"Beautiful, Laverne. I told you ages ago -- you were born to play Whitney Houston," The Studio owner and coach Brad Calcaterra earnestly relates to his long-time student Laverne Cox, better known as groundbreaking, Emmy-nominated TRANS actress Laverne Cox of the hit show Orange is the New Black.
"Now, sit down, Ms. Houston -- you're giving an interview on your recent success. Your line is, 'And, P.S.' followed by whatever comes next."
"And P.S.," the voice of a transcendental icon flows through the vessel of a rising star, "And P.S. -- YES, I've gained a few pounds! You try being a representative for the whole trans community, HONEY. A girl needs a SNICKERS BAR, some Ruffles. But I'm here for work, to do the work that got me an Emmy nomination. So let's go. I don't have all day, HONEY."
Cheers and laughter sparkle through The Black Box -- the dim-lit, cool-vibe studio where Mr. Calcaterra holds his weekly Act Out class, a one-of-a-kind, 4 hour session that encourages LGBT actors to use the wealth of personal experience in their own coming-out to breathe new life into the creative roles that they pursue on set or stage. Laverne Cox -- who we know as the first Trans actress to be nominated for an acting Emmy -- came home to NYC, performing for peers that witnessed her evolution from fellow-struggling-actor to modern icon. But watching the monitors set around the studio, it was remarkable how, under Brad's guidance, each and every student, regardless of their experience, seemed destined for stardom.
Witnessing a uniquely constructive space that begged to let it consume me, I was determined to maintain a writer's mindset and not submit to my second life as an actor. Still, I found myself affected, taking notes in a poetic freeform, in a channeled trance, giving in and letting go to whatever emoted, accepting that I would have to connect and craft metaphor and storyline some other time. I felt nearly drunk -- not sloppy, but uninhibited, maybe a little irresponsible for a semi-journalistic endeavor -- excited for the night's endless possibilities, sitting across the bar, lining up which actor would flirt with each character and who would go home with who for some one-on-one rehearsal before bed. Brad, the trusted bartender, enables them all to do so.
"Down a martini. Loosen up," Brad instructs a student during her serious performance of a personal monologue. She -- Pat Squire -- is an 80-something LBGT actress currently making her rounds on TV's most popular shows. Her talents and story weave a captivating tale as she remembers, in an imagined mirror, the first woman she fell in love with decades ago. Devoid of political commentary on her generation, she only recounts what matters -- how she felt and how that girl made her feel. The martini helps, and we know exactly what Pat thinks all these years later; when she wakes up from this exercise, she'll be glad her character is looking in a mirror and not iMessage. "Woah, Pat! Put the martini down; you need a Red Bull!"
Brad mixes an impressive cocktail for each student tailored to their experiences. Act Out, being New York's most unique LBGT-centric acting class, draws upon the wealth of rich emotional experiences our community's members have invariably confronted, or perhaps have been confronted by. It's a certain service for Brad to run this class, himself acknowledging the influence of his own varied experiences as a gay man has played in his ability to channel the expansive palate of characters in his acting career.
If good acting is dependent on accepting & accessing the quirks, quarrels and quests of a performer's own life, Act Out suggests that there is no greater well to draw from than members of the LBGT community. But when Brad Calcaterra tends bar, he manages to pour well drinks from the top shelf. Accept what he hands you, lower your inhibitions and approach the character you thought was out of your league. You might strike out and reconsider your approach. Or maybe you'll hit it off. Maybe you'll even bring your character around next week, the start of a creative romance that could be "the one," unlocking something that lands the big audition. Regardless of your goals, you will inevitably leave this lounge as a more self-aware, and therefore constructive, member of the LBGT community.