ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Meg Deusner . If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
This is an unlikely story.
A story you’d expect to hear about children from Hollywood California—not Birmingham Alabama.
But what’s even more important is this story is a testament to the people of Birmingham—a city with a real sense of community.
I’ll get to the ‘community’ part in a moment—but let’s start from the beginning…
My unlikely story
Eight years ago I was an actress who had basically resigned herself to doing anything other than acting.
It’s an old story: I moved to L.A. fresh out of acting school in NYC with big dreams, but instead found myself working odd jobs, none of which involved acting.
So when my husband, a lawyer whose extended family is primarily from Birmingham, got an offer from a law firm here, we jumped at the chance and moved. I was looking forward to taking a break from the rat race, buying a home and starting a family.
Within a year of moving, we had our daughter. And although I loved being a mother, I began to miss acting.
I started teaching a class a week for a local music company and loved it so much I decided to go out on my own.
I opened Acting Out Academy, a kid’s on-camera acting school in 2011.
I created a website and started emailing everyone I had met (and some I hadn’t) about classes I was offering. I started volunteering at local elementary schools, and developing my technique for teaching kids how to act.
The one regret I had with my acting career was that looking back I realized that the years of rejection, the pressure to be the best at every audition and not catching any breaks had done a number on my self-confidence–which ultimately harmed my ability to do my best.
I wanted to create a program that specialized in building self-confidence through the performing arts.
First, we create a safe space where kids can be silly without the fear of being teased and to feel confident enough to fail. We don’t concentrate on the performance but rather enjoying the process it takes to get there.
In fact, we ask kids to stop acting and eliminate any aspect of performance to concentrate on having a truthful experience in front of the camera. We look for imperfection, just like real life. And emphasize that nothing happens when we make mistakes. We just try again.
Soon two students turned into 6, then 12, then 20. And 6 years later, I teach over 250 kids a year between regular weekly classes, camps and workshops.
And something else incredible began to happen. This plan of using acting to teach kids to be free, brave and fearless had an unexpected consequence. The kids began to get very, very good. And nothing seemed impossible.
Soon agents and managers began to see our talented kids and scoop them up. And many of the kids in the academy began auditioning for big projects in film and TV and booking them!
Kids from my program have appeared in major projects including Stranger Things, Baby Driver, Hidden Figures, American Housewife, Criminal Minds, Shut Eye, Halt and Catch Fire, and Outcast just to name a few.
As of now, over 50 of our students are represented regionally and nationally and have appeared in 16 major motion pictures and 17 major network television shows. (Netflix, Hulu, New Line Cinema, ABC, CBS, Cinemax, Twentieth Century Fox, FX, Tri-Star Pictures, Etc.)
Why children from Birmingham?
I believe Birmingham produces real, regular kids—which makes them somewhat unlike the kids who grow up in big cities, surrounded by “the business” all the time.
That unjadedness translates to performances that feel genuine, and that is a great quality to possess as a child actor in the industry.
And it’s not lost on me that the city that made these smart, funny talented kids is the same one that allowed me to succeed artistically, professionally and personally in a way I never knew I could.
The unbelievable welcoming and supportive community here has allowed me to find success in a profession I had given up on and, more importantly, help so many kids and myself achieve their dreams.
In a way, I am a bona fide comeback kid in the ultimate comeback town. And I’m proud to call it home.
Meg Deusner is an actress, casting director, acting coach and owner of Acting Out Academy and Birmingham Casting. She moved to Birmingham from Los Angeles in 2011 and lives in Vestavia Hills with her husband and two young kids.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.