From the mid-1970s on, Sandra Seacat has been one of America's more sought-after and influential acting teachers/coaches. A method-based actor and teacher, closely associated with the Method's originator, her mentor Lee Strasberg, Seacat gradually became recognized as well for her groundbreaking work in the early eighties involving the application of Carl Gustav Jung's theories to acting technique and pedagogy, thus introducing the practice now known as dream work (also known as "The Way," much as Strasberg's Stanislavski-based system eventually came to be known as "The Method").
Born on October 2, 1936, Sandra Diane Seacat (whose first name, despite the spelling, is pronounced somewhere between 'Sondra' and 'Saundra') was the first of three daughters born to Lois Marion Seacat (née Cronic) and Russell Henry Seacat of Greensburg, Kansas.
After attending Northwestern University, Seacat made her way to New York, eventually being admitted to The Actors Studio, where she would become well versed in the method school of acting espoused by the Studio's director, Lee Strasberg. During the 1960s, Seacat began to get acting work in the city, appearing under her married name, Sandra Kaufman. In 1962, she earned plaudits from Village Voice critic Jerry Tallmer, making her New York stage debut in the American premiere of Leonid Andreyev's "Waltz of the Dogs," an Off-Off-Broadway production mounted by noted acting teacher - and Actors Studio member - Michael Howard.
While the next two years would be taken up with the birth and early rearing of her daughter Greta B. Kaufman (eventually also known as Greta Seacat), she returned to action in 1964 on Broadway with a small role in the Actors Studio production of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," starring Kim Stanley, Geraldine Page, and Shirley Knight (though neither she nor Knight would appear in the version eventually preserved on videotape).
For the remainder of the decade, as she continued to hone her craft at the Studio, doing scene work with future stage co-stars Ben Piazza and Will Hare, as well as Robert Walden and Robert Viharo, each of whom would remain longtime friends, Seacat (aka Kaufman) quickly became one of Strasberg's prize pupils, and one of the Method's most articulate exponents. Thus, at just about the time her first marriage was coming to an end, a new career path beckoned, when, in 1969, the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute was born.
By the early 1970s, Seacat was leading classes, not only at the Institute, but also at the City College of New York's Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts, as well as teaching privately. By 1980, she would also teach at John Strasberg's The Real Stage.
In the meantime, though, both Seacat's acting career - which, from this point forward, along with all other facets of her career, would be conducted under her maiden name - and her matrimonial status (in conjunction with fellow actor Michael Ebert) showed renewed signs of life, as the couple appeared together in a 1969 production of Brendan Behan's 'The Hostage," followed by the New Orleans Repertory Theater's June 1970 revival of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," directed by June Havoc, featuring Ebert as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell and E. Katherine Kerr as Blanche DuBois, as well as Seacat and Ben Piazza, respectively, as Stella and Stanley Kowalski.
Returning to New York, Seacat began to build her teaching practice. Among her early students were Treat Williams and Steve Railsback (the latter preparing for his film debut in Elia Kazan's "The Visitors"), and later, Lance Henriksen, Jessica Lange, and Mickey Rourke. Rourke would study with Seacat for several years in New York before departing for the west coast, and then, only at his mentor's behest.
Rourke has repeatedly cited his time with Seacat as the turning point in his career. "That's when everything started to click," he told Newsday in 1984, making a point - as he had in a New York Magazine profile the previous year - to contrast this with his disappointing Actors Studio stint ("I sat there a year, waiting for the teacup to develop in my hand"), saying of the Studio's director, "All I saw Lee do was tear people down." By contrast, speaking with the Los Angeles Times in 1984, Rourke credited Seacat with "channeling all it was that was messing me up into something creative and challenging."
Moreover, notwithstanding his subsequent disillusionment with the Studio, it was Seacat's counsel (as Rourke himself has mentioned more than once) - i.e. that, in order to bring some semblance of conviction to the scene Rourkee himself had chosen for his Actors Studio audition, he must immediately find his biological father (whom he hadn't seen in 20 years) - that enabled Rourke to realize his dream of membership in the alma mater of Brando, Clift and Dean. During Rourke's 2009 appearance on "Inside the Actors Studio", after describing his first affective memory, executed under Seacat's guidance more than thirty years before, the 56-year-old Rourke was asked whether he still used what Seacat had taught him. "Very much," he replied. (13 years earlier, a previous generation of ITAS viewers had witnessed Jessica Lange call Seacat "a powerful influence on my acting," and two years before that, Lance Henriksen had offered Film Comment readers an unsolicited 20-year-old recollection of "a great teacher named Sandra Seacat.")
During the 1970s, Seacat continued to juggle her teaching and acting careers, portraying the female leads in a number of Off and Off-Off-Broadway productions, as well as minor roles in three Broadway and Off Broadway shows, receiving particularly favorable notices in the 1973 revival of William Inge's "Natural Affection," co-starring Nathan George, and the American premiere of John Hopkins's "Economic Necessity" in 1976. Halfway between the two came a much-anticipated but ultimately disappointing Actors Studio revival of Harold Pinter's "Old Times." Presented in the fall of 1974 (and followed by a particularly disastrous January 1975 Actors Studio West reprise) with the nominal participation of 'supervising director' Arthur Penn, the production was, in essence, self-directed by its three actors, Seacat, Hildy Brooks, and Will Hare, a fact much lamented by reviewers.
In February 1975, upon Seacat's less than triumphant return to New York following the "Old Times" debacle, Seacat's CCNY employment afforded her a welcome distraction, in the form of an upcoming four-day, Davis Center event featuring playwrights Peter Shaffer, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller, moderated by director Alan Schneider. Starting on May 12 with a symposium entitled "Theatre in the University," and concluding with one day apiece devoted to the works of each of the three guests, with student performances followed by discussions with the respective playwrights, the final day would be devoted to Arthur Miller's work, with each grade level in the Davis Center's acting program performing a scene from a different Miller opus.
The play assigned to Seacat's freshman class was "A View from the Bridge." After choosing as their showcase the final scene from Act One, she cast four of her regular students, but reserved the central role of Eddie Carbone for one of her private students who had just started auditing the class. And thus did Seacat, in this somewhat obscure setting, come to direct the stage debut of the as-yet unknown Mickey Rourke.
Starting in 1978 (after minor roles in two TV specials, NBC's Bicentennial tribute, "First Ladies Diaries: Edith Wilson", and Hallmark Hall of Fame's premiere presentation of Arthur Miller's "Fame", Seacat's stage career concluded on a decidedly anticlimactic note: a pair of smaller roles, albeit within the context of two somewhat notable productions - one being the first work to be staged in the new Harold Clurman Theatre, Eugene Ionesco''s "The Lesson;" the other, a rare directorial credit for Ellen Burstyn, in the 1979 Actors Studio production of Norman Krasna's rarely revived "Bunny."
In fact, 1978 provided a number of punctuation points for Seacat. Early that year, two significant eras had come to an end - first, on January 26, the end of her marriage to Michael Ebert, and next, just two days later, the death of her father, Russell. This was also the year Seacat persuaded her prize pupil Rourke that there was nothing further to be gained by staying in New York, that it was time to go west and test his fortunes in Hollywood.
Certainly, given her circumstances at that moment, one could see such advice applying equally to Seacat herself, and, indeed, by the early 1980s, Seacat had expanded her base of operations, teaching in both New York and Los Angeles (as she has continued to do ever since), helping actors like Lange, Rachel Ward, and Marlo Thomas give career-changing performances. On March 29, 1983, just weeks after the announcement of Lange's dual Oscar nominations, Seacat was acknowledged by the Associated Press as the one who "helped turn Jessica Lange from King Kong's consort into the soulful actress in "Frances" and "Tootsie"." A few years later, Liz Smith would acknowledge Seacat for "helping Jessica Lange to her Oscar and Marlo Thomas to her Emmy." Lange herself later told both James Lipton and Vanity Fair just how pivotal Seacat's contribution had been, both for her career in general and, in particular, her portrayal of Frances Farmer.
Regarding the latter, and the intensive nature of that collaboration, J.T. Jeffries writes in his 1986 biography of Lange: "In the spring of 1981, while still breast-feeding her newborn daughter by Baryshnikov, she worked on each scene with her coach, Sandra Seacat... Seacat had expanded her theatrical repertoire in recent years to include techniques from Eastern meditation. Lange regularly used those deep relaxation techniques on the set to improve her concentration in the grueling role." (For screen novice Baryshnikov, the Seacat connection - and those relaxation techniques in particular - would prove a welcome legacy of his relationship with Lange, long since ended by 1985, when the legendary dancer was coached by Seacat on the set of "White Nights".)
Regarding the Emmy-winning performance that would help transform the image of Marlo Thomas (at least within the industry), from the indefatigable, relentlessly upbeat protagonist of "That Girl" to an actor who could take on any role and be taken seriously doing it, Thomas writes in her 2010 autobiography: "I only wish Lee [Strasberg] could have lived to see me portray a schizophrenic in "Nobody's Child". I never could have gotten near playing that kind of part without Lee's exercises, and the subsequent work I did and continue to do with his primary disciple, the brilliant Sandra Seacat."
Of the three career turning points mentioned above, Rachel Ward's transformation - culminating in her Golden Globe-nominated lead performance in "The Thorn Birds" - stands out. In the fall of 1982 and continuing on through the following winter, even as Lange's two Oscar-nominated performances were receiving applause, acclaim, and, eventually, awards, the then inexperienced Ward was undergoing a rigorous makeover program under Seacat's guidance. But simply in order to get to that point, Ward first had to get the part. As the Associated Press reports: "Ward's first reading before producers David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies was disastrous. So she hired drama coach Sondra [sic] Seacat." "I studied exhaustively for two weeks," recalled Ward, "went back and did a screen test with Richard." According to Margulies, Ward's second reading "was so breathtaking that she got the part right there. But our questions were whether she could do it over the five-month shooting period."
Seacat had no problem answering those questions, but her prescription was radical, and required Ward's active participation and unwavering commitment. To her credit, Ward did not disappoint; under Seacat's direction, she gave up cigarettes and meat, started a daily exercise regimen, and - utilizing those same meditation techniques used by Lange to such great effect just months before - learned to calm her mind and focus on the task at hand. "You can almost see her develop as an actress in 'Thorn Birds,'" reported the Chicago Tribune. "By the finish, her Meggie is much stronger, more worldly, compassionate. The changes were in character, but they were taking place in Ward too. Thanks, in large part, to Seacat."
"She's extraordinary," Ward said of her new mentor. "She made me work in a totally different way than I'd ever worked before. For the first time, I really worked on technique... It was definitely not an easy five months. It was a lot of tying things together and understanding and confusion and frustration and anger. I asked a lot of questions about acting and about me and stuff, and Sandra just had these answers, and they were just like, of course, oh my God, of course!"
It was during this same period, as reported by The New York Times more than 25 years later, that Seacat's Jung-inspired experiments ushered in the now widespread practice known as dream work, wherein actors interpret and sometimes influence their own dreams, often casting and staging those dreams in the process, all in the interests of achieving the richest, most genuine characterization possible. A number of the younger dream work practitioners, such as Elizabeth Kemp, Kim Gillingham, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, and actor/directors John Markland and Jamie Wollrab, as well as Sandra's daughter and fellow acting coach, Greta, all claim Seacat as their mentor. Moreover, longtime Seacat clients Melanie Griffith and Gina Gershon, as well as onetime student, Diane Salinger, have long been on record regarding the impact this innovation has had on their own careers.
"In Sandra's class," recalled Salinger in 1987, "we had dream assignments where, before you went to sleep, you'd write out an assignment to yourself, and dream dreams that had connections to the work you were doing. I've done that with this play." "It's a great way to open yourself up," insisted Griffith in a 1986 interview. "It's been very healthy for me, because I think our interior soul knows a lot more about ourselves than our conscious intellect ever allows you to think about." More recently, Hélène Cardona, a Paris-born poet, translator and actor who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Actors Studio in the early 1990s, recalled: "When I trained with Sandra Seacat at the Actors Studio in New York, she introduced me to a particular form of dream work. You could call it Jungian. I have kept doing this work for many years now. It's very therapeutic, a more holistic approach to [sic] medicine. And it can also be used to develop a character in a play or movie. You dig into yourself to find the answers. In the dream you are connected to your inner self and to the divine."
Gershon is particularly passionate on the subject, speaking in a 1998 interview: "Sandra totally changed my acting. Instinctively, I was always in love with psychology and my dream life had always been very important to me... What's really exciting to me about Sandra's work is that it changes your life, almost on a psychic level. Now I'll get parts and in working on them, she'll say, 'Well, let's see how you're developing, as a human being.' Because the parts you're doing, it's no accident. Those parts affect your life and they kind of illustrate the map that your life is following." As recently as August 26, 2012, speaking with The Lab Magazine, Gershon reaffirmed the importance of Seacat and dream work to her career.
In a 2001 interview with Back Stage West, another longtime Seacat client of mid-eighties vintage, Laura Dern, went public. While not specifically referencing dream work, Dern echoes both Gershon, Cardona and Rachel Ward in her portrayal of Seacat's holistic, almost therapeutic approach, a characteristic previously noted in 1994 by erstwhile Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter ("better than any therapist," Carter told USA Today, regarding the time spent studying with Seacat: "you strip yourself of ego, and the whole experience unearths all your analytical feelings and self-discovery"), and one which brings to mind another Jungian archetype central to Seacat's career from at least the 1980s onward; as Seacat would tell the New York Times in 2009, "I believe that the artist is a wounded healer, that they are healing wounds of their own, and when they do that truthfully, they heal the audience." Dern recalled:
"Through studying and through being raised on movie sets, I was surrounded by a lot of people who believed that the more tortured the person, the greater the artist. I always had a hard time understanding that, but thought, 'I guess that's the way it is'... Luckily through life and the gift of the acting teacher who's changed my life in so many ways since 1984 (her name is Sandra Seacat), I learned there's another opinion, which is: the better the person, the better the artist. The more true you are to who you are and the more honest you are as an individual, the more honest you can be as an actor, and I'm really liking that." Asked if she still studied, Dern replied, "I still study with Sandra and I love studying."
Speaking again with BSW in 2004, Dern elaborated: "All of a sudden, this new idea that the parts I play help me discover myself and I could maybe be kinder to the ambiguous places and the flaws - I was so lifted by that. Since then, I feel like it's an extraordinary experience of therapy and learning about being in the moment and honoring that. All of a sudden, acting wasn't this torment where you're supposed to be a screwed-up artist, but it's an opportunity for self-growth. And I think I've had fun ever since." Finally, in January 2012, at the "The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards", Dern reaffirmed the connection, thanking Seacat in her acceptance speech for Best Actress in HBO's "Enlightened", the first two episodes of which had each featured Seacat in a small role.
In 1988, with her dream work innovations now well underway, and some well-publicized individual success stories under her belt, a unique opportunity came Seacat's way - that being the chance to direct a feature film. This would eventually become "In the Spirit", the first, and as yet, only film Seacat has directed, "a low-budget pic," as Variety would note, featuring "big-name talent."
The over-qualified/underpaid cast included no less than three of Seacat's regular clients, Marlo Thomas, Melanie Griffith and Peter Falk, as well as Olympia Dukakis at the height of her popularity, having just collected her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Moonstruck". Arguably the film's casting coup, however (and probably the positive element most frequently cited by reviewers), was landing the celebrated writer/performer Elaine May to co-star opposite Thomas (with May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin, who co-authored the screenplay, also appearing).
Very much a homegrown New York product (a passing reference to "The Robin Byrd Show" being just one of several inside jokes contained therein), the supporting cast featured an assortment of local luminaries, some of them professional actors, some not. The former group included both indie icons - e.g. Michael Emil, Mark Boone Junior and Rockets Redglare - and 'legit' stage and TV actors such as Hope Cameron and Gary Swanson (both fellow Actor Studio members); the latter, such miscellaneous notables as Fox TV anchor/reporter Steve Powers, musicians Roy Nathanson and Nora York, and playwright Christopher Durang. Of the remaining bit players, at least two were Seacat students, Phil Harper and Emidio La Vella (the latter of whom would be Seacat's first post-ITS coaching client in 1990). Moreover, making his film debut here was Seacat's current husband, Thurn Hoffman.
Notwithstanding numerous press references to Seacat's screen directing debut, both before and after the film's release (almost all citing her storied coaching career), Seacat herself maintained a characteristically low profile throughout, surfacing only long enough to contribute one sentence to an article on the film's producer, Julian Schlossberg: "There are two main things about Julian -- he has a big heart and he goes the distance." Speaking of Schlossberg, co-star Elaine May got into the act as well, providing her own characteristically tongue-in-cheek teaser, a mock-interview with the producer on the making and marketing of ITS, published in the New York Times just days before the film's release.
Regarding May, Liz Smith would report (circa December 1988, shortly after the film had wrapped): "Recent remarks here about the genius that is Elaine May brought forth the encouraging news that we'll soon see this gifted actress in a new suspense movie written by her daughter Jeannie Berlin (with co-writer Laurie Jones). In the Spirit had all its money raised independently by producers Julian Schlossberg and Beverly Irby. They're now editing the film and seeking a distributor for release next spring. The cast is a staggering one -- Elaine and daughter, as well as Peter Falk, Melanie Griffith, Marlo Thomas, Olympia Dukakis and Louise Lasser. The director was an interesting choice: Sandra Seacat, acting coach and guru to many stars..."
In retrospect, given both the fact that Louise Lasser - barely visible in the finished film and nowhere to be seen in its credits - was still being announced as one of the film's featured players even after the film had wrapped, and that the film itself would not make it to theaters until more than a year past its estimated release date, one becomes better prepared for the reality of ITS's narrative disarray - a reality made obvious by the titles themselves in this broad sample of reviews: "Grand and Goofy Comedy," "'In the Spirit' - An Endearing Mess," "Screwball Comedy Holds Up Even When Plot Sags," "Spirit Loses Its Comic Flair Halfway Through," "'Spirit' Amusing, But Unpolished," "'In the Spirit' Needs a Bit More Body," "'In The Spirit' Needs To Be More Perky, Less Poky," and "A Few Screws Are Loose But 'In The Spirit' Offers A Rare Glimpse Of Elaine May In A Feminist Comedy."
As one can see, critical reaction among the nation's dailies was mixed at best. Two reactions were almost universal: appreciation for the film's performances, especially those of the two leads, as well as disdain for its technical shortcomings - seen primarily in the areas of camera placement and pacing, as well as the aforementioned matter of narrative construction. What distinguished the favorable from the unfavorable review in these cases was largely a matter of emphasis. Unfortunately for Seacat, when it came to evaluating her impact on the finished film, the emphasis was placed almost exclusively on the shortcomings. And while reviewers had, almost without exception, made the obligatory mention of Seacat's storied coaching career, in practice, it appears, few felt compelled to credit her with even contributing to her actors' success.
Two of the more sympathetic reviews, by Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune and ex-Village Voice critic Carrie Rickey, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tended however to bypass both Seacat and the film's screenwriter, Jeannie Berlin, and instead credit Elaine May as the film's true auteur.
Two of the film's most merciless drubbings were administered, respectively, by the Washington Times ("New Age 'Spirit' Gets Old and Boring Quickly") and by the Chicago Sun-Times ("The Mystery of 'Spirit' is Finding Film's Funny Parts"); however, given the film's target audience (even the Los Angeles Daily News called it "a flat-out New York comedy, with all of the pluses and minuses"), the most damaging blow of all was almost certainly delivered by the New York Times' Janet Maslin, with her considerably more polite, yet thoroughly condescending dismissal:
"The beneficial power of crystals has done nothing for In the Spirit, a nervous new-age comedy much more notable for good intentions than good luck. A rare appearance by Elaine May, who co-stars with Marlo Thomas in what proves to be an unexpectedly mundane caper story, and a directing credit for the respected acting coach Sandra Seacat give In the Spirit a lot more curiosity value than it would otherwise have... Ms. Seacat's direction is especially strange, since it is so thoroughly unaccommodating to the actors. The camera is treated as if it were radioactive, never being allowed to linger where a performer might be heard clearly or shown off to good advantage." Even the generally lauded female leads do not escape unscathed: "The actors, especially Ms. May and Ms. Thomas, spend a lot of time yammering simultaneously in time-honored sitcom style."
If America's original paper of record had delivered one of Spirit's most resounding pans, it would fall to the entertainment industry's trade 'paper of record' to supply arguably its most simpatico critique (though it did little to help the movie's less than middling box office returns). Not merely echoing the critical consensus regarding Thomas' and May's "memorable screen odd couple," Variety embraced the film itself, portraying its limitations as strengths: "an unusual case of big-name talent gathering with friends to make a low-budget pic freed of mainstream good taste and gloss." While not oblivious of the film's structural issues ("weakest element being a stupid framing device of a mystical narrator... midway shift in tone may put off some viewers, but others will likely relish the intensity of the May and Thomas segment"), it was Variety, virtually alone among reviewers, that cited Seacat for something beyond merely her ability to handle actors: "First-time director Sandra Seacat emphasizes slapstick but also female bonding as the gals on the lam reach beyond their wacky survivalist tactics to address feminist issues."
After Seacat's extended directorial excursion, the transition back to her customary regimen was eased considerably by the fact that the clients for her next few coaching projects were all ITS cast members. First, as previously mentioned, was Emidio La Vella in "Un metro all'alba". Next in line was Thomas herself, on "Held Hostage: The Sis and Jerry Levin Story"; in addition, Seacat would work with Melanie Griffith on "Born Yesterday", and with Thomas again on "Reunion". Back on the east coast, Seacat would join the faculty of the recently formed Actors Studio Drama School at the New School for Social Research in the fall of 1996.
Starting in 1999, Seacat embarked on an unprecedented binge of media exposure, becoming the 'talking head' on three TV documentaries in the space of two years, and, even more uncharacteristically, speaking at length about three of her clients in the process. Despite this seeming incongruity, given Seacat's customary regard for client confidentiality (witness the Sandra Seacat entry at TakeHollywood.com), the fact is that, whenever a given actor has had no qualms about revealing their working relationship, or has already done so, Seacat has always been happy to grant interviews on the subject, as she did at length in 1983 for New York Magazine's Mickey Rourke profile. Speaking of whom, Rourke is the subject of the first of these three documentaries (as well as one in 2008, in which Seacat also participated), followed, respectively, by two very vocal Seacat champions, Laura Dern and Jessica Lange.
Another Seacat outburst, addressed not merely to the press, but to one of her longstanding client's potential employers, would occur in 2003, part of an image makeover much like that of Seacat's oft-recounted early success stories, Jessica Lange and Marlo Thomas, especially the latter, another era's perpetually perky, seemingly ubiquitous paragon of 'cute.' This time, however, instead of a sixties sitcom princess, it was the nineties romcom queen, Meg Ryan, who was chomping at the bit for some more challenging roles. While working with Seacat on her upcoming Jackie Kallen biopic, "Against the Ropes", Ryan saw the opportunity for an even more radical departure with Nicole Kidman's early exit from Jane Campion's "In the Cut".
Interviewed shortly before the film's release, Campion recounted Seacat's surprising phone intervention: "Sandra said, 'Look, I'm working with Meg Ryan. I've never done this before, but she's doing amazing work. You should audition her.' And I said, 'Audition Meg? Do you think she'd audition?' She said, 'Sure, she would.'"
Ryan would indeed audition, and for helping Campion get beyond her preconceptions, the grateful director likened Seacat to "a fairy godmother who takes the mists away." As it happens, Campion's preconceptions were not unlike those of the many reviewers who would find Ryan's performance a revelation, as well as the most interesting and accomplished element within a not so successful film. Speaking for public consumption, Seacat reiterated: "Meg has great courage and discipline and commitment. Her talent is large, and her potential is vast."
The following year, speaking with Newsday on the set of "We Don't Live Here Anymore", exactly one week after the film's co-star, Laura Dern, had expanded upon her own 2001 tribute to Seacat, her longtime teacher returned the favor: "'Laura is a free spirit,' says Sandra Seacat, the celebrated acting coach and a longtime associate of Dern's. 'She's also a great student and a dedicated artist - and there aren't very many people I call artists. But the entire cast of this film [including also Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, and Peter Krause], they're all true artists, dedicated to their own inner truth, and they have the courage to share that. You don't find that very often.'"
As the decade wore on, perhaps fueled by dream work's increasing popularity, Seacat's name began to be seen in print more frequently, some of the mentions dreamwork-related, others - like those by Dern, Marlo Thomas, or Mickey Rourke - simply satisfied customers reaffirming their indebtedness.
Speaking with Back Stage in 2010, acting teacher Alex Cole Taylor called Seacat "a beautiful woman and a beautiful artist'," as well as the primary model for Taylor's compassionate and nurturing stance towards his own students. Speaking with CNN in 2012, acting coach and dream work practitioner Elizabeth Kemp paired Seacat with Lee Strasberg as two of the teachers to whom she was most deeply indebted. Moreover, two of Seacat's students, actor/directors Jamie Wollrab and John Markland, have each been putting Seacat's teachings into practice, one play at a time - Wollrab, with his Triptych Theatre; Markland, with the Moth Theatre Company, itself composed largely, if not entirely, of fellow Seacat alumni (including Scoot McNairy, Pamela Guest, Dov Tiefenbach, Anna Rose Hopkins, and Kris Lemche), recently incorporating Wollrab as well. The latter's words -- quoted in Steve Julian's 2010 Moth Theatre profile -- echo those of his mentor, just one year before: "'More than anything,' Wollrab says, 'we're wounded healers. Each of us. I think that's why audiences keep taking to our work.' Work he describes as fragile and beautiful."
As it happens, Wollrab had hitherto collaborated with his teacher on just such work, when, in August 2007, more than four decades and a quarter of a century, respectively, after Seacat's previous notable forays into directing, she would oversee Wollrab's direction of Elizabeth Meriwether's play, "The Mistakes Madeline Made," staged at Boulder, Colorado's Dairy Center for the Arts.
As in her previous directorial assignments, Seacat was again supervising a number of current and/or former students, including, along with the director, her daughter Greta Seacat, Justin Chatwin, Shannon Woodward, and the late Johnny Lewis. The younger Ms. Seacat's performance garnered particularly favorable notices, dubbed "steady and grounded" by Mark Collins of the Boulder Daily Camera, and "a marvel" by Lisa Bornstein of the Rocky Mountain News: "Simplistic (she frequently shuts her laptop to avoid news of Iraq) and authoritarian, but awkwardly kind as well, Beth is annoying, but she knows it; in Seacat's hands, she's funny and real."
Regarding Seacat Sr., one happy addendum: roughly coinciding with the millennial media spike in Seacat sightings was a corresponding increase in the size and substance of her film roles. Seacat's screen resumé had long seemed little more than a collection of discreetly camouflaged acting coach credits, typically a small part contained in one or two scenes within a film which itself featured one or more of Seacat's coaching clients - well-acted, in and of itself, but, as conceived, simply too perfunctory and/or peripheral to the film's narrative to register strongly. (For a perfect case in point, witness Seacat's 5½-minute one-and-done appearance in "The Golden Seal" with Steve Railsback, starting at the '01:23:14 remaining' mark; IMDb provides free access to the film in its entirety.)
This began to change in 1999 with a series of three consecutive films, each one featuring Seacat as the protagonist's mother. In the first two, "Crazy in Alabama" and "Daddy and Them" (portraying, respectively, 'Crazy' Melanie Griffith's concerned mom, and 'Daddy' Andy Griffith's oft seen, but rarely heard wife), the upgrades were subtle, to be sure; nonetheless, Seacat was onscreen far more - and at more crucial points in the narrative - than in any of her previous films.
It was 2003, however, that brought the most dramatic change, not just from a subsidiary to a starring role, but from the almost mute matriarch of D&T's constantly bickering clan (blocking out the most intense or awkward moments with her trusty Macarena monkey) to the vigorously - and vocally - proactive 'normalizer' of the equally - if less loudly - dysfunctional family in "A Little Crazy".
Co-starring Seacat students Jack Kerrigan, Kim Gillingham, and Kirk Baltz, "A Little Crazy" debuted at the 2003 Method Fest, earning Kerrigan a nomination for the festival's John Garfield Award, and, for the film itself, a rave review from Variety's Robert Koehler, praising, in particular, "the superb Seacat," as the "overreaching but never strident" matriarch of the film's "unhinged American family." Sadly, despite the review and subsequent awards from the Berkeley Video & Film Festival, the Hollywood MiniDV Festival, and the Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival, the independently produced film found neither a theatrical nor a DVD release (though it has, as of 2010, become available online via IndieFlix); as a result, what is almost certainly Seacat's most sizable and fleshed-out film performance to date has gone largely unseen.
Her next assignment, another independently made feature that would not see a theatrical release (again co-starring Kim Gillingham), "In the Land of Milk and Money", features Seacat in a much smaller role, but again a pivotal one, in a film which, none too skillfully, harkens back to the cautionary sci-fi tales of the fifties, as well as the neo-zombie variations of the seventies and beyond, in its tale of genetically modified cow's milk generating an epidemic of mothers killing their offspring. As one of the affected mothers, Seacat, in a handful of scenes, with a minimum of screen time and dialogue, gives an acting clinic, shifting from unreadable rage to transparent delight, from grief-stricken, guilt-ridden parent to righteous avenger.
Seacat's next few post-millennial assignments included a number of independently made films that remain, for better or worse, even harder to get a hold of than the previous two. More recently, however, have come brief but high-impact performances in a pair of relatively high-profile projects, HBO's "You Don't Know Jack", starring Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian, aka 'Dr. Death' (and featuring Seacat as his first 'patient,' the Alzheimers-afflicted Janet Adkins), as well as actor Mark Ruffalo's feature film directing debut, "Sympathy for Delicious", wherein Seacat has an even smaller, but equally pivotal, role.
The former, in particular, caught the eye of Columbia University MFA candidate Jed Cowley in the fall of 2011, then casting his thesis film, a short subject set - and shot - in a shale pit in the filmmaker's home town of Medford, Oregon. As he would later recall, it took no more than one viewing of Seacat's brief but telling appearance in the Kevorkian biopic before Cowley and his producer "knew she should be Sheila," "Shale"'s long-suffering but "newly empowered" protagonist, the "once dutiful wife" now confronting her intractable ex-spouse against the shale pit's stark backdrop.
With Seacat in attendance, "Shale" had its premiere on May 5, 2012, at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, where the film would earn the IFC Audience Choice Award. The film is also an official selection at the 2013 Slamdance Festival in Park City, Utah, screening with the South-African-set feature, "Fynbos", on Friday, January 18th, at 7 PM, and again on Tuesday the 22nd, at 12 noon.
As already mentioned, Seacat also appeared recently in the first two episodes of Laura Dern's HBO series "Enlightened," as well as the feature film, "The Time Being", representing the directing and screenwriting debuts, respectively, of Nenad Cicin-Sain and producer Richard N. Gladstein.
Seacat's next scheduled appearance is in Gia Coppola's feature film directing debut, still in pre-production, entitled "Palo Alto", based on short stories by James Franco.
In the meantime, Seacat has not neglected her educational mission; in fact, while remaining active on both coasts, she also recently made inroads into the heartland, when, on March 8, 2012, together with longtime friend and colleague, Robert Walden, and several others, she became a founding faculty member of the newly instituted Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Film Forum, a three-day, multi-disciplinary seminar to be hosted annually by the University of Arkansas.
Name: Sandra Seacat
Known for: You Don't Know Jack
BirthDay: 02, Oct ,1936