I’m pretty skeptical when people start talking to me about their businesses. As a divorce lawyer, I’ve attended tons of chamber of commerce networking events and have heard the pitch from many a “Reiki Master” on how to best reduce my stress, which is usually accomplished by them leaving me alone. I’ve heard enough Feng Shui masters to be able to give the pitch on my own! And if I never have to explain to anyone again why Pre-Paid Legal is a waste of money, I’ll be satisfied.

So, this past weekend, when a man I’ve known for years started talking to me about his new project, I was leary at best. Even though I’ve known him as a working actor and respected him for not being one of those self-aggrandizing, “Me-Me-Me” actors who pontificate on the stresses of being an “artiste,” I was still doubtful.

People who are starting a business have a rosy view of their own self-worth and it generally takes a few good knocks before they come down from the flowery, over-the-top descriptions of why what they do is so special and different. It’s OK, I understand it, if we didn’t have that enthusiasm, we’d likely just stay an employee on someone else’s payroll.

Which is why, when Robert Rusler began chatting with me I was so taken aback by how he just stated what his company, The Hollywood Playground, did. It was the simplicity of his delivery that made it effective.

Rusler started The Hollywood Playground as “an insiders comprehensive introduction to working in Hollywood.” This is no ordinary acting school where the students run around on stage trying to imagine themselves in various settings. This is not the school for the philosophy of finding your inner ax murderer to play the role of Lizzie Borden.

The goal of Rusler’s program is a true nuts and bolts, eight week course for the young actor who wants to work in film and television. The course is designed to teach the actor how to audition, how to act on set and how to interact positively with the other actors and crew on set.

The class is taught in Downtown Santa Monica by Rusler, who has over 40 features and episodic work under his belt in his 20 years in the industry. He was in “Weird Science” with Robert Downey Jr., and he’s been making friends ever since, and now he’s putting his highly connected Rolodex to work. His guest lecturers list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood.

In the past six months The Hollywood Playground students have been graced with live lectures by David Arquette, Marshall Bell, Mike Binder, Josh Brolin, Keith David, James Duval, Jason London, and Chad Lowe. Upcoming guest lecturers are Armand Assante, Robert Downey Jr, and Kelly Lebrock. That’s a pretty impressive list, but what impresses me more, is the fact that the guest lecturers want to come back. That’s a good sign that Rusler’s doing a good job of maintaining quality relationships.

It’s also the variety of what the guest lecturers bring that makes this valuable,

“Josh came with what he does to prepare for a role, he was all about the preparation that an actor must do. On the other hand Mike Binder, who is a writer/director came with what he expects from, and what he wants from, actors on set. Both perspectives are what new actors need to hear to be successful quickly in a tough business,” said Rusler.

But as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. How have the students fared on their auditions, is the true measure of whether or not The Hollywood Playground is worthy of respect. When I pressed for some success stories, Rusler pointed to 24-year-old actor Nick Smith Roebuck, who was in the first eight week course, and subsequently landed a four year contract to be on “One Life to Live.” Plus two others who are doing off-Broadway plays and a couple are busy with commercial work.

“One of the biggest benefits my students receive is being able to secure representation. By working with them, and prepping scenes, when they go to meet an agent, because my students stand out, they have a better shot at getting good representation.”

With a growing track record of successes, the natural question is where to next? Rusler would like to see The Hollywood Playground grow into a bigger arts school, “as the public schools are cutting arts programming, I’d like to see us be able to fill a void for children’s expression. I think we need acting, music, dance and art to allow our children to become who they are meant to be.”

Sometimes my skepticism is merited, sometimes not. In this case, Rusler proves himself and his Hollywood Playground to be the “reel deal.” You can find him at www.TheHollywoodPlayground.com.

David Pisarra is a Divorce Attorney who specializes in Father’s Rights and Men’s Issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969.

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