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Our Acting Studio’s Favorite Holiday Movies

Acting Professional's Favorite Holiday Movies

The great thing about holiday traditions is that — while there are common threads — everyone has their own unique take that makes them personally meaningful. Holiday movie choices are no different. While some enjoy the widely-acclaimed classics, others are perfectly happy with a movie which, on the surface, may appear to have very little to do with the season (Famously,  The Die Hard Phenomenon :).

Below, our faculty members each list one or two of the movies  that have a special meaning for them around Christmas and the Holiday Season.

 

Elizabeth MestnikThe Year Without Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street

It’s so hard to pick just one favorite holiday movie…they each serve a different emotional purpose. Nostalgia? The Year Without A Santa Clause which came out in 1974 when I was 6 is indelibly sealed in my memory. I love the Claymation and the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs… and it even has a bit of a #MeToo bent with Mrs. Clause doing more than baking cooking cookies and dinner for Santa – she’s got real chutzpah. And the song “I’ll have a Blue Christmas Without You” will pinch a tear from even Scrooge’s eye.

But I think my favorite Holiday Movie this year (as it seems to change depending on what I’m going through each year and what I “need”) is the original Miracle on 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn is my all time favorite Santa Clause – if you can’t believe in him as Santa you really are a Grinch. My son (my youngest) is now 9 years old – and he’s come to us with the question “Is Santa real?” and I feel my heart breaking as I know this is probably the last year that a bit of the Santa Clause magic will live in our home. The family will definitely be watching this film this weekend – trying to dispel his doubts for just a few more weeks.

 

Sandy EganThe Bishop’s Wife

My favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947 starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. With supporting work from Elsa Lanchester and Monty Wolley. Cary Grant is an angle that comes down to earth to help David Niven learn that his wife and family is more important than the cathedral he wants to build.

Cary Grant is at his most charming who presents himself as a personal assistant to the bishop played by David Niven. He works to bring the couple together at Christmas and to remind them of their love for each other. The angel, Dudley, performs a few miracles along the way including trimming a Christmas tree and providing and older gentleman a bottle of brandy that never runs out.

My favorite scene is a choir practice where only a few boys show up. Within minutes of Dudley taking over rehearsal, boys come from far and wide and sing a beautiful hymn.

It is one of my traditions at Christmas to watch this lovely little film.

 

Ken WeilerIt’s A Wonderful Life

Surprisingly, even as a non-practicing Jewish kid I had a quite a few favorite Christmas movies. I loved all the old stop motion animated movies. Frosty The Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus’ Is Coming To Town and the list goes on. But somewhere in my late 20’s I saw It’s A Wonderful Life. My first girlfriend Sarah and her amazing mother Sally did Christmas right and they weren’t gonna let me get away without discovering the magic of It’s A Wonderful Life.
The lessons of that film are powerful and that’s what makes this my favorite movie.

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” says the angel Clarence to George Bailey. This alone makes my heart leap to my throat. Often we feel alone, we feel no one remembers us, we feel no one cares if we’re here or not. But we have all had a giant affect on one another and what makes this lesson so challenging is that we never know how significantly we affect each other.

But my favorite theme of all is encapsulated in this quote, “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.” This one gets me every time. And it needs no explanation. I live in a capitalist society, I live in a big city, wealth and influence and power are being flaunted in our faces, on our phones, on our TV’s, when we drive down the street and we pass a Mercedes or a Rolls Royce and guess what? Money is important because we have to eat, pay our bills, keep a roof over our head. But people are infinitely more important than “stuff”. And that message of no man is a failure who has friends is the most important take away of all.

This movie reflects values that are the best of us. And we can sure use some uplifting positive values in our art and in our lives.

 

Diana Jellinek – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

My Dad called me “Audrey” a lot as a child. And he called my brother “Rusty.” We called him “Clark.” Those aren’t our names. He would even make dinner reservations under the surname “Griswold.” Fans of the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation may see where this is going.

My two sisters, older by then and on with their adult lives, had also been party to the month-long summer trips in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon on the way to Disneyland. But the joke belonged to my Dad, my brother and me. It harkened back to a time in our little family, pre-divorce, when “Clark” would pack us up and take us on epic long-distance driving adventures to see “The World Famous Sponge Docks” or other alleged “wonders.” We would fight and snack, unbuckled and bored, in the back of our “family truckster,” echoes of a movie we would later come to love and one that so oddly mirrored our experience that we soon referred to it as if it were our own story.

So I suppose it’s no surprise that National Lampoon’sChristmas Vacation is my favorite holiday movie. I don’t know if it’s the over-the-top enthusiasm of the wacky but lovable Dad-hero, Clark; the sexy but tolerant good-hearted Mom, Ellen; the gaggle of nutty relatives; or the awkward, gangly kids that tried mightily to forgive their parents’ embarrassing foibles along the way; but this movie, just like the original Vacation, so resembled our nutty home holidays and all the characters that it feels both personal and nostalgic – as if I’m watching a home movie from my own life.

One of the main ideas in both movies is that forced fun in no way leads to the experience of our starry-eyed, magazine-cover dreams. And no matter how much more “joy” we try to pack in with gargantuan lighting displays, spiked eggnog, gigantic trees, epic sledding hills, gourmet feasts, unwelcome guests, frenzied gift-giving, jaded kids, and all the other holiday hoopla, in the end, it’s the wild, nutty, frustrating, hair-pulling, dangerous and hysterical ride with our loved ones – and the TRUTH about how we feel about it all — that binds us together. Lots of memories, lot of laughs. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas without it.

 

Caitlin Rigney – A Christmas Story

My favorite Christmas movie without a doubt goes to A Christmas Story. Bob Clark upended the sentimental old order by making a film that almost every family can recognize and relate to over the holidays. I love how honest it is in its depiction of a family Christmas and how it has no apologies in telling the story. It was a Christmas tradition going to my aunts house on Christmas Day and sitting with my cousins in the den watching this movie marathon unfold on my grandfathers evergreen leather recliner. It connected all of us in a way I still can’t put my finger on – but I know it has to do with the Rigney sense of humor.

I mean how can one not connect or relate to childhood bullies, wanting that one very particular present from Santa, and the always hilarious turkey dinner failure. Everyone’s experienced it in their lives, whether they are willing to admit it to you or not. What I relish in in this classic tale is the scene where they are at the mall waiting in the excruciatingly long line to see Santa. As a kid I remember going to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap in order to make my parents satisfied, though I was secretly terrified of the big man in red and was told growing up never to talk to strangers. That moment in the film I relate to most. Every year I sat on Santa’s lap and every year I never knew what to say. How do I tell him what I want? And how do I talk to the coolest, most mysterious person in the world? Just like the moment in the film where Ralphie doesn’t know how to tell Santa what he truly wants more than anything in the world for Christmas. His dream present: an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range air rifle. It shows the more accurate side of what it’s like to meet Santa in a mall. Its crowded, Santa just wants to go on break and they speed things along as quickly as possible so they don’t have to deal with you for too long.

And who could ever forget the soap in the mouth treatment by their mother? I certainly can’t. I’m the baby in my family and got in trouble more times than I can count on one hand for things that weren’t my fault. I somehow always took the blame for my brothers actions and thus had to sit on the kitchen counter as my mom shoved soap in my mouth. And while we’re on the topic of mothers – another classic moment in the film is when Ralphie opens his present from his aunt and has to dreadfully walk down the stairs and model the silly bunny onesie for his mother, merely for her own pleasure. Because who hasn’t received an awful outfit that they were forced to wear?

All in all though, the best moments in the film are the ones of spontaneity. And those are the kinds of films I love most. Where the meaning of ‘play’ is thriving and people are telling a story with no apologies. It’s what makes for a great film and A Christmas Story does just that.

 

Michael Yurchak – It’s a Wonderful Life, The Christmas Chronicles

My wife introduced me to It’s a Wonderful Life when we started dating 25 years ago. We have watched it every year since, and Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it. I find the performances and what I feel as a heartfelt connection to the theme to be so moving. The supporting characters make the picture jump of the screen—these were the days of studio pros, and every single performance is rich and full of artistry. Henry Travers as Clarence gives a master class in character acting without ever tipping into caricature, Lionel Barrymore bursts to the front of every moment he occupies the screen, and Gloria Graham paints a perfect picture of the bad girl while still letting us in on Violet’s pain and struggle. Of course, Donna Reed is sublime, and Jimmy Stewart… is Jimmy Stewart!
Christmas finally starts when I watch this movie with my family each year, and it can’t get here soon enough!

For a new tradition (and on a bit of a personal note), we watched the Kurt Russel movie The Christmas Chronicles this year. I voiced one of Santa’s elves (the lovable (and hungry) Bjorn), and we couldn’t resist. Check it out on Netflix if there’s a youngster in your life! Bjorn says “Thanks for your support!”

Now Enrolling: Winter 2019 Acting Classes

The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio (EMAS) is now enrolling for our most popular Winter courses: Our 2019 Spring Meisner Program and  2019 Beginning Acting Courses.

2019 Spring Meisner Program:

acting student studying script

Our flagship Meisner Class Spring program  runs for 8 months, beginning in January of 2019. This rigorous course is designed to give the serious acting student a solid foundation in the practice of the Meisner Technique,  providing a concrete skillset rooted in accessing one’s truth to more fully relate to a character, a scene and one’s self.

Read more about our Meisner Program here, or schedule an interview today.

2019 Winter Beginning Acting Courses:

Acting Foundations; Beginning Acting

acting class presentation - students and acting coach

12 Weekly Courses beginning  January 8th.

Our demanding but fun Acting Foundations class is designed to touch on the fundamental skills required in the acting profession. The class draws from Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, Linklater, and many other techniques to lay a foundation for engaging, exciting performances on the screen or the stage.

Read More

Register Now

The Character; A Beginning Acting Class

up close and personal with acting coach

11 Weekly Classes beginning  January 10th

The Character aims to give students the experience and the tools to create characters that speak to audiences. Finding a character’s voice, physicality and psychology are emphasized through exercises, improvisations, monologue and scene work.

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Register Now

 

LA Times: “Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, life is no act”

LA_Times

Today let’s get a sneak peek at our founder Elizabeth Mestnik and her Meisner Technique class. Our founder and her teaching class was featured in LA Times earlier this week.

“To do truthfully under imaginary circumstances, that is our defining quality” – says Elizabeth.  According to her the truth and imagination come in close contact and what comes out is true feeling. Actors don’t pretend to feel sad, devastated,  joyous. The live those emotions.

“We work in a way that allows to truly get angry, truly get devastated, truly be joyous” – shares Elizabeth.

To see the full video by LA Times click here.

Play Reading Series at The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio

4 Actors, 4 Music Stands, 4 Chairs and an audience. No props, no costumes, no lights.  
Just the actors with their scripts  – and the audience.

emasla faculty reading the play Dinner with Friends

On October 29th EMAS presented the first play of the 2016-2017 Play Reading Series with Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies.  EMAS took this opportunity to allow  the acting studio’s faculty members Diana Jelinek, Jordana Oberman, Ken Weiler and Michael Yurchak to star in this Pulitzer Prize winning drama – a rare opportunity for our students to see their teachers practicing the craft.  “It was wonderful to see our instructors in action! Seeing them putting on such a great performance without any props, blocking, or anything that can help create a “scene” made me appreciate their skills even more (and really solidified my trust in them as instructors) because they were only able to use their instrument and the power of relationship to tell the story.” said EMAS alum Tessa Brennan. She added, “I love that I can continue to stay connected to the community through events like these staged readings. I’m always so grateful that I found the EMAS Meisner program when I did, not only for the foundation it has laid in terms of my craft as an actor, but for the support and connections I have garnered through the studio.”

So what exactly is a Play Reading? It almost sounds academic…but trust me it’s not! A good play reading can be full of magic. Like a great radio play or audio book, it takes you on the journey – unencumbered by complicated production values. It’s the story, the actors and the audience. That is it. With minimal rehearsals the actors work with script in hand and can really commit to their craft as storytellers and revealers of the human experience. . Believe it or not, when actors do their job well…the audience actually stops seeing the actors flip pages, they stop see the bare set, and become transported to the world of the play. As EMAS student Stephanie Hoston shared “This reading taught me just what a good actor can add to a script. The script is nothing but words on paper until the actors make choices to bring it to life. If I had simply read this play, I may have dismissed some of the more controversial characters, however because of the actors I was able to see the human sides of each character. I left the reading feeling enlightened about circumstances in my own life as a child of divorce, and inspired as an actor. As an audience member, this is all I can ask for.”

I decided to develop this program because being exposed to great writers, having knowledge of genres and styles is an important part of being a fully trained actor. It’s inspiring to see the great breadth of material that has been produced by our master playwrights. If an actor is not familiar with the work of our great playwrights, they are taking advantage of the creative inspiration they offer; the juicy roles, the imaginative circumstances. They won’t know entirely what is demanded of the actor. Remember – plays are the actors medium, movies the director’s. Many of the today’s directors ground their vision in their knowledge of theatre, Kenneth Lonergan and David Hare to name a few. Actors might mmiss important references by directors (like the idea of a scene being “Pinter-esque” or a reference to Mamet’s rhythm) and they certainly are not grounding themselves in the rich history of acting that allows them to understand the roots of the craft itself.

So we decided to offer monthly play readings to whet the appetite and help our students develop a deeper understanding and love for the best plays our western cannon offers.

We will be focusing on reading plays of the 20th and 21st centuries, giving our students an opportunity to use the training they are receiving here to approach some of the most coveted acting roles of our times. It’s a great work out for the students who are cast in these readings, as there is really minimal rehearsal. They have to do the work themselves and call upon everything they have learned here. But it is also an amazing time for the entire studio to come together as an artistic community and hear some of the greatest plays of our times.

 

Upcoming Plays in our Play Reading Series are:

December 4th, 2016  – Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck

January 29th 2017 – All My Son’s by Arthur Miller

March 26th 2017 – Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks

Admission is free – but requires an RSVP, and donations are gratefully appreciated to help us continue this program.  All readings end with a post-performance discussion that always inspires and leaves us wanting more!

Hope you come and join us for one of these events in the next few months.

~Elizabeth


Elizabeth MestnikThe founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik is an acclaimed actress, director, and acting coach . Having spent her formative years in New York City studying under William Esper, her commitment is to bringing the best of the Meisner technique and New York Acting to hollywood and the craft of acting more generally.

EMAS Is Moving to a New Studio Location

Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio (EMAS) has announced that on February 22, 2016 it will move from its current location to a new studio located in North Hollywood, Los Angeles.
The new location’s address is:

Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio
11423 Moorpark Street
North Hollywood, CA 91604

The upcoming move coincides with plans to increase the number and variety of classes and seminars offered to acting students. According to Elizabeth, “EMAS is excited to offer more supplemental workshops, such as our on camera classes, commercial technique, and personal audition coaching. Furthermore, for the first time, we’ll be offering a musical theater class which will be taught by the Tony Award-winning producer, Chris Bensinger.”

Any inquiries regarding the new location can be directed to Elizabeth Mestnik by email (director@emasla.com) or by calling the studio at (323) 528-6280.

EMAS LA’s New Location:

Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s New Website!

Elizabeth Mestnik's new responsive mobile friendly site
We’re proud to announce the launch of Elizabeth Mestnik’s new website. Designed to be responsive to mobile phones and tablets, the full range of content will now be available to users no matter what device they’re using.  As LA’s premier Meisner-based acting school, we believe the site will not only provide a more user-friendly experience, but also better provide information, ideas, and news that’s relevant to  the LA acting community.

We’ve updated the site with a significant amount of new information regarding our studio itself. Anyone interested in acting, from beginners to experienced actors can see exactly what we offer. From pages that will provide more frequent updates on upcoming classes and events, to new pages that contain biographies of our teachers, coaches and alumni, our hope is that the new site allows the acting community to better understand who we are and more easily engage with us.

Furthermore, we pride ourselves on bringing experience and a unique technique to our students. Emasla.com is not just a place where actors can sign up for classes, but rather a place where anyone can come to better understand our methods and technique specifically, and the acting industry more  generally, in particular how they relate to you as an actor; we’re happy to share our knowledge and experience on this new platform. We hope you like it!