BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
When Rachel Brosnahan received her first Emmy for Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, her launching pad—Wilmette’s Actors Training center—and her mentor, Founder and Executive Director Carole Dibo must have been in the thoughts of this shooting star who grew up in Highland Park.
“YOU are enough” and “It is not about acting but about being” are two of Dibo’s messages to actors that Brosnahan, who appears as the 1950’s housewife turned stand up comedian Midge Maisel, took to heart.
An upcoming Actors Training Center gala on November 3 featuring standup comedy and music, led Classic Chicago to Dibo. Less than two months ago, ATC won the Award of Honor, the Illinois Theatre Association’s highest tribute.
We couldn’t resist asking Dibo whether her dress for the awards ceremony in the photo above portrayed perhaps Janet Gaynor, Delores Del Rio or another glamorous actress from the past. “When I was kid my dad used to tell me I was such a “Sarah Bernhardt.” The face on the skirt looked liked the pictures I had seen of her, and I thought what a great outfit to receive such an honor in,” she said.
And of course we wanted to know more about Rachel Brosnahan. Dibo is not only her mentor but also her agent:
“I met Rachel when she was 16. There is a certain maturity as it relates to commitment to the craft that a few young actors show immediately and Rachel had that. She was “that kid” that was clearly so invested in the training, extremely focused and able to understand multi level concepts. I think I saw the incredible talent when we were coaching for her college auditions. It was less of a coaching session and more of a work session director to actor. Her innate ability was obvious.”
This fall’s fundraiser, Money for Funny, Music for Free, to be held at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire, features friendly comedy and music to benefit ATC’s scholarship fund and building fund. Comedian, writer, teacher and Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Producer Tim Soszko will serve as MC of the all the fun, featuring the Actors Training Center Comedy Troupe. Also on stage: performer and pro-wrestling commentator Sarah Shockey, Second City alumnus and actor Ben Kass, writer and improviser Erin Goldsmith, pianist and performer Kevan Eftekhari and SADHAUS Performance Art Collective founder Wanda the Performance Queen.
The live auction following dinner includes a “Wicked” weekend in New York City with airfare, hotel, dinner and producer tickets and backstage passes to the musical Wicked, a Chicago weekend package with tickets to a Chicago theater production, and an escape to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
“Everyone at Actors Training Center looks forward to this event all year long,” Dibo said. “All proceeds go to the Scholarship Fund and the Building Fund. Guests know that every dime they give goes right back to ATC. We hope ATC’s students, alum, friends and family, as well as, new guests come out to experience this one of a kind special event.”
We asked Dibo to tell us about the Actors Training Center’s mission and how it is incorporated daily.
“Our mission is provide practical training that is directly geared to what the industry values and need when they are searching for talent. Our curriculum is carefully crafted to this mission and is constantly being analyzed and tweaked from feedback we get from students, casting directors and agents.”
How do you bring out the actor in a person, and what is it about this skill that makes that person be a great communicator?
“We stress that you must bring yourself to your work, that YOU must be available and that YOU are enough. If an actor is trying to be someone else, when a project comes along that is looking for all of who you are—both good and bad—and you are off imitating someone else then you lose. It isn’t about acting—it is about being. No one wants to see someone “acting.” Once you own this, communication will flow to you and from you.”
Are fine actors born or do they evolve through training?
“That is a tough one. I believe everyone has it them be an actor if they choose since we are all curious creatures with experience and emotion. Actors choose to share these qualities through text in film, on television and on stage. This takes training. Actors train in many disciplines: voice, diction, movement, character development, script analysis, on camera technique, Shakespeare, the list just goes on and on. No one is born with these skills.”
What has been your career path?
“I was born outside of Washington D.C. in Rockville Maryland. I was one of those kids that loved acting and started taking lessons at a local Jewish Community Center in elementary school. I lived for those classes. My teacher’s husband was an equity actor and we would go see him in shows at Arena Stage, I have a vivid memory of seeing him in Our Town. I did every school play I could. My mother and father had season tickets to The National Theatre so I grew up with theatre in my house. After high school I went to a community college for two years that had an excellent theatre program, in fact almost everyone in that program is in the industry today.
“Academics where not my thing so I didn’t finish at a four year university, instead, I made my living doing commercials, industrials, extra work in films, theatre, as a hand and shoe model and as a petite runway model, that I just hated. I was did a string of bridal shows where I was the only petite bride; it was torture.
“In 1985 I moved to Chicago with my husband and daughter and fell in love with the city and the Chicago industry. There was so much here, exciting storefront theatre and national commercials here when I landed. The film and TV industry in Chicago wasn’t then what it is now but we all were able to make a living. After giving birth to my third daughter I knew I needed to create a more predictable schedule. I opened the Actors Training Center in 2007. It apparently hit nerve!”
In August the Illinois Theatre Association presented you and ATC its highest award. What were your thoughts?
“It was important that it was said what a family ATC is. The teachers and the office staff all understand what a huge honor and responsibility it is to work with actors young and old and we don’t take it lightly that there other places to train. I am so proud that we have taken a holistic approach to training and that parents, students, casting directors and agents on all 3 coasts celebrate that. It was wonderful to take a step back to say “hey, this is working” and for that moment I am most grateful.”
Tell us more about the center and about the students you train.
“ATC is above the historic Wilmette Theatre with an office and two studios, a camera studio and the other used for acting classes. We also have a gorgeous new studio around the corner called ATC STOREFRONT that is perfect for larger classes and musical theatre classes. September through May the majority of our training takes place on weekends which is better for our actors in school, a few evenings are set aside for adult classes. In the summer, we take weekends off and run Monday through Friday with classes ranging from Filmmaking to Comedy Labs to a Professional Summer two-week Intensive that culminates in a showcase for industry professionals at the Edge Theatre in Chicago.
“Our students range from kids who want to see what all of this is about, to young actors who know exactly what they want, to teens preparing for college auditions and adults who are re-entering the business or they have acting on their bucket list.”
How does acting help youngsters go through the challenges they face, such as bullying, and how does it help them grow?
“It is so challenging being a human being in progress isn’t it? All of us have stories of feeling that we don’t fit in, feeling less than or worse being bullied. The very nature of acting is sharing a situation or an event with another person that requires leaving everything else at the door in order to be present in that moment. Because of this, every actor is an equal part of an ensemble that leaves judgment at the door. It is very freeing and creates the ultimate safe space to celebrate who you are in your work.”
What are some of the greatest challenges and rewards of being an actor?
“Acting is a supply and demand business and there are way more actors then there are jobs. I think the average is 20-30 auditions to one booking. It is a challenge to keep your spirits up and keep going back to try again, but when it happens and you get the opportunity to be on a stage or on a set it is the ultimate reward for hard work.”
Tell us about a few of your famous alumni.
“Well of course there is the marvelous Rachel Brosnahan, Zoe Levin who has the lead in Netflix’s Bonding, Katie Chang since booking the lead at 16 in Sophia Coppola’s Bling Ring continues to work in film, Nathan Salstone who was on Broadway in Harry Potter, and Lucas Zumann who co-starred with Annette Bening in 20th Century Women and is now on Anne with an E. The list goes on and on.”
I hear from so many that Chicago is a terrific acting town, why is that so? Do many of your alumni go on to perform here?
“It is so true. The entire community in Chicago is its own ‘ensemble’. This includes not just actors, but directors and casting directors. Everyone is in it together. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it first as an actor and now as an educator. ATC actors do go on to work here. They are on stage at our many incredible storefront theaters, main stages and you can see them on all the television shows that shoot here. It is a blast to coach a student for an audition on, say Chicago Med, get the call that they booked it and then see them on my television screen. I have the best job ever!”
To find out how to celebrate with ATC on November 3 visit: