Rachelle Williams Goes to Class … ACTING Class …
… And Let Her Tell You About the Man She Met …
By Rachelle ‘Badass’ Williams
I. Preface: All seven of my fans know my name’s origins: Robin Rochelle Stille + Wendy O. Williams = Rachelle Williams. All seven fans know my favorite film is, and will most likely always remain, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama – and for myriad, colorful reasons. Those same seven fans know I am without any formal acting/industry training, and if they’ve paid close attention to my oeuvre, they’ve noticed I’ve mimicked the cast of Babes from the beginning. And well, I only mimic the best in the horror industry when I do act. (See: Brinke Stevens, Hal Havins, Linnea Quigley, Andras Jones, Dukey Flyswatter). Those warrior fans might even remember the 2009 homage to Babes – Happy Cloud Pictures’ Demon Divas in the Lanes of Damnation. I play a lesbian. Brinke rips my spine out. I’m in a bowling alley. The owners let me keep the bowling shoes. My hair is nice in this film. Go watch it.
It stands to reason, if you’ve met me, once I get something in my head – I have to go do it or it will spin and spin and spin … never allowing me to rest. I was heading to LA for vacation and decided it was time to brave those tempestuous, hellishly pointy angles of the Hollywood dodecahedron: the acting class. Only in town for a few days and on a tight schedule. Where to go? Who to call? Where to start looking? I was squinting in and around unconscious confusion and migraine aura before I even thought to email friends or hit the Google search bar. And then I just … put the idea away. A few days passed. I was hoping to forget about it. Luckily for me, I did not. I never do, really.
II. The Happy Accident
I first spotted him in an episode of Parks & Recreation. Industry-jaded and spending the year in Tucson, flippering through Netflix, I almost missed him, actually. I discarded cable in 1999 and this … behemoth that is Netflix barely holds my attention … until now. Season four’s 18th episode (‘Lucky’) of Parks & Recreation gives us an airport handler named Paul – who spectacularly lifelines our doggedly perky heroine Leslie Knope. Paul’s facial expressions, girth, and screen presence (certainly alongside my steadfast recognition abilities – often very handy, if not perplexing) indeed proved to be a performance from the elusive, veteran actor Hal Havins. Everyone who’s anyone knows him as *Stooge from Night of the Demons, certainly. I know him as Jimmie from Sorority Babes first, then as Stooge, then as the underused Elvin in Witchtrap.
As a side note: I absolutely hate that the term ‘underused’ can be applied to several of Hal’s roles. I want the world to notice what a badass actor this man is … and credit is long overdue. Many a film, show, or video could have been saved, made more fun, and certainly left more of an impression, if only Havins had been given more opportunity to show his stuff.
Havins was an intangible entity, to be sure, conspicuously absent from horror conventions and there was no online presence I could detect over the years as my alter ego interviewed and befriended many of his co-stars, none of whom could tell me what Hal was up to.
Actually, Havins did not disappear – he moved to TV. Well, I should say returned to TV, since his IMDB.com profile boasts a long and distinguished list of television roles/appearances. He moved to casting and assistant direction. And – my Google search turned up his station at WAW Entertainment. He is an acting coach. In lieu of formal acting training, the man whose skills I had tried to mimic was now an acting coach. My destiny had just been revealed. The previously aforementioned mind spin and spin and spin … I started poking around and sending emails and inquiring about a class with Hal.
III. Love Letter to Hal Havins
Destiny often involves planning, as unromantic as that sounds – and as a non-native LA human – trying to understand where in Hell’s Wicked Acre everything was located just sapped some of my focus. I even studied internet maps! I also briefly thought about chickening out and buying a GPS, which I was saving for an actual move to LA. I know where I’m going everywhere else, dammit.
Luckily, I have amazing friends and they showed me the way. And dropped me off at Hal’s office in Beverly Hills. And picked me up. And then let me prattle on about all I had learned. My ride and mentor and agreeable prattle listening partner was none other than screen siren Brinke Stevens – and Hal’s co-star in Sorority Babes. None of this synchronicity escaped me. I was grateful for it, because I was nervous.
Rachelle Williams might portray lesbian demon and vampire badasses onscreen, but once in awhile, offscreen, she gets … nervous.
Okay. Fine. I was scared of the acting class. Are you happy now? This is exactly why I had to do it. I knew nothing of technique, very little its actual history, jack all about the industry, aside from what I could read on the internet – and that didn’t count for me. And I had grown wary of mimicry, not wanting to simply repeat performances. I wanted to see what potential I had – if any – and what could be done with it – if anything.
And I think Hal could sense that. He was, above all else, highly intuitive and focused – both necessary ingredients for solid teachers and coaches. And he is a truly grand coach, as well as an industry leader. I am of the school that knows titles do not necessarily equal leaders, nor do leaders necessarily need titles. So, I can state here that use whatever label you need to – he taught me more in a few hours than some folks have managed to impart upon me with scores of time and attempts at their disposal.
So, adjectives fail me here a bit – ‘great’ coach sounds weak, ‘intense’ coach sounds intimidating, ‘passionate’ coach sounds like I couldn’t think of another word, ‘badass’ has already been used a few paragraphs above, and ‘indomitable’ coach makes it sounds like I just learned a new word and had to use it. Although, Hal is all of those things. And yes, I am also a few of those items mentioned above, so I notice these things and can detect them in others. It’s rare, I can tell you. It’s like being a bit psychic. But not enough to provide my head with winning lottery numbers.
Hal’s students generally take weeks of classes, but I explained my situation and my short LA visit. Hal had a Sunday evening open after class and agreed to take me under his wing for a private study tailored to fit my actual circumstances – that is, what direction did I want my acting life to take now, if any direction at all? No pressure in that question, certainly. But it’s always the difficult questions that need to be asked whether you’re actually ready for the answer or not. The answer is coming for you, so just get ready.
Did Hal answer my question? If so, what did he teach me? I could tell you all about it – but it’s mine. Well, Hal actually owns it, but I’ve appropriated the private study for my own and I took 11 pages of notes. 11 pages. I will allow myself to state we covered and immense amount of material in just a few hours and if I do move to the west coast, I want to participate in one of his actual classes, as opposed to private study. Oh, who am I kidding? I want both. The class was physical and cerebral and revealing and … powerful. There was no one else who could have been my first acting coach, who both met and exceeded, all of my expectations. Thanks, Hal.
But really, I will allow myself to tell you one more thing, Dearest Readers: he taught me I am free to fly. Fly in any manner and to any destination I would like – I just have to choose. This is something I know now, and not just something I read about in an inspirational internet meme or an idea that sparked at me in a moment of clarity and fizzled when I woke up the next day. It’s a universal truth only a great instructor can lead you to – as opposed to just tell you and I hope you understand. It’s a little frightening, definitely exhilarating, and assuredly one of the most essential lessons I could have finally learned. It’s never too late after all to teach a cranky actress a brand new trick.
*For those of us who will always love Night of the Demons: The February 2014 DVD/Blu-ray release of this remarkable horror classic will feature new commentary with Kevin Tenney, Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins, William Gallo, and Steve Johnson.