Jeffrey Tambor has been a staple on the TV screen for decades, with award-winning performances in shows such as “Arrested Development,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Transparent,” and memorable appearances on classic shows such as “M*A*S*H,” “Three’s Company” and “Taxi.”
He’s also appeared in numerous films and graced the Broadway stage three times, starring in “Sly Fox,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
With such a strong IMDb page, and having worked with some of the all-time great directors, actors and writers, Tambor obviously knows a great deal about the craft of acting, and he’s spent the past decades teaching students the finer points — most recently at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
“I’ve been teaching for some 40-odd years,” Tambor said. “Just because we can’t be together, doesn’t mean we can’t create, so we started these Zoom classes over here at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Though they weren’t Zoom classes to begin with, once the pandemic hit we finished up our first session that way.”
The classes were successful and the students raved about how much they got out of them, so the decision was made to keep them going during the pandemic.
On Jan. 26, Tambor is set to have an eight-week Zoom class on scene study, helping students to work on scene performances. Utilizing works from plays, films or scenes that have been written by other students, Tambor will focus on elements such as character development and behavior, and being true and personal in the work.
The class is for returning students or those who have some experience or background in acting and writing, though Tambor noted one doesn’t need to be looking to be a professional to be part of it.
“I wanted to develop with the students a really great space for people to get in touch with their voices and who they are,” the actor said.
“It’s not me sitting at some lectern and saying ‘acting is this’ or ‘acting is that.’ It’s a collaborative thing and a lot of fun. We throw fear and worry right outside the window, where it belongs.”
He’ll also be teaching an eight-week class called “The Art of the Personal Monologue,” which begins Feb. 1, and is perfect for beginners or those who want to brush up on their monologue skills.
“I don’t even call them classes, they are really creative workshops,” Tambor said. “What I’ve always wanted to have is writers, actors, directors, chefs, costumers and even makeup people in the class. In our last session, writers would act and actors would write, and it was revelatory. People really opened up.”
By having writers act and actors write, both learn what the other has to go through and they better understand the overall process.
“Having the actor understand what the writer goes through is very, very important to me,” he said. “It’s not only actors who walk the floor at night, it’s writers as well.”
Tambor noted this empowering class focuses on identifying and conquering the fears that keep us from trusting our own creative voices, and participants will walk away from the workshop with a five-minute monologue at the ready for any audition.
He invites people both young and old to dip their toes into this class and fulfill their longtime acting dreams.
“I want people to be inspired and find their true, authentic voice,” Tambor said. “The Zoom experience is amazing. It’s surprisingly intimate.”
Tambor recalls a conversation his father had with him and his brother when they were younger, wanting them to follow in his floor-covering business. His advice was simply “At the end of the day, be useful.”
“We kind of rolled our eyes, but he was right,” Tambor said. “This is my way of being useful and giving back and finding joy out of their learning.”
When he sees the light go on for a student and they “get it,” it’s what makes being a teacher so special.
“It’s the whole deal,” Tambor said. “It’s not about pleasing me or pleasing others, it’s about the artist finding themselves and saying, ‘That’s who I am. I don’t have to be like so-and-so.’
“When I walk away from the class, and I’ve said this over and over, it is they who inspired me. It’s a truly wonderful experience.”
In addition to teaching these popular Zoom classes, Tambor is currently hosting the “Acting Schmacting” podcast in which he interviews celebrities such as Ron Howard, Steve Buscemi and, most recently, novelist Erica Heller.
He’s also writing a book with the same name as his podcast.
While he’s staying busy through the pandemic and enjoys watching British baking shows in his downtime, Tambor and his wife have four kids at home (including twin 11-year-olds), so he’s been helping them all balance school and work like everyone else.
“We’re hanging in and goodbye 2020 and hoping and praying for good thoughts in 2021,” Tambor said.
Each class session costs $495 for new students and $450 for returning students. To learn more, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.