MY FIRST ACTING CLASS-November 2020
It didn’t take long for me to find an acting class in Hollywood; it would the first acting class in my life. A friend of ours was an actor and recommended Tony Barr’s Film Acting Workshop. He had attended classes there and felt enthusiastic about their approach to acting.
Tony Barr was a CBS executive who worked in the same department as Anita. He headed the development of television series, mini-series, and movies. As executive producer for the network, he supervised Magnum, P.I. and Simon & Simon. Prior to being a TV executive, Barr was an actor in small roles, usually playing gangsters and heavies. He claimed that he was typecast and wanted to help actors to learn techniques that would prevent them from being typecast as well.
Classes were held on a small studio lot in Burbank that belonged to either Warner Brothers or Columbia Studios. The night I started classes I remember walking through the dark lot to a building in the back of the lot where classes were held. I wondered about the person who was walking ahead of me. Was that someone going to the same place as me? Then he turned into another building.
The curriculum I signed up for consisted of two classes. One was a scene study class and the other was a film acting class. Tony Barr taught scene study. Upon meeting Tony that first night, he did look like a gangster. He was tall and very skinny. His eyes had heavy bags under them, his hair was salt and pepper, and he spoke in a soft pleasant voice.
Barr’s approach to acting was to listen to the other actor, experience what the actor was saying or doing, and react to it. The first night I was given a scene from some sort of detective scenario. All I remember is a line of dialogue about brandishing a nickel-plated revolver.
The film acting class was two days later with another instructor. That class was with a video camera. We did scenes, they recorded them, and watched and critiqued them at the end of the evening. I had heard my voice on tape before that but now I had to get used to hearing my voice and seeing myself. I remember one night we did a newscaster show which was lots of fun. We got to play news anchors and weather forecasters. The funny part of the scene occurred when one of the anchors sat on a whoopie cushion. Over the next few months, I learned a lot about acting and gained confidence.
Years later, I would see Tony Barr around Studio City swinging his long legs out of his car. He had a black Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. In other words, the front doors opened like a regular car but the rear doors were hinged in the back of the door. If both doors opened, the insides would face each other. In my recent research, I read that Tony Barr passed away in 2002 at the age of eighty-one.
I’m grateful to Mr. Barr for getting me started as an actor. He was a kind and nurturing teacher. Over the years that followed, there were many more acting classes, more about them later in the book. I felt they helped keep my instrument in-tune, especially when acting jobs were few and far between.