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Money In The Air At Actors Center

March 08, 1987|DEBORAH CAULFIELD

The newest service that hundreds of actors have paid for--whether they can afford it or not--is the new Actors Center of Los Angeles, the brainchild of showcase producer Michael McCabe and former casting director Sam Christensen ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show").

With $200,000 invested by family and friends, McCabe and Christensen have produced what is advertised as a "service and training facility for professional actors," or, as McCabe described it during an interview, "a one-stop shopping mall for actors."

The so-called "mall" comes in the form of a gleaming, three-story, 15,000-square-foot building in Studio City leased by McCabe and Christensen for the next 10 years. Inside is a veritable candy store for actors.

The center's physical facilities include: a broadcast-quality TV studio; a 75-seat theater; video and audio tape editing studios; meeting and rehearsal rooms; offices for photo, resume, job referral and mailing services; a computer casting service; a small cafe; and, soon, a bookstore. (Larry Edmunds recently announced that he will open a mini-version of his Hollywood Boulevard-landmark original bookstore, which features an extensive collection of entertainment-related books and publications.)

There apparently is no end to what actors need to know, judging from the center's curriculum (papers have been filed with the state to accredit the center as an educational institution).

Close to 100 classes, workshops and seminars cover 14 areas of the trade--from acting, auditioning and camera technique through photography, video and voiceover work.

The "faculty" includes casting directors (such as Mike Fenton and Mark Malis, who had previously offered workshops through McCabe when he operated Michael McCabe Productions), episodic television directors (Don Petrie, son of feature film director Dan Petrie) and other actors (such as "Cagney & Lacey" regular Robert Hegyes and comedian Avery Schreiber).

According to McCabe, actors joining the center are "evaluated" ("calling them 'auditions' scares newcomers and offends professionals") by actors working on staff to determine their ability level.

The specific offerings range from impressive to banal. Among them: "Dialect Workshop," "The Shakespeare Class," "Perfecting Comedy Camera Technique," "Director's Lab/Feature Films," "Winning at Interviews," "Circus and Variety Skills," "The Glamour Spokesperson," "Conquering Cue Cards" and "The Money Voice." A class is even offered in "Making the Most of the Actors Center."

And, of course, there are the ever-present cold-reading showcases, featuring most of the same casting directors who formerly attended to Michael McCabe Productions. (McCabe folded his operation into the Actors Center.)

None of this comes free. A membership at the center costs $185 for a year, a sizable outlay for actors on a tight budget (most are). Yet, after just six weeks of operation, the center boasts 750 members.

Whether or not these are actual working actors is unclear. McCabe said he hadn't calculated the percentage of professional actors (i.e., those with union cards) among the initiates.

"It really doesn't matter to me, as long as they have some talent," he said. "There are a lot of good actors out there who aren't union members."

The $185 in no way makes life free at the Actors Center. Dues-paying members pay discounted prices for services and courses and are allowed to attend others for free (the freebies are mainly of the self-help variety, such as stress management or weight loss).

Cold readings range from $15 to $18 for members and $20 to $25 for non-members. Workshops and seminars can run as high as $650 for 8 sessions, but most are in the $200 to $300 range.

Members also are eligible to participate in the center's "work-study" program, in which actors may work as production assistants or camera operators in lieu of paying for a class. Or, they can be paid in cash for their time, at $5 per hour.

For attending cold-reading showcases, the center pays casting directors between $100 and $200, depending on the number of actors at their sessions (it takes at least 20 for the $200 payment).

According to a prospectus for investors obtained by Calendar, by the end of 1987 the center anticipates returning the initial $200,000 to its 10 investors and, per the agreement, 50% of the remaining profits.

General partners McCabe and Christensen (who will split the other 50% with the third partner, McCabe's wife, Lori) estimated in the prospectus that by the end of the year the center will have close to a quarter of a million dollars in "distributable profits."

By the end of 1988, those estimated profits will more than double to $600,000.

Acknowledged McCabe: "Sure, I'm a businessman, but I'm an actor too. There's never been anything like this for actors ever . Let people say what they like, I'm proud of the accomplishment."

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