Sunday April 18, 1999
Story by Lori Teresa Yearwood
I was going to get discovered. I just knew. Or so I firmly
believed when I called Gloria Estefan's acting coach to enroll in his classes.
I was deluded, of course. But I didn't know that then.
"People tell me I'm very dramatic," I told Stewart Solomon, owner of Creative
Workshops in Aventura. He listened. Intently, I thought.
whole life I've believed I have this talent. It just needed tapping
into, this talent. So it could, you know, flourish. You know that
already been on stage, I told him.
"When I danced in ballets."
Fantastic, he said, and recommended the Wednesday night,
six week, beginner class. Cost: $195. A mere pittance, I thought, considering the People
"I'm in," I said.
Little did I know what, exactly, I was getting into.
OK, so I like to analyze things. OK, I thought I would get
to analyze myself and all the characters I was about to bring so fully to life.
I told you I was deluding myself.
"This ain't therapy," Stewart told us that first
night." "This is acting. Please do not go back to your childhood and try to
remember your most painful moment so that you can feel sad. You don't have to suffer here.
And besides, I think that school of acting, that fetus-position-recall stuff, is some
pretty sick s____."
outside yourself, he kept saying. React to what is in front of you.
I tried. But I was so busy wondering whether the other students thought
I was talented I monitored their facial expressions that being in
the moment was impossible.
Do it anyway, Stewart
Fine, I thought. You, sir are Gloria Estefan's acting
coach. You got her through her big motion-picture debut, a role as a second-grade
schoolteacher in Miramax's Music of the Heart co-starring two intimidatingly renowned
veterans Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett.
So, you, sir, know what you are talking about.
Unfortunately, Stewart made us play games. Like making us
walk across the classroom, pretending we were holding some kind of object. We were
supposed to be so involved in this object that everyone would know what it was by the way
we looked at it, held it, reacted to it.
I, of course, froze. I tried to conjure an object, but all
that came to mind was an amorphous blob. I wondered whether Gloria blobbed.
"Don't worry about trying to think of
something," Stewart shouted. "Just go into action. I promise you I will have an
first assignment was to find a scene we liked and to memorize a few
lines so we could practice it for the second class.
Wow, I thought this class is deep.
My friend Lynn and I wound up as partners in Stewart's
class. Lynn is 48, a beautiful, tall red-head, an executive secretary who, like me,
harbors the secret desire of being discovered.
She thinks she'd be great in commercials. While she was in
the hospital recovering from plastic surgery, a nurse who had been in a couple of
commercials told her she looked like a natural.
"I think I might be able to act," Lynn told me
the next day.
"Oh! Do you think I could do it, too?" I asked.
She gave the only answer a friend could: "Of
course!" And said it so enthusiastically that at that very instant I envisioned
strolling down the cosmetics aisle at Walgreens and being discovered, too.
So as you can imagine, we took picking a scene very
"Let's really go for something we can stink our teeth
into," Lynn said.
We selected a scene featuring a homeless schizophrenic and
a waitress. Our meeting place: a swank, New York restaurant where she would try to throw
me out for my unsavory behavior.
got together at her house in Hialeah Gardens that weekend, but not
simply to "go over our lines." No.
We dressed up to get in touch with our characters. We hunted for
props. (She wore an apron, tied her hair back with a black clip bow, got a table, a vase,
a glass, and a pamphlet that looked like a menu. I put on some grungy sweat pants and a
ripped shirt, and then teased my already big hair to the point where it looked like a
clown's frizzy Afro.) We laughed hysterically. Partly because of how dumb we looked.
Partly because we knew we were going to be good. Really good.
I am not, generally, soft-spoken. However I can be
extremely self-conscious, and it is a big stretch for me to get up on stage, spew
obscenities, flap my arms and generally act like a lunatic on a medication holiday in
front of 14 people sitting primly in their chairs. I mean, come on, the real Lori talks
like a Valley Girl yes, I grew up in California in the '80s. But, hey, you "
"create" yourself in show business, right?
That Wednesday night, Lynn and I showed up for class 30
minutes early for another rehearsal. We were positively giddy, the first team to volunteer
to go on stage.
We smiled conspiratorially at each other. Then we acted
like we had never acted before which unbeknownst to us, was about to become extremely,
like a banshee.
Gyrated like a maniac.
Frothed at the mouth.
And Lynn, I thought, was every bit the stuffy, frustrated
The adrenaline coursing through me told me were on a roll.
Never mind the woman in the front row ignoring us as she read her script. Or the guy in
the back row who seemed to be enjoying the best daydream of his life. We let it all hang
Then we waited for the applause, the praise from the
stunned students who couldn't believe this was our first acting class. Then we waited some
"Well," Stewart asked from his spot against the
back wall after what seemed like 30 minutes of a root canal. "How do you think you
"Uh," I said, trying not to sound crushed,
"I guess we needed work."
"You sound really disappointed," Stewart said.
I said, staring at the stage floor.
"Well it's your
first time," he said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Awww, I know What's wrong," he said lightly.
"You won an Oscar on your way over here in the car didn't you?"
I laughed my best performance all night.
At first, I had a love-hate relationship with Stewart. I thought he was so funny, so
obviously well trained in his craft. I also thought he was shallow.
Every time we sat down to talk about his life for this
story, he seemed so closed. It took a while for me to realize it was me...not
Stewart...who was really swimming in
the shallow end.
"Tell me about your parents," I would say.
were great," he would say. "My father was very funny."
you give me an example of how he was funny?"
"Honey, I can't go back that far."
Or I would ask him about his life in New York.
"Gawd, that was a long time ago,"
"I know, but I'd love to hear a story about what it
was like for you to become as actor."
"I really can't remember," Stewart repeated.
"Let's talk about now."
man is hiding something, I thought. Or just so full of ego. It took
12 weeks for Stewart to give me someone's phone number who knew him
in New York he'd lost contact with him, he insisted.
Finally, he surrendered a
number for David Brunoehler, an old acting pal. Finally, things began to
"The first time I saw
Stewart he was performing," David said. "I thought, 'God, I
wish I could do what he does.'"
David began taking classes
form Stewart, who helped found the National Improvisational Theater and
its workshops. Soon after, Stewart invited David to join the company, in
which nine actors would create entire plays and operas in front of
audience. "We would show the audience a play and the next night you
could buy the script we'd created."
It was classic
theater-by-the-seat of-the-pants. In other words, pure Stewart.
"Because he doesn't need
or want or allow a critical eye to get in front of what is in front of
him." David said inscrutably. "He's not evaluating everything
In other words, a man who:
"has no rear-view mirrors. But he's got flood lights on his
dashboard, I can tell you that."
began to shine in my head. Maybe I had been looking in the wrong direction.
Maybe real actors don't analyze as much as I do. Maybe they do just
what Stewart keeps telling me they simply "go into action."
eight years they worked together, "I never saw him put any
attention on his past or anyone else's," David said. "He was
too busy looking at things that were in front of us. So if he says he
doesn't remember something it's just because his switchboard is
I ask Stewart what it was like to be a fledgling actor in
"Well, I remember
standing on a street corner in an overcoat in the freezing cold eating a
grilled cheese sandwich because I couldn't afford anything else and the
wind was blowing up my a__."
I ask for more details.
Stewart rolls his eyes
"Well, I was so poor I
didn't have the money to pay for a bus token so I would walk in the snow
to classes and I would think to myself: 'Who made this s____ up, that
you have to suffer for your art?'"
Wow, I say. What gave you the
strength to persevere?
|Well, he says: "One
day I just decided I was going to New York. I had a job working as
a salesman in my father's business. I had a brand new Buick Skylark.
I had an apartment in Coconut Grove. And I had an internal, compelling
feeling that, that if I was ever going to do anything in acting, I
needed to do it now."
Never mind that his parents wanted him
to be a doctor or a lawyer. (Stewart's family lived in North Miami Beach. His father
headed a firm that represented 20 companies that sold everything from Eastern imports to
luggage and shoes. Stewart's mother was a homemaker.) Anyway, from "my first
conscious memory," Stewart declares, "I have wanted to be an actor."
His sister, Andrea Solomon in New Jersey, vouched for her
big brother: "When anything theatrical came to town he was always begging to go: road
shows, Broadway show, whatever. It was always, "come on, let's go, come with me, will
you go for me?' So I said, 'OK, OK, I'll go.' And Stewart would sit there and watch the
actors, transfixed, gazing at the stage and loving every minute of it."
But alas, this is not a fairy tale Stewart was to face
many rejections, and it was to begin as soon as he tried out for his elementary school's
rendition of Peter Pan.
"I wanted to be a Lost Boy," he said. "But
I didn't get in. I felt worthless, really I did."
Luckily, by high school, acting began to look like
something he might excel at, after all. "The first time I ever saw Stewart do
anything, he was in high school in a play called Father of the Bride and I remember
watching him, my mouth hanging open," his sister says.
His parents weren't thrilled about his career choice. Though
they weren't totally hostile, either. Fine, go to New York, they said, get it out of your
system. Suitcases and a couple thousand dollars in hand his father bankrolled him Stewart
hopped a plane to New York.
Like any serious acting
student, he took acting lessons. Three to four times a week. "I was a kid in a candy
store," Stewart remembers. "I was home."
"Look, honey, acting is a business," Stewart
says. "It's more attainable for an actor to be a working actor than a star. The grim
statistics say so. Only so many people can be a star.
"It's as if as soon as people cross this country's
shores or are born here, people think they're entitled to be a movie star. And the truth
is that you work and work and work and then take a number and get in line."
Stewart acted whenever and wherever he could. Sometimes in
elegant theaters, like the Lincoln Center and The Waldorf-Astoria and the Chelsea Westside
Theatre. Sometimes on the streets in community festivals or grimy little pubs.
as the years sped by, and he wasn't getting the kind of parts he wanted,
Stewart took matters into his own hand and became a founding member
of the National Improvisational Theater's premiere award-winning ensemble,
Stewart had some
heady, magical times in New York. Times when he was doing exactly what he wanted to be
There was only one problem.
"I realized I was always going to be poor," he
says. "And I didn't like it."
Somewhere in the distance, Stewart heard a robust lady
"So I said that's it," Stewart says simply.
"And I left. Not because I was a failure, but because it was time to move on."
Still, that must have been sad for you, I say hoping to
dig up some artist angst.
"Look, you move on with your life, honey," he
says. "Otherwise, you go psycho."
Two weeks after my debut performance, I began to hear a voice, too. Only it wasn't
distant. And it wasn't singing.
"Boy, were you kidding yourself," it yelled.
"Get out now. Before it's too late."
Stewart I was frustrated.
"You've had three classes," he said. "What do you
"I don't know," I said.
I was lying. I wanted to be as good as the others in the
class, the ones who cried when they rehearsed. And OK, I admit it, the ones who got
"It's just acting," Stewart kept telling us.
Something that's not about talent, but hard work. "It's a craft," he kept
saying. "Anyone who is willing to work can dot it."
Well, I was willing to work. Or was I? Our next class was
a movement class. I raised my hand in protest: "I've been taking ballet for
practically my entire life," I said. "I know how to move."
"Ballet is linear, movement on stage is not,"
Stewart said. "It's the people who think they can move who usually need the class the
most," he added.
So I shut up and I went. But I did not like it we spent 40
minutes turning on our heels and pretending to answer a phone. "Pivot turns,"
the guest teacher called them. Acting began to look more and more like work. Work that
maybe I wasn't so eager to do, after all.
The fat lady's voice was now inside my ear, singing:
"Lori, you do not belong here. . .
So two weeks short of completing the six-week course, I
One never knows how one might be discovered. Today, three
months after crashing and burning in Stewart's class, I have the story to prove it.
So it wasn't in a Walgreens. So I was on the phone with Joyce
Glusman, casting agent at Martin and Donald's Talent Agency in Hollywood. Joyce, who it
turns out lives in the same building I do says Stewart is absolutely terrific.
brings out the best in each person, no question about it," she
says. "I went to watch his classes, you know. And there was one
student, who started out average. And by the time she finished her
monologue she was fabulous. Stewart is amazing." We keep talking.
I tell her how I had come to truly appreciate Stewart's ability to
be in the moment. And that, to be honest, I was sorry I had dropped out. Like, OK, acting
wasn't for the faint of heart, you know? And like, OK, I admit it, I want something
easier, a quick fix.
I have this way of stretching "like" into three syllables:
Suddenly, Joyce ask me if I had ever considered doing valley girl
voice-overs. "Liiiikeee, yeah. I say, all totally excited and everything."
"That sounded so authentic," Joyce says.
"You should do a demo tape."
Oh. My. Gawwwwd!
So like, I have been discovered after all.
Reprinted with permission of the Miami Herald.
17065 West Dixie Highway
Aventura, FL 33160
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