A classic & lyrical love-tale with a bitter-sweet twist.
A loner (Kenneth Johnson; The Shield, Saving Grace ) meets a woman (Victoria Charters; 140, Jimmy Zip) outside a party, forming a connection in an instant. I Heard the Mermaids Singing is a short-film adaptation (25min) of a play written by legendary acting coach & casting director Michael Shurtleff who passed away January 28, 2007. I Heard the Mermaids Singing is an homage to him and his teachings which live on in our hearts & minds.
What's it about - from Victoria
As a young actor in Australia, I read Michael Shurtleff’s book Audition while seeking clues as to how to create the magic called acting. I worked as an actor in Australia from 1988-1994 in Improv, theatre, Television - Neighbours and Boys from the Bush and independent film. In 1994 I closed my last play at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, packed up my apartment, said goodbye to my family & friends and journeyed to America, suitcase and two phone numbers in hand. I was accepted into two distinguished acting schools in New York, but arrived Memorial Day 1994 in Los Angeles with a couple of months to kill. I opened Backstage West one day and saw that Michael Shurtleff was teaching in Hollywood that summer, thinking “Wow! I can actually study with the guy who wrote that book!” I jumped at participating in the class. I studied with Michael the summers ’94 and ’95, missing the start date for my classes in New York. Michael handed I Heard the Mermaids Singing to me as a play to do in class with fellow actor Jerry Cree Jacobsen. In scratchy handwriting over
typescript, the cover page declared “David Streeter” as the writer. Michael could be very clandestine about his writing, but longed for it to be appreciated. After class I approached Michael with the idea of turning the play into a short film and we collaborated intensely for a while until Michael cut me loose, stating he wanted to make the piece into a feature and that he wasn’t much of a collaborator anyways. Twelve years later the collaboration was picked up again.
I Heard the Mermaids Singing is about pure love, the type of love that happens when soul mates meet. Our love for the piece is also reflected in it; it’s our passion project where we got to do it our way. I come to directing by way of acting. For me it’s an equation of addition rather than subtraction. Directing adds another dimension to my work as an actor, and vice versa. Not all actors want to direct, but I feel the actor’s perspective adds to the director’s awareness. Our late and great mentor Michael Shurtleff had the most incredible instinct for casting and picked us for these roles years ago, yet we only met at his Memorial gathering and decided to work on it as an homage to him.
What's it about - from Kenny
I had just started taking acting classes, and one of the other guys in my class heard that Michael Shurtleff was coming to town and so we signed up. Class was down on Fountain, and about 130 actors attended. The first week Michael gave me a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. I didn’t know anything about acting, so I watched the film and mimicked Brando. After the scene Michael asked the class, “who would get cast?” My scene partner had gotten a lot of laughs – and everyone raised their hands for her. When he asked about me, nobody raised their hands. Michael went off on a rant, “You’re all f’ing wrong, Kenny was the one who had this and this and the relationship and the opposites …” naming all the
things he looked for in a scene or an audition. That was the beginning of the seed planted in me, if he believed in me, this great casting director who fought for Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and cast Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken and Barbara Streisand early on in their careers, that let me believe I could do it. I took that with me and I never let go, I wouldn’t let go of that hope that there was something about me that other people didn’t get yet, but would at some point. He gave me my first impression of acting, my first footsteps in the snow.
The next summer I did three plays for him at the Tamarind Theatre, I made some odd choices but Michael didn’t get turned off at all, he was just fascinated with actors and acting and used to quiz me about it. Michael was a great letter writer and we would go back and forth writing. He was an intriguing and fascinating man.
I felt the least I could do when Victoria presented me with the idea, was be apart of this project. When we worked up pieces in Michael Shurtleff’s class we always directed ourselves. He trusted actors and our instincts, and was always very positive about everything. He let us find the piece and empowered us. I knew that the piece had to be genuine and pure, that it was a timeless piece and I thought that purity could be found within myself and Victoria.
Michael was a very instinctual casting director and he saw this quality in certain people, that they already had something about them that made them different from other people and right for a particular role. Michael had me play this role and had Victoria play her role in the piece, in different classes, in different years. This play is one of those experiences that I remember strikingly and vividly, I remember every rehearsal and performance of it, things about it stick with you. Michael cast us in these roles and I trusted that Victoria was perfect for the other role, since Michael cast her. I know the piece as well as Victoria. I’ve known it for 17-18 years.