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The Gift of Mentorship


 

By Doug Shapiro

When I was a wee Shakespeare stripling at the Theater at Monmouth back in the ‘90s, it was Jeremiah Kissel who checked on our merry band of Interns. He would volunteer time from his considerably busy Shakespeare-in-rotating-rep schedule to make sure that our generation of actors was learning the needed skills to build our own technique.

“Who needs to learn how to make facial hair pieces? Sit down, I’m going to show you how.”

“Who needs to learn how to do old-age makeup? Sit down, I’m going to show you how.”

Jeremiah also led by example. He was electric on stage. I studied the way he leapt between characters by shifting their resonators, altering their spine, discovering their laugh. I hoarded every gesture of his into my mental shopping cart for use in future shows.

And when life threw him some seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he patterned for me how to leave them outside the dressing room and rehearsal hall and channel them into greater truth-telling onstage.

Jeremiah Kissel was my mentor. Learning these concepts in college is one thing. Performing with an actor who lives that truth cements them. Here was a fellow actor, Jewish like me—not playing Shylock, but instead crafting Shakespearean kings, heroic soldiers and foppish dandies. And he demonstrated what it was to be a both a multiple-character craftsman and a Gentleman of the Theatre. Even now, he embodies Tikkun Olam, a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.

Though grateful, I always wondered why he gave so much of his time to us when other actors were far too busy.

Here I am in 2016 and I suspect I’m older now than he was then. I often feel like a teenager in my soul while my body has turned into this middle-aged guy. People keep hiring me, yet something inside me waits for them to turn around and say, “Whoops! I know you’ve been working with us for 16 seasons, but we just realized you’re an impostor with no skill. We’re going to use this bag of oranges instead. Or perhaps a nice geranium.”

What’s the strongest antidote for feeling a bag of oranges might replace me?

I not only offer free seminars wherever I act, I now have a side career doing this career-coaching work I love so much. Through Accelerated Artist, I’ve led seminars and taught entire semesters on the business of acting at more than a dozen universities up and down the east coast and I’ve learned something surprising about the other end of mentorship. The gift the mentor receives.

When a student writes to me after a seminar (and I don’t mean “friending” me on social media. A handwritten note separates the wheat from the chaff). It lets me know I’m making a difference., and that there is hope that among all the American Idol-tainted audition machines that schools are churning out these days, there are some true Citizens of the Theatre joining our ranks.

I will do whatever I can to help these artists succeed and I still carry Jeremiah’s teachings with me.

Here’s the point: There is a teacher, a guest lecturer, a great artist who took the time that needs o hear from you. And, in a business sense, it can also work in your favor.

People know I’m a connector and I’m constantly asked for recommendations. It is the students and young performers who stay in touch with me that are at the forefront of my mind. For them, I have opened doors to auditions, landed them gigs on national tours and singing backstage at Broadway benefits. I always have free time for them.

What do I get out of this? Love and influence are my guiding values. When I teach a group of students, they become like my kids. I start with love, even if I’m only seeing them for an hour. The influence part comes in when I get to connect them with opportunities in their chosen field. What greater pleasure can there be than providing a young artist with a job AND solving the hiring problem for a dear colleague? And when it turns out to be a great match and they work together again? That’s gravy.

So to you more experienced artists, I say take the time and teach the children well.

To you young artists, saying thank you opens a million doors. So follow up with us. Ask those questions. Enlist us in solving your artistic quandaries. We’re at your service.

I should add to this that when I showed Jeremiah this article, he mentioned that when he started at the Theater at Monmouth in 1979, the actor Carl Trone gathered him and the other apprentices in a room and taught them crepe hair and latex to make facial hair pieces. Jeremiah paid it forward like Carl before him.

Jeremiah Kissel patterned the type of man, mentor, and actor I’m always striving to be.
What greater honor could there be than for a young artist to choose me as their Jeremiah Kissel?

Are you ready to start one-on-one informational interviews with potential mentors? There’s an art to it. Schedule a 20-minute consult with me and we’ll start the process!


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