When Kevin Patrick Murphy launched The Actor’s Center of Asheville 10 years ago, he had no way of knowing the obstacles he and his colleagues would face. Like many businesses, he weathered the challenges COVID-19 presented and made it through the global health crisis. But just as things settled and started to feel normal again, his industry went on strike.
Despite these obstacles and frustrations, Murphy remains proactive, offering classes and launching a podcast. And with the center’s 10-year milestone, he’s also been reflecting on its past and what the space has meant for local performers as well as himself.
Let no dust settle
The most immediate issue The Actor’s Center must navigate is the ongoing Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike. Murphy is a SAG member with credits on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” But since the strike began on July 14, this part of his life has been on hold.
“As a working actor in the Southeast, booking five-10 jobs a year … significantly adds to my annual income,” he says. “I’ve been acting my entire life, and nothing’s harder for me than to say ‘no’ to work.”
He continues, “I’m running an acting school geared toward TV and film work when there’s no TV and film work. So, the way we’ve been dealing with it is I go back to basics. I go back to process.”
Murphy has been using the black box theater at the studio to run his three weekly acting classes, each of which is at capacity. The lack of work is frustrating, he notes, but the downtime has its advantages. It gives actors — particularly ones new to the craft — an opportunity to focus on their work without the potential distraction of “the industry at full speed,” he says.
And while some within the field are using the time off as a break from their craft, students at The Actor’s Center are keeping their professional muscles sharp. “For me and my students, we’ve got to stay plugged in,” he says. “When the strike is over, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running and not need any time to blow the dust off.”
No barking, please
Murphy’s confidence in The Actor’s Center persevering through the SAG-AFTRA strike stems from the school surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdown hit in March 2020, he and his wife, Kellin Watson — who handles the administrative side of the business — had to think fast to keep their education offerings going.
“I did 16 months of Zoom classes, and I’m absolutely the last person who would have thought acting classes would work in this format,” Murphy says. “I had three classes a week. Every night, I would set up in my living room and put up a backdrop and quiet down my kids and get into work.”
In addition to classes, the center offers studio space for actors to shoot high-quality auditions. Early in the pandemic, with the space no longer available, Murphy pivoted.
“It was more important to me to give my students independence. I taught them all how to shoot auditions at home with lamps and their phones and taking pictures off the wall and quieting their dogs,” he says. “I was happy to do it, but I gave away basically a big piece of my business because I thought it was more important for these actors to be able to take control of their careers. And we got through it.”
Once pandemic conditions improved to the point that The Actor’s Center classes could meet in person, Murphy began offering private coaching. He wore a mask, opened the building’s widows, turned the fan on and kept a distance from his students.
“That was our first kind of baby steps into safely getting into the room and looking at each other and talking with each other,” he says.
One more pivot
Looking back on the past 10 years, Murphy is encouraged by the success of students like Alphie Hyorth. The veteran local theater actor came to The Actor’s Center shortly after it started but was concerned that he was too old to transition to film and TV.
Today, Murphy notes with pride, Hyorth has a recurring role in the Disney+/Marvel Studios series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” as well as “Secret Invasion.”
The Actor’s Center has also had students book roles on “Stranger Things,” FX’s “Atlanta” and additional Marvel Studios projects.
But with the industry at a standstill until the strike is resolved, Murphy’s pivoting yet again and starting a podcast. Titled “Head in the Box” — a reference to his work on “The Walking Dead” and the prosthetic body part that was nearly sent to his wife as a practical joke — the interview-based production will feature insights from casting directors and actors.
“I know all these people are on strike, so I’m calling them up and I’m like, ‘I know when you’re not on the picket line, you’re trying to figure out what to do with your time — be on my podcast,’” Murphy says.
For more information, visit avl.mx/cxu.