ACTING COACH'S STAR
SHINES BRIGHTER

The Miami Herald
Sunday, October 24, 1999
BY HECTOR HERNANDEZ

Miami News Service
Photos by Candace Barbot 

He's cracked jokes with Jerry Seinfeld, polished Jon Secada's acting and most recently served as Gloria Estefan's coach in the new movie Music of the Heart. But Stewart Solomon is no media hound, even though he is becoming South Florida's own Acting Coach to the Stars…and other hopefuls.

A professional educator, Solomon, 51 is founder and president of Creative WorkShops, a school for acting, singing, movement and speech training.

Although he has worked with many celebrities including Carlos Ponce and Francisco Paz, Channel 7 news anchor Belkys Nerey and others, Solomon will be the first to say that the success he enjoys today evolved over a period of time.

In the story of The Tortoise and the Hare, he says, "I've always taken the route of the tortoise."

Like the tortoise, Solomon slowly built his reputation, starting at the University of Florida, then production and acting jobs in New York, but the Miami native came back to South Florida to conduct private acting workshops. In 1996, he opened Creative WorkShops in North Miami Beach and eventually turned it into his sole livelihood.

Secada walked in a year and a half ago, seeking acting guidance for audition pieces. He had heard of Solomon from Gina Maretta, Estefan's singing teacher, who had recommended his coaching abilities to the Estefan Enterprises office. Casually one day, Secada told Solomon: "I'm gonna tell Gloria about you. She wants to get into film, did you know that?"

Shortly afterward, Solomon received a phone call from Estefan Enterprises. He met the singer at her home. "And that was it," he said. "We hit it off."

They began almost immediately, working one on one doing all sorts of acting exercises for about a year. "As scripts came in that she wanted to work on, we would work in intensive spurts - three to four times a week for a period of a few weeks," said Solomon. And then the role came along.

The film 50 Violins, rechristened Music of the Heart, stars Meryl Streep in the true story of a dedicated East Harlem music teacher who struggled for a decade to preserve her violin classes at three public schools in Harlem. Estefan makes her acting debut alongside Angela Bassett and Aidan Quinn in the supporting cast. The pop diva, whose mother was a school teacher, also plays the role of a teacher, Isabel Vasquez, who is among the first to show Streep's character some much needed support.

"She's so easy to work with...focused," said Solomon of Estefan. "One of the most incredible senses of humor, which is what I like the most about her. She puts the play back in the screenplay. And warmth...she's so warm," he added.

But the lessons were not all play. Estefan took that classes seriously, said her coach.

"She totally was there, available and gave one-hundred percent," he said. "She brings in twenty years of professional grace and expertise to the work. You know how easy that makes my job? You go, you start and you go - no barriers," added Solomon.

While Solomon is enthusiastic about his experience with Estefan, he seems to be genuinely enthusiastic about all of his students. "It takes me twenty seconds to find out what's wrong with an actor, but the rest of my life to see what's right. You know how exciting that is?"

His students are not at a loss for words when it comes to their mentor.

"He's a very passionate man about everything in life. He loves life and he loves to teach," said Enrique Matus, 28, a full-time actor and second-year student at Solomon's Creative WorkShops.

Solomon said his professional relationship with Estefan has meant that his other students now see him in a new light.

"I feel totally acknowledged. It has given me more credibility," he said. "The messenger and the message are the same, but there's more trust from the student."

Solomon's studio, at 17065 West Dixie Highway, averages one-hundred and twenty students enrolled mostly in evening and weekend classes, which cost $195 each for a six-week term. Courses include the basic - Acting Essentials - and advanced - Actors ProShop. There's also a class for film and TV with a three-camera studio setup. A class offered once a week Monday morning and another on Saturday afternoons keeps Solomon busy in the studio.

"He is trying to show us how to open windows, take risks and make bold choices," said Willasue Susskind, an outspoken playwright who attends Thursday's ProShop regularly.

Solomon's self-described tortoise-paced life also has included risks and bold choices.

While pursuing his bachelor's degree at the University of Florida, he actually took more classes in theater than in his own major - Broadcasting (TV & Film). After graduating in 1970, he moved to New York, dabbled in TV and radio production, then let the Big Apple's theater environment lure him to the National Improvisational Theater, where he developed and directed the Improvised I-Act Workshop and the comedy ensemble Present Company. A founding member of NIT's Interplay, Jerry Seinfeld was then a member of the same troupe and host and emcee at the Comic Strip.

Accolades and awards, performances at Lincoln Center and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, even Broadway would follow. "I was always performing in Manhattan," Solomon said. "I was one lucky actor."

Yet somehow, he says, he felt it was time to come home, where he earned a master of science in education from Nova University in 1993, then taught at the New World School of the Arts and the University of Miami, before going full time with his acting studio.

"Improvisation is the jazz of the theater," said Solomon. "The point is, you don't know where the creative process is going to take you. That's why I think acting is so healthy. That has been my experience and I hope to pass it on."

 


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Aventura, FL 33160
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ince 1987. South Florida's Most Prestigious Acting Studio."


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