Florentina Bratfanof, Casting Director, has been observed for five years in a row Susan Batson’s Masterclass in Berlin: Creating Characters, and this is is how she met and got connected with Bettina Lohmeyer, acting coach, actress and director. Since 2015, from this masterclass, Florentina Bratfanof is sometimes using some tools in her casting process to help actors and actresses achieve a better performance in the live or e-casting or self-tapes. In 2020 Lohmeyer and Bratfanof created together a three days’ workshop called The Self Tape Workshop. The first edition took place online, as a completely private initiative, then they received an invitation to do the workshop during Bucharest International Theater Platform (2020), then in Iasi in the frame of International Theater Festival for Young Audience (2021) and this year in the frame of Transylvania International Film Festival (2022) as part of the industry programme “10 for film”. As Bettina Lohmeyer celebrates this year 30 years since she first met acting coach Susan Batson in a masterclass, we publish this interview collected not only from zoom discussions but also from constant dialogues and feedback after each edition.
FB: Even if in our Self Tape Workshop, we are always using tools and principles from Susan Batson, as you are acting coach for such a long time, I will always say that you put in the work also your joy and experience in doing the work (as an actress and director). As the Romanian participants have no former background in Susan Batson’s method, the majority of Romanian actors has formal classical education studies, do you feel this kind of differences between them while in the workshop?
B.L.: I got the information and I realised that almost nobody was in contact with this kind of American method, it was stunning and more than surprising that everybody was so committed to explore the coaching and working with the tools of personalisation, sense memory when you really have to connect to your private sensations and then find a way to transform them into specific character behaviour and use the forth wall, previous circumstances and super objective.(super objective..what?)
Everyone was so committed to try and everybody made such a major step. So, all these actresses and actors coming from theatre or having already some experience in film were willing to become more specific and more alive.
We witnessed such a big step within one day which was also more than surprising and made me very happy when I did the one-on-one coaching on zoom being alone with each of them in front of the camera, me sitting in Berlin, him or her standing in a casting set up, nobody resisted, even though it was so new, everybody was so open and that was great, just great. Because the next day of the workshop, when we saw what they put on tape after the coaching session everybody was more than surprised and so it was so fruitful and it just took one hour for everyone to go a major step into the direction of becoming ”three dimensional walking talking human beings”.
Of course, it wasn’t that we have being working on a full character because we didn’t have the time and there is so much more within this method, but was enough already for an e-casting, that was the goal, to give them some tools to work by themselves in a more specific way before they send in their casting scene.
FB: During three days of this Self Tape Workshop we are meeting actors and actresses with various backgrounds (employed in state theatres or working as freelance artists etc). For me it will be always a joy to see them work, how the tools that you show them contribute for a better performance, that we have this common ground. As I know it is an effort for you, the workshop being very intense, what brings you joy and desire to continue doing it?
B.L.: I would always love to discover the fact that each of these actors and actresses explore the work in a different way, even though they are unique they receive lots of tools during the workshop.
And when we did an workshop in the Luceafarul Theater in Iasi everybody was constantly working on stage and it seemed to be that we encouraged them also to reach out for jobs in front of the camera and it seemed to be that some of these actors and actresses got inspired and found out that for camera work something else is needed and it is possible to go there and to develop more tools.
FB: Self-tape is a tool used mainly for casting in film industry in Romania, but little by little also theatre groups have started to use it in open calls because of this main feature the self-tape has: in a self-tape one can observe the actor or actress making specific decisions, these decisions are directly related with the way he or she is thinking about the scene or the subject the self-tape is made for. Therefore, I am so happy that our Self Tape Workshop was included in the 10th Edition of ”10 for FILM”, at Transylvania International Film Festival, as this festival is the most important film festival in Romania and the programme included participants from different Romanian cities. What are the differences between Romanian actors that you meet during the workshops and the actors working in the cultural context you are currently living in (Germany)?
B.L.: R, one of the participants in the workshop, said he wasn’t aware that he is able to do that anymore, to go so deep into the creation of the character, and, while working with him, some memories from the professional education from University appeared, because he didn’t realised that actually he must continue the training after graduating.
This is something I experienced in Germany 30 years ago that I met a lot of colleagues that were surprised when I told them in one summer, I was booking a workshop with Susan Batson, they were asking more about my vacation plans.
I have always stayed in this kind of training because it was always inspiring and it is still inspiring for myself as an actor and I just learnt by needing Susan Batson?? that we have to train our instrument constantly, to develop it, and there is a lot of joy in it. In Germany it changed already?? (what changed?) because more and more people miss their inspiration and they realise: ”Oh, maybe I need to do something and feed myself and go to action,” especially when they have time between two jobs.
So, in Germany things already developed in this direction and so many actors and actresses preparing for movies and cinema or audition shows or theatre are looking for coaching and preparing in coaching for years now and it seems to be that through you, Florentina, because you are the one who brought it to Romania, because you met Susan in Berlin, you got inspired, you already combined it to your work as a casting director and then, in the Covid times, it happened that we found the time to collaborate and to work over zoom and found that this is a wonderful and easy way and it is really creative and so this collaboration started to happen.
And I think it is just great that the colleagues in Romania are in a such great need to come back into training and to grow.- e fooooarte lunga fraza asta, ar trebui despartita
FB: Sometimes, in live casting session, when the director tries to work on a scene and one can perceive the actor or actress is having a bad day or he/she isn’t in their best condition, what advice can you give to surmount this situation?
B.L.: Well, the Susan Batson method opens a door to see and then to integrate how we, as actresses and actors, can use everything that is going on inside ourselves in the moment: if we are stressed out, sad, we try to find a link to the character and the situation. We didn’t work on this layer in our Self Tape Workshop but maybe next time when I come in Bucharest, let’s see/ we will. And this is also something great that we know we can use everything, we don’t have to fight the stress, the fear, allowing every sensation to live in ourselves and to think smart and creatively how and I can transform??? in a couple of seconds myself and the real situation in the casting scene.