Brian is the founding head of the BFA in Acting for Film, Television, Voice Overs, and Commercials at Pace University’s School of Performing Arts in Lower Manhattan.
class of 2019
The FTVC program at Pace University challenges the old western tradition that great actor training must begin on stage - even though the bulk of work available to actors has shifted to the camera.
Is it possible to train open, sensitive, powerful actors, actors with technical mastery, without spending months or years encountering the oeuvres of the great playwrights? Is it possible to prepare actors to market themselves in the entertainment industry without sacrificing artistic integrity?
It turns out, yes.
Brian began by canvassing professional actors around town and asking what they learned in school that they still use in their work - and keeping those things.
Then, separately, what did they not learn in school that they had to pick up for themselves as they learned to navigate professional lives? Things ranging from the artistic efficiency in knowing what shot you’re in and which choices will read, to how to give everything to your auditions and still care for and maintain your spirit in between. Actors had encountered at least some of these concepts in school, but had not developed an empowered relationship to them. Brian developed the philosophy that if these skills are learnable, they are teachable. It just requires devoting time and resources to sufficient practice.
Between fall 2013 and spring 2017 Brian guided the roll out of the program, taking care to observe the students’ progress in each semester in order to inform the curriculum for the following semester.
The first two years of the program lay the groundwork for a strong, technical approach to the work while giving the students tools to discover and expand the boundaries of their comfort zones of personal artistry. This includes the comfort zones around physical expression, namely the range of ways your body and voice can communicate an internal experience - or the comfort zone that says “I am doing too much.” And, extremely relevant to on-camera work, students confront the comfort zones that govern stillness and vulnerability, the voice that says “I’m not doing enough! I should be doing more!”
The third year continues artistic development and begins to layer in practical applications classes taught by casting directors and other industry professionals. These classes help the actors recognize how different auditions can call upon different skills they’ve been building, and how to invest yourself fully in the specific opportunities a given audition may represent. The fourth year continues with artistic development and practical applications classes and introduces entrepreneurial lessons. Instructors offer tools and encouragement to work proactively towards how they’d like to represent themselves to the industry, what they’d like to offer the world, and not feel they have to wait around to be told what to do or asked to participate.
In tandem with creating a new 8-semester paradigm in actor training, Brian also re-imagined what production opportunities for actors in a four year program could be. Across the board, universities mount plays and musicals to provide opportunities for their actors to practice their classroom skills in a performance context. But live performance opportunities would not fully capitalize on the unique mission of the FTVC program.
The productions set the FTVC program apart as much as any curricular innovation. Working with the production department and staff at Pace Performing Arts to develop an infrastructure to contract professional filmmakers, Brian devised a system where the students are interacting with professional filmmaking artists in every year of their training, in productions that grow from small studio scenes in the freshmen year to original, commissioned short films shot on location in the senior year. This serves two major purposes - it gives students annual opportunities to see how the pressures of on-set demands can affect their work and preparation, and equally importantly the junior and senior level productions yield high quality footage of students doing their best work that they can then use to begin assembling reels and marketing packages for themselves. It also builds relationships within the working artist community of New York. Some of the films have gone on to screen and even win awards at festivals nationally and internationally.
Lastly, as with productions the traditional showcase model for graduating actors seemed misaligned with the breadth of work FTVC actors were now prepared to do. Brian, together with FTVC’s other full time faculty members Matthew Humphreys and Wendy Kurtzman, pioneered a new model of showcase that is half live performance, half film screening, and a dash of voice over.
In the first 18 months after the graduation of the debut class from the FTVC program, Brian’s students have gone on to book co-star, guest star, recurring, and series regular roles on CBS, NBC, Fox, FX, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and ID Discovery, as well as supporting and lead roles in independent feature films, national commercial campaigns, and on Broadway.
Brian stepped down from running the program in 2017 to make room for other projects but continues to teach and direct the FTVC showcase.