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McKEES ROCKS | Artistic home helps actors navigate a complicated career

Updated: Jun 26, 2023


By Lori Altmeyer


The heart of McKees Rocks houses an artistic space where professional and aspiring actors gather to hone their skills or launch an acting career.


Founder and Artistic Director Jaime Slavinsky opened Ensemble Actors Studio in February of 2023.


“As a fourth-generation McKees Rocker, I cannot discount the serendipity of finding the perfect place for my studio right here at home in McKees Rocks,” said Slavinsky.


A first-time business owner, Slavinsky created a one-stop-shop where student actors can get their headshots taken, record from reels, receive audition coaching, learn resume building and glean everything an aspiring actor needs.


Slavinsky said she hopes people will see Ensemble Actors Studio as an artistic home that helps actors navigate a complicated career, and after utilizing its resources, they will leave with a clear path to secure some real work.


“The environment ensemble is an Old French term for Together. This is all about working on a craft together that we love which is why I think the response has been so overwhelmingly positive for the studio,” said Slavinsky.


Forming really right relationships with the right people has really helped get this off the ground for Slavinsky.


Slavinsky grew up in The Bottoms neighborhood and took her first acting class when she was 12. She graduated from Point Park Conservatory of Performing Arts and went on to train in a world-famous studio in New York. During her time at New York’s Atlantic Acting School, she found herself in class with Rhea Pearlman and Danny Divito’s daughter as well as Chevy Chase’s kid. Anna Klumsky was her scene partner at Atlantic. She also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art out of London.

“My experience at Atlantic has changed me as an actor. Everything I learned there is what I teach here. I’ve always had an altruistic kind of call and this is it for me. This is my passion and it's my turn to share that with people who have their own calling for acting. What I am doing now is my life’s work and makes me feel purposeful. This is my one opportunity to get my dream up and running so I had to take the chance. I saw the place on a Friday and signed the lease on Monday. I built the curriculum, the website, designed the space, and opened it all in a matter of six weeks.”


The father of the method of physical actions, Constantine Stanislavsky, is what all acting technique is based upon. Practical esthetics technique (conceived by David Mamet and William H. Macy) “is an easy no bullshit approach to acting,” said Slavinsky. Breaking down a scene with four principles in mind:


The Literal, The Want, The Essential Action, and The As-If.


Being as truthful in a moment as you can is an actor's job, she said.


Slavinsky’s first theater company as the artistic director with a creative team behind her was founded in 2011. Organic Theater Pittsburgh, voted the Best New Company of the Year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is where she produced two full-length shows, “Earth Day Arts” and “Environment Festival.” It is also where seven new plays were written by local playwrights and the “Greenhouse Project '' – an incubator for new works to happen – was launched. This was a stepping stone for Slavinsky where she learned valuable lessons and where she earned her critical acclaim.


Slavinsky’s goal is to get Ensemble Actors Theater Company up and running within the year where she can produce shows and have students come and audition for shows, and work alongside professional actors that are also in the union.


“The theater will be an incubator for students to work to develop their natural ability to be a storyteller in front of an audience whether in person or through the camera. This is where I get to see a student really blossom,” said Slavinsky.


Since Feb. 14, Ensemble's student actors have gone out and booked work while attending classes between two and three hours in length.


“We stay as long as we need to,” said Slavinsky. “I have the keys. There are 14 students max. in a class. The very first few classes we do a lot of improv exercises, not theater games. We are about technique; however, we do laugh in here, tell dirty jokes and have fun with what we do. Our main focus is doing serious work and learning how to be a real actor with a real technique behind you.”

“The students that will sail are the ones that are willing to take a risk and fail. They aren’t afraid to do something crazy and fall on their ass because they know you cannot be a careful actor.”


“I always ask new students what role do you think emotions play in acting? Most people perceive actors to be really emotional and think you are acting all the time, which is the furthest thing from the truth. That would be an emoter, not an actor. Actors act with action depending on what you are trying to get from the other person. We don’t do anything in life without having a need or want behind it. Everything that we do is purposeful. Our behavior comes straight from our actions and behavior.”


You may have seen or heard Jaime Slavinsky in local TV and radio commercials, roles in over 50 movies, and hundreds of plays.


“Some of my favorite jobs include, “Soldiers Heart,” “Yinzer Scrooge” at Bricolage where I played 13 different characters, “Yin Yang and other middle-aged nonsense.” Slavinsky is looking forward to producing shows and performing locally again in the near future.


At the heart of it all as adults, we just have to learn how to play pretend again.


“We all know how to act as kids playing funny characters in funny voices. When you tap into that sense of play is when you know you are a good actor,” said Slavinsky.


Lana Velazquez, a student actor from South Fayette, said, “I love Jaime’s personality and this is a class where you feel like you are friends with the teacher. It’s a very intimate experience that you can’t find anywhere else. I always felt nervous going to other places, a little intimidated. Coming here I felt I could really absorb what I was learning because of the safe environment where I can be a little weird.”


Lana’s sister, Marlo Velazquez, said, “We’ve been acting since we were little. We’ve done extra work in movies and do a lot of short films with local production companies. This is a place where we can really practice. You always need to develop your technique and there’s always something new to learn.”


Chris Seekings has been in acting for a little over a year. He likes acting as a creative outlet and comes to Ensemble for Jaime and the network of people involved in coming here.


“I can’t say enough positive things about Jaime. She is very qualified and is not pretentious at all,” he said.


“Did I ever think I would open an Actors Studio in the Rocks? No, but it feels exactly where I need to be. We have the Roxian, Hollowood, Gemini Theater, [and music performance space] at Black Forge now. So much is going on locally than ever before. What is different here is that if you want to be a professional actor Ensemble Actors Studio has it all!”


Ensemble Actors Studio is located in the Yunker Street Studios, 703 Yunker St., Suite 400, McKees Rocks. For more information, ensembleactors.com.


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