To understand the philosophy of filmmaker, director, and acting coach Michelle Danner, it is only necessary to hear the truth of her own words:
"The craft of acting is as alluring as it is mysterious, and it takes a being of great passion, insight, and determination in order to succeed. But to teach acting – to inspire creative souls to successfully harvest those tools – requires an even great commitment to bring out the best in each and every actor one encounters…the important thing is to keep growing as an artist, to keep raising the bar for yourself.”
Michelle has taught acting for the last 29 years and has worked with many A-List actors privately and on set, including Chris Rock, Gerard Butler, Seth MacFarlane, Penelope Cruz, James Franco, and Zooey Deschanel. In 2020, Michelle anticipates the release of the supernatural thriller Bad Impulse, while prepping her next feature, The Runner starring Cameron Douglas. That’s in addition to running her weekly acting class, keeping watch over the conservatory program at the Los Angeles Acting School (which she co-founded), directing a play starring Anne Archer at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, or cheering on her two high-school aged sons as they pursue their own passions. Michelle took time out of her workaholic’s schedule to interview in April 2020.
When did the Edgemar Center for the Arts first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?
Michelle Danner: We built the theaters and the art gallery at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in the year 2000. We’re actually celebrating our twentieth anniversary! When I discovered the space, the Santa Monica Museum of Art was there; and it was a big open space. We were able to raise funds to build these beautiful theaters. Ever since then, we have had many many theater productions, musical theater shows, children’s shows, independent film festivals, outreach programs, and exhibits. We have hosted hundreds of events. I was the person who got everyone to believe that this could be a thriving cultural center. I was involved from the beginning, including the construction. I always joke that I know more about drywall, plumbing, and electricity than I would have ever wanted to know. I have been the artistic director for the Edgemar Center for the Arts from its inception. I had a vision for what it could be, and I got a group of similar minded folks to come on board and be part of it.
When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?
MD: We were. Thankfully, we had just finished our film festival, Cinema at the Edge, that takes place every year. We had a great response to our screenings, culminating at the end with our award ceremony. Shortly after that, we had to shut down. I was in the middle of rehearsing a very wonderful show, A Ticket to the Circus, with Anne Archer. It was written by Bonnie Culver about Norris Church Mailer, the wife of Norman Mailer; and we had to cancel our rehearsals abruptly and reschedule them from day to day. When it became clear that we had to cancel everything all together, we shut down completely. Because of the unknown of this, it remains a mystery when we will be able to reopen. We had two other shows that were set to open which we also had to cancel and plan to reschedule.
Over the past weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater?
MD: It’s impacted it tremendously in the way that everybody has stayed home, but we have touched base online and on the phone. People are scared, sometimes isolated, and not close to their families. A lot of our employees were dependent on their paycheck. We have done our best, but it’s not easy.
Are you dong anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen? Auditioning? Fundraising?
MD: We are streaming chats and having virtual meetings with our acting students, but it’s not the easiest. Again, all of this because there is an unknown factor to it. We are, however, starting a GoFundMe page to ask people to help keep the theater open. When it’s time - and if anybody would like to help - we are a 501(c)(3). No donation is too small, and they are all tax deductible. Anyone can reach me directly through our website. I would be happy to talk to anyone about different possibilities.
What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?
MD: If we read the history of all pandemics, they all come to an end. So I am hoping that there will be a renewed desire to want to share live theater with other people. There is nothing like a communal experience together. Maybe this will help us appreciate the value of that even more.
What are some of your future plans?
MD: Our future plans are to remount what we had planned for the spring and the summer and develop some new plays that will thematically address what we have all been going through. We will also be preparing for “Cinema at the Edge 2021.” I believe that great art can come out of scary times. This is a moment in our lives that can give birth to great content. From my point of view, the theater can never die. When we are back in action, we all need to support it. Right now, I miss theater and that magical shared experience with others.
This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.