Our mentor, Susan Batson, instilled in us the belief that stardom was not for the select few, anointed by the studios or media, but rather we are all in possession of a personal genius, an internal nebula that with love and attention can shine as bright as any star in the universe.
In appreciation of all of our collective inner stars, we are turning our gaze upon some of the amazing talents that grace our doors every day. We are pleased to present the New Collective Artist series.
New Collective Artist Series: Stephen Chang
“My acting process? I say this to Greg all the time: I feel like a scientist. I keep trying different formulas and adding a little of this and taking away a little of that to see what resonates at auditions. For me, when I’ve been on set or had acting opportunities that I feel good about, more times than not, I feel like the guy who invented the airplane. I feel like I’ve crashed a million times, so I’m always tweaking and tweaking to find what really resonates with me. I don’t know if I’ve really figured it out yet, but I’m always trying. That’s what I tell Greg every time we walk in. Let’s experiment. Let’s mix some potions together.”
Stephen Chang enthusiastically explained his creative process when it comes to acting and working on his craft at The New Collective. I was struck immediately by the open affection he has for the art of acting, and his willingness to take creative risks shows in the freshness of his work. Stephen is currently acting in a play he also wrote called Shitty that’s running at The New Collective through Sunday, June 26.
When I asked Stephen to tell me about himself and how he came to be an actor, it turns out that his passion first started with sports. Stephen explained, “In my previous life, I played basketball. That was kind of my main passion growing up. I did that all through college and a little after college as well. I had no desire to do acting. I don’t really like being in front of groups of people or anything like that. I just played basketball as my main focus. I had a lot of jobs after college, all sorts of things, from accounting to handyman work to selling ladies shoes. Then I was going to go to law school, because I thought I wanted to get into politics somehow. I went to orientation for law school, and it was the worst experience ever. I thought, ‘I can’t commit this much money and time to something I’m not passionate about.’ So I was then very lost”
Luckily, though, things soon turned around. He continued, “I was in San Francisco at the time. My wife said, ‘You like movies. You should take an acting class.’ She signed me up for an acting class. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It kicked my ass, but I found it to be the first thing since playing basketball…where, even though I wasn’t great at it, and still am not great at it, it was the first thing that I wanted to work on and get better. I liked going to class. I liked learning. I think that’s where the passion developed. It was really the first thing since basketball I had interest in and wanted to spent time doing.”
Stephen was kind enough to explain that he has continued studying, taking different classes in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. While trying new things here and there, he discovers what he likes as well as what he doesn’t like, taking what works for him and leaving the rest.
So how did Stephen find The New Collective? “Actually, it was through a friend. I was taking classes in San Francisco, and a friend mentioned it to me when I was going to move down to Los Angeles. She said I should check out The New Collective, and I’m so glad she did.”
When I asked Stephen about the most important lesson he’s learned through studying acting, I was fascinated by what he had to say. “The most important lesson from acting? One of the two. One is a metaphysical type thing of creativity, where it comes from. It so fascinates me when inspiration and creativity, when you can almost channel it. I think that’s the thing that gets me most excited about acting, when there’s a magic to it, and I don’t know where the hell that came from. It reminds me a lot of… I have a very vivid dream life. I have amazing dreams, and I don’t know where it comes from. It just blows my mind. It makes me feel like there is a higher power in life. Sometimes, it’s not always – it’s very rare, but sometimes I find moments when I wonder where the hell that came from. It’s just magic. Greg said you studied with Susan Batson in New York?”
I was quick to gush over the fact that I have studied with the great Susan Batson. It remains one of the most amazing experiences of my life. While Stephen hasn’t yet studied with Susan, he told me about how he goes to the Actor’s Gym class at The New Collective that is inspired by Susan’s work. He went on to say, “That is a time when I’m like, man, I don’t know where this stuff comes from. It’s a really fascinating experience. The other thing that acting has taught me in a practical sense is that I’m a reserved and shy person. Being able to look them in the eye and practical things like being able to connect and relate to another human being, for me, has been something that’s a challenge and something acting has helped me overcome a lot.”
Stephen’s ideal character to portray? “You know, I don’t know. I’m so fascinated by character work and the actors who do it. I’ve never gotten the opportunity to really do it, only in classes and things like that. I’d love to have the opportunity and be encouraged to try something like that vs. being more to yourself and how you carry yourself in life. I’m really fascinated by character work. On another level, I just love characters. I was thinking about family, anything family-related. Family’s a big part of my life something that resonates there. Something I like and can express my feelings over.
I also had to ask about the actors he most admires. “I think Tom Hardy’s work is fascinating when I watch him. He can portray lots of different characters. I like Ryan Gosling’s charm, the ease that he has. He always seems like somebody I’d want to hang out with. I always, you know, revel at Robert De Niro when he was younger, and the improvs that he would do and the characters…That’s some of the best acting that I’ve seen and what inspires me to keep going, so those guys are the top of the food chain for me right now.”
I was curious about which past performances have had a big mark on Stephen’s life, and he spoke of the work he has done with Greg Braun at The New Collective. “Honestly, I feel like the best work I’ve ever done have been things that have been in classes. Things I’ve done with Greg. I remember when we did an Acting for Film class that he offers. It’s kind of a four-week course, and then we get to put it on tape. He shoots it. There were was some breakthroughs I had there. I was like, man, nobody will ever see this, ever, but it was so much fun, and I enjoyed it, and I thought some of the things that were done in class no one will unfortunately ever see. Yeah, you want to share it with the world, but don’t get that opportunity always.”
How has The New Collective changed how Stephen sees acting? “You know, I relate to The New Collective and Greg as a person. I think that he is so…He is I want to say the only teacher I’ve met in acting where he is so nurturing. He doesn’t put you down or make you feel like crap or deficient as an actor. He always makes you feel very capable. I know a lot of teachers can be very aggressive and push you to the limits. What’s always made me feel good is having someone who encourages me in the things that I try. He will say things like, ‘That’s great.’ Instead of saying, ‘Don’t do that!’ He’s like, ‘Dude, that was great. Why don’t you try it like this as well?’ It makes me feel like it’s more of a collaborative process of learning.
He continued, “I feel like, with The New Collective, it’s home for me. It’s the place that…I’ve tried many different places in town, but it’s the one place that I will not jeopardize because it always makes me feel good. I feel good leaving there. Greg is an amazing teacher. Also, as a person, I think he is bar none, such a nice guy.”
I then asked the talented actor what he would change about show business if he could. “I would…You know, the more artistic aspects of me, is wishing it was a more creative process, rather than the focus on the numbers. I also think that part of me also feels…I don’t want to get into this. I hate using this as a scapegoat or anything like that, but…Definitely the race aspect for me, I feel, is something that is relevant in this business deal. With basketball, I never thought about oh being half-Chinese and half-Caucasian, I never thought about these things. I didn’t think about whether the guy was black or white or Mexican or whatever. It was team-oriented, and it was like, ‘Let’s go out and play basketball.’ With acting, the first thing I realized, it has made me think, well: Am I Asian enough, or am I not Asian enough? Why did they cast the white guy? Why are there so few Asian roles, and why are the Asian roles always the tech guy or the dorky friend verses a leading man Asian? These are the things that I don’t like to think about, but at the same time, part of me feels like those are realistic barriers in show business that are a challenge, especially when you’re trying to break in there.
So what does Stephen do when he’s not working? “Well, the things I really enjoy, and this is a lot thanks to Greg…He turned me on to Charles Bukowski, who is a poet, and I’ve enjoyed trying to write poetry. Greg has also encouraged me to do painting, to be artistic. I enjoy that. I have responsibilities. I have a dog, a puppy, and a newborn baby. These are the other things I enjoy. I enjoy spending time with my wife and my family. These are my passions. Going hiking in Los Angeles, in the mountains here…These are the things I love doing with my life.”
When preparing for his upcoming projects, including an upcoming series called Gold Rush, Stephen told me that he always likes to prepare with The New Collective. “I work with Greg on everything. With every audition I get, I try to bring it in, and pick his brain on what he thinks would make the scene pop.”
Stephen is currently acting in Shitty, a play he wrote that is playing at The New Collective as part of the Hollywood Fringe festival. You can get tickets on the Hollywood Fringe website. Follow Stephen and his play on Twitter. I join The New Collective in looking forward to what’s next for this talented actor.
Profile written by Robin Raven:
Robin Raven is an author and actress. With over a decade of experience contributing to magazines, newspapers, books, and websites, she has a passion for sharing news and views. When she’s not writing, Robin often has her nose in a book and her arms around a rescued animal.