This episode is dedicated to my friend, Valerie Berwanger & her talented family, who starred in many of my spec spots. She was brilliant, on the first take, without a class or audition. It gives me pause. See what they did here.
I had fun at my first Killian’s Adult Commercial Workshop – but not for the reason I thought I would and I’m pretty sure not for the reason Killian thought I would.
Let me walk you through it.
ADULT COMMERCIAL CLASS – WEEK ONE
First of all, the Adult Commercial Class is held upstairs. Up a steep and very narrow stairway, with a taller top step, guaranteed to make you trip unless you were told about it, which we were.
But now I know that top step was but a foreshadow of things to come.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first walked in. I had pretty much gotten the whole driving, parking, water supply thing down by the Week 4 and our last class of Commercial Foundation Class, so that was easy.
We signed in, grabbed the copy and settled in for a few minutes of figuring out what we would be selling, how we would be selling it and more general figuring out of performance and memorization.
Do any of you remember this?
I thought you might.
The copy was very similar, with the exception of the 23% alcohol content, which, to my mind, would have improved it a thousandfold.
It was something like this.
I’m not sure if our Foundation Class and Turned-Out-To-Be-Canadian Teacher Jaret Sacrey had anything to do with it, but it did cement my newly formed dislike of All-Things-Canadian.
Nobody talks like that. Nobody. Ok maybe those Non-Recreational Pharmaceutical Commercials come close, but not when it comes to cookies. Not American Cookies, anyway.
We actually, as a homework assignment, had to watch the new Oreo Cookie Campaign and figure out what emotion they were selling behind the cookie. The winner got to attend The Actor’s Gym for free. I didn’t win. Mostly because I watched the wrong campaign. I watched the one with Shaquille O’Neal. It didn’t matter that much to me. Both campaigns were not that good and no one has to convince me to eat Oreo Cookies, anyway, plus the Actor’s Gym is only $5 bucks and I can afford to pay my own way.
After a few minutes we were herded up those steep and very narrow stairs and into the room, which looked, unsurprisingly, much like the downstairs classroom. Dark walls, dark backdrop, dark floors, dark chairs, one soft light.
We were given the usual Group Explanation, which involved an extremely over-complicated bit of physicality: starting behind a table, walking around the side of the table, picking a jug of coffee and a styrofoam cup, starting our spiel, pouring the coffee into the cup, putting the jug down, walking across the room with the cup of coffee to another table, sitting at the table with the coffee, dashing off an “email” at the broken prop laptop and finishing our lines.
That was a pretty high bar for me, even with 8 hours of Foundation Class and another 4 hours of at-home practice under my belt. Just reading that copy from the paper, sitting on the bench in the lobby was difficult. Ok, maybe not for a Canadian, but it was for me, and I suspect, anyone else born in the lower 48.
Commercial Acting is unlike any other kind of acting. Not the acting part, the technicalities you have to master before you can even think about acting part.
It is difficult under the best circumstances and this class wasn’t even close to being in that sphere.
After the Group Instructions, we were thrown, figuratively, back down the stairs, and arranged in the order we had signed in, one Actor to stand at the top of the stairs, one Actor, “On Deck”, at the bottom; the rest of us in the lobby, pacing back and forth, frantically trying to memorize those verbose lines, based on Canada’s Food Guide. Our stuff had to stay in the lobby. The disposition of the class had been set.
The Net, as advertised, was nowhere to be found. As a matter of fact, if it was there, while we were signing in and walking up those stairs and getting our group instructions, it was pulled as soon as we walked in the room for the “audition” and the normally-nice-but-suddenly-turned-pretty-curt Casting Associate, Jacob, said “Action”.
I crashed and burned. As did most, but not all, of my classmates.
Once we had auditioned, we were tossed into the room next door, the only room that had enough light to see the shocked faces of my classmates as they came through the door.
There was much confusion as they debated whether it would be permitted to go back down stairs (courtesy of a back and similarly steep and narrow stairway) and grab their stuff and bring it back up.
I needed my “Supply Of Water”, so I just went downstairs and grabbed my stuff.
As in Foundation, we watched our performances and were chastised, not for our acting abilities (because that is not what this class was about, we were told), but for our acting abilities within the technical aspects of delivering copy.
Then we were permitted to do it again, with the stairs and the “on-deck” and the lobby pacing. We were told we could go “off book”, we could “play with” the dialogue somewhat, making sure to hit the pertinent information, Name of Product, Canada, Healthy, Cookie Aisle. Stuff like that.
There was less shock in the faces as they walked into the room next door and our performances were much better the second time around. Some more than others. Mine was marginally better, I thought.
Part of the problem for me was that the name of the cookie was “Afternoon Delight Cookie Bars” and no matter how hard I tried, first in the Lobby, then “On-Deck”, then at the Top of those stairs, all I could think of was two Cookies having sex with The Starland Vocal Band’s 1976 #1 Hit of the same name playing as soundtrack.
The image made me laugh so much in my head, I forgot pretty much every line I was supposed to say and almost all of the blocking.
Sometimes being 60 years old is a definite liability.
Anyway, we were given more critique and some notes and then our freedom.
I learned a lot of things that first class. I learned that Killian really liked Actors – maybe not all of us, personally, but as a group. He wants us, more than anything, to book these commercials which we are invited to audition.
And he loves this business of commercials. Small, 30 or 60 second stories that are not only meant to entertain but to compel you to buy whatever they are selling. No matter what you think, crass commercial consumerism is what makes this world go around. The fact that you’re reading this on a computer or your phone proves that.
Some of that might be selfish. As a Casting Director, I am sure he has seen his fair share of Actors stumbling through whatever commercial copy of whatever commercial he has been hired to cast and started the school to impede some of that.
I know if I had to sit through even a 3rd attempt of all of us going through the copy and the physical crap for “Afternoon Delight Cookie Bars”, I would have thrown myself down those steep and very narrow steps into the very bright lobby. So I couldn’t even imagine sitting through an entire day of that…
But, this was a class… where we were supposed to learn how to do the things that would not cause a Casting Director to throw themselves down the stairs.
As I collected my stuff and headed down those steps, out to my car, now parked in its usual spot, far from the Valets and under the proper parking sign, a nagging feeling started to develop.
There was something.. I don’t know. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
It was a thought I pushed aside that was instantly replaced by that relentlessly cheerful hit song as I pulled out of my spot and headed towards home. This class started later than the Foundation Class and I was a little peckish after eating my surreptitious Turkey Sandwich huddled in the doorway of the building, just before class. I found The Starlight Vocal Band station on Pandora and started singing.
I needed a “snack”, and I knew just which snack I wanted, and it wasn’t, nor would ever, meet with Specific Nutrition Guidelines based on Canada’s Food Board.
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