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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
From front line to chorus line
David Willis
By David Willis
Los Angeles

Journalist David Willis is taking six months off from the BBC to try to make it as an actor in Hollywood. In his latest diary entry for the BBC News website, he finds an acting teacher and starts to learn his craft.

Throw a rock down any street in Los Angeles, so the saying goes, and the chances are you will hit an acting coach.

Throw it hard and some would say you would make the place a little tidier.

But teaching acting to the hundreds of hopefuls who come here every year is a growth industry - one website lists more than 250 different acting schools in the Los Angeles area alone.

Joe Salazar
Acting tutor Joe Salazar found his diplomacy skills came in useful
Since my only acting experience was playing the rear end of a donkey in a school nativity play, classes were essential. But the dilemma was who to choose.

A friend recommended Joe Salazar. He had a husky New Jersey accent and the enthusiasm of a young puppy.

Half Mexican, half German, he was small with a receding hairline. But what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in charisma.

Joe seemed genuinely excited about my woeful lack of experience and urged me to "just jump right in and have some fun".

"Acting is a journey of self-discovery, you'll learn a lot about yourself in these classes," he said.

I was paired with Ross, at 63 the only person in the class who was older than me. Ross was a former car parts salesman from Indiana who had retired early to try his hand at the acting game.

David Willis and acting partner Ross
Acting partner Ross (right) seems bemused by David Willis's acting talents
With a red nose and a white beard, he looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams.

Ross's advice to me was friendly but blunt. There would be times when I would sound like a bad salesman with a mouthful of samples - but just keep going.

Joe had given us a scene from Harold Pinter's play Betrayed to rehearse in our spare time and perform for the class the following week.

I took the part of Robert, a callous husband who was being cuckolded by his best friend, Jerry. Ross seemed to relish the role of the young lothario.

Unravelled

Despite my concerns that I would be more of a ham than Miss Piggy, I thought our rehearsals went well.

But by the time Joe called on us to perform, I was experiencing the mother of all stage frights.

Suddenly, the dialogue we had spent the entire week hammering into my brain had come undone.

With my mind asleep in the upstairs bedroom, my mouth decided to sneak out of the back door all on its own, initially skipping forward a few lines, then pole-vaulting back again, only to bypass entire pages and bounce merrily from one scene to the next.

David Willis
Will David Willis be giving up the day job?
I was vaguely aware of Ross shooting me despairing glances as I ping-ponged from page to page - at one stage swapping characters and even reciting his lines.

I have a feeling I might have even started speaking in tongues, certainly it seemed there was nothing I could do - my lips had simply developed a mind of their own.

Ross tried manfully to keep up with me but he must have looked like someone trying to second guess the path of a tornado. Eventually, I lurched to a halt and my partner quickly brought the scene to a close.

With sweat pouring down my face, I peered into the darkness, searching for signs of encouragement. I spotted Joe, who had a pained look on his face.

Years spent honing his craft came to the fore as he swiftly regained his composure and came bounding onto the stage.

"Well, that was certainly an interesting start," he said, trying his best to sound encouraging.

I glanced at Ross. The poor man had aged several years in just the past few minutes.


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