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During a master class at the University of Montana on Monday, actor Eric Pierpoint discusses how necessary relaxation is when auditioning for a role. “When you are comfortable, you are more you,” says Pierpoint.

Practice, practice, practice is the way musicians get to Carnegie Hall, and that rule works well for actors, too.

That’s what several University of Montana acting students wrote in their notebooks during a master class with professional stage and screen actor Eric Pierpoint. Using examples from a career that includes “Hill Street Blues,” “Alien Nation” and “Parks and Recreation,” Pierpoint unpacked employment advice like a vaudeville comic going through a costume trunk.

“Everybody wants to know: Can we make money off this actor?” he told members of UM’s undergraduate acting program. “Does this actor belong in this business? You need material. You need to work. And you’ve got to get comfortable with the camera.”

Pierpoint stressed constant job-seeking, with little concern for pride. In a resume that includes “A Lion in Winter” on stage and “Liar, Liar” on the big screen, he confessed to also starring in industry films for Styrofoam cups and once wearing a superhero suit while stacking blocks for a life-sized business graph.

“Student films, industrial films, commercials – put it on the resume,” he said. Casting directors and agents need to see something you’ve done to decide what you can do. So even if you work for free on someone’s backyard project, he said, make sure you get rights to clips of your performance to show someone else.

The 50 students in UM’s Montana Theatre were roughly split between those heading for Los Angeles (film and TV) and New York (“legit theater,” Pierpoint called it). The two cities demand different kinds of resumes. His Los Angeles work experience led off with film roles, followed by TV and stage work. The East Coast description led with the theater jobs, with TV last.

“I’ve done more than eight plays, but in L.A., they don’t care,” he said. “Still, everybody should try to cross over. I try to do a play every two or four years.”

The two coasts require different mind-sets as well, he said.

In an exercise, Pierpoint had students act to him as if on a TV casting call. The on-stage video camera displayed the results on a big screen for everyone else to see. But because it was zoomed in just on the actor’s head and shoulders, the focus became the face rather than the whole body.

That was also a challenge for Logan La Cross, reading a dramatic monologue from Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer.” Pierpoint spotted him looking away – breaking eye contact.

“See his eyes drop out of the frame?” he asked the audience. “We want to see into his soul, through his eyes.”

Student Rebecca Schaffer offered to present a bit from Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Used to auditioning it on stage, she said she found the glass circle of a video camera disconcerting.

“I use my body so much for theatrical performance,” Schaffer said. “Film is a foreign thing to me. I can feel the smallness of it. It’s hard not to perform for everybody.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

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