An AT&T ad executive hangs up the phone, grabs his jacket, and heads toward the subway to Hell's Kitchen. It's the late '80s, and at the New York comedy institution The Improv, a slew of up-and-coming talent, including Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, are testing jokes and honing timing. In the next few years, they'll perform on television for millions. But for now, they're changing the life of one ad executive.
The founder of LA Stand-Ups, Joe Falzarano, quit his promising advertising career because he "hated being a suit" and preferred to nurture promising young comedians. With accomplishments that include producing the CableACE Award–winning Caroline's Comedy Hour for A&E, Falzarano helped launch the performing and writing careers of entertainers including Jon Stewart and Louis C.K. Today, Falzarano imparts his more than 20 years of industry experience to aspiring joke-tellers, teaching them tactics for perfecting a punch line, calming nerves, and subduing hecklers with a marshmallow gun. Falzarano maintains a supportive atmosphere where students learn how to use who they are to connect with an audience, and even lets students try out material at the Hollywood Improv.
GO-FAME Youth Theatre Company started as a means of transporting children to another world. Its first production, Alice in Wonderland, taught 60 students at Minnie Gant Elementary School how to travel down the rabbit hole while providing them with an expressive outlet. With their newfound skills, that cast of first through fifth graders performed for full audiences at the University Theater at CSULB in October 2005.
Since then, GO-FAME has expanded into a theatre program for all youth in the community, but its mission remains the same: to encourage youth to explore the arts and expand their skills. When they walk out on stage, students leave behind their old selves and step into the role of performers, and GO-FAME teaches them how. Several weeks of acting lessons and rehearsals preempt annual productions for friends and family. Past performances have included Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Dear Edwina, and The Paper Bag Bandit.
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At the age of 5, Natalie Costa’s daughter was cute, lively, and photogenic—reason enough to give show business a try, she thought. But with no one to guide her and her daughter through the maze of booking auditions and getting representation, she found herself out thousands of dollars on useless portfolio shoots and manager fees. In response, Costa founded The Performers Academy, modeling the friendly, welcoming atmosphere on the dancing school she loved as a child. She made sure to stock it with instructors who had the inside knowledge she could have used at the outset: all professional actors, directors, and producers with lots of experience in film and TV and a special focus on children’s programming.
The academy caters both to kids seriously trying to break into the business and to casual enthusiasts who find performing a liberating way to build self-confidence. Age-appropriate classes deal with such key topics as managing audition stress, honing improvisational comedy skills, and projecting loud enough to be heard over that giant gong that somebody keeps bumping into.
MVDPAC has strutted its way to the top of numerous competitions, including first place in the 2009 CityVoter OC Hotlist for best dance studio. Under the limber guidance of decorated instructors, both novice and seasoned can shakers choose from the list of one-hour daily drop-in classes, where twinkle-toes light up floors with sparks rivaled only by Christmas trees that have fallen in the fireplace. Once inside the spacious studio, bodies bound across seven sprawling rooms and a studio theater. Students can elongate into states of grace through a selection of ballet courses, animate their legs and develop rhythm in the hip-hop courses, or practice freeform toe tapping and scatting the Greek alphabet through the jazz classes.