With his frequent firings and penchant for workplace naps, Seinfeld sidekick George Costanza would be the last person you’d turn to for career advice. But the man who became famous playing the role for nine seasons on the comedy? He’s golden.
Spending most of Monday at Pomona College, actor and director Jason Alexander impressed students with his candid, detailed advice in a career Q&A and in an afternoon teaching session with two introductory acting classes. “He was very frank,” said Rishi Sangani ’15, a Seinfeld fan excited about the chance to see Alexander in person. “He didn’t hide the truth at all.”
At the lunchtime session sponsored by the Career Development Office and Smith Campus Center, Alexander said students interested in showbiz careers are facing “the best of times and the worst of times.”
On the one hand, there are few gatekeepers – anyone can grab a camera and get to work. “No one can keep you from doing what you want to do,” he said. But the downside is “there’s so much product it’s very hard to be compensated for your work because they all have so many options.”
“If you do something brilliant, it will cut through, it will give you a name,” said Alexander, who won a Tony in 1989 for his role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. “But getting that thing to break through is incredible hard right now.”
The answer? Start now. College students should already be building the community they want to work with, he said. “Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity”
“Go out and do it. It’s not rocket science. You’ve been watching TV and movies since you were this big.”
Alexander encouraged the students to clarify their thinking and be more specific about their aims and the roles they want to play. “Actors tend to think of themselves as spaghetti thrown against the wall. Whatever hits, whatever sticks, I’ll do that,” he said. “If you want to be on stage … focus there. If you want to be on television … focus there. Give your ambitious life a little bit more of a laser focus and head that way.”
Narrowing your vision, he said, can give you a better sense of definition and purpose.
When Shani Paul ’16, a media studies major, asked how she should go about pursuing summer opportunities in New York, he pressed her for more detail about what she wanted to do. When she said her dream was to direct TV dramas, he suggested she seek out production companies and pursue any opportunity that will get her the chance to watch the director at work. Or, he suggested, consider a summer film school. Or just start directing something now. “Find a piece of work and go direct it,” he said. “Make stuff.”
Alexander recounted a time early in his career when he became “crippled by stage fright” and was “too afraid to tell anybody.” He finally confided in his acting teacher Larry Moss, who refused to coddle him.
“He went, ‘Get over yourself. All you do is tell stories. Tell the … story,’” Alexander recalls. “After that, it got progressively better.”
Later in the day, Alexander spent two hours with students in Basic Acting classes taught by Professor Betty Bernhard and Visiting Lecturer Janet Hayatshahi. Afterward, students gathered to get their pictures taken with the actor.
“He definitely challenged my opinion about what real actors are like and what they do,” said Ben Brostoff ’14, adding that he was impressed that Alexander didn’t rely on mood and feeling. “It was very challenging,” added Tori Gaines CMC ’13, who acted out a scene while Alexander offered tips. “He expected detail right away.”