A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to once again work with one of my favorite mentors, Gary Austin. Gary visits New York only a couple times a year, so I have made it my goal to be taught by him whenever he's here. Because when the founder of The Groundlings comes to town, it's a good way to hone your skills with a mentor who doesn't pull punches and expects nothing than your best effort.
Working with Gary at Shetler Studios for the weekend proved to be one of my favorite experiences in improvisation in New York. We workshopped his new form, creating a cafe of patrons at separate tables. We would begin by interacting with our table partner, but soon would incorporate the rest of the restaurant into our world.
When you work with Gary, he has a particular intensity and attention to detail. Some are intimidated by his frankness and focus, but it's something I've always relished. In this workshop, I can honestly say I was able to do some of my best improvisation. Because of that intensity, as an actor, you quickly focus on the present moment and simply react to what your partner is offering you. There is very little thinking involved when Gary has you firing on all cylinders. It's liberating as an improviser to know that the only thing you need to be concerned with is all there for you in your partner and what they're doing. I
saw actors who I've worked with before do some of their best work in this workshop.
I'm counting down the days until Gary returns as part of Artistic New Directions' Per4mance Intensive. I'll get a whole day of Gary Austin teaching and direction around other days working with luminaries like Michael Gellman, David Razowsky and Scotty Watson. November can't come soon enough.
GARY AUSTIN is the Founder and Original Director of The Groundlings, Los Angeles’ premier character-based improvisational theatre company. Gary began his professional career as a performing member of San Francisco’s famed improvisational company, The Committee, where he worked with Second City’s Del Close. His work has been featured on NPR’s ”Fresh Air,” in major trades and in several books, including Acting Teachers of America by Ronald Rand, The Actor’sGuide to Qualified Acting Coaches, by Larry Silverberg, and The Funniest One in the Room – The Lives and Legends of Del Close by Kim “Howard” Johnson.
Gary’s students work throughout the world of entertainment as actors, singers, comedians, writers, directors and producers. His students include Academy Award winner Helen Hunt, Paul Feig (Director Bridesmaids), Helen Slater, Lisa Kudrow, Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), the late Phil Hartman, Academy Award & Emmy nominee Lindsay Crouse, Tony winner Lillias White, Jennifer Grey, the late Pat Morita (Oscar nominee), Donna Summer, Loretta DeVine, Mark Dacascos (Iron Chef America & Hawaii Five-O), Robert David Hall (CSI) and Daphne Zuniga.