On new ground ... for Art's Sake

You're likely familiar with the cynical aphorism "Those who can't do, teach" -- and maybe even Woody Allen's addendum, "Those who can't teach, teach gym." But there's a third and better group: Those who can do very well for themselves, yet choose to teach anyway.

Yvonne Suhor belongs to the latter sect, and the results speak for themselves. In just two years, her Art's Sake Acting Studio has become a finishing school for the younger performers whose energies are vital to the Orlando arts community. Hardly a month goes by without a production opening somewhere in town that counts a Suhor student or alum in its cast, and local film producers invariably look to her ranks when assigning parts.

Her influence is all the more notable for the sacrifice that lays behind it. Unlike many theatrical coaches, who elect to pass on their gifts in their later years (i.e., after their own chances of finding work have dried up), Suhor chucked a viable acting career in Los Angeles to don the metaphoric robes of the educator. A mainstay on series TV ("The Young Riders," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Northern Exposure") a few years ago, she's still sufficiently young and capable (and thus marketable) to hold her own in the competitive Hollywood milieu.

So why is she infinitely happier sowing the seeds of the Sunshine State's budding talents than she was as a broadcast regular or onstage with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company? Those roles "weren't as in sync with my personal path," she says ... a long road of scholarship in which she's earned education degrees and taught at four universities.

"There's so much hunger here," she says of the "kids" who are once again the focus of her efforts. "I only started auditioning to pay the bills."

A house of a different color

At least she has a home of her own to show for it. Having previously held classes at Performance Space Orlando and On Stage Studios, Suhor in September moved her Art's Sake operation into a building on Clay Street, just south of Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. The new site is a standing headquarters for five weekly courses in film acting and advanced studies, as well as improv and scene-study sessions taught by members of the comedy troupe THEM (a number of whom are Suhor pupils).

The location also doubles as The Warehouse Theatre, a venue for public performances by students at various levels. The humble layout isn't going to give the Civic Theatres of Central Florida a run for their money: Customers who need to use the bathroom must walk directly across the stage area, taking care not to tip over any scenery. But the 30-seat space is effective for its purposes, and homey touches abound -- such as a front alcove whose director's chairs are emblazoned with the names of members of the Art's Sake Resident Ensemble. Outside, a pair of trees draped with Spanish moss enhance the bohemian setting, lending a poetic touch to the otherwise light-industrial neighborhood wherein the term "cultural corridor" means sharing weekday parking space with F.B.I. Liquors.

To Suhor, it's Shangri-La, a locale she's had her eye on ever since moving to Orlando. "It's next to these Comfort House port-a-potties," she sniggers. "I love the irony of it."

Opening night

The first in-house production, Earthly Quirks: A Feast of Pintauro One-Acts -- which began a three-week run last Friday -- is expectedly smooth and joyous. A creative team of advanced students (and Suhor, in a show-closing dramatic turn) interprets a quintet of shorter pieces by New York playwright Joe Pintauro, whose portraits of emotionally conflicted urbanites are challenging fodder indeed.

In Pintauro's canon, transformations of plot and character often occur in the wink of an eye, bereft of explanatory dialogue. While the resulting emphasis on unspoken signals occasionally stymies a few of the players, most are adept at getting from motivational point A to point Z without looking as if they're merely stringing together learned responses.

"We don't work on duplicating emotions in my class," Suhor states. "Whatever comes out, comes out."

The biggest revelations occur in "Bird of Ill Omen," in which a prostitute's (Jennifer Jarackas) isolation is shattered by a mute customer (Blake Gardner) with a dark secret. Gardner's wordless portrayal is something to see, a graceful melody of sad-eyed stares and timid grins. Jarackas, meanwhile, approaches the one-sided dialogue with moderation and generosity, meeting Gardner glance for glance and beat for beat in a pas de deux of raw feeling.

The best of the five segments, it's also the only one directed by Suhor herself. "I just move it around on stage," she demurs. "I kind of just showed up and did traffic."

Any other response would be hogging the spotlight, and her work is now about shining that light onto other faces. Good teachers are like that.