brother Aaron, Toronto wrote Face 2 Face about growing up in the age of social media. The film screened at the Manhattan Film Festival and had its premiere at the Edmonton International Film Festival, where it won the jury award for innovation.

    The movie follows two teenagers, Teel and Madison, who rekindle a childhood friendship online. Soon, they begin sharing their lives over the internet as a means of coping with the typical problems of adolescent life even though they are at opposite ends of the popularity spectrum. Madison in an A-list party girl, and she takes pity on Teel, the social outcast, vowing to help him win friends on social media.

    As their relationship deepens, Madison falls for Teel. She forces him to confess the hidden cause of the bullying he faces. His admission sets off a sequence of events that ultimately motivates Madison to expose her own secret. This digital coming-of-age story examines some of the most pressing and difficult social issues facing teenagers today.

    The story was inspired by a vacation Toronto took with his family years ago. While directing a play at the University of Utah, Toronto would FaceTime his wife and kids every night before bed.

    “At one point, the thought struck me,” Toronto said, “If we were talking about something interesting, this could be a movie.” That was when he decided to write a movie that takes place completely over video chat.

    As a professor working with young people, Toronto saw the effects social media had on his students. “I was working with young people all of the time. I could see how they interact with technology,” he said. “Teenagers seemed like natural choices for the heroes of the film.”

    As he dove further into the script, he decided to reach out to his brother, a counselor who has treated many people struggling with the same issues that Madison and Teel face in the script. “Aaron was able to bring a real authenticity to the characters and their development,” Toronto said. “But one of the most important inspirations came from a close cousin of ours who suffered in much the same way that Madison does in the film. We made this film in her honor.”

    Face2Face | New York Film Academy

    Some of the issues that the film focuses on include bullying, sexual identity, suicide, and sexual abuse. Raising awareness was a vital part of the filmmaker’s goals, but Toronto described a realistic and honest portrayal of friendship as the true heart of the film: “The film is about the power that friendship has to help us change, to help us become better people, and to help others as well. I hope the movie will inspire people to be friends. We can all be better friends to anyone who needs one. That’s the kind of thing that changes lives.”

    Toronto credited his time with the New York Film Academy to opening his worldview. The diversity of the school’s student body, in particular, had a profound effect on him. “I learn every time I teach,” he said. “That diversity has brought new insights and perspectives that I might never have found. Each student expands my point of view on the world and on the craft.”

    As an Acting for Film instructor stepping behind the camera, Toronto was able to bring a lot of the lessons from his classroom to the set. “My experience as an actor and an acting teacher are both essential to my work as a director. Actors are the humans that give life to the characters in a script. My background allows me to participate in that process with skill and compassion. I see my actors as designers.”

    To any actors looking to make their debut behind the camera, Toronto offered this advice: “Learn the craft of directing.”

    Matt Toronto | New York Film Academy

    NYFA Acting for Film Instructor Matt Toronto

    As intense as it is to learn the craft of acting, it’s equally important to focus on the details of directing. Toronto warned that it takes years to master directing, but there’s no better time to start than now. “The best actor/directors are the ones that respect both crafts, and put in the effort to grow as artists and storytellers throughout the entire process and on every project.”

    Toronto is working on several new projects. He’s keeping it a family affair, working with his wife to develop three television pilots and a feature, and working on two features with his brother, Aaron Toronto. Though it’s thrilling to see his film as he scrolls through Netflix, Toronto says that hasn’t been the most rewarding part.

    “About a week after it was released,” Toronto began, “I got a message from a viewer through the film’s website. In it, she shared that she was a teenager struggling with depression. She had been planning to commit suicide, but after watching Face 2 Face, she decided she wanted to live. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Knowing that our film had helped someone in such a profound way is worth more to me than all of the artistic accomplishments in my entire life. That’s what art is all about.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Toronto on all of his hard work. Face 2 Face is now available on Netflix in the U.S.

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  • New York Film Academy Alum DonnaLee Roberts in Production for Stroomop in South Africa

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    DonnaLee Roberts via IMDB

    New York Film Academy Acting for Film grad DonnaLee Roberts is a model for on-screen performers seeking to build their own career, their way.

    The prolific, award-winning South African performer-turned-writer/producer is now shooting feature-length adventure film Stroomop, in which she not only stars but also serves as co-writer and co-producer.

    Stroomop is the directorial debut of Roberts’ frequent collaborator and fellow South African A-lister Ivan Botha, who shared the screen with Roberts in South African blockbusters Vir Altyd and Pad na jou Hart, which the team also co-wrote and co-produced.

    Screen Africa reports that Stroomop is slated for a nationwide release on South Africa’s Women’s Day, Aug. 9, 2018, through the distributor Ster-Kinekor Entertainment.

    Roberts, who holds South Africa’s prestigious Huisgenoot Tempo Award for both Best Actress and Best Feature Film, told Screen Africa that she did some serious water training in preparation for Stroomop, which follows five women on a whitewater rafting misadventure on the Orange River.

    “My character finds herself in a situation where she must take the lead in rough waters,” Roberts said, “So it was crucial for me to be fully prepared for the challenges of filming on the river.”

    At a moment when the eyes of the world are on Hollywood’s gender imbalance, it’s especially exciting to see Roberts leading the way both on screen and behind-the-scenes as a content creator. Roberts summed up her strong work ethic and inspiring outlook well in a previous interview with the NYFA Blog:

    “In this industry we are all creative beings. Create the world you want to play in, create the characters you want to portray. It takes long hours of hard work, commitment and passion to make your dreams come true. The 8-Week Acting for Film Program at the New York Film Academy inspired and motivated me even more. I thought, I can now do this by myself. I don’t need to wait for success to fall onto my lap.”

    Bravo, DonnaLee!

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  • Felix Everding on Inspiration, German Soap Operas, and What to do in New York City

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    For international film buffs, Felix Everding is becoming a household name. The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Conservatory grad has run the gamut of television roles in his native Germany, from portraying  Mark Böcking in the wildly popular Sturm der Liebe to Dennis Grabowski in the poignant Rote Rosen, Everding is stealing hearts and lighting up screens both large and small across Europe.

    We had a chance to catch up with the busy NYFA grad to hear his advice on finding inspiration at home, preparing for television roles, and what to do when you find yourself in New York City.

    Felix Everding. Photo copyright: Renate Neder.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    FE:  My Name is Felix Everding, and I am an German actor. I grew up in Munich, Germany, and later went to study at the New York Film academy in New York. Today I work as an actor in Germany for television and film.

    I became aware of the New York Film Academy through a friend of mine who I visited in New York. I had always been interested in studying acting in New York, and had done some studying at the Terry Schreiber Studio in New York before. The Academy aspect of NYFA, meaning that the different departments work with each other — filmmakers, actors, producers, etc. — and the international aspect is what got me interested in the New York Film Academy.

    NYFA: Why acting? What inspires you most as an actor?

    FE: I come from a theatre family. My grandfather was a theatre and opera director, and my father is a theatre director as well. I was exposed to theatre and opera at a very young age, and so the magic of the stage and acting captured me quite quickly.

    When I was 16, I knew I wanted to be actor. I think the art of acting is a wonderful tool to bring stories of all sorts closer to the audience, by making it a personal experience and therefore more relatable. We’re storytellers.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    FE: There are many moments I like to look back at from my time at NYFA.

    The acting department becomes great through it’s teachers, and I was lucky to have a couple of really great teachers — some who have actually studied under and worked for Sanford Meisner himself. That was definitely a highlight for me.

    And then, of course, spending lunch breaks and many late nights with my fellow students. There was a certain camaraderie that developed. Still today I call some of my fellow students friends.

    NYFA: As an international student, what surprised you most about living and studying in New York City? What advice would you offer your fellow NYFA students who are pursuing their dreams from around the globe?

    FE: New York in itself is a surprise.

    The city and its energy plays a main part in this whole experience. New York is mind-blowing, especially for a kid from Munich.

    If I had to give one recommendation for New York: WALK! New York is a fantastic walking city. And behind each turn can lay a different world!

    NYFA: You’ve been quite busy working in German television, from Rote Rosen to Sturm der Liebe to Tatort. How do you prepare for your roles?

    FE: That is different for every role. Mostly the first parts you get in television or film are rather small. (Although, of course, the saying is true: there are no small parts, there are only small actors!) So you don’t always get an awful lot to play.  

    Usually I read the script and try to find anything that relates to my character so I can build a certain foundation. Then, step by step, I imagine the world and circumstances my character lives in so I can work out my motivation. And then through learning the lines everything comes together.

    NYFA: In Rote Rosen [Red Roses] you had a long character arc. Can you tell us about that experience?

    FE: In Red Roses I played a character for five months, which gave the chance to really create a character and lead him through a journey — although this experience wasn’t without challenges.

    It’s a daily show, so they shoot one 50-minute episode per day, which means you have very little time on set to try things out. So you really have to have your character and lines set and must be ready to react and change things quite quickly on your feet.

    NYFA: What advice can you offer to NYFA students about transitioning from the classroom to working in television?

    FE:  It’s always different when you’re on a professional set for the first time.

    All you can do is trust the things you learned and be open to learn new things. Just observe how things work on a set and keep an open mind.

    You’ll be fine!

    NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

    FE: I have a couple of TV projects coming up, and a TV movie with a great German director is gonna air pretty soon. I am very excited about that project because I play a dark character, which was a lot of fun.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Felix Everding for sharing a part of his story with the NYFA Blog. Learn more about our Acting for Film courses here.

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    March 15, 2018 • Academic Programs, Acting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1145