Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ivan's Rules

"This is not a country club...This is not a nursery school either. You are here to learn."

His words rang in my ears today when I heard the news that acting teacher Ivan Markota passed away last night. I took several of his classes, learned how to cold read from one of the best, and met a passionate and diverse group of people, some that I still keep in touch with. Even though I moved on to the Stella Adler Academy and completed their program, there are lessons about acting and self discipline from Ivan I still draw from today. Whenever I would run into a new actor who was thinking of studying  with Ivan I'd say...."If you can handle Ivan, you can handle Hollywood!"


The first time I ever went to a real acting class was in the mid 1990's and it was at Ivan's school on Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea. I had done a few plays and public speaking back in Minneapolis, but no official training. To be honest I wasn't sure if I should try, even though I really wanted to. My friend Brenda Theisen Zabal, had found this acting school in Hollywood that accepted newcomers and gave you the first month of classes free. So I went with her...let's face it that's how a lot of us started there.....but it's not why we stayed.

Ivan Markota was not for everyone. He was rough around the edges, temperamental and did not baby his actors. Some couldn't handle it. But he taught from the heart. He was exceptionally talented and could draw someone's true gifts out of them. Here's an example of his bluntness...he would say to me, "You're a leading lady type, not a character don't get fat because you'll never work."...might seem cruel but it's pretty much true.

He was one of the last of the old school Hollywood types and could have easily been as successful as Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston, Burt Reynolds, or any of the leading men from his era. However he had a lifestyle when he was young that tripped him up. He was honest about it...the drinking, gambling, a few broken marriages along the way. But he gave all of that up decades ago and devoted his life to teaching acting and auditioning.

Before you could take any of Ivan's acting classes you had to take the Monday "Business of Acting" class. This taught you all about the biz....and what it's really like for newcomers. It was common sense advice like know your way around on a set, don't change or paraphrase the lines on a shoot, just stick to the script, don't mess with the props, don't complain on set, never pull a no show for an audition or a job, never audition at someone's house, and for God's sake look like your head shot! 

Ivan used to say there was no excuse for missing class. He'd rail..."If I could jump out of an airplane in WWII you can make it to an acting class. Don't be a baby."

I also learned a lot about the method of creating a character from another teacher at Ivan's school, Stephanie Feury, who was an amazing actress and coach and is still teaching in her own L.A. studio. 

Stephanie Feury...Photo, IMDB

Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre

IMDB Stephanie Feury

Some years ago I was helping a friend cast several parts in a commercial. So I went and auditioned some of Ivan's acting students. One by one they blew me away! We ended up casting ALL of the parts using his students. 

I haven't been in touch with Ivan since then. Have meant to, but like so many of us do with people from our past, I put it off. This sounds so cliché' but just this past weekend I was telling my husband that Brenda and I should go see him and let him know we turned out okay, and that she is still married to her husband she met in his very class!....(The school is no longer there but he was still coaching privately at almost 90 years old). Now my chance to do that is over and I regret that I didn't. Rest in peace Ivan.

Several known actors had some early training from Ivan...Sherri Shepard, Casper Van Diem, Mariska Hargitay, Mary Hart, and John Laroquette, to name a few.

 Here's a shout out to some friends of mine who also trained with Ivan.

Nicole Pano
Joey Garza

Jeff Kueppers

Marlon Ray
Guy Chapman

Brenda Theisen Zabal
Devin Reeves

Zenata Perez

Jeannine Barcarse

Chuck Licata