Hollywood child acting class facts and rumors investigated. A one-on-one interview with Hollywood's go-to child acting coach Gary Spatz.
Gary Spatz’s The Playground: A Young Actors’ Conservatory REVEALED
My six year old daughter and I went deep undercover to unravel the truth about Gary Spatz and The Playground: A Young Actors’ Conservatory (otherwise known as enrolling in a class). Is he a vibrant, trustworthy, qualified and exceptional child acting coach? Or is Gary Spatz a lying, cheating and shrewd businessman out to only get a buck and is he out to screw over anyone in his path along the process? I ultimately sat down one-on-one with Gary Spatz to get to the bottom of whether or not shenanigans came into play in his business practices or in his life. This fateful interview came after months of having infiltrated what some would claim to be his dynasty.
Who is Gary Spatz?
Passion is what separates those that excel in their niche versus those that merely exist. There have been many positive reviews, cover stories, blogs, and personal notes in favor of Gary Spatz and his team of highly qualified professionals known as The Playground staff. And, like anyone who becomes thrust into the limelight of Hollywood, Gary Spatz has also had his share of hecklers and public slander.
The difference is that the positive feedback comes from sources that put their name boldly on their public recommendations and inside of their personal notes to Gary Spatz, e.g. a handwritten card of appreciation from Justin Timberlake's mother. Shameless personal attacks have been made in public forum from time-to-time over the years but they are made as anonymous and without foundation. Gary Spatz has not had a single disgruntled parent or patron ever approach him about any of their concerns in spite of his obvious availability via telephone, email or by appointment.
- Instead, the reverse holds true: 1) Gary Spatz receives direct positive recognition of appreciation from many of his former students in the form of letters and photographs in addition to in-person and, 2) Gary Spatz is regularly consulted and retained by Hollywood production companies and by actors as a teacher and guide for children in movies.
The fact of the matter is that the proof is in the puddin’. Gary Spatz has been a trusted coach in Hollywood for over 20 years. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) would have a multitude of reports and complaints about Gary Spatz by angry parents and those that despise his practices if there was any substance to the negative misrepresentations that can be found online.
The BBB gives Gary Spatz’s The Playground: A Child Actors’ Conservatory a grade "A” (on a scale from A+ to F).
Fact: As of the date of this writing the BBB says the following about Gary Spatz and The Playground:
- “BBB Accreditation, A BBB Accredited business since 08/25/2005.
- BBB has determined that this business meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB Accredited Businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.” The Better Business Bureau
That equals two-thumbs up from the BBB.
Are you wondering about any criminal involvement by Gary Spatz?
For a high-end professional business of any type to be able to go six full years without BBB or DA complaints speaks for itself. In business, not everyone will always be pleased and a business that is shady will have numerous complaints with the BBB and the district attorney (DA). Both The Playground’s BBB “A” rating and the spotlessly clean criminal record by the L.A. county prosecutor’s office speak volumes and cannot be ignored.
Fact: In 2009, legislators rewrote California’s Advance-Fee Talent Services Act
Also available in PDF
Here is a summary of the legislation of California bill number AB 1319 by Mike Davis, Chair for the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media: AB 1319 Summary
My conclusion after reading the full text of each:
The letter of the law is clear and sophisticated (some would call it confusing) as usual.
Gary Spatz and The Playground: A Child Actors’ Conservatory meets the requirements set forth by legislation for their business model. However, I can see where consumers could get confused between a talent agency or a talent management company and the difference between the services offered by Gary Spatz. When you toss in the subsections of law accompanied by the law’s definitions of words and phrases, you almost need to be an attorney or pundit just to read it.
In short, Gary Spatz offers curriculum and training for children and young adults for a fee much like a college or advanced learning institution would do for their students. And, like a world class conservatory would be expected to do, The Playground provides an atmosphere for its participants to not only absorb their studies and exponentially increase their learning of said principles and material but to also be free in their expression with sincerity and passion. If you want your child to have fun while learning, Gary Spatz’s curriculum and teaching methods will provide that. If you are looking to be set up for auditions or to be hand-held as a talent manager would do, then The Playground will not be a good choice for you.
J.J. Abbrams is the director and Steven Spielberg is the producer of Super 8. Do you believe these professional directors and Hollywood production companies have blindly and foolishly employed Gary Spatz as their lead child acting coach? If you do, you are in the minority and based on all of the facts presented herein I would question who the fool would be in that scenario.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer was directed by John Schultz.
Without further ado, here is the Gary Spatz interview:
- I was unaware of your website until my daughter began your program. I found the website on my own after receiving a business card and looking for it based on the name of your business which I was not aware of until I walked into your offices. Did I overlook something? If not, why is your website not referred to at all?
“There are a lot of different ways that students arrive at The Playground. I don’t know but I know some changes have been made [since then].”
Your website clearly states, Q: “Is The Playground a talent agency?” A: “No. The Playground is the premiere young actor's conservatory in Los Angeles. Our focus is teaching young actors the craft of Film and Television Acting.”
- Since your business is not an agency, why should parents spend their time and money on your classes instead of spending their money elsewhere? What is the presumed excellence that separates you from other acting classes and talent agencies in Los Angeles or Hollywood?
“That’s their decision… I try to create something unique here at the playground. I haven’t seen anything quite like I have here as far as the curriculum and the studio setting. The program we’ve created here for a conservatory is engaging [for the students] whether they pursue acting or not.
For many of the parents it’s about their child’s development and not about acting. I’m not in competition as far as I’m concerned with other acting schools. As far as I’m concerned we are the best in the land. We’re shooting for being world class. The best equipment, the best teachers…I knew the only place I could do that was here in L.A.”
- Your offices are lined with personal thank you notes and photos from child actors (some grown now) that appreciated your interaction and/or teaching with them. Are any of these actors currently working with you? If not, why did they stop their instruction?
“Most are grown and are working actors and have no need now.”
- There have been allegations online regarding your honesty and integrity. It seems to me the list of references that you have on your webpage speaks for itself. If any or all of these individuals thought what you are doing is a farce, doesn’t it stand to reason that they would sue you or make public statements to the regard of your business as a sham? Have you been sued by any of them?
- Instead, I see you receive anonymous complaints and threats regarding your business. In one word or brief sentence, what are your thoughts on this subject?
“I tend to be dismissive of those complaints that are coming from those that have never come to The Playground or whose child has never attended our classes or that I’ve never met personally. It’s hard for me to even acknowledge the validity of what they say. I know in my heart none of its true. “
- Your website succinctly addresses the scam allegation. It also mentions that The Playground is licensed and bonded with the State of California to offer talent services. If your business is not a talent agency why do you have these?
“There’s a new law and that’s how the state of California has it listed. We were the first in line when that law passed. They didn’t even have the paperwork when we went to sign up for it. The state has their definition of our business. We are a training facility and a conservatory for young actors and nothing else.”
- It appears most of the negative online forum content is related to the cold recruitment or scouting process. My feeling is that these anonymous postings are because the price for tuition is concealed until the last possible moment and that it’s a do now or forever lose the opportunity type of moment. Is this true? Or, can potential students that have been solicited sign-up at any time?
“Sure. It isn’t a do now or missed an opportunity type of moment. They can sign-up at any time. It’s just that our classes are not overbooked. We keep the classes small. It’s a very high-end conservatory. I don’t apologize for that. I am extraordinarily proud of what we give people for their money.
For over 20 years I taught without any of these types of complaints. When I opened this business that’s when I started to see these things. It’s a little disappointing that someone like myself who is trying to do right by everyone that comes my way gets slammed sometimes but that's the nature of this industry. It can be pretty toxic. I try to stay positive which is important when working with children.
Once [the parents] come in here and see what we have set up and what the facility really is, they realize what it is. That’s why we never put the prices up online. It allows the parents to come in to The Playground and check it out for themselves before discussing what is necessary for the program.”
- Why do you have scouts approach parents in public venues as a recruitment tool?
“I have a marketing department that does this for me. Some [students] come this way, some are via the internet; and others are referrals in the industry or from parents here. It’s just another way of basically reaching out on a personal level and letting them know to come see us. It’s all listed on the invitation. When they get here they get to see what we are really about; our location. They get quite a bit of value for [free; to be able to even] just come and look at the place. We are not asking for anything at all, just a little bit of their time.”
Photo courtesy of The Playground
- What is the future of The Playground? What direction are you taking The Playground?
“To continue to improve the curriculum; I never want to get complacent with what we do. To be a good teacher means to be a really apt student. By the definition, I’m constantly learning from the kids as well as making my library of materials stronger and to make our curriculum part of a world class conservatory for young actors.”
- You have professional camera equipment and sound stages in your offices. Have any of these been used for syndicated shows or programs? If so, are they now being used for any?
“No. What I do is allow actors to do stage readings. Because most of our classes are on Saturday and Sunday, during the week besides the private coachings that I and Gail will do, we have many free studios so we open them up to some casting people from out of town to do their casting out of. We record various auditions for young actors. Just this past year Gayla and I rehearsed and coached the young cast from Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer for several weeks here on camera to prepare them to perform their roles in the feature film that is due out June 10th.”
- One of the parents here had mentioned to me that their child had attended your classes for some time. They were concerned about one of their child’s progress. I understand human nature and parents impatiently wanting their child to excel. Why is your teaching curriculum set up in the learning fashion that it is? And, what would you say to that parent?
“Obviously the parent hasn’t felt the need to come to talk to me. I would have explained to them that in the beginning of any craft it takes time to develop good habits that will eventually become good technique. Over time, the recognition of these habits become ingrained and we challenge them to develop deeper levels in addition to understanding the technical aspects of what it means to be on camera for TV and film roles. This is a process and it takes time. There is no instant, “You’re an actor now.” It’s not a 100 yard dash, it’s a marathon.
For those students that have the desire and the commitment it can really take years to become an accomplished performer; the same way it would take a number years to become an accomplished dancer, gymnast, piano player, or tennis player. You learn a technique and then you practice it so that when you are actually playing the game or picking up the violin, or in a karate match for martial arts, or on a set of a feature film; all that technique becomes a part of you and you can literally just play. Listening and reacting in the moment on camera. The hard part is when [the director asks] you to repeat it again and again and with each take it has to look spontaneous, organic and real as if it’s the first time you’re reading the lines or reacting to the given circumstances.”
Photo courtesy of The Playground
- How much does your program cost?
“There are a number of different programs at The Playground with prices that range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars (for a complete two-year curriculum). The Playground offers Children’s, Preteen’s, Teen’s, Beginner's, Advanced, and Professional courses, each with different durations and fees. The Playground also offers private training for specific auditions and/or jobs. We are the premiere young actors’ conservatory in Los Angeles and, as such, we have a premium price—but we always work to create a program that fits your budget.”
- (This next Q&A was taken from Gary Spatz’s website): "Do you accept everybody? What requirements are there for attending?
The Playground does not accept everyone. Our acceptance rate is about 20% of all the prospective students we meet. We have high expectations of students at The Playground and we look for students with a high level of interest, dependability, and potential for success in the industry. We only want the best students because our relationships within the industry depend on the quality of our students. When our clients meet with the best agencies and casting directors, their conduct is a direct reflection of our training. Our relationship to the industry is excellent because we are known for working with only the most talented, enthusiastic and professional candidates."
- Do your contracts require future earnings to be paid to you because of the training at The Playground? If so, what is the percentage and why?
“Absolutely not; Absolutely not. I will restate: We are not a talent agency or management company. We [do not have] a stake of any future earnings. It would be nice if after [the actors] become successful they take me to lunch or dinner and sometimes they do, but there are not any contractual obligations. These students are learning the craft of acting.
Even though we are a serious conservatory, I call it “The Playground” for a reason. I believe in nurturing the children to gain the ability to express themselves and to make it fun. I feel truly blessed to be able to do this on a daily basis. We will continue to provide the best possible instruction for children who are interested in acting.”
Photo courtesy of The Playground
A testimony: the writer’s personal experience
My daughter is bilingual in English and Spanish. Her mother speaks only Spanish in her household while in mine both English and Spanish are spoken. She goes to a small school where although she has authored her own book that is in English and that is published (and for sale on Amazon); she has had enunciation weaknesses in her English speech, most notably.
My preliminary desire was for my daughter to improve her communication skills. Yes, I paid a fee for these services. Yes, the fee was a premium fee. Any ambiguity that I encountered along the process of enrolling my daughter into Gary Spatz’s The Playground, or after, was solely due to my ignorance and lack of research. Everything is on the table and in plain sight.
The clear distinction between ignorance and knowledge about the acting industry and each of the elements contained therein can be identified by a parent’s or researcher’s laziness. If a person takes the time, they will find the answers that will enable them to make a qualified and comfortable decision regarding Gary Spatz’s The Playground or with any other element within the world of acting in and around Hollywood.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting many of the parents who have their children enrolled with Gary Spatz. From the parent’s perspective, many agree that the classes are a time commitment, mostly for the adults as it can be difficult to maintain consistency for any class schedule; especially when you consider that some students travel from Las Vegas or, like my daughter, from San Diego or other areas of distant commuting. Like in the fitness industry with aerobics or Pilates and Yoga instructors or personal trainers; or in the martial arts, when a student finds an exceptional teacher they will follow them just about anywhere and pay higher fees to study with that teacher. Even if the teacher moves across town, the student will follow. Gary Spatz has those qualities.
My daughter comes to me frequently with her newly learned material with questions and an incredible desire to absorb and learn the curriculum provided by The Playground. If she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t be there. And “like” is severely understated. My daughter absolutely loves her class. She anticipates it and studies on her own while still completing her school homework early. Yes, I feel blessed to have a child that does her school work and still has the drive to pursue that which she enjoys most. However, I am certain a large percentage of why she is developing her enjoyment of learning is due to Gary Spatz and The Playground along with her mother’s support and my attention to her desires. This is all in addition to the fact that her speech has improved dramatically. Yes, part of her speech improvement is due to her natural maturity as a child and through her school teacher’s efforts. Be that as it may, the careful and smooth articulation of words, sentences and paragraphs with sophisticated words like “conscientious,” for example, are the product of Gary Spatz’s methods and class.
The Playground is seated nicely next to the Century City mall near Bel Air and Beverly Hills. The studios are professional and complete with cameras, stages, and platforms that you would expect to see at a premiere acting conservatory if you could conjure one up in your imagination. Many details throughout the studios make The Playground unique: Such as photographs of Gary Spatz with many former and current child actors while on the set of productions like The Mickey Mouse Club (that had Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera). There are child friendly props throughout and an upbeat atmosphere among the children and staff. If anything, the parents would be considered the downers in this establishment.
Photo courtesy of The Playground
My daughter will continue to study with Gary Spatz and his team for as long as it fits my budget or until she decides she wants to do something different. That’s my choice based on my personal experience at The Playground and based on my research. You get to choose for you as there is not anybody hitting you on the head and forcing you to enroll.
For testimonials check out The Playground testimonials page where you will find photos and full names of satisfied customers. It’s ironic that any defamation of Gary Spatz or The Playground is only found with anonymous accusations and faceless personal attacks whereas the lion’s share of buzz is riddled with compliments, appreciation and thanks to him.
Gary Spatz and The Playground: A child actors’ conservatory is a reputable, inviting and friendly establishment. They offer finer learning for a fee. The classes offered range from child acting introduction courses and development to professional skill set polishing taught through methods, curriculum and techniques that are both effective and efficient. Gary Spatz is Hollywood’s go-to coach for child actors’ for a reason: He’s the best, or simply one of the best.
Additional links (for those seeking a management or talent agency):
Studio Kids Management
Lang Talent Group
Elite Kids Talent
Coast to Coast Talent Group
Additional photo credit: Article cover photo is courtesy of The Playground
© Dwayne Ivey –June 8, 2011