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Posted on Tue, Mar. 10, 2009 10:15 PM
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Looking for talent in the heartland

If Peter Sklar created a map of the country, pinpointing talented kids who could someday grace the big screen, there would be pinpoint dots everywhere — even in Blue Springs, Missouri.

That’s why the New York man, who worked as a behind-the-scenes coach to such stars as Sarah Jessica Parker and Reese Witherspoon, ventured to Blue Springs recently.

Sklar, a pianist and accompanist for Broadway shows, such as “Annie” and “Peter Pan,” was here in search of fresh faces to serve as students at his acting workshops.

“All kids have what it takes,” Sklar said after his recent free talk at Blue Springs Ballet. “Kids who are likable and believable, and, with some direction, can get there with reasonable ease.”

Sklar, who has watched four decades of children reach for stardom, wasn’t disappointed.

He spoke to a group of about 20 area parents, teens and pre-teens at Blue Springs Ballet. After conducting personal interviews, he selected about half of the dozen children in attendance to enroll in one of two five-day workshops he dubs “Beginnings” this summer in upstate New York.

The workshop is unlike others because students, whom Sklar has recruited from throughout the country, work with professional actors and actresses, many whom are performing in Broadway shows, such as ”Wicked,” “Grease” and “Shrek.”

His tour of Missouri took him to eight locations from St. Louis to Kansas City.

Sklar has talked with children throughout the country, and has noted some regional differences.

Mid-Western children are “a little more innocent, a little more fun … generally, a little happier,” he said.

Statistically, Sklar chooses fewer than 25 percent of the more than 2,000 children he interviews each year. The professional entertainer also has a background in education and uses that to help choose students.

Sklar holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, with an emphasis in adolescent development and counseling. He chooses students based on their responses to interview questions designed to garner a glimpse of their inner psyche.

He assesses each interviewee’s maturity level and interest in the arts before deciding whether to offer them a spot in one of his workshops. He said he’s in search of the most likable and believable among those he meets.

“It’s my job to find kids who are not far from that,” he said. “Those are the kids audiences love and believe.”

But, Sklar is quick to point out that the reason for his talks is not to promote his workshops. Instead, he seeks to offer advice to those who seek show business careers, dispel myths about the industry, and give general advice on subjects he believes many children today are lacking — proper nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep. Students who lack these basics won’t be successful in show business — or any other career, he told the group.

Sklar is careful not to bill his talks as recruiting tools for his workshops. That’s why those who attend aren’t initially told about his workshops, or that he’ll conduct interviews for attendees.

“I don’t hide it, and, I don’t want to emphasize it, either,” he explained.

His workshops include 25 hours of professional group instruction in several performance disciplines in scene study, character development, comedy, improvisation, cold readings, audition technique, T’ai Chi, voice and dance.

Posted on Tue, Mar. 10, 2009 10:15 PM
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