I want to welcome Sharyn Pak Withers to BTS Entertainment Corner; I had the pleasure of working with her on the set of a brand new web series by Valiant Pictures.
1) Sharyn, as we discussed on the set waiting to do our scenes, you started as a TV host for your own fitness show. This, you believe, contributed to where you are now. Can you tell us a little about yourself before your TV debut and anything that led you in that direction?
I was a successful Personal Trainer and wanted to move my expertise in front of the camera. My husband is an artist and wanted to create content on video and in 2002 we began doing just that. He produced my TV show ‘Bringing Fitness To You’ which led to about six or seven fitness videos. I was also a regular fitness segment contributor for ‘Good Day Philadelphia’ and other Comcast shows doing live fitness segments on early morning TV. We got married in 2003 and have since created a library of video content: scenes, monologues, fitness, craft and art related videos.
In 2007 I began creating art and craft instructional videos-10 in total.
This is where I really learned the business: writing my own copy, working on set design, putting together the shot list, and on-air talent. I also used to be a hairdresser so I do my own hair and make-up.
2) You’ve acted in PA, NY and MA for several years. What differences have you noticed since you changed your address to join us here in the South in your world of acting?
I’ve worked a lot in New York City. NYC is a seriously tough place, definitely not for the thin-skinned. It taught me a no-nonsense work ethic: show up on time, be prepared, keep your pie-hole shut, it’s not about you. We are all equal pieces to getting the directors vision completed. NYC is also where the good paying work is, $1500 a day but you might be auditioning for two months until you get it.
Until 2017 when my husband and I moved to Florida, I lived in the Philadelphia metro area my entire life. Florida is a kinder, gentler place. No one has told me to go f*** myself and people don’t publicly masturbate. Two trends I appreciate.
3) You’ve played Wife, Judge, Nurse, Doctor, Politician, Patient, Mom and Grandmom in movies, commercials, TV shows, print ads, comedy skits, radio spots…you name it. What’s your favorite role to play, and what’s your favorite medium in which to perform and why?
My favorite medium is short (one or two-day), independent films and commercials—two dichotomies—all about art and no money vs. all about money and no art.
My favorite role to play, hands down, is Vodka-Vicodin Mom. Too much fun! But to be honest, I like playing different roles on a rotating basis, working with different directors in different cities on different projects. All of the same thing becomes boring for me. For a while I couldn’t understand why any actor would walk away from a 5-year successful TV series. Now I do — boredom!
4) I learned a lot from you in the short time we worked together, what’s your secret to breaking down a scene and bringing a character to life?
I am constantly learning and trying to be the best actress I can be. I need to convince you I am a mourning cousin (like we were), mean judge, clueless mom, etc., and not just show you how I can pretend to be those people.
If I could recommend an acting coach to study, it would be the late Uta Hagen. There are free videos of her teaching on YouTube and I highly recommend her book “Respect for Acting”. It was through studying Uta that I had more than one ‘A-ha!’ moment.
5) Any last suggestions for fellow entertainers….or warnings!!?
An acting tip I’d like to share is to record your rehearsals, using whatever device you have, then view your performance for yourself. We are typically our own worst critics but you’ll also see pearls of brilliance in your mannerisms. It’s also how I got good at using props or pantomiming when I lacked them. Once you get your lighting and sound right, this is also how you’ll send in self-taped auditions.
Never stop growing your stable of characters, each one represents another opportunity. A large repertoire of characters is what successful actors are always working on.
My website is: www.SharynPakWithers.com
I use it as my storefront and am always keeping it fresh. I have been cast for roles solely based on what the Director saw of me on my site. Everyone is free to use any and all of my ideas.
Some pitfalls to avoid:
1-Don’t be an asshole on the set, we all know each other.
I worked with this really nice young man, Rob Biello on the set of ‘Brotherly Love’. He was the boom operator. The next project we worked together on he was the Producer. The third project he and I worked together on…. You get the point. I understood how important he was when he was in charge of sound and was proud as punch when he became a producer. Either way, I was always nice to him.
2-Never pay anyone for an opportunity.
I once gave a Philly agent $85 for some website crap that I never saw. That wasted money taught me a lot so when a 2nd agent came up to me and wanted $150 for a similar thing, I flat-out said no. She said she wouldn’t be able to work with me unless I paid. I said I understood but I still wasn’t paying—and I didn’t. I worked for her several times.
3-Working for free forever.
Once you have invested in acting lessons or have several good projects under your belt, stop working for free. Your internship is over. That means saying no. People will lie to you and say, ‘If you do this project for free, I’ll keep you in mind for paying projects.’ No, they won’t. Repeat as necessary: “I am not accepting unpaid roles at this time.”
One last thing I’d like to share: Trust your instincts garnered through hard work and experience on how to portray your character.
I showed up to an audition with brash make-up, big hair, and loud clothing because that’s how I saw the character. Everyone in the audition was giving me the crazy eye, including the casting director, so I did a second audition with the make-up washed off. I got the call back, showed up with a toned down look and wound up getting cast as background. The director wanted my first crazy character but I allowed myself to get cold feet.
Decide who your character is and stick to it. Even if it’s not right for this project, your preparation will leave a good impression on the director.