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Actors in Residence Bring Hollywood to Stetson

Actors Paris Benjamin – a Stetson University alumna – and Michael Taylor Gray gave Stetson students insider insights on show business during an October workshop at Stetson’s Second Stage Theatre.

Sorry, Irving Berlin: Los Angeles-based actors Paris Benjamin – a Stetson University alumna – and Michael Taylor Gray don’t agree with your famous song “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

At least they don’t agree with that line that proclaims “everything about it is appealing.”

Show business “is not like one of those old Hollywood movies where you step off the bus with a suitcase and that smile on your face and you say, ‘I’m going to be a star!’” Gray told some three-dozen students during a workshop Oct. 25 at Stetson’s Second Stage Theatre inside the Museum of Art – DeLand.

“As we always say, it’s called show business,” continued Gray, whose credits include roles in such TV shows as “Without a Trace,” “Will & Grace” and “My Name Is Earl,” and the film “Not Easily Broken.”

The workshop, appropriately titled “The Biz of Show Biz,” covered topics that ranged from auditions, agents (how to get one) and casting directors (how to get on their radar) to the union’s Actor’s Equity and SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). Types of roles also were discussed, including the “one-liner,” the “under-five” (a part with under five lines) and more.

Gray and Benjamin currently are in residence at Stetson, where along with Professor of Theatre Arts Ken McCoy, Ph.D., each is directing a one-act production in “Sticking It to the Man: 3 Plays that Pushed Back.” Before those plays are staged Nov. 16-19 at Second Stage Theatre, Benjamin and Gray will be presenting a lecture/workshop and two master classes that cover various aspects of acting – as part of Stetson University’s Artists and Lecturers Series.

Each program is being held at Stetson Theatre Arts’ Second Stage. (Admission is free and open to the public.)

“If I was all of you, I’d be excited to be at Stetson at this time,” actor Michael Taylor Gray told students.

At the first of the workshops, while attendees were there to get the skinny on Hollywood, they also learned about … Georgia. Of the 100 “highest performing” feature films released in 2016, more were filmed in Georgia than anywhere else, by virtue of the state’s tax breaks and relative low cost for productions, revealed Benjamin. England placed second for feature films, with Canada third, California fourth and Louisiana fifth.

“New York is not even on the map anymore,” noted the French-born Benjamin, who attended Stetson as an exchange student from 1998 to 2000. Among others, her credits include roles in TV shows “Scandal,” “NCIS” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Also, through CGI (computer-generated imagery) and motion-capture suit technology, Benjamin created the roles of numerous female crew members in the film “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”

Stetson’s location in Central Florida puts the university and its students in a good place for industry work, the insiders agreed.

“If I was all of you, I’d be excited to be at Stetson at this time,” Gray said. “You guys are in a great location – basically you’re pretty close to No.1 and No. 5 [locations]. So, your options, not just as actors but as writers, producers and directors, are greater for you.”

“If you’re graduating from school and you’re wondering where you’re going to go, I think the best way to get credits now is Atlanta,” Benjamin added. “I would get an agent in Atlanta before I would get an agent in [Los Angeles].”

Both Benjamin and Gray advised students to remain diligent, whether that entails working on web series or in small, low-pay or no-pay theater companies.

“To be on stage all the time shows many, many things,” Benjamin explained. “It shows you’re still working on your craft all the time, so they [agents and casting directors] trust you can do the job. It shows you’re serious about your career and that you look at it as a career.

“And you never know who’s going to be in the audience. Maybe you don’t know any agents, but one of the actors in the show has a huge agent, and agents always come to see their clients.”

Concluded Gray, “Most people are 20-year overnight sensations. They spent about that amount of time getting to that point where they could earn that big break.”

– Rick de Yampert