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Russell

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New York casting director and bestselling author Paul Russell, right, and professional actor Alvin Keith, left, answer students’ questions during a book signing at LSU this week. (Credit: Emily Bell) New York casting director and bestselling author Paul Russell, right, and professional actor Alvin Keith, left, answer students’ questions during a book signing at LSU this week. (Credit: Emily Bell)

By Emily Bell | LSU Student

New York casting director and bestselling author Paul Russell is encouraging LSU theater students to grasp their unique position.

"You're here, you've got a good program… don't fret about it," he said.

Russell is the author of "Acting: Make it Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor" and is currently directing the Swine Palace season opener "A Free Man of Color," which begins Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through September 30.

Russell was at the LSU Union Bookstore earlier this week for a two-hour book signing event where, for the first 90 minutes, Russell sat disarmingly atop the book signing table, answering students' questions and critiquing actual resumes, cover letters and headshots he has received over the years – good and bad.

Alvin Keith, who plays the lead in "A Free Man of Color," also answered students' questions regarding the industry.

Russell said when he came to Baton Rouge, he knew nothing of LSU's theater department but that the graduate students in his cast and other cast members are "up to the standards, and even sometimes beyond, of the professional theaters that I've worked at."

He said the benefit of bringing in professionals like him and Keith is that they can take good word of LSU back to New York and L.A., the nation's acting epicenters.

"New York doesn't know LSU yet. New York will know of LSU, and I know that they're working on that," Russell said.

This fall the LSU Department of Theatre has added degree concentrations in film and television and physical theatre. Keith is collaborating with the department to hold a classical theatre workshop for majors on Sept. 24.

Russell said he wrote his book with actors in mind, since he began his career as an actor.  "I just wanted actors to succeed, that's the only reason I wrote it. I never imagined it would be getting actors to the goals that they wanted. I didn't even think anyone would read it."

Russell said he is happy with the success of his book because "people are working to get themselves ahead."

He said the book is for those wanting to take ownership of their acting career, from resumes to auditions to agents.

"You have to go out and make it happen," he said. "Your agent's not going to do it for you."

Russell also stressed truthfulness in presenting oneself, saying actors should be themselves and not employ gimmicks.

He gave as an example a woman who showed up to an audition with a stepladder and climbed it while singing, "Climb Every Mountain."

One's personality, he said, should be intrinsic to acting.

When one freshman film and television major questioned Russell, somewhat timidly, he told the budding actress not to be shy. "Don't be timid. You're beautiful, you're vibrant, now let it come out—and don't put anyone on a pedestal, including me."

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