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Bringing Hollywoods big time to a small town
Theater1 4.16
Laughinghouse and Ferrante look through the script for "Steel Magnolias," a play Ferrante plans to direct in the fall. - photo by Claire Miller

Theater workshop
What: A workshop that will teach the basics of professional acting for film, television and stage
When: 10:15-11:15 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays from June 1 to July 24
Info: Limit 20 students per workshop
Contact: Ray Ferrante, 706-367-2262 or raybof@windstream.net

JEFFERSON - He met Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck and Sean Connery. He dated Paula Wagner for a time, and let Jennifer Anniston hold his daughter when she was a baby.

Retired acting coach Ray Ferrante lived in the midst of the hustle and bustle of movie-making, but moved his family to Jefferson looking for a quaint atmosphere.

"I kind of wanted to get away, and I wanted to get to be somewhere like in ‘Gilmore Girls,'" a TV series that took place in the fictional small town of Stars Hollow, Conn., he said.

Ferrante brought with him his years of education and experience in the acting realm and plans to offer a teen acting workshop this summer for students to learn the basics of character development, script studying and other theater skills.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Ferrante started working toward his career in the film industry when he attended Carnegie Tech, or Carnegie Mellon University as it's known now, and studied in the drama department.

He performed in plays written by Ukrainian playwright Anton Chekhov and even considered transferring to a school in London to continue his studies.

Following his graduate studies at Vassar College, Ferrante went west to California and worked for several years as an acting coach. He also wrote screenplays and tried his hand at directing in a Hollywood hotspot.

"I was privileged to direct ‘A Night Must Fall' for the Master Club, which goes all the way back to the '20s when all these big stars would put on these great shows. It's very much a Hollywood landmark," he said. "That was kind of a thrill."

He encountered several famous actors in his time, including big names like Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood, and learned from them how famous people in the film business should act toward fans.

One time, Ferrante explained, he saw Connery working on a film during the summer, and Connery was dressed for a winter scene and sweating when a tour group came by and started asking for autographs.

"I stood there and watched and he was so gracious. You could tell he was uncomfortable but he signed every autograph, hugged people, took pictures with them," he said. "Mr. Connery was just so gracious and nice and I thought, ‘This is the way top professionals act toward their audiences.'"

Though he never became a high profile star in his field, he was proud of the people he knew from school who did make it big.

"I must confess and admit that I did not come back from Hollywood a star with success," he said. "I did meet a lot of stars and learned a great deal. And people in my direct class were quite successful - Steve Bochco was a producer of ‘L.A. Law' and my other classmate, Mike Tucker, was on ‘L.A. Law.'"

Now that his family has settled into small-town life in Jefferson, Ferrante is ready to help teenagers with an interest in theater to express themselves on the stage.

"I remember when I was about that age and interested in theater and not knowing who to go to and where to go," he said. "I thought it would be a great thing to give them the fundamentals of acting to express themselves emotionally."

The workshop will focus on showing teenagers how to read scripts, get into character and other basic techniques needed when acting in a play or a movie.

"So it will be more or less introductory - doing exercises and monologues and even getting them loose enough to be open in front of people," he said.

One of his plans for the workshop will be to break students out of their shells and learn how to make fools of themselves, something Ferrante said is one of the hardest things for people to do.

"Above all, people want to be respected and make a good impression. But as far as acting goes, some of your greatest actors, Jack Nicholson for example ... will make himself look like an absolute fool, allowing his humanity to come out playing a character who is not perfect and people are allowed to laugh not only at him but with him," he said.

At the end of the summer, Ferrante will direct a production of "Steel Magnolias," a story that follows women who bond through their visits to Truvy's Beauty Parlor in a small town in Louisiana.

Ferrante also hopes to help establish a community theater in Jefferson. He's spoken with the Winder-Barrow Community Theater for advice on how to maintain a community theater and is working with the Main Street Jefferson office on the early planning stages for it.

In the meantime, Ferrante will focus on his workshop and productions like "Steel Magnolias" that offer emotional depth but don't require elaborate sets and expensive costumes.

"What we're trying to do are shows that are not too challenging budget-wise to being with but that people will be interested in," he said.

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