Beauty at SXSW, Day 2: Jeffrey Tambor

jeffreytambor2A surprise (to me) hit at the 2008 SXSW film festival was veteran actor Jeffrey Tambor‘s acting workshop, a two-hour class for those interested in bridging the gap between actor and director. I missed it, but as soon as it was over, a palpable buzz shot through the crowds at the Austin Convention Center.

So this afternoon, after an energizing and encouraging pre-production mentor session, I slipped into the acting workshop to see what was the big deal.

Everyone was right. Jeffrey Tambor’s workshop was dazzling and lucid, like light through a diamond. His basic goal is to help artists burn through their fear and self-doubt so they can give their talents to the world, which needs them so desperately.

There is no bullshit about this man. He led two actors through a scene rehearsal and helped them crack open. As audience members asked questions, he put his attention fully on each questioner, touching the heart of their creative talents and dreams with frank yet sensitive observations that were, in every case, absolutely accurate.

Much of what he said mirrored the work I’ve encountered through the School of Womanly Arts or The Artist’s Way, but it was refreshing to hear it from a masculine point of view.

He gave us some real gems this afternoon, but my favorite was that whatever teacher(s) you choose, they should say, “You know what you’re doing,” rather than “Do exactly what I did.” Don’t be an acolyte; don’t stay too long.

He ended his workshop with urgent words: “Go to work! The world needs your voice!” His words echoed one of my favorite lines from a play, from the end of Angels in America: “You are fabulous, each and every one, and I bless you. More life. The great work begins.”


Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays, with a special daily edition during the SXSW Film Festival.


Filed under Art, Beauty in a Wicked World, Career/Life, Movies, Theater

4 responses to “Beauty at SXSW, Day 2: Jeffrey Tambor

  1. Vu

    It was amazing – it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk that well about craft, about art. There was something he kept saying after he’d answer a question. It was ‘do you get it? May you never be the same.’ Which will stick with me and I hope I can bring that to my work, both in technology and in art.

  2. Kate Torgovnick

    So awesome that you got a chance to go this year, Jennifer. Sounds really inspiring. Though I am halfway imagining him doing the workshop as George Bluth, which wouldn’t sound quite as supportive.

  3. Molly

    Jennifer, Thank you so much for this:
    “to help artists burn through their fear and self-doubt so they can give their talents to the world, which needs them so desperately.”

    We need more of these facilitators in the world, more people to help tap the untapped.

    I have often been surrounded by friends, good dear friends, who tend to believe that unless something is practical, applied, changing the world in a way they can measure, well, then, it isn’t quite as holy. Thank you for reminding us all that art makes the world go around. It brings us back to a deeper essence, connects us to each other, and then spins back out into the world for good.

  4. Thanks, y’all, for chiming in! Vu, I’m glad you mentioned that quote of his — it seemed unusual at the time, but in hindsight, it was a beautiful blessing on each student in the room.

    Kate, yeah, it would have been a very different workshop if he’d been in character. I’ve only caught bits of the show, but I’m glad I didn’t walk into that seminar.

    And Molly, I’m glad you felt touched by that line, because I loved the message, too. It’s waaaaaay too easy to get wrapped up in the left-brain, social validation of creativity. We create because we are human. Some creations might have direct impact, but others might just help the upward spiral continue, and that is worth the world.