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Tualatin teacher helps young people find fame

Two local actors got start with Tualatin acting coach

Not many middle schoolers can say they have an income of their own. Tualatin residents Sarah Fanger and JC Miller can.

Fanger, 13, and Miller, 9, are two examples of how talent, the right look and the right attitude can land you thousands of dollars in an acting or modeling role.

'People forget she even does this. She doesn't talk about it a lot,' said Joelle Fanger, Sarah's mother. 'She doesn't look at it as anything that defines her. She just looks at it as an opportunity to meet some fun people, see some fun places and make some money.'

Sarah and JC both started their careers with Suzi Smith, a local acting coach who learned everything she knows about the entertainment industry during her time living in Los Angeles.

'I never took an acting class, but I know what casting directors are looking for,' Smith said. 'Not just if you can act, but how you sit, how you dress, how you talk.'

Smith began as a secretary at a Los Angeles acting agency and eventually worked her way up the ladder. After years of observing the industry from within, she decided to move to the Northwest.

Now, Smith hosts acting classes throughout the year, and a five-day summer acting camp once a year that culminates in a showcase. It was at one of these showcases that Sarah Fanger was approached by not one, but two local talent agencies.

At this point, the 13-year-old had taken nothing more than a handful of acting classes.

'We were really novice to this industry, and knew absolutely nothing about it. Nothing, really. Suzi just kind of guided us along,' Joelle Fanger said. 'We got really lucky - a lot of it was her look. We made the choice of which agent to go with, and it kind of snowballed after that.'

JC and his mother, Samantha, were longtime friends of the Fanger family. Two years ago they decided to approach the same acting agency the Fangers had joined after JC went through six months of acting classes with Smith.

'He's the youngest of three, and he's always been pretty outgoing,' said Samantha. 'We did a lot of sports in our house, so we wanted to balance it out with something creative.'

Since then, JC enjoyed various callbacks for both acting and print advertising jobs. But it's not always easy, and the callback rate is in constant flux.

'She doesn't see it as a failure to go to a casting and not get a job,' said Joelle of her daughter, Sarah. 'From day one, she's never needed consoling. She's always felt like, 'well, I wasn't the right fit,' and moves on.'

'You're not going to get all of them, so you might as well not take it too hard,' Sarah said. 'It's nothing to freak out over.'

Sarah has had a speaking role on an episode of 'Leverage,' a television show filmed in Portland, and has also been seen on billboards, catalogues and commercials. JC has been in his share of print advertising, local music videos and commercials as well. For what turned out to be a split-second appearance in a Chrysler commercial, JC has so far earned $8,500 in residual payments (a certain amount of money for every time the commercial is played). That is, of course, before taxes and agency fees.

According to JC, the worst part of the whole process is having his time cut short at a friend's house in order to attend a casting call. JC also pines over the fact that his mother won't let him spend a lot of the money he earns.

'We've had the discussion of the college fund,' said Samantha, JC's mother. 'For example, if he earns $300 on a job, I'll let him spend $30 on something he wants to splurge on. Keep him feeling like he's earning something for himself.'

Sarah, on the other hand, says she's not a 'spender' and prefers to save her money.

Either way, neither the money nor the exposure has caused much disruption to JC or Sarah's day-to-day lives.

'A lot of his schoolmates probably don't see most of the work that JC has done,' Samantha said. 'I think he would be okay with being more high-profile, but I don't know, he may not like it on a regular basis.'

At the moment, JC wants to be a football player when he grows up. Sarah has shown interest in possibly running a business one day, though she's open to the idea of becoming an actress or a model.

Both have taken what success they've had thus far in the advertising and entertainment industry at face value.

'For him, he really could take it or leave it,' Samantha said of JC. 'As soon as he says, 'I don't want to do this anymore,' we won't.'

'Sarah's musical and she loves sports, so we try to balance some of these things,' Joelle said. She doesn't spend a lot of time thinking she's going to be a famous actor one day, but this has given her confidence.

Suzi Smith's acting camp showcase will take place this year on July 21 and 22, where she will invite local talent agencies to come and watch her students in action. Smith compares the act of getting Portland agents to come out and look at fresh talent to pulling teeth.

'They're just not hungry in this town like they are in Los Angeles,' said Smith, who works full time as a teacher during the school year.

Smith says she looks at what she does through her acting classes and camps as enhancing people's lives and said she likes to step back once they find agents.

'I don't want to be active in their professional worlds, I just want to help them get there,' she said. 'If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen.'

For more information on Smith's acting classes and showcases, email her at suzismith66hotmail.com.