Young acting students ‘not shy anymore’

Twenty minutes had not even passed and the acting students of Mae Ross’ Tuesday evening class had already melted to the ground, mimicked solid statues and turned into monkeys.

On her command, they ditched the monkey act and repeated after her: “Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize, that’s what you get in Cracker Jacks!”

They were just getting started.

Ross then led her class through the improv activity, “Things you say.”

“Things you say when you’re trying to find an excuse to tell your teacher for being late,” she said. “Three. Two. One. Action!”

Each student hustled to a mark on the red carpeted floor. “I was attacked by evil robots,” one student said. “All four of my tires popped,” a girl said. “The bus driver decided to get donuts again,” said another.

At times, Ross laughed in bursts as she filmed to capture their on-camera personality.

Focus is also on voice, diction and technique, and Ross emphasizes looking adults in the eye and offering firm handshakes.

“We’re training the child, the teen, the young adult, to really feel special, unique, so that they realize that they are enough,” she said. “I want them to leave here feeling they’re so special they can do anything.”

Indeed, several have launched their acting careers from the La Crescenta studio.

Former student Christina Ford acted in a “Castle” episode. Another, Julia Ling, held a recurring role as Anna Wu on “Chuck.” Dylan Boyack stars as “The young Doug” in the upcoming sequel “The Hangover Part II.”

Ross’ own resume includes more than 40 commercials, many of them national ad campaigns for Pizza Hut or Coca Cola. Her students recite lines from piles of television scripts. Her experience surfaces in class by way of anecdotes — she insists that if you’re not quiet while waiting on set, you won’t get a call back.

The very Tuesday she taught class, Ross had auditioned for a role in the upcoming Adam Sandler movie, “Jack and Jill.”

In class, Ross’ students had sufficiently warmed up before practicing lines for commercials — which, Ross explained, present a problem and good news.

“If you have bad breath, Scope’s going to get rid of it. In commercials, you get the guy, you get the girl. You get the money and you get to have fun,” she said.

In minutes, Nahuel Vilar and Michael Mier were pitching “Mars with Moms” on Blu-ray, with Vilar’s voice taking on an alien tone.

Student Wendi Motte’s experience with Ross has helped her win a movie role — she stars as Abby Nelson in “Eye of the Hurricane.” Her face is on the packaging for the new Barbie “So In Style” dolls and in print ads for Target, Wal-Mart and Burger King.

Wendi, 10, credited Ross for forcing her out of her shell.

“She showed me not to be shy,” Wendi said. “I’m not shy anymore.”