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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

interview: Greg Braun and New Collective L.A.

The New Collective is a boutique acting studio

founded in October of 2009 by Matthew Word and Greg Braun with a mission to provide working actors with a full service conservatory. We promote acting as a primary art form and lifestyle. This boutique training program satisfies the work ethic and training demanded by the film and television industry in Los Angeles, while placing an emphasis on the craft of acting. We aim to inspire, challenge and support the actor in every aspect of their artistic journey.

“We are the people who can create the new world!” – Harold Clurman


I've known Greg Braun for years, we taught at Susan Batson's Black Nexxus Studio in New York and Los Angeles. Greg is a master at teaching the work of acting, he is supportive and honest. I trust him implicitly. Matt Word who makes New Collective LA possible is a brilliant actor, instinctive and truthful. They have created the studio that they would want to attend as actors; it's a studio I love to return to when I am in L.A. While many acting studios in LA are bent on proving they are star-studded, both Greg and Matt do not list the actors they work with. I know that they have worked with many names, but that is not the point to them. Getting Greg to mention a name in this interview was almost like pulling teeth. Instead, the focus is on the studio and the work. This is a safe place, grounded and unpretentious--like a pedigree, old school New York studio that has been picked up piece by piece and moved to where it now lives and breathes...the heart of Hollywood. Greg is a master at script interpretation. When I need to talk to someone about my work as an actor, I tend to go to Greg. His instincts are utterly reliable. I trust him. 
The work at New Collective L.A. is clear and it prepares me to truly step into my creativity. I asked Greg to go back to the beginning, back to the moment he fell in love with acting.

Greg Braun

Corey: When did you find your personal connection with acting?

Greg:  That was eighth grade. My teacher, Richard Russo, he was the head of the drama department. He had auditions for the junior high school production of MASH. I don’t know what possessed me because I was so friggin’ shy, I mean I was an artist at the time, I just didn’t know that’s what I was. I got the balls to audition and we had to do some kind of monologue. And I had this Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel album, so I listened to his monologue before they sing Tradition, I don’t know where my connection came to Fiddler on the Roof, I’m Puerto Rican and German in my background, but I felt like I could do Tevya! I went in and I just threw myself out there, I was so scared, and I got Hawkeye. He gave me Hawkeye! And we did it in the mainstage theater, 600 people in the audience, and I felt like I found who I was...
 Just before going on the stage, the combination of the fear and excitement. That was the moment. 

But the real moment came the next year, when he gave me Victor Frankenstein in 'Frankenstein' in the High School production, and when it was done, you know I had no idea if I was talented or anything, I just felt like I could do it.  My audition for Frankenstein, I watched Reds, and I conjured Warren Beatty for some reason, that’s how I did it. So Rich Russo, after one of the performances, he pulled me aside and he said, “you’re really…you can really do this. You’re really talented and you should keep doing it. That filled me with such hope.

 I wouldn’t be doing this [teaching] to this extent without that.  Without that guy.

Corey: What school was it?

Greg: Rocky Point Junior/ Senior High School in Long Island.  And we had this drama teacher and he did two shows a year, We did 'Glass menagerie,' we did British Plays like 'The Real Inspector Hound,'  we did 'Picnic' one year, we did 'The Crucible,' not your typical high school productions. And everybody was really serious about acting. He had all these plays in his office, he had this basement classroom and he had this office, and a theater, we called it the pocket theater. We did some stuff on the main stage some times. Then I saw him act, playing Teach in American Buffalo, and I got to see him onstage at the college I ended up going to for a year. Got the hell outta there and came to New York right away. 

I moved to New York and I went right to HB Studios first. I needed to get in class right away, it was 50 bucks, and I got into Sandy Dennis’ scene study class.  It was six months before she passed away.  She was in and out of class, and Arthur French would sub for her, it was really not a bad deal at all.  She was incredible, she would get up and get on the stage with us, her energy was unbelieveable, nobody knew that she was sick. And we used to go to the bus stop coffee shop down the road, and she would sit down with us and we would just ask her questions about everything. In that class, I met this small group of friends that I kept in touch with. 

And then I went to another teacher.
Peter Jensen, he was at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was great because he encouraged us to produce our own one act plays and directed it for free, which was great. Then I met Joe Paradise through these people at HB Studios that I’d met.  

Joe Paradise was an Actors Studio member and he was teaching sensory, so it was my first exposure to sensory work. I begged him to be in his class, I was 19, and he was like, ‘you’re not ready….” And I wanted to do 'Barfly,' he laughed, he laughed at me, but he let me do it anyway, he let me into his class, and then through him and through the students in his class, I found Susan [Batson.] I had been hearing about her and people around me were saying, “You gotta take Susan’s class, this is totally right up your alley.”  I was terrified. It took me about a year, so I was like 21 or 22 when I went to her classes in her apartment. I had read “Method or Madness” when I was hanging out at HB, and I remember saying, ‘I want to find Bobby Lewis, or someone like him, that’s like hidden away, legendary, nobody knows where they are, I would find them. And that’s how I felt about Susan.  And I was just so inspired, and I had left college after a year, and I was thinking, ‘this could be my college.’  I really felt that way. And it became my college and a lot more.

Corey: What was the experience like for you to meet and work with Susan [Batson]?

Greg: It was just Pure. It was Pure and like all of those people who were great that I had read about , I was getting a direct line to the information that they would give me if I had met all these people that I had read about.  It wasn’t tainted, and she was also taking it somewhere else herself, and I was real excited to be a part of that, because you could see in the work what was happening. 

Also, it was a spiritual thing. I felt that. I felt that aspect of the mystical and the spiritual, and that was really exciting for me to be part of it.

Corey: At what point did you start teaching?

After about five years or so. I did all these plays, a few plays that Susan had directed over that period. Then she went away for a year, she was with Stanley Kubrick, starting to work with Nicole Kidman [in Eyes Wide Shut.] And we were sort of out there, hanging by a thread, and then she came back and what was interesting about our relationship at that time and how it continued to grow…I was always the one she called when somebody quit. I couldn’t understand why people quit, I was just baffled by that, because of stupid things like ego, fear, or they didn’t want to work at two o’clock in the morning. Stupid shit. And I said, “Don’t you know who you are in the presence of?” Why would they quit? But I was happy. She joked about it later, she said, “You were the guy that I always knew you would show up, you wouldn’t go anywhere.” 

That’s kinda where me teaching came from. Another person who had been working for her had left, she was starting to form the acting studio, and then she said, “You’re gonna teach this class, and I’m gonna make a job for you.” And I was basically like I was with everything else, I said, “Yes!” I did everything she told me to do. I started with one class.  She said, “ You can’t handle the “Exer Actor” class, you’re just gonna do “Developing Your Own Method.” And then she was called away, which she was so often called away for long periods of time, and I had to jump in and do the classes! One time I was doing all of them for a month and she was getting good feedback from everybody, she was surprised that I was able to handle it. And it just went from there.   

When you’re being led by someone like her, who believes in you, you have to weather those  storms of  ‘I don’t know if I can handle it,  I don’t think it’s gonna work.’

I talked to her recently and she said the real test was throwing me in there with her bigger clients, she said with Juliette Binoche, that was the big test. She said the fact that Juliette didn’t flip out and just did the work and didn’t question it. Susan said that was a big moment for her, she said, 
“Okay, I can trust him.”

Corey: That sounds amazing. And the students you work with at your studio—New Collective L.A.-- get to do this same level of work with you there. I know you don’t like to name the famous actors you have worked with, if they came from Susan. Would you talk about the students you work with at New Collective L.A.?

Greg: There are many actors from our studio who started with us and  have gone on to really work. Elvis Nolasco, he’s been coming here since we opened and is on his second season of American Crime, he’s really blowing up.  Reggie Austin is on Agent Carter right now. He taught with Susan in New York after I came to L.A., and then he started working over here the past couple of years. And he comes in regularly to prepare his auditions and when he’s in something, we help prepare him, mostly his script work. It’s fun to see, we’ve been here six years already. Now we’re starting to see people who were with us for awhile working. It’s really awesome.

Corey: Would you tell me about the move to L.A.? How did that work for you?

Greg: I was always interested in L.A. and I was done with New York. I was really done, depleted. You know you reach a certain stage in life and it was great in my twenties, you know the energy and everything, but I felt like I had hit a wall there. I was looking around at my apartment thinking, ‘I could be here when I’m 85 years old, a single apartment.’ I knew I needed change. But the biggest thing, what gave me the courage to really do it was Susan was opening her L.A. studio, shortly after 9/11. She asked me if I wanted to “try it.” I wasn’t sure if I’d like it and want to stay, so I gave it like a year. I tried to keep my apartment back in New York. Once I got here, I was pretty much set on staying.

Corey: What sold you on L.A.?

Greg: The beach. That was one, but also, in terms of acting and the industry, it was so abundant. I felt like, anybody with their head screwed on straight and also people who heads were not screwed on straight could find a place for themselves out here. I was excited by that. I saw the opportunity. More opportunities than in New york. And I felt like New York prepared me to be able to weather anything that happens.

Corey: The actors go through so many things. What do you see the actors today need the most?

Greg: The thing I feel the most excited about that serves actors the most, as actors we have to feel safe. We have to feel safe to open up these things, these intimate, deep, painful sometimes, things and we need to have a framework for that. So it doesn’t matter what’s going on with an actor when they come in, they may be dealing with fear, they may be dealing with trying to be right.  They might be dealing with ‘I hate auditioning,’ or ‘I can’t deal with the camera, ‘ or bad habits like pushing and ‘performing.’

I feel like the work, or just creating a framework around the work is (if it’s an audition) “I am going in there…to be an artist.” I feel like that is always a sure thing. No matter what an actor has going on, dealing with that fear or other things, if I can help them create a framework for themselves of creativity, with the tools of the art. Like, okay how do we bring the art into the audition? It’s great because they’re like, ‘oh, I didn’t know I was allowed to do that.” And then it creates a sense of empowerment. And I think when Matt and I started the place, we had to learn as we grew as a business, how to define our philosophy, we wanted it to be a place where we could help actors find that greatness that’s within everybody. And through nurturing and through caring and what we know having worked with our mentor Susan. And Carl Ford.  Anybody can do the work and can get to that place.

Corey: And when they come in and start, that’s the point where you are dealing with each actors conditioning, isn’t it? Their previous conditioning from their parents, from their school, from previous teachers?

Greg: Yeah. That’s the biggest thing, is to be able to navigate that. And not deny them who they are, their background, their background as an actor, but to problem solve how they can feel more connected in whatever it is they’re trying to do. It’s different with each person. And I always knew that my approach was more of a nurturing way, and there are some actors out there who need to be really shaken up and that’s when I say this isn’t going to be the place for you.

Corey: would you talk about the genesis of the name New Collective L.A.?

Greg: Given the way that the world was, with the economy being so horrible, Matt and I thought Collective, like Group Theater. Harold Clurman is a hero of mine. I would sit there watching this video of Harold Clurman screaming about the world and state of the theater, talking about how you have to create, you have to do the thing you want to do and I related it directly to us. I played it several times a day, at night before I went to bed,  in the space in the morning, and that moved me through the day to day of getting the thing going. So we had ‘Collective,’ and Matt added ‘New’, he called me up on the phone and said, “I think New, New Collective, what do you think of that?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And he said, “Alright, I’ll see you at the New Collective.” 

It’s funny we were going through a whole branding thing for the web and it gets really overwhelming to talk to someone about search engine optimization. That business stuff and we were going to change the name, we were on the verge of it and then luckily, we mulled it over enough and we said 
‘no, no we gotta stay who we are.’

One of the things we put out there is 
Creativity, Community, and Artistic Support
One guy he came and as he worked, he wanted to talk about where he was at and what he needed, and so we sat with him and talked with him and afterward he said, “Thanks for the class.”  I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I feel like I just got my artistic support! Thank you. That’s what I needed.”

Corey: Would you talk about working with the camera?

Greg: It’s fun, because I feel like Susan gave me such a foundation, the work and being able to apply it to the camera. It’s really magical, you know? Because of understanding how to achieve certain things without it being a result. An actor has to achieve ease and intimacy, and you use the work to get to those things. Populating your fourth wall, and connecting to a sensation, all those things really bring the work on camera alive. It’s fun to give actors the facility for it. So they can see how it’s coming across and how it’s working for them. 

Yeah, the camera’s a really delicate thing. If you push, if you’re coming from ideas in your head, it creates an invisible barrier between you and the camera. If you’re intimate, and you’re connected to a sensation, and you’re really experiencing something, really thinking, the camera goes right into you,  like the psychic energy comes through and the camera just opens like a flower. It’s like magic. It’s so powerful.  I really believe the only way to get there is to do the work. You either feel it or you don’t.  And when you don’t, you can manipulate, but you feel like it’s a lie. You feel like it’s a manipulation. Susan always got us to figure out how to get to the Truth. Yeah, the camera doesn’t lie.

Corey: Will you talk about script analysis?

Greg: Harold Clurman. I don’t know what it is. I’ll pull out some book that he wrote, there’s just something that opens up, I know what he’s talking about. I’ll get it. And Susan did it a little bit different things with script analysis but she moved it forward, I feel, from what she got from Harold Clurman himself. He had these crazy notes in his book on directing, from his plays, and I just would devour those. I think one of the things about script analysis is it’s very much like music, and if you’re musical, you’ll have a better sense of it than if you’re not musical. But, aside from getting the framework of it, and I think I really got my education from Susan, you know, she directed me in these plays, and I would look at all the sides she had scribbled on and would try to just sponge it in, then I would try my own versions and screw it up and go back and look at hers again. Over and over again. Beyond getting that foundation in, when you look at Clurman’s notes, he didn’t try to be right about it, he was in a creative process. He was just exploring possibilities. And that’s one of the things he wrote about directing that I thought was beautiful.  You’re exploring, the answers are all in the play, they’re in the play. You just have to look for them and seek them out, and you might change your mind, you might have different ideas. You may not understand the theme of the play until the week before you open. The point is you have to search it. You have to have the excitement and the passion to find out.  I worked with Viveca Lindfors before she passed away, and she talked about Strasberg; Lee Strasberg said the best thing you can do as an actor when you’re in a scene, you are always learning, you’re always, you’re not trying to be there with the right answer. You have to be in your thing, asking, asking. To me when I’m teaching script analysis, that’s one of the things I talk about the most. The whole thing is you can’t try to be right. Use it as a tool. It helps you uncover the clues that are in there.

I love script analysis. 
I wouldn’t be able to teach without it.

Corey: What does it offer to the actor?

Greg: It’s the difference between going on a surface level or going into something else entirely, I think it’s fine art, the finest level of art that you can do. Harold Clurman said acting and theater should be like classical music and ballet. The finest arts there are. It’s like, how do you play Beethoven on the piano? You could sit there for five years and plunk out the notes or something. I think of when East of Eden first came out (I wasn’t even born), I think of sitting there in the theater and watch this thing; or Brando for the first time, I love reading about people who saw the first production of Streetcar Named Desire onstage. One guy said how it was such a visceral experience and that he felt like there were fires behind the stage. That’s script analysis to me, what it can open things up.

You can use it on different levels. You don’t have to use it with a fine tooth comb every time, even if you use it loosely, it’s gonna take you somewhere else. It takes you beneath the surface of it. It opens a door…

 Corey: What advice would you give to the actor who wants to move to L.A. ?

Greg: Well, I think whatever you feel like you want to do, you have to have support. You have to find other people that are doing it. You can’t act in a vacuum. You can’t do it solo. Meet other people. Get in a class. The way things work nowadays, you can make a film on your iphone. They’re winning awards at festivals. We have kids who came here, they’re twenty years old, they met in class here, they got an apartment together, they have dreams, you know, to take over Hollywood! They come to class all the time and they’re making a movie together. They’re excited, inspired, supporting each other.

Some people choose casting workshops, improv classes, there are different types of sensibilities and different types of schools. But if you’re new and coming to L.A., you gotta get support, you gotta connect.

It’s like in New York, I signed up for that class, and all the people in that class led me to Susan.  Out here especially, it’s about relationships.  Because someone you are in class with now might became a huge agent 10 years from now.

Corey: Is there anything you want to say about the self care of the actor?

Greg: I think the most important thing in that is….it’s a life choice. You have to take care of your life. At the same time, you can’t get blinded or narrowminded about, ‘okay, now I just gotta work work work .’ You have to be fulfilled in different things, and an artist has different things that feed them. Not just acting all the time. Maybe you like music, or I love to go look at the trees somewhere or the water and be inspired and fill my creative side. Don’t deprive yourself, I think that’s the biggest thing.  

It's Life, you know?

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