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The Active Imagination Method of Kirk Baltz
by Don Schwartz
For years, I've been receiving announcements about acting workshops led by Kirk Baltz. Although he started as a painter in New York, Baltz switched to acting, eventually landing supporting roles in "Dances with Wolves" (1990), "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), "Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), and "Face/Off "(1997), among many others. Around that time, he started teaching and acquired a loyal following. Evidently, he makes a big difference in people's professional practices. But how and why?
Multitalented Kirk Baltz has become a go-to acting teacher and coach in the Bay Area. photo courtesy K. Baltz
It took local indie actress-icon Kari Wishingrad, one of his more impassioned followers, to convince me to find out for myself. What I discovered was a multi-talented, amazing guy who has become integral to the Bay Area's acting community - and who, one of these days, may also start to shine in our production community. We met at a Mill Valley coffee shop.
CineSource: So how did you get into acting and then teaching?
Kirk Baltz: I started studying acting in New York, in the late '80s, when I was 27. I was a painter in New York, and starting to show my work, [but] acting was something I always wanted to try. I found a Meisner-based teacher named Greg Zittel [now at NYC On Stage and does some television acting], and spent two-and-a-half years with him. I started working and getting more interested in becoming an actor. Meisner-based work was a great place for me to start.
I spent quite a bit of time with Sandra Seacat - a well-known Strasberg-based teacher [out of Hollywood, considered the best by some], and started moving into Method-based work while still keeping everything that I'd worked on while doing the Meisner work. I did a lot of theater and student films in New York, a bunch of indies. After getting on 'Dances with Wolves,' I took an apartment in LA. It was a very exciting. I'd found something I loved to do and stuck with it. My first five years or so I spent a lot of time going back and forth between New York and Los Angeles.
I started working with friends, writing and developing things, and helping people with auditions. That work moved into coaching and teaching more, to the point where I started doing workshops in Europe, Los Angeles and around the United States.
I continue to do a lot of private coaching. The last two years I've been doing a fair amount online via Skype. I have quite a few students around the world with whom I do Internet sessions. I also do a number of online group classes; I have one later today with a group in Trinidad and Tobago. I love those guys!
Your training was Meisner and Method. How did you put them together?
Sanford Meisner rooted his technique in the belief that 'acting is living truthfully through imaginary circumstances.' My take is that the imagination is always at work; there are events from my past that are real, and I can drop into the essence of those experiences. I help my students to use personalizations and physical elements from those events and lift them to their imaginations, if desired. We work and re-work them, adding 'as-ifs'...'What if something happened this way instead of that?' This kind of work has served me and those I work with well.
How did you first get connected to the Bay Area as a teacher?
A number of actors, writers and directors in the Bay Area started hearing about my work. A couple of them helped me set up workshops, and I began teaching in San Francisco about seven years ago. I found myself really taken with this very vibrant, creative community. So many students that I work with are from different places; they get into the mindset 'I need to go to New York or Los Angeles in order to do the kind of work I want to do.' I'm a big supporter of 'No matter where you are, do everything you can to create your own work.' I find a lot of 'creating your own work' going on in the Bay Area, and that excites me. I have some students that split time between LA and San Francisco, and I work with them in both places. I teach around six to eight weekend workshops per year in the Bay Area.
With all the teaching you're doing, how do you handle your acting career?
I've been very fortunate with how things have fallen into place. I just did a film with Joshua Leonard called 'The Lie.' Right now I'm working on a film called 'Serpent Rising' with writer/director Lawrence Riggins. I have a great agent here. They get me out, we audition, we do things. I love teaching and coaching, to the point where there are some things I might get offered, and if the part doesn't click for me, I wait for the next thing to come along. It's balanced out very nicely for me. I have two kids - ten and seven - and I spend as much time as I can with them. Right now it's a lotta soccer and ballet; they keep me on my toes [laughs]. Work and lifestyle-wise, things couldn't be better.
How do students find you?
Mainly word of mouth, but I also have a Website, ActorsIntensive.com. Students see my teaching schedule and register via that site.
You are obviously very busy. Have you written or do you plan to write a book about your approach?
I'd like to. I've been compiling material from my online sessions. I hope to create an eBook and an online library that covers specific topics, and then I'll be translating them into a couple of different languages. But that's long-term. Right now I'm just taking my time, doing what I love doing, and building a library of that work.
As a teacher and a coach you effectively are being a director. What about writing and directing?
I'm working on that too. I did a short a few years ago. There are a few writers I'm working on things with. Certainly, the teaching, coaching, and acting have helped me to get to a place where I feel I could direct something. It's very much on the horizon for me. I love working with friends and family, so to speak, and I'm always looking for projects like that. When the time and place is right, I'll be there with bells on.
Don Schwartz is a writer, actor and doctor of philosophy living in Marin County:
Posted on Aug 12, 2010 - 07:38 PM