Young Princetonian catches acting bug
By Diccon Hyatt
It was when Lizzy DeClement started kicking the puppy that acting teacher Jody Wood knew the young actress had a special kind of talent.
The puppy wasn’t real. (No animals were harmed in the making of this article.) It was part of an exercise at Wood’s acting studio, JW studio in West Windsor, where DeClement was a student.
The exercise is called “Entrances.” Students are supposed to enter a scene and put themselves in the shoes of a character whose beloved dog has died, and imagine they are coming home to see that their mother has gotten them a new puppy.
“Nine point five out of 10 times, the kids are going to be happy,” Wood said.
Not DeClement, of Princeton, who was 14 at the time. She flew into a rage, furious that her mother had tried to replace her dog. She started yelling and ranting and kicking the imaginary puppy.
“That reaction is so unusual,” Wood said. “The connection she had to her character and the fact that she didn’t care what anyone thought. I never forgot it.”
DeClement, now 19, is studying acting at Rider University and is getting real-world experience in the craft by appearing in movies and TV shows. She delayed entering college for a year to work, and is appearing with Brendan Fraser in a movie called HairBrained. She also plays a police officer’s daughter in the TV series NYC 22.
Though DeClement acted in high school drama productions, she’s not what you would call a child actor. Her mother, who acted on Broadway, made sure of that.
“She’d seen child actors in the business and she didn’t want that to be my life,” DeClement said.
Instead, DeClement went to school and had what she calls a normal childhood growing up in Princeton. But the call of acting was irresistible for DeClement, who at 14, ended up at JW Acting Studio learning the trade from Wood.
“My mother definitely helped me, but she never pushed me forward. I pushed it forward myself,” she said.
DeClement said she has enjoyed her foray into screen acting. She plays Ruby Harper on NYC 22, which is a drama that follows six rookie New York City cops. DeClement plays the daughter of one of the main characters, played by Adam Goldberg. DeClement said she couldn’t discuss her character’s story, because several upcoming episodes revolve around her.
She found out about the NYC 22 role through her manager, then went to an audition last year. She was overjoyed to learn she got the part, especially because one of her favorite actors, Robert DeNiro, is a producer. She hasn’t yet met the legendary actor. Wood likes to speculate that at some point, DeNiro saw DeClement’s audition and approved of it.
Being on the set of a network TV show was an eye-opening experience for DeClement.
“It’s fun and it’s exciting,” she said. “One of the things I realized was that there is so much that goes into it that you don’t see on TV. You assume there are the actors and the cameraman. but shooting a scene, there are a lot of people on the other side of the camera doing a lot of things. You don’t realize how many people are working on a scene until you’re there.”
DeClement said one of the techniques she uses to get into her role is called personalizing. That is, any questions you are able to answer yourself, you should be able to answer about the character as quickly as you can in real life.
Wood said he was impressed by DeClement’s drive to succeed. DeClement, who credits Wood with giving her excellent acting instruction, said she is determined to pursue an acting career despite the terrifying nature of it.
“You don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” she said. “There are no guarantees. You just have to kind of believe in yourself and go for it.”
Princeton Town Topics: IT’S NEW TO US
By Jean Stratton
“SPEAK THE SPEECH”:
“Some people who take the classes will never act, but they will become better listeners, better speakers, better communicators, better executives, better salespeople — whatever their business is. It can help them in all areas of their life.” Jody Wood has established JW actors studio, offering a wide range of acting and oratory classes.
Wide Spectrum of Acting and Oratory Classes Are Now Available at the JW actors studio
The JW actors studio is the place to go for ages eight to 80 for professional training in acting, comedy improvisation, and oratory.
“All of our workshops focus on the work. The process one needs to experience in order to be the best actor, performer, and speaker that they can be,” says Jody Wood, founder of JW actors studio, located at the Princeton Dance & Theater Studio at 116 Rockingham Row in Princeton Forrestal Village and also at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, The Arts Council of Princeton.
“To be a really truthful, honest actor is to embark on a journey that is not completed in any short amount of time. It takes commitment, discipline, and the ability to give it your all. One needs to be able to unlock their inhibitions, be open to new challenges, and to let themselves really tap into and trust their creativity.”
An actor for 25 years, Mr. Wood studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and performed on stage, in movies and on television. He appeared on such TV shows as Law & Order, NYPD Blue, JAG, West Wing, CSI Miami, ER, and Boston Public, among many others.
He has also appeared in numerous commercials, and has provided voice overs for on camera and radio commercials as well as many video games. Earlier in his career, he wrote and performed his one-man show Off-Broadway, and was a member of the Groundlings East Comedy Troupe, which later became Gotham City Improv.
“I moved back east from Los Angeles in 2004, and had been helping some people privately, coaching them for auditions, speaking engagements, etc., and I found I liked it,” explains Mr. Wood. “I decided I wanted to help even more people, and then the space at the Princeton Dance & Theater Studio became available.”
Classes are offered for all ages and at all levels, from beginning to advanced, in acting, film, improv, commercial, voice over, and oratory workshops. There is also a children’s exploratory theater and a newly formed troupe of Comedy Improv actors, “Far & in Between”.
Students include those who aspire to professional acting careers as well as those who want to improve public speaking skills, and those who just want to enjoy a new experience and have fun. For those hoping to get into show business, JW actors studio has connections with area and New York and Los Angeles talent agencies.
“My goal is to teach students about the root of all good acting,” says Mr. Wood. “When you are acting, you need to know what your objective is and what your obstacles are. My acting philosophy is based on Sanford Meisner of The Group Theatre. His philosophy was that in acting what is important is speaking and behaving truthfully in imaginary circumstances. A well-trained actor can convince anyone of anything as long as they believe it themselves and keep it real.”
Mr. Wood typically includes various exercises to help students tap into their creativity and reduce nervousness and inhibitions.
Exercises and Games
“People are often self-conscious when speaking in front of a group,” he explains. “When we start, I say ‘We’re all in this together.’ I introduce myself and ask the students to say one or two things about themselves. Then, I’ll ask them ‘What is your passion? What do you love? Tell me about it.’ Everyone has something they are really interested in, and when they start to talk about it, they loosen up.
“We have exercises and games with words and props, too. ‘How does that word make you feel?’ A variety of different exercises helps to open everyone up. Usually, by the third or fourth week, we do monologues and then scenes.”
Fourteen or 15 students generally make up a class, although it can be more or less. Classes, which are held both at the Forrestal location and at the Arts Council, meet once a week for one or two hours for 34 weeks. Usually, after a year, students advance to the next level.
In the course of his teaching, Mr. Wood realized that public speaking is a daunting experience for many people — “It’s terrifying!” states an otherwise calm and collected individual. “I thought that acting skills can be incorporated into public speaking, so I introduced the JW Oratory Studio. When you are speaking to a group, you need to know what your point is and why. Why should people listen to you?”
Mr. Wood has helped numerous people, from teens to corporate executives, improve their speaking skills and gain self-confidence doing so.
In addition, team building programs for businesses and institutions have become popular. “We have workshops for people from different companies, as well as from Princeton University. These team building programs incorporate improvisation and theater games and exercises, while helping participants to think more quickly on their feet, solve problems together, and dramatically increase their creative output, innovation, and productivity.”
Mr. Wood is pleased that his various programs have helped such a variety of individuals of all ages. “I’ve had parents come in and say what a difference the workshops have made for their child in school and in interacting with others. They will be able to use these skills in every area of their life and work.”
He is also happy that he has been able to add this new dimension to his chosen profession. “As an actor, I found that I enjoyed making people laugh, think, or cry. Now, I like watching people grow, not only in the craft, but as people. Seeing a very shy person blossom and become more confident and to be the best they can be is wonderful. We are all unique and all have special things to contribute.”
In his desire to help his students, he sets an example. As a mother of one of his students noted: “Jody Wood is a perfect combination of actor/teacher/coach/and role model.”
Summer camp offered for budding actors
Monday, June 11, 2012
By Keith Loria, Special Writer
There are a number of places in the area where teens and young adults can get acting lessons or take theatrical training, but when Jody Wood started JW Actor’s Studio in Princeton in 2006, he wanted to provide something a little different. Rather than just offer your run-of-the-mill training exercises, Mr. Wood envisioned a place where students could go to learn about all aspects of the industry— the crafts of acting, writing, directing and improvisation as well as the practical aspects of the business.
”I had known about a place in Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) where kids would create characters in improv and this inspired them to write their own plays, and I thought it was such a great idea,” Mr. Wood says. “I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t this work in Princeton?’”
Mr. Wood is going to find out this summer when his studio teams up with Shadowland Productions to offer “Empower Play,” an immersive theatrical and writing camp for middle- and high-school students from Aug. 6-17.
Shadowland Productions is a professional film and television production company run by Kevin Fox that has produced shows for FOX and CBS and is an umbrella company for screenwriting consultant services, screen and television script analysis, and the development of all areas of the writing craft and business. Mr. Fox is an established Hollywood screenwriter with credits including “The Negotiator” starring Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson. When his daughter took a class at JW Actor’s Studio, he befriended Mr. Wood and the two developed the idea for the camp. ”When Jody brought up the idea, I thought it was great. It’s always amazed me how few actors understand the writer’s process,” he says. “Acting and improv is a great brainstorming method for writing; they work naturally together.” Mr. Wood has been a professional actor for the past 25 years, working in films like “L.A. Confidential” and “Halloween,” TV shows like “Boston Public” and “NYPD Blue” and numerous theatrical productions. He hopes that his rich experience in the field will help teach aspiring actors how best to be successful in the challenging field.
The camp will start off with the students brainstorming and doing improvisation exercises, developing ideas for characters, lines and scenes.
”We’ll have a lot of creative sessions and then start the writing process,” Mr. Wood says. “They will break into groups and continue to create characters and work with Kevin in the writing lab, and I will work with the kids on the play.”
Mr. Fox adds that the fun part about it is that toward the end of the first week, they are going to discover that they have actually been writing all along.
”You start combining the ideas and lines that got a good reaction from improv and once they start getting it down, making their characters and working on a beginning, middle and end, they will realize they have a complete outline from what they did all week,” he says. “They’ll learn it can be fun and collaborative.”
At the end of the two-week camp, each “mini troupe” will perform a work that they have written and directed, with industry professionals in the audience to watch.
”I have some contacts with talent agencies who expressed interest in the showcase and are open to seeing what we do,” Mr. Wood says. “It’s an excellent opportunity for kids. This will show the kids that not only is it fun, but that it’s an industry that should be taken seriously and be respected.”
While the camp is targeted toward actors, the lessons learned can help any child succeed in other areas of their life as well.
”Most kids I work with are not going to become professionals, but parents have said to me time and time again how their children are more confident, raising their hands in class more and their listening skills have gotten better,” Mr. Wood says. “They become more creative and communicative and those benefits can be seen during presentations at school.”
Mr. Fox says the class does a great deal to up the emotional quotient of a youngster.
”The camp will help them understand people and how to connect to people better,” he says. “When you understand character and understand motivation and all the pieces that acting and writing brings to the table, it helps with many communication skill sets in life.”
After the summer, Mr. Wood and Mr. Fox plan on continuing their approach and future plans include one-day seminars during the fall, holiday breaks and hopefully a repeat camp next summer.
”We think we’re bringing something unique to the Princeton area and it’s very exciting and kids will walk away having learned something,” Mr. Wood says. “Not only will they learn a lot about acting and writing, but they will leave with something that serves them in life in so many ways.”
The two-week camp costs $995.
Actor, writer team up to offer pro theater camp for kids
By Diccon Hyatt
Growing up, Jody Wood always wanted to be a cop.
Now that he’s 27 years into his career, he’s been a New York City beat cop, a Boston detective and a Los Angeles detective. He’s also been a murderer and a drug addict, but mostly, he’s been a cop, over and over.
“I’ve played a ton of cops on TV,” Wood recalled. “Which is a little bit safer.”
As an actor, Wood’s career has spanned film, the stage, television and even video games and radio commercials. In 2005, he moved from Hollywood to Hopewell and opened his own acting school. The JW Actors Studio, located in Forrestal Village in Princeton, trains actors ages 8 to 80 in a series of classes aimed at improving all aspects of acting.
Wood has classes for career performers like Lizzie DeClement, and for amateurs who just want to improve their speaking ability or build self-confidence.
Wood’s credits include movies L.A. Confidential and Halloween and TV shows Boston Public, NYPD Blue and CSI Miami. He’s also performed in the theater in Born Yesterday and Long Days Journey into Night. Video gamers who played Grand Theft Auto, Vice City, The Ballad of Gay Tony, might recognize his voice, as he played a character in the game.
For the past seven years, Wood has been devoted to passing on his skills to aspiring actors.
Now, Wood is teaming up with screenwriter Kevin Fox to create an intensive summer acting, directing and writing camp called EmPower Play.
At the two-week camp, middle and high-school students will improvise, write and act out their own scenes. Fox, who wrote the movie The Negotiator, among numerous other credits, will lead the writing portion of the camp, whereas Wood will instruct improvisation and acting.
The camp, which will take place August 6-17 in Princeton, will conclude with students performing the plays they created.
Wood teaches his own style of acting, which differs from the famous “method” acting.
Many of Wood’s classes use improvisation to teach people how to understand and then act like the characters they are portraying. To Wood, acting isn’t about deceiving the audience. Quite the opposite.
“It’s about truthful, honest behavior,” he said. “It’s not about acting, it’s about being and doing.”
Wood learned acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. One of his teachers was Janis Powell, who was in turn a student of Constantin Stanislavski’s system of acting.
“One thing that was always taught to me was to imagine a personality for the character you are playing,” Wood said. He said it’s more important to imagine what the character is going through than to draw on emotions from your own life.
“It’s about being real in an imaginary world,” he said.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Wood, who spent 1993 through 1995 working at the Alchemist and Barrister by night and auditioning for roles by day. Wood said being a professional actor is only for people who couldn’t possibly imagine being anything else. But acting lessons can be beneficial even for people who have no intention of being professionals, he said. Learning to act can make people better speakers and more outgoing.
Joe and his wife Sally live in Hopewell and have two children, Joe and Lucy.