ABOUT SHANNON STURGES
Shannon is a UCLA graduate and professional working actor with over twenty five years of experience. Born to two working actors and the granddaughter of legendary writer/director Preston Sturges, you can say that acting has always been is Shannon’s blood but her career took off after she was discovered by Aaron in a college acting class and quickly became his protege.
Shannon’s extensive TV and film credits include starring roles in feature films S.W.A.T. The Shift, and Mr. Write, television movies; Wives He Forgot, with Molly Ringwald, Tornado, with Bruce Campbell, and Silent Predators, with Harry Hamlin. Other television credits include guest starring roles on Nip/Tuck, Cold Case, Charmed, Brimstone, and recurring characters on Boomtown and Extreme, and the daytime dramas Passions, Port Charles and Days of our Lives, and the recent sketch comedy pilot Running da Streetz wit Doug Williams. When Shannon starred in the hit Aaron Spelling series Savannah she was selected as one of “People Magazines’ 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.”
Married and the mother to two young sons, she is thrilled to bring her training and experience to the top acting class in LA to help both beginning and experienced actors. As a teacher who has been a working actor for more than two decades Shannon is uniquely qualified to help you become a working actor yourself.
“Legacy: Shannon Sturges” – Television Academy
“Tips For Acting With Confidence From Acting Coach Shannon Sturges” – Motherhood in Hollywood
“Acting Coach Shannon Sturges Uncovers Big Questions Every Actor Wants To Know” – The Modern Actor
Former student Will Smith visited the Spiser-Sturges Acting Studio for a long chat on acting
A teaser trailer for Aaron Spiser’s DVD, The Business of Acting.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld stopped by the Speiser-Sturges Acting Studio to talk about the film business.
Spiser-Sturges Acting Studio orientation video
IN CONVERSATION WITH SHANNON STURGES
What make you happiest in this job?
This is going to sound a little self-aggrandizing, but I feel like I change people’s lives. I can’t guarantee that anybody is going to be a working actor, but I can guarantee they are going to get to know themselves. They are going to get to understand that the bad things that have happened to them are now usable and in their actor’s toolbox.
Giving them confidence or breaking down fears is incredibly rewarding. Some of them go on to be working actors and some of them go on to lead other lives. Acting is the only art form where people think success is paid in jobs and fame. Nobody asks if you want to be Picasso if you take a painting class. My students often worry that they are too old or not attractive enough or any other seemingly negative attribute, they have a lot of reason why they (or they feel society) thinks they shouldn’t- and yet they are compelled to give it a try. They are very brave and you learn a lot about yourself and relationships when you study acting.
What is it that makes the techniques you teach here at Speiser/Sturges so unique?
It all comes down from Stanislavski as does almost all current modern acting. We primarily focus on film and television here and we believe in doing all we can to empower the actor. Nobody judges themselves more than an actor. I think a lot of the techniques and skills that you learn at Speiser / Sturgess are going to be useful in your life; e.g. to be present, more confident, to be non-judgmental and to have compassion. What’s interesting is non-actors benefit enormously by being taken out of their comfort zone. I’ve worked with a lot of attorneys who want to work on how to present themselves in front of a jury. I also had a surgeon who was in LA for a time and thought his patients might benefit from what he learned about connecting with others.
Many of your students (Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith) are household names. Tell me about the younger ones who are beginning to make their mark.
There are two remarkable sisters who come to mind, Anna and Abby Pnoiwsky, who are my private couching clients. Anna was just called a staggering revelation by the LA Times for her latest film opposite Casey Affleck and Elizabeth Moss. They’re both truly remarkable. Francia Raisa And Jake Allyn are amazing talents who are working non-stop these days. We also work with so many students of color and it has really been fabulous to see so many more opportunities for them.
This is a happy place, one of joy. Why?
Nothing makes anyone unhappy more than not following a dream. When someone says to an aspiring actor, “Oh, how long are you going to do that before you get a real job,” know that you are dealing with unhappy people who never pursued their passion, it’s not about you. Our students are usually really positive and satisfied that they’ve taken a step to feed their soul. Then the person who tells themselves I’m not going to pursue this dream because it won’t happen for somebody like me has already accepted defeat. Anyone can have a burst of success at 32 or any age and then maybe nothing for a while and then at 45 more success. Who knows, right? I know actors who are multimillionaires who are miserable. Is that success?
What is success?
I think success as an actor is being believable. I want to prepare my actors for a career but whether they have one or not is really out of my control. That said, any time I see an opportunity to help somebody get a job or at least to pursue their passion, I’m there.
How important is it for an actor to be in school?
I think there are some people who we would say are “naturals”. They never had an acting class, don’t need one. But why not? If you love it, it is practicing your art. A naturally good tennis player, musician, sculptor, writer — they usually practice weekly if not daily. That said, I think it’s very important to study. Most working actors can sometimes feel like an impostor, a fraud that they just got lucky. School helps to give them the confidence that they know what they’re doing and a grounding in the fundamentals. Also, by watching other actors they learn perspective and shading. It’s also really fun! So yes, I think everyone should be in school! It also lets you stretch. There was an actor who did a wonderful take on If Beale Street Could Talk in class. It was amazing to witness because most of the roles he’s up for aren’t like this character….but he got to work on it in class and when given an opportunity he’ll be prepared. Let’s say you’re always playing the sexy girl but you want to work on a different type of role. You can come into class and work on something different while continuing to hone your craft.
What is it that made you transition from acting to teaching?
I taught earlier in my career and I found it difficult to teach and work as an actor simultaneously. I didn’t want to abandon my students if I got work. I was able to have a fabulous and successful career and now I want to help my students achieve that as well. Now I’m 50 and have been teaching full-time for over five years. Now that I’m older than most of my students, they understand that I have the experience and the intuition. Most teachers haven’t been lucky enough to have he career that I have had. I can understand almost every situation my students have on set and with auditions. I truly believe that this is what I do best. I understand what the students need to hear. I like to help them. I don’t want to steal the spotlight from them. I want it to be their part and I want them to have the ownership of it. I just want to help them, and so it is what I was meant to do. I love it. It’s such a wonderful and collaborative thing to empower the actor. If I’m working with a celebrity who is more established, it’s the same thing. They generally have the most wonderful and amazing instincts, but they don’t allow themselves to discuss these things with other people because they’re supposed to know what they are doing. They’re getting millions of dollars and they’re just as collaborative as somebody who is new I think. When you go on a movie set and you look around and see all of the people that are there for the camera, lighting, wardrobe, etc. I often think, “Who’s there for the acting (actor)?”
I’d never take anything away from what the director brings because it’s their vision with the actor. But acting is the only job on set that everybody thinks they can do, but they can’t. Everybody thinks they can just stand there and say lines, but that is not what acting is.
How can you tell if a student has it, or is that a myth?
I don’t think it’s a myth. I think there’s something special certain people have that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s being present. It’s being willing to fail. It’s having that “f—k it” quality because that’s exciting. Isn’t that what we want to see? We want to see truth and beauty and messy and when people are too in control, they can still have the gift. I think everybody’s got talent. It’s being able to get out of your own way and the difference between waiting for the line instead of listening to what the person in your scene is saying. Sometimes it will be somebody who is gorgeous, sometimes it’s somebody who is very unusual looking, sometimes it’s somebody who is the most ordinary-looking person, but they all have something. You want to watch them and usually it’s the vulnerability of being present.
Are you called to set to help your student with their character or the special moments?
Yes, I do that a lot and it also depends on who is paying me. If the actor is paying me, then I’m usually a more subtle presence in the background. I don’t want to step on any director’s toes and I never have. Sometimes when I’m on set I give notes to the director and then the director can decide whether or not to pass those notes on. There are so many variables. It depends on the relationship between the actor and the
director, depends on what their relationship is with me because I always want to make sure I’m not stepping on anybody’s toes. Sets can be wonderful creative places and they can also be filled with tension and drama. I’ve also been working intensively with some first-time directors lately who want to learn skills that let them be their best with actors. Even with amazing actors a director must give them what they need to get the performance they want. So much is about communication so I teach language and verbiage to directors. They soon realize that actors are creating raw footage for them and the editor to put together. I’ve seen some terrible performances that became great on film and good ones that are like oh, that’s an interesting choice.
Are there different techniques you teach for film vs television?
With theater you are projecting everything out with film and television you’re bringing everything in. You’re pulling the audience in instead of pushing yourself out. There are other theater habits, like rehearsing and blocking that are different when working for the camera.
How has your grandfather’s legacy influenced you first as an actor and now as a teacher?
I’m such a huge fan of my grandfather’s work. I love the idea that I’m directly related to somebody of that kind of creative genius. I like to think or hope that I’ve inherited some of that wit.
Didn’t he win the first Academy Award for Original Screenplay?
Yes! They renamed it that year and this was the first time it was Best Original Screenplay. He won it for The Great McGinty, the first of three nominations in that category. He’s also the first Hollywood figure to establish success as a screenwriter and then go on to direct his own scripts. And he sold The Great McGinty for ten dollars to Paramount so he could direct it. Back then writers were not directors, you didn’t get to do both. He kind of broke the mold on that. And then my grandmother, who was married to him during his prolific time of creativity also raised me. So, I feel like she had a lot to do with his creative influence and I think I got some of that through just being with her.
Was your grandmother in the business?
No. Her first husband was one of the founders, I think, of United Artists. Not sure if that counts! The family legend is that my grandparents met at a Hollywood party and danced together then talked for four hours and then sparks….her first marriage was over.
That sounds like it’s from one of his movies!
It really does. I was watching The Lady Eve with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyk recently and there‘s that brilliant moment when a horse is getting in on their picnic. I wondered where he got the idea from and it turned out to be something that happened to my grandmother on a date!
How many students are enrolled?
We have over 200 students. I’m proud to say that we’ve doubled enrollment since I bought the studio.
Do you think the famous names that have been through here add a luster?
Absolutely, I think Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez have been very generous to us in terms of mentioning their work with Speiser / Sturges. That definitely encourages people to study at the same place actors they admire study.
Tell me about the connection you feel toward the students and anything you’ve learned from them.
I’m committed to seeing what my students need and what I can do to best support them. I think they are so brave. It makes me think about that quote from Theodore Roosevelt about getting in the arena and being brave. I think my actors are so brave. They are getting into the arena, they’re trying. I feel very protective of my actors and can get a bit sensitive when I see shows portraying actors playing other actors. Every once in a while, when a script takes a low blow or focus’ on an actor stereotype, I get a little defensive. They’re so brave.
Aside from your grandmother, who had the most influence on you as an actor and teacher?
That’s easy. It would definitely be my partner, Aaron Speiser. He was and is my mentor and pretty much my only teacher. Aaron gave me the greatest gift when he said I was a wonderful actor, but should be a teacher. The clarity put me on the path I’m on today, thankfully.
Any thoughts about the future of Speiser / Sturges?
We want to make sure that if we grow, since people are always asking about other locations, we keep the quality intact at every location. Right now we’ve got three main teachers: Aaron, Indrani, and myself. It’s imperative that people who come to our school always get the quality they’ve come to expect at this location.
WHEN YOU’RE READY TO DO WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR!