I Love My Job: Acting Coach To The Stars

Michelle Danner loves the arts -- and she has a particular passion for acting. That's one reason Hollywood stars such as James Franco and Penelope Cruz have turned to the acting coach to help improve their own ability to create memorable characters on stage and screen.

Danner is also a single parent and understands how balancing competing demands of work and family can be challenging but also rewarding.

Co-founder and artistic director of the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Los Angeles, Danner says she stays on track by not losing sight of the larger picture. Planning and visualizing outcomes are two strategies she uses, but not to the degree to where she loses sight of the moment.

"If you plan ahead but stay in the moment, it all works out," says the mother of two boys, 9 and 2½.

Being a good parent doesn't mean you have to be with your children 24/7, a lesson she learned from her own mother and father, Danner says. "Because from the moment they start to crawl, they seek separation anyway. They have to fly. At some point you have to support that."

Danner is the daughter of former William Morris Agency executive Alex Valdez, who opened the talent agency's first office in France. Raised in Paris in the 1960s, Danner recalls her father was very proud to be able to give his children the kind of education that living abroad as a child can provide.

"He always felt that it was a stronger education," she says.

Among her studies were language courses in Latin and Ancient Greek, which Danner said provided her with a "great base" in understanding the arts

Teaching Early

When Danner was a teenager, the family returned to the U.S. -- to New York City, where she continued her interest in acting by studying with some renowned teachers, including Stella Adler, Uta Hagen and Herbert Bergdorf.

Danner says her experience working with such "great instructors" spurred her toward teaching others the craft of acting. But her interest started long before those encounters, she says, noting that at age 10 she taught acting to preschool kids.

"I think maybe that's when it started; that I knew that I wanted to teach." she says.

Her desire to teach acting is borne out of a love for acting, Danner says. "If I won the lottery, I would still teach. I have an absolute passion for it."

That love of teaching and her own talent at acting helps drive her business through word of mouth, since, as Danner explains, "When you find something that you're good at, people respond to you."

Many Roles, Onstage And Off

Danner, who is based in Los Angeles but frequently travels to New York, wears many hats in her professional life. In addition to being an acting teacher, she is also artistic director of the New York Theater Co., and a stage and film director.

Danner has directed and acted in more than 30 plays and musicals. Her latest film effort is "Hello Herman," released earlier this year. The movie is the story of a bullied teenager who takes revenge by killing dozens of classmates and teachers at his Iowa high school. It features the actor Norman Reedus, who stars in AMC's "The Walking Dead" series.

Though her life is full, Danner recently began taking stock of her life, she says, and asking some fairly typical midlife questions about her career choices, where she lives and what else she might want from life.

"I just came to the conclusion that I'm doing it exactly the way that I want to do it," she says. "I'm grateful for all my jobs."

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David Schepp

Staff Writer

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.

Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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