What's it like to leave a steady income and established clients and strike out on your own in a risky occupation on Maui?
Ask Kihei's Dan Weisman, 64, who gave up a profitable career as an acting coach in Los Angeles and moved to Maui in 2009.
"I had to start over," he recalled. "When I told my friends I was moving, they asked, 'Who are you going to teach on Maui?' It's not like L.A., where you have thousands of actors." To which he responded, "I'll find 'em."
Comedy Coach Dan Weisman (center) plays a man with a difficult moral dilemma as Good Angel Zsa Zsa Greenberg (left) and Bad Angel Robert “Beau” Tackmann (right) whisper conflicting advice in his ear.
Weisman bills himself as Improv Man Dan and his forte is comedy. His business card identifies him as a director and teacher. His specialty is improvisational coaching, and he also offers instruction in acting on-camera, auditions and on-set coaching.
His basic advice for improv work is, "Be present; listen and accept. Whatever the situation, no matter how outrageous or what you had in mind a moment ago, say 'yes,' add on, and be willing to instantly adapt."
Weisman is the rare teacher for on-camera work, who takes all ages from fourth-grader to senior citizen--often mixing them together. His improv sessions are usually grouped by age, with classes for children, teens and adults.
He travels to various locations with a pair of portable, burgundy stage curtains and a few props. In 2010, he added a video camera to his teaching tool kit.
"I think it helps to see the performance," he observed.
As he works, the camera is usually running, and students can see themselves almost immediately. Many bring a flash drive to class, and he downloads the scenes they play for further study at home.
At one series of Saturday afternoon improv classes, participants ranged from 18 to 70. Only a few had prior experience.
Said one student, "It's fun and it definitely relieves stress."
They all entered into the spirit of the two-hour sessions, where there was no script and almost every situation was improbable. In each instance, Weisman laid out the scenario, and as soon as the games began, so did the laughter.
In one game, Weisman described a character with a prickly moral dilemma and two students took the roles of the opposing forces--the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, who took turns whispering contradictory, yet hilarious, advice in his ear.
His "Acting-on-Camera" meets in Kihei on weekends. It's exactly what it says--acting for film and TV, not for the stage. In these sessions, actors learn lines, read from scripts, or like Micah Giovanni (his stage name), 11, a student at Lahaina Intermediate School, practice nuance and intonation by reading one line over and over, but delivering it in a variety of ways.
Weisman, a native of Oklahoma City, said his interest in comedy began in the early 1970s as student at Oklahoma State University. A visit to Chicago introduced him to Second City, which had featured John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray before they became stars on "Saturday Night Live." He went on to form a group on campus and experimented with comedy.
"By 1976, I realized need to get out to California," he recalled, saying he spent from 1976 to 2009 in L.A., where he was active in the L.A. Connection and performed stand up and worked in improv.
"I taught a lot of actors, he said, estimating he had given more than 1,000 workshops and directed over 600 live performances.
When his daughter and his grandson, now 4, moved to Maui, Weisman wanted to "become closer with family and be part of his grandson's life growing up," so he moved his operations here.
What followed were five tough years.
"I left behind a solid income and about 80 students and started over," he said.
He began with teaching assignments at Maui Waldorf School's afterschool program and he hosted short courses in improv at the University of Hawai'i Maui College. He also conducted classes at Seabury Hall, and offered private coaching and workshops. More recently, he completed a series of drop-in sessions at the Maui Film Studios.
Weisman sees his future here and is optimistic that "as Maui's film industry continues to grow, the actors I work with will find more frequent employment." He thinks of these early years as "building the brand."
In his opinion, Maui has already made a good start on teaching behind the camera technical skills at AKAKU: Maui Community Television and other settings. But he sees a need for what he can offer in "increasing the local talent pool"--that is, the people who work in front of the camera.
He recently announced a new teaching location in Kihei on the weekends and a new Web page/blog at MauiActingClasses.com.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to fine-tune your craft and be ready for casting agencies looking for capable, local talent they can hire with confidence," he wrote. "Get in shape. Stay in shape!"