Saturday, December 21, 2013

History of the Nevada SAG Conservatory

By Lollo Sievert

Looking back, Karen LaVonne and I were founding members (I was the Secretary) of the Nevada SAG Conservatory in 1993. 

I have the official minutes from the first official Conservatory Committee, October 28, 1993, and I would like for these to be in the record and will turn these over to the Guild to preserve.

In attendance on that day: Dean Casper presided as the Branch president, Vito DiBarone as conservatory chair, myself Lollo Sievert as secretary for both the Nevada Branch and the conservatory, Dyanne Thorne as National Board representative to the conservatory, Karen LaVonne and Kim Renee as members.

This was the official start.
I arranged for and donated the fee for the first official conservatory seminar that was held at Reed Whipple Cultural Art Center on October 31, 1993.

Lev Mailer, national chair of the SAG Conservatory was in attendance and helped in the success of our first official conservatory seminar. It was a great success with a full house. Dyanne Thorne and Kim Renee spent many hours planning. Karen LaVonne brought her large coffee urn and served coffee at this and many of the
following seminars.

Vito De Barone did not stay with the conservatory for long and in 1994, Art Lynch stepped in as chair.

 Under Art's leadership the conservatory prospered, and I feel that Art Lynch actually made the conservatory what is today.

Adrienne Mann continued in Art’s footsteps and kept building on the Conservatory. Then, Barbara Grant stepped in and is continuing to take good care of our growing program.

It is with some sadness that I look back on the life of this Branch, from working to finally getting a brick and mortar office, which saw a great increase in local contracts and also new memberships, to back again to being a Branch without an office. Working and walking picket lines as strike captain, chairing and attending committees and meeting both in Las Vegas and Hollywood will always bring back memories of
good camaraderie and willingness of the members to participate and help.

-Lollo Sievert

By Art Lynch

In the late 1980's up to 1993 there were other Conservatory events, but they were few and far between. 

Joseph Bernard and others volunteered their time and talents for the fellow performers back when Jerre Hookey was the Regional Branch Executive out of Denver.  Lollo addresses the official start of an organized conservatory in 1993. 

I am grateful for her acknowledgement of my role in the development and growth of the Conservatory. It was fun, worthwhile and done with a real passion for actors, the Guild and the Nevada Branch. 

I could not have done it without strong support from Lollo, Karen, Rebecca, Michael, Steve Dressler, the Nevada Council, the Conservatory Committee and a dedicated membership. It does take a village! 

I served with Lollo from the early 1990's until she left the local council. Conservatory chair Barbara Grant ran and defeated Lollo in her bid to continue her service to the Guild, becoming vice president. Two years later current Conservatory Chair Barbara Grant ran for and won the office of President of the Nevada Branch. The Guild is wealthy with the years of work and service Lollo donated for the Nevada Branch. She is greatly missed and the branch is worse off for the loss of her time and passion for the membership over over 20 years of service. 

When I was the chair the Nevada SAG Conservatory we took it from small infrequent seminars to the most active conservatory outside of Hollywood.

Note that despite serving SAG membership on the National Board, having launched the Conservatory, teaching acting continuously since 1992, major theater and industry experience, I have not been asked to facilitate a conservatory since the current chair took over now many years ago.  But I have yet to be asked, nor has my co-factilitator Charlie DiPinto, to return and teach the Conservatory. Perhaps I am too honest and too close and available. Maybe I know too much about the union, its history, the conservatory and personalities both local and national.

Not only is it because of my passion for the union, for SAG and now SAG-AFTRA, for groundwork done by the Screen Extras Guild and by many others before us, but also SAG was the subject of my Masters thesis (use link above).

The conservatory was built by locally dedicated unionist. We had a policy that the chair could not hold the presidency or national board positions on the local board/council.

I am writing this because far too many local SAG actors think that it was built by its current committee and chair, and perhaps take the work, time, evolution and hard work of the many who made it possible for granted.

The current committee and chair work hard, have kept the conservatory active and fiscally sound in difficult times and are building a foundation for the future. That foundation is build upon over twenty five years of work by hundreds of others.

It is hard work to keep the conservatory going in anti-union Nevada. The current committee deserves credit for contining to stand up for unionism and the education of the marketplace despite financial, political and just plane fatigue.

They have stellar guests, although a policy of non-promotion of schools or commercial classes appears to have gone by the wayside, at least a times.

It took a family, a dedication to the union and a lack of individual egos or social climbing. It took a belief in the education, unification and growth of the membership. It took a strong unionist core. We had that core. All I can take credit for is being an active chair. It was SAG councils, Conservatory committees, others in the community and strong support by member that made the SAG Conservatory what it is today.

We took it from six unconnected lessons a year to 24 quality seminars and workshops a year. In addition the SAG Consevatory launched a  Writer's Workshop run by Michael Plaisted, allowing writers to hear actors read their drafts and rough work. Then there were the fundraisers (Leland Murray and Dick Wilson will always be appreciated for their work on putting on our shows, ), the holiday mixers, and weekly mixers. We worked with the University, Charleston Heights, libraries, local community theaters and community centers. We varied sessions, with most on Sundays, but also Saturdays and week nights, to fit everyone's schedule. We had one time seminars and multiple session longer form Conservatory 'school' sessions. We had Master Class, beginner and business sessions as well, working with the Guild to inform members and members of the community alike about the craft and the reason for the Screen Actors Guild as a union.

Of course times change.

Cost are much higher. Actors in Nevada have less money. I marvel at how current chair Barbara Grant and her committee manage not only to keep it afloat but in the black financially despite the stress of market growth. Please join the Conservatory whether or not you live in Nevada or plan on attending any sessions. They need your continued financial support.

With the exception of Mary Ann Hebinck, those involved in the current committee have no real institutional memory, but bring their own passions, connections and beliefs. Some of the screening for pro-union experienced theater trained craftsmen has gone by the wayside as the industry shifts from an art to something quite different. It is the industry and a "fast track" tendency used to sell services and even religion in Hollywood that has impacted the entire industry, not just our local conservatory.

Great job.

I am proud of Adrienne Garcia Mann and those who remained after I stepped down as chair, of Barbara (who worked with Leland and others to produce the fundraising shows long before becoming chair) and of everyone who has ever volunteered their time or donated to the Nevada SAG Conservatory.

But to say they "built" the Conservatory is inaccurate and misleading.
Joseph Bernard and others volunteered as far back as the 1970's and 1980's for and to support, efforts to launch an ongoing Nevada Conservatory. Among the venues was Arnie Bartz's Hollywood and Dine and Joe Bernard's studio. We had a brief chair who structured it similar to an acting class, then I was brought on board, almost 18 years ago.

It took a team from the branch I had the honor of leading, starting withKaren LaVonne (and her coffee urn), Kim Rene, Lollo Sievert (with her camera and active publicist role), Diane Thorne (who along with Kim Renee and others, brought the Conservatory to Nevada)Dean Casper,Steve DresslerMichael Justin and Joseph Bernard...then over time we added Dick WilsonLeland Murray, Rebecca Naviian-Amoli, Adrienne Mann Garcia, Kim Russell, Michael Plaisted and many many others.

24 sessions a year in classes alone; we averaged two a month.

In addition we did table reads and performances of full scripts in development.

We did videos and were plugged into the UNLV film school.

We had cold reading workshops with the writers so they could see their works, and lean more about how actors make decisions and what we need from them.

We had a placement file at UNLV for us in short film casting.

Many outside guest helped us build the Conservatory, among them Paul Napier, Dr. Alice Whitfield, Bob Bergan, Avery Schreiber, Casting Direstor Joy Todd,  Casting Director Barbara Claman, Mary Jo Slater, Don and Molly Flynn, Paul Weber, Gary Schaffer, Bill Dance, Joe Reich, Peter Foy, Eddie Foy Jr, Vic Perillo and agent Gary Fuchs. There were many others, including the founder of the Hollywood and New York Conservatories.

We had a wide range of local support, including local SAG Franchised Agencies, Casting Directors and Production Companies. Special thank you's to Mary Lee Lear, Charlene Goldman, Jaki Baskow and Tina Houser. Also thank you to my partner in improv, Charlie DiPinto. 

Several attempts to launch the Conservatory going back to the 1970's also play a key role in what today is an ongoing and sucessful Conservatory. Hats off to those early pioneers.

It took a great deal of work over the past 30 or more years, under four chairs, 6 Branch presidents and 11 councils.

Thank you to all who took part in building, maintaining and keeping the Nevada SAG Conservatory strong.

Hats off the the current Conservatory committee, who have kept it strong, and as I said, solvent.

Click here to continue reading about the history of the Nevada SAG Conservatory.

-Art Lynch
"Founding" chair
(OK, first chair of Conservatory in its current structure).

Conservatory History Part II click here.
First published September 2009 

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