Take 5: Jane Kelly, Acting teacher

On Thursday nights in Jane Kelly’s ongoing acting workshop, approximately 30 aspiring actors of all ages gather in a remote warehouse in Deerfield Beach. The dimly lit performance room has just one sign on its walls: “Respect the Craft of Acting. Respect Your Fellow Actor.”

Over the next couple of hours, many of the actors will laugh. Some will cry. Others will grow frustrated. But all of them will learn something from their accomplished teacher.

Kelly, a London-born thespian who started the Actor’s Workshop of South Florida (theactorsworkshop.org) in Boca in 2002, sits in the front row, watching her protégés with an eagle eye. “You’re thinking. Stop thinking,” she says to an actress buried in her own thoughts. When the actress passionately flubs a line, Kelly remarks, “We like when those moments happen, because it shows you’re not on autopilot.”

“Meet [the character] where she’s going; do not preconceive,” she says later, and “if it’s not the truth for you, don’t play an imitation of it.”

Kelly can be exacting and critical but also nurturing, whispering support into an actress’ ear as she’s tearing up during an emotional scene. Kelly recently was named one of the four top acting teachers in Florida by Lori Wyman, one of the most prominent casting directors in the Southeast. Her students have had speaking parts in “Marley & Me,” “Burn Notice” and others shows, as well as numerous community and professional theater roles.

“I am fulfilled with this opportunity to see the difference [the class] makes in people’s lives,” she says.

Your website touts that the Actor’s Workshop is “not just another acting school.” What makes it unique?

Some say it’s like a family, and others say it’s life changing. When I hear those descriptions, they don’t come out of my head. The students say it repetitively. What I believe sets us apart is that I’m one of the few working professional actors down here who’s teaching. Everything I teach is from the foundation of what I know I needed out there [as an actor].

What brought you to teaching?

I had been working nonstop as an actor since I was 9, and when I moved down here I decided for the first time in my life to see what nonacting would be like. What would it be like to be one of those so-called “normal people?” But I wanted to give back in the community, and due to some personal circumstances, things happened and I suddenly realized I was going to try teaching.

What are some of the mistakes or misconceptions that your first-time students have?

First off is thinking they know more than they do, and second is not realizing that there really is more work to it than they expect. Sometimes they come in and think that because they play Charades really well in their living room that they’re going to show the class what they’re about. But our dynamic doesn’t leave a lot of room for ego.

What are the ancillary benefits of the workshops?

The foundation of acting is how to relax, how to use your voice, how to connect, how to access your emotion, all these things that on a daily basis we need to be aware of that either shut down or we aren’t connected with. Shy people want to come to class even though they never imagined they would have anything to do with acting.

Is there something innate that good actors have—something they’re born with, that can’t necessarily be taught?

I believe there is, but I do not believe that that’s it. I knew since the moment I could breathe that I could act, but there are some that might come to it later, and, through the work and the process, discover that internal something that allows them to access it. Deep down, we all have a passion in some form or another.