SDA Career Month Makes Connections

Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Throughout April, the USC School of Dramatic Arts held its’ second annual Career Month, a month-long event dedicated to connecting students with industry leaders and professionals to give insight, advice, and to prepare SDA students for their professional careers.

Dan Shaner, SDA faculty member and head of the School’s newly-established Career Center, was the driving force for the event, which consisted of workshops, panel discussions and Q&As with leading industry leaders.

In his classes, and at the Career Month events, Shaner stresses the importance of community, networking, preparation, professionalism, and instructs students on how to brand and market themselves. These same concepts are reiterated by the visiting professionals.

“We’re trying to give a boost to students leaving school and doing it in a fun and inspiring way,” said Shaner.

Throughout the month, curated events showcase the breadth and depth of options post-college for students, and help immerse them in every aspect of the entertainment industry. Highlights included:

Agents and managers Charles Silver, Marni Rosenzweig, April Lim and Paulo Andres discussed the ins and outs of representation, including how to get and keep and agent.

World renowned photographer Peter Konerko guided students through the mystery and practicality of having a good head shot.

Leading Casting Directors Angela Terry, Brett Benner, and Roger Mussenden watched scenes and gave feedback to student actors, and legendary CD Deborah Aquila gave her no-nonsense, tough-love approach to casting and acting.

Richard Dorton, also known as the MoCap Man gave insight into his life as a performance capture actor and led an interactive workshop on motion capture movement.

Dramatic Arts alumni Greta McAnany (BA ’10) and Nick Daze (BA ’06) led a panel on entrepreneurship, discussing the ways their acting training at USC prepared them for the world of business. (McAnany runs a production company called Blue Fever, while Daze runs a startup titled Block HQ Inc.)

SDA alumnus Terence Paul Winter (BFA ‘96) discussed his extensive career throughout the television industry as an actor, writer, showrunner, and executive producer on shows such as Lethal Weapon, Training Day and Castle.

In the workshop entitled Broadway Backstory, producer and alumnus Tara Smith (BA ‘02) (An American in Paris, Xanadu), actor Cheyenne Jackson (Cry Baby and Xanadu), and writer Irene Mecchi (The Lion King) discussed the advantages and pitfalls of mounting and sustaining a successful, and in some cases not so successful, Broadway show.

Two Spotlight @SDA events occurred during career month as well – Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, perhaps best known for directing Wicked and numerous other shows and legendary actor Mark Hamill, famous for playing Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, both stopped on campus for exciting conversations with students.

A panel on sexual harassment and gender equality in the entertainment industry was given by Casting Director Denise Chamian, television and movie producer Brad Fuller, entertainment lawyer Anne Fromholtz, showrunner Erica Shelton Kodish and Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SDA, Anita Dashiell-Sparks.

Another panel, The LA Theatre Experience, featured artistic and producing directors from Los Angeles’ various intimate theatres. Facilitated by faculty member and Edgar Landa (BA ‘95), the panelists included Jon Lawrence Rivera (Playwrights’ Arena), Daniel Henning (The Blank Theatre), Richard Azurdia (Company of Angels), Israél Lopez (Southland Company) and Michael Shepperd (Celebration Theatre).

By utilizing his experiences as a casting director for over 25 years, Shaner illuminated to students during the events: “You have to establish who you are, where you fit, and what you are selling. Really establishing a commodity,” said Shaner. “Agents, managers, and casting directors want to know what it is they are getting. How can they use you in the story they are telling? What is the story that YOU are telling? Perhaps even more importantly, Career Month confirms the idea that acting (or any other field in the industry) is a BUSINESS, and the more information you have about how your business works, the more successful you will be.