Faculty Spotlight: Duane Daniels
Updated: Oct 3
Faculty member Duane Daniels shares his journey to Berridge and what it means to be a full-time actor.
Ian: Tell me a little about who you are and your journey before Berridge!
Duane: I was an actor from the time I was a kid. I started acting when I was in 4th grade and I just kept going! Anyone that would let me in their show- I would do it. I’ve been a freelance actor my entire life and I’ve mostly done theatre but really became enamored with television and film in the early 90’s. I grew up in Cleveland Ohio and quickly moved out to San Diego when I was 18! On the west coast, one of the longer term projects I was involved in was as the Founding Artistic Director of the Fritz Theater. That was a very fulfilling position that I was involved in for about 18 years. Alongside the Fritz I’ve been involved with Second City in Hollywood as one of their Saturday Night show directors along with a variety of other film and stage projects since then.
Ian: How did you get started with Berridge?
This a great story. In 1996 or so, I was running the Fritz in San Diego and I placed an ad in the paper for an assistant that was to eventually become Producing Director of the Theatre. Andrea Mardon interviewed with me and I hired her! Andrea became the Producing Director and we worked together for a few years producing some really amazing work. After that, life took her back to New York, then to London and the next I heard from her, she’s starting an acting program in France! She called me after about six years and asked if I wanted to come teach at her new program. Of course, I said yes.
Ian: As a teacher, how do you ensure students get the most out of the program?
Duane: I used to teach an audition class at Berridge but realized that to be the best auditioner, you really need to just be the best actor. I now teach an improv elective and a contemporary performance class. The great thing about a short program like this is that we’ll get students that are at varying stages in their acting training. Each person will have their own limitations but also their own strong suits. At Berridge, we don’t teach any sort of curriculum. There isn’t a certain amount of material that we need to get through, which allows us to tailor what we’re teaching to the students' individual level. Each summer is sometimes quite different from the last, and since we have many students who choose to return, we like to switch up what we do. You might find yourself working on a full-length play one summer and studying a new technique the next.
Ian: So Berridge is a non-audition program, how do you get everyone on the same page in the first few days?
Duane: I think pretty much everybody that finds us has an appreciation for acting. I think they take it seriously and they commit to it when they’re here. I still try to challenge every student to push the limit of their capabilities. I don’t think acting training has a beginning, middle, and end- it’s a circular process. Kids just starting out can still learn the same things that students four or five years in are learning.
Ian: If there was one thing every student could come away with, what would it be?
Duane: I have a bit of a spiritual answer for this. We’re really trying to fan every kid's fire. When they leave here they should feel empowered in their unique voice. Feeling powerful and confident will lead actors to find a real truth in their work. We push kids to understand that through acting, they’ll have the power to change the world. It CAN happen, so it's on you to make it happen.
Ian: What is one of the more special moments that happens each year at Berridge?
Duane: There are many, but to see a student become more confident and comfortable with who they are over three weeks is really special. Then there are the moments on Saturday performance nights when you find out that the student in your acting class is also a really great guitar player or singer, or comedian. We’ve had a few really shy students at times and when they finally decide they’re ready to do a Saturday performance piece the room will just go wild with applause- those are really great moments. Stage fright and social anxiety is real and it’s the most amazing thing to see our students emerge from Berridge having overcome this.
Ian: Acting as a career: how much training is actually necessary?
Duane: Acting as a career might happen any particular way. Some people are just born to do it. I think if you start young enough, acting is something that might come quite naturally and it’s not something that needs to be ‘taught’ in the typical sense to you. We all ‘get it’ to some degree but the thing that training gives you is the ability to be prepared for anything. As I said before, the best auditioners are the best actors. We’re also in the age of ‘instant fame’ which can sometimes defeat the purpose of these training programs. When I was growing up, the only way to be famous was to be great. That has certainly changed but it’s the actors with the longevity and the training that will have the best careers. I started acting when I was a kid and just kept acting. People always ask, how did I become a full-time actor? I kept acting, no matter what. I found a way to act every day, and although it might not have paid the bills, I was on my way. We are responsible for creating our own acting opportunities before we can expect them to be presented to us. Once you're in the mindset and you've got the momentum after working on a few projects, you must keep going.
Ian: A lot of programs like to focus on stage acting. Do you enjoy one over the other?
Duane: I spent the first part of my life solely as a stage actor. Once I was exposed to on-camera work in the early 90’s, I really became enamoured with it. Besides the fact that it does pay better, your performance will last forever. There are really only two differences when it comes to transitioning from stage to film. Stage actors simply tend to over-project. It’s important to use the intimacy of the microphone which is just out of frame to draw the audience to you and not go chasing them for attention with your performance. The second thing is a bit more nuanced but I like to say that stage acting is a ‘success medium’ whereas film acting is a ‘fail medium.’ Onstage, I would probably deliver the line “I love you” in a loving sense but on camera, I might have the ability to say it with resentment. The audience is much closer and can therefore sense the depth in the phrase. It certainly isn’t impossible to do onstage but it makes for a much more effective performance on camera because of how intimate you are with the audience.
To hear about Duane's work with Berridge, check out the video below!
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