Actress Ally Sheedy with Pitt student Alexis Primus
This spring, actress Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo's Fire, SMILF) was brought to the University of Pittsburgh campus by Pitt Film and Media Studies Senior Lecturer and St. Elmo's Fire co-screenwriter Carl Kurlander to do a Master Class about Acting on Camera for Pitt Theatre Arts and Film and Media Studies students. For two five hour sessions over the course of two days, Ms. Sheedy had theatre students do a scene from a film or television show in a close-up on camera with twenty other students watching their performances on a monitor. The actors would then watch themselves and get feedback from Ally and the group and do two more takes of their scenes. Though many of the actors had limited or no previous experiences working on camera, the differences in the three takes were profound. Students were encouraged to own their performances, realizing that often in a close-up, less is more, and that slowing down and relaxing into a scene can be powerful and make for the most effective performances on camera.
Kurlander says of the event:
What Ally shared with these students was truly remarkable, reflecting her experience of being in over 90 films and TV shows. She not only taught them how to be more themselves in scenes, but how to empower themselves on a set and keep their focus regardless of the inevitable distractions. What the film students learned was how to talk with actors and allow them to be their best, which is an invaluable lesson for aspiring directors. What Ally gave to these students was truly life-changing and spoke to more than just acting on camera, but had important lessons for life.
Ally Sheedy provides feedback on Pitt student Julia de Avilez Rocha's closeup performance as Jeff Zeng and other students watch
These sentiments were reflected in an email from Elanor Nadorff, a first-year Film and Media Studies and Communication major who participated in the workshop:
I want to thank you for teaching your wonderful acting workshop at Pitt. I can tell that you are very skilled at your craft which makes you a great teacher... what I distilled from the workshop is that acting is ultimately about being yourself under imaginary circumstances. I think that is empowering for anyone, not just actors, to know that everything you are is enough. When I direct films in the future, I will utilize your advice and hopefully be able to provide actors with the guidance and security they need to thrive. Thank you again for sharing your talent with film and theater students from Pitt. I will carry your advice with me for the rest of my career.
Cynthia Croot, Associate Professor in Theatre Arts, writes:
We’re grateful to Ms. Sheedy for her time and expertise, as well as the beautiful performances elicited by her coaching. The workshop provided powerful insights into her process and tangible takeaways for our students, including video reels of their performances that they can use for future auditions. Thanks also to Carl Kurlander for his vision and support. We look forward to more events bridging Film and Theatre where we welcome world-class guest artists, foster industry connections for our students, and provide educational opportunities that exemplify an interdisciplinary approach to the arts here at Pitt.