Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Be ALIVE -- Richard Warner

Anyone who has seen the recent videos of my Dancers Among Us series knows that each one ends with this motto - "be ALIVE."

If there's one overriding hope I have for my children, it is to be alive, in every sense. When I meet someone who is truly alive and committed to their life's passion, I want to call attention to him or her. This is the first in a series of posts celebrating such people.

be ALIVE - Richard Warner

Richard Warner, Head of Acting at University of Virginia, in front of his Glass Menagerie poster

I can honestly say that only two teachers ever excited me. One was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Flood, because I had a crush on her (I've always been a sucker for brunettes). The other was Irby Brown, an inspiring professor at the University of Richmond, who remains a friend to this day. That's it. Finding a teacher who is engaging, bright, thoughtful, invested and not terribly self-absorbed is rare. For the acting students at the University of Virginia, Richard Warner embodies these traits, and they are very lucky to have him in their corner.

This past weekend, UVA flew me to campus to photograph acting headshots for many of their students, and I spent two days hanging out with Richard, who is Head of Acting for the grad and undergrad programs. He's a very joyful man, supportive of his students and really invested in their futures. He obviously loves his work. He talked (and talked, and talked) about his students with great pride and excitement.

And he's full of curiosity. He stayed with me as I wandered around campus with each student, looking for the best light, colors and textures. He peppered me with questions about my process, and he welcomed the free-form nature of my approach. His encouragement reassured the students, and provided me with the freedom I needed to give them each a unique and creative headshot. Plus he took me to a baseball game, at the very same field I played on years ago. He exhibited great passion for the baseball program as well (and basketball, football, lacrosse and soccer programs). He was the perfect host.

I've spent the past three months shooting acting headshots and comp cards for grad students from all over the country. Their experiences vary dramatically, but one thing is pretty consistent - they're all in debt. Acting school is no less expensive than law school or med school, but paying off the loans is much more difficult. As a result, the MFA they receive usually carries with it a six-figure debt that's difficult to overcome. Richard has instituted an incredible policy at UVA- each grad student gets a full scholarship, plus a $21,000/year stipend. These students are at an incredible advantage because they're not saddled with debilitating debt.

I could go on and on about Richard, but I've been advised by people who know about these things that my posts can be a bit wordy (too late). So I'll just say this - students at UVA, you're lucky to have Richard. If you don't realize it right now, you definitely will soon enough.

Below are some of the headshots I took this week (with Richard's help - did I mention he held my reflectors?).