The Masters

Charles E. ConradCharles E. Conrad

Sanford Meisner was a member of the Group Theater along with Lee Strasberg, Wendell K. Phillips, Stella Adler, and Clifford Odets. Meisner broke with the group over a difference of opinion with Strasberg involving the validity of many of Lee’s teaching techniques. Meisner then founded the famous Neighborhood Playhouse, where he taught for some forty years. In the early fifties a young graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Charles Eric Conrad was hired as Sanford’s primary teaching assistant. In the ensuing ten years, Charles taught such acting luminaries as Robert Duvall, Susan Sarandon and Jack Nicholson. In the early sixties, Sanford sent Charles to Los Angeles to take over the training of the contract players at Twentieth Century Fox. Soon after, Charles left Sanford to start his own school. Charles refined Sanford’s teaching techniques. He eschewed classic Meisner exercises such as “repetition” and “door and activity” in favor of the simple, powerful handling of dialogue.

The Conrad Technique

Like Meisner, Conrad relied on the Repetition Exercise of learning scripts (fast repetition of the words until they are memorized). Without memorizing any actions or feelings. So that when it became time to perform an actual scene or exercise, each actor would depend on the other for his or her source of acting. But the most noticeable difference between the two men (other than their personalities), was that Charles implemented the text of actual scripts into the exercise. Stripped of any direction or pre-disposed feelings. Unlike most exercises or performances, the words were simply memorized and were not meant to come to life, until your attention was on the other actor as a path to “here and now” moments in a highly intuitive state.  This brought his exercises to life, just as in real life moments in time.

The exercise was always carried out w/ two cameras (one focused on each actor) with a table and 2 chairs the only props and without the 2 actors doing any kind of rehearsal together, whatsoever. His teachings were primarily for use in film and the intimacy of the naked truth that is only revealed through the eye of the camera, in the “Close Up” shot!

The simplicity of the Conrad’s message was that the technique would allow the creative process to kick in resulting in each actor living moment to moment in a highly intuitive state. The work required that the actor stay out of his or her own way, to allow their partner to create the circumstance in which true feelings would be engendered. In other words, Conrad’s students were trained viscerally rather than cerebrally, which meant their work was usually spontaneous and natural. Succinctly, the source of acting for each actor was his or her partner, thus the process of Re-Acting, not Acting.

Charles believed that the characters in scripts were in fact real in some time, place and existence in the Universe. That once put down on paper, that they did indeed exist. That it was the object of the actor (in getting out of the way), to allow the character to come to life through him/her in this here and now existence. That the character knows better than anyone how to behave and react in order to create the essence of each moment, in any given scene.

Some of his methods (teachings) revolved around the disciplines of “Zen in the Art of Archery”, the objective of the archer, was not so much to hit the target, as it was to hit one’s self in the target! Thus opening the door to that which could not be seen or even exist in an over rehearsed (manufactured or artificial reality) scene. But rather only come to life in that moment, whereby the actor is no longer in himself. But in the eyes of his partner across the table. As with the archer, his actual target is in each and every moment the target is struck. Finding ones self in the eyes of your partner, then succinctly leads to the actor being displaced by the character in the script of the scene!

Although no cameras were used in the first early years of The Charles Conrad Studio, magical moments were later thus captured on camera for that actor to use as an audition tape. Captured with professional quality cameras (and tapes) revealing the myriad of nuances and innuendo that we are all inherently unaware of. Except in the subconscious mind of each moment!

Thus Charles E. Conrad’s students carried his super real techniques for acting, into their own real lives, as shining eye to eye examples of the man (great teacher) he was himself. As his students (whether Academy Award Winners like Dee Wallace (Stone) or the ones that never performed beyond his classes, each took with them lessons for a lifetime!

Conrad Quotes

“A high level of energy in a relaxed instrument with focus of attention away from yourself is the greatest source of acting.”
“Art isn’t made great only by what’s included but by what was left out too.”
“I really hate the word scene because it denotes and encourages fake acting.”
“Fake actors can describe a bowl of fruit to an audience. Great actors allow the audience to reach through them and taste it.”
“Learning film acting without cameras is like trying to give horseback riding lessons without a horse.”
“If you don’t know who you are you’ll never be an actor.”
“It isn’t the just the grand brushstrokes that make a Rembrandt great — it’s the small subtle strokes as well.”

Charles E. Conrad Trained Actors

The list includes: Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Joanne Woodward, Ed Begley, Jr., Kim Basinger, Corbin Bernsen, Susan Blakely, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Lynda Carter, Joanna Cassidy, Damian Chapa, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tyne Daly, Kevin Dobson, Michael Dorn, Greg Evigan, Teri Garr, Linda Gray, Veronica Hamel, Mark Harmon, Penny Marshall, Ali MacGraw, Chuck Norris, Joe Penny, Michelle Pfeiffer, Valerie Perrine, Victoria Principal, Dennis Quaid, Diana Ross, Talia Shire, Suzanne Somers, Philip Michael Thomas, Karen Valentine, Thomas Polanski, and dozens of others.

wendellkWendell Phillips 

Founding Member of the Group Theater, Teacher, Director, Producer, Designer, Performer, b. circa 1908 Blandinsville, Illinois, USA – d. Oct 06, 1991 Berkeley, California, USA

Wendell K. Phillips was an actor whose career in film was cut short when he was blacklisted during the 1950s for having joined the Communist party some twenty years before. Wendell began his career on Broadway during the early ’20s, and it was Broadway to which he returned during the ’60s.

One of the founding members of the Group Theater and a teacher at the Actors Studio, Mr. Phillips taught Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Robert DeNiro.

He began directing while continuing his acting career, and worked with stage greats including Orson Welles, Ethel Barrymore, Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman. Among his most notable Broadway roles were Grandpa Crane in ”Comes the Revelation” and Alfred Metcalf in ”The Solid Gold Cadillac.” He won a best supporting-actor award for ”Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” His movie credits included ”The Glass Case” in 1939, ”The Burglar” in 1946 and ”The Kiss of Death” in 1947.

J. SheltonJean Shelton

Retired Jean Shelton is considered one of the finest acting teachers in the country. Her career began in New York City in 1947 when she began acting at the American Repertory Theater with Broadway actor/director Wendell Phillips whom she later married. She was closely associated with Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, and Lee Strasberg, (considered the founders of the American method style of acting) among many others. She acted and directed in New York during the 1950’s and for Tennessee Williams in his first play “Hello from Bertha” in 1956 to his delight.

She left New York City in 1961 and married Robert Elross where they founded the 14th Street Arts Center and the Playhouse Theaters before establishing the acting school that bears her name. She has been a consultant for major motion pictures, television studios, and film directors and has been encouraging actors for over 50 years now. Her students have won Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, Obie Awards, and countless local awards. She received the Payne Knickerbocker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.

bobby 2Bobby Moresco

Robert “Bobby” Moresco is an American producer, screenwriter, director and actor. His credits include the films 10th & Wolf and Crash. Moresco’s script for Crash won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which he shared with co-writer Paul Haggis. He was also a co-producer of Crash and has acted in three films and also made guest appearances in shows such as The Equalizer, Miami Vice and Law & Order. He has written scripts for the television series EZ Streets, Millennium, and The Black Donnellys.

In 2012, Moresco received the Pioneer in Screenwriting Award at the Burbank International Film Festival.

The Actor’s Gym was started in 1978 when Bobby and a group of friends realized they had outgrown their acting classes but still needed a space to work their craft each week. This organic idea became a safe place for actors and writers to take risks.

At The Actor’s Gym, because there is no teacher, it is the responsibility of the artist to know what they need to work on in order to grow. It is an open forum discussion group. It is the artist’s choice whether or not they would like feedback from the group. The moderator (Bobby Moresco) will always ensure the feedback is constructive.

Although Bobby has often said, “Nobody knows what they’re talking about, especially me because I do the most talking”, his insight, artistry, and wisdom are extraordinary resources for an actor or writer to tap into.

There is only two mandates at the Gym: When you step on stage, leave a piece of your soul behind. When you give feedback, try and help.