Thursday, April 4, 2013

Enter, Stage Right

Acting Intensive Program Director Karen Hensel, right, works with students on their final performance.
Adult Learners and Professional Actors Hone Skills

Karen Hensel is always happy to talk about acting and teaching acting. It’s her passion and she loves working with adult students.

“Many times, adults don’t even think about how useful acting classes can be—for their business careers, for personal development or if their passion is just community theatre,” says Hensel, who directs the adult-level acting courses at South Coast Repertory’s Theatre Conservatory. “Our program offers small classes and a safe and nurturing place where people can discover more about themselves and their acting talent.”

Special guest speakers Kathy Bates and Arye Gross.
The adult acting classes—offered year-round, along with kids and teens classes—cover a broad range of topics including basic acting skills, scene study, improvisation, musical theatre and acting for the camera. In addition, the Acting Intensive Program is aimed at providing professional actors, and those who may be transitioning to a next phase in their career, the opportunity to hone their skills and develop new ones.

“All my teachers are active actors,” says Hensel, whose own career spans film, television and stage credits including “The Young and the Restless,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The Practice,” “ER,” “LA Law” and others. Her long-time association with SCR includes roles in Childe Byron, Cloud 9, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Hay Fever, A Christmas Carol and The Heiress. Her true passions are the theatre and teaching.

Students Dennis Pearson and Rick Reiff
“Our SCR faculty members bring new ideas and real-world experiences to share with their students,” she says. “Our teachers care about the students and help them grow as actors. We are thrilled to watch our students succeed,” she says.

For SCR’s adult-level acting classes, Hensel brings in guest speakers and instructors, like actors Kathy Baker and Ayre Gross, who give their insights into the actor’s craft.

Rick Reiff, public affairs executive producer and host with Southern California Public Broadcasting (SoCalPBS) and executive editor of the Orange County Business Jornal, first got involved in the Acting Intensive Program in the late 1990s.

“You learn things about yourself, about plays, about dialogue,” he says. He still uses the class techniques today in his television work.

And as a playgoer, Rieff says he “really appreciates the craft of the people up there, because you realize how hard it is.”

Actor Dennis Pearson, who made his SCR debut in 2012 as Young Marley in A Christmas Carol, took the Acting Intensive Program last summer. He found it to be one of the best programs to help him “make the transition from the academic world to the professional world.” 

“I have a better sense of business with the craft [of acting],” he says. “The program did a great job of working on my all-around technique, but I view myself as a product in many ways. I know how to market and I’ve been working on ways to grow myself both as a business man and as an artist.”

Hal Landon, Jr., right, works with students on a scene.
From business professionals to actors to adults just wanting to test the waters of creativity, SCR’s Theatre Conservatory has much to offer. That’s what retired teacher Cora Klahn found out when she took adult acting classes.

Director Art Manke, background, directs a scenes with students.
“I didn’t see myself having talent or aspirations,” says Klahn, a retired teacher who signed up for adult acting classes after seeing SCR’s Theatre Conservatory classes advertised in a local newspaper. “But it was fun for me–outrageously fun! I felt so at home and comfortable and relaxed.”

Hensel also sees lifetime connections come out of the program:  “Our students form tight-knit groups and become a true ensemble.”

She is proud that students stay in touch not only with each other, but with SCR and the Conservatory faculty.

“They do get personal attention and then we watch them take their skills and reach out further than acting.”

Program Director Karen Hensel, left, and students.
Alumni from the program go on to many different careers. Hensel counts off some of the achievements of past students: playwriting, graduate school, theme park work, touring shows, acting in film and television, casting director, producer, children’s author and a marketing executive.

“It does give everyone a sense of polish and confidence,” she says. “Acting helps you control how you speak, how you organize your thoughts and instills a good sense of discipline that applies not just to acting, but life in general.”

Hensel is energized about the adult acting classes and the acting intensive courses.

“I’m passionate about it because graduates tell me it’s made a difference in their lives.”

Learn more online at

Learn more online about classes for the Adult Acting Program. Registration is now open for the Kids and Teens Summer Acting Program.

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