It’s a quiet Sunday night at Maravilla, at least on the outside of the Calle Real clubhouse. Inside, there are some heavy scenes going down. In one, a pregnant woman in a bathrobe who may or may not have committed murder crawls on top of a table, the better to seduce and hire the lawyer she wants to represent her in a competency hearing. Next door, another couple is having an argument over her infidelity. He’s very nearly caught her in flagrante, and for some perverse reason, he insists on asking her for all the nasty details. No, Maravilla has not suddenly become a hotbed of melodrama. (I’m sure it’s always been that way!) It’s just the Sunday-night home of Peter Frisch’s actors’ studio. Here, students act out scenes, all the while being shot and lit with professional gear; there are master shots, over-the-shoulders, and all the other trappings of a real film or television shoot. The scenes are the culmination of the third round of rehearsals leading to tonight’s final projects, which will be edited and produced for inclusion in the actors’ reels.
Frisch moves confidently from one setup to the next, coaching the actors with a light touch and deftly coordinating the shooting sequences with the two cameras. He behaves like the experienced producer/director that he is, having produced television’s daytime classic The Young and the Restless, among many other stellar credits. In Santa Barbara he is perhaps even better known for his efforts on behalf of the new Granada Theatre, where he was the executive director for eight years and where he presided, frequently in a hard hat, over the building’s extensive remodeling.
Today Frisch focuses on his burgeoning clientele at The Frisch Studio (thefrischstudio.com), an acting program through which he offers classes in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Los Angeles. The next 16-week sessions begin January 20 in all three locations and include the class I observed, Character Arc: Multi-Scene Study, which is primarily intended for advanced and Equity actors who are looking to sharpen their skills and build their reels while traveling back and forth to Los Angeles for television and movie auditions. The other courses are Character Masks on Tuesdays in Santa Barbara, The Actor’s Craft on Wednesdays in Santa Maria, and the wild card, something Frisch calls Dirty Acting, which he teaches in L.A. on Monday nights.
When asked about his influences and about how he distinguishes his method of training from among the many schools of acting out there, Frisch says, “My influences mainly took shape in opposition to what I saw going on in other actors’ studios. As I sat observing other people teach acting over the years, I often found myself thinking ‘that doesn’t work’ or ‘there’s an easier way to explain this.’”
The Character Arc curriculum gives a good example of what Frisch is talking about when he says he’s offering something new. Most acting classes offer scene study and critique, but it is much more unusual to run into someone who is willing and able to guide the actor through several scenes from a feature-length script, with cameras, in order to create the experience of developing a character in a real film. This difference has clearly made a difference — at least if the performances I observed at Maravilla are any indications. The talent on display was noticeable, but even more impressive was the discipline, as well as the strong sense of an entire cast and crew working as a team. Come to think of it, the best analogy would be to an actual film set, which is, I suppose, the point.