28 – Stef Tovar: Award-Winning Actor’s Map to On-Camera Acting

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Stef Tovar 0:00
Well, it's so great that you use the word impostor syndrome because that's a lot. When we, you and I, started working on it, I was like, “I don't know.” You were like, “No, you’ve got to think about where you want to be six months from now.” And now when I look at where I want to go next, “You’ve got to be ready for this, because it's coming.” And it did. And I'm so grateful that I have it.
Tony Howell 0:19
Hello, it's Tony Howell. And I want to welcome you to the podcast. In this month's conversation, we speak with Stef Tovar, an award-winning actor, published author, and the founder of the Stef Tovar Studio, an on-camera acting school based in Chicago. As an actor, Stef works regularly in TV, film, commercials, and theater. And he splits his time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
He also teaches on-camera acting workshops at universities, acting studios, and casting offices all across the country. His debut book, The Map: An Actor’s Guide to On-Camera Acting is now available worldwide. But you get some free tips and tricks today. Enjoy.
Stef, thank you for being on the show.
Stef Tovar 1:27
Thanks for having me. What's time is it there?
Tony Howell 1:30
I am 13 hours ahead of you. So we are literally night and day.
Stef Tovar 1:34
Tony Howell 1:35
We did an Instagram LIVE to talk about your book and such, but today we're gonna get to go further together. So for those that missed it, can you tell us a little bit about The Map?
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Stef Tovar 1:47
Um, yeah, The Map is a technique that I came up with to help actors audition for television and film jobs. The technique also works for theatre. It's a technique where you focus on beats: active moments in your scenes that happen in-between the lines, rather than just worrying about memorizing your lines. And that gives your audition a little bit more authenticity, and just sort of relaxes you in the room because you're not just worrying if you're going to get the lines right. And it also helps with the specificity of your thought process. And the beats in your scene.
Tony Howell 2:25
Makes sense for actors, and for those that don't, we're filling in the gaps in-between those spoken lines. I love it.
And I read that you became an on-camera coach in 2014. And you just told me prior to hitting the record button that you just got back from teaching at Wright State University.
So you know, that's quite a jump from 2014 to 2022. I want to know how this technique came about? How did you develop it? How did you codify it?
Stef Tovar 2:54
Yeah, that's a great question. In 2014, I started coaching actors. I kind of focused on the acting, I didn't really have a set approach, acting can be very nebulous, everybody's different. And as I started to put actors on tape, that's when I started to see some specific technical things that I could do to help them. Because when you're in this box, as we know now because we're all in boxes, thanks to the pandemic, this box has very specific rules that you have to adhere to. And so I was able to shift my approach and offer actors a more tactical approach to their work and make sure that their self taped auditions were translating, because I was working with a lot of great actors, stage actors, that when they went to do a self-tape, their self-tape really fell flat, and you didn't get to see the great performance that I know that they could do. And by
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giving them some technical tricks, I was able to sort of help them be more efficient with their self-tapes. That's where the technique really came from.
Tony Howell 3:56
I kind of love this because I feel like maybe I have a similar journey where I was an actor. Now, I do different types of storytelling, like through branding, and yours is on-camera. But Stef, I know that my audience is mostly theatre actors and to give everyone listening context, you have a 25-year career as an award-winning actor, and you won your very first Jeff Award at 27. And then for anyone that doesn't know that Jeff Awards are like the Tony Awards in the Chicago Theatre. So, what was that award for? What performance? What role? And what teachers got you to that moment?
Stef Tovar 4:31
Wow. So that was for a play called Blade to the Heat by Oliver Mayer. I played sort of the bad guy in the play. His name was Vinal. He was a Puerto Rican boxer. And the play is about (and it's so interesting, back in 1997, this was like, controversial) but the play was about a boxer who came out as gay, and I sort of outed him. Looking back at it now, thank god it doesn't seem like such a controversial moment in time for us, but that was what, that's what I won that Jeff Award for. And when I think of mentors that helped me, Gary Griffin was the Director. He directed The Color Purple on Broadway. He's been a friend and mentor my whole life and really kind of brought that performance out of me for sure and has continued to be a good friend ever since.
Tony Howell 5:17
I know we're going to cover much more of your acting career as we progress today. But now that you have crossed over to the other side of the table, and you're also a teacher and a coach, what would you pass on to a young Stef Tovar? Let's just say 1997 Stef Tovar. What does he need to know now about moving into TV and film: give us a nibble of the technique that's inside the book.
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Stef Tovar 5:40
The book really came from the mistakes that I made and the things that I didn't know when I was young, like when I got out of college, and I didn't really understand how I looked in this box and how that works. You know, the thing that I would tell my 27-year-old self is that whether you're auditioning for a musical self-tape, or a television show, on-camera acting is all about watching you think and process rather than show. So you've got to switch your mindset to an active thinking mindset. I like to tell stage actors, especially musical theater actors, that it's kind of like you rehearse a show, you do previews, you open the show. That show after opening, when you show up and it's a job, and you just walk on stage, and you're just thinking like your character. That's where you need to be when you do a self-tape, whether it's for theater or television and film. It's really about actively thinking, and allowing the camera to see that by not eye-locking. By using a little technical trick I call the thinking place, which is just slightly off-camera here. When you see an actor using a thinking place you can see inside their head, rather than when they're eye lock trying to be a good scene partner. So little technical tricks like that are outlined in the book, which can help stage actors sort of learn that new on-camera language.
Tony Howell 6:58
Love it. And if anyone's listening to audio-only will have a video clip of what Stef just demonstrated available on Instagram. Amazing now, Stef, you and I have had private conversations. But I know that I'm not alone, that there are authors and future authors listening to this podcast. So what advice would you share from that publishing journey?
Stef Tovar 7:21
Well, it was such an interesting journey. I wrote the book during, you know, right before the shutdown of the pandemic. And then I refined it during that time. And in May of 2020. I sent the book out to 10 publishers knowing that I really wanted Applause Books, that was the one I really wanted because they had Michael Caine's book and all of www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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Sondheim's work, but it was a weird time. And I didn't hear anything, the whole industry was shut down until August, then it ramped back up. And they wanted content, a lot of it. And because I was in the movie Contagion, which was on CNN, every, you know, every day during the pandemic: clips a bit. I think my 15 minutes of fame, when I did that movie, I was the doctor that told Matt Damon that Gwyneth Paltrow was dead. I think my 15 minutes of fame extended into 20. And I was able to get a response from Applause because of Contagion. And even when I got the response, I didn't hear back. I had to kind of chase them. And then “Oh, yeah, we have an offer for you.” But I'll tell you what, that whole process, I spoke to one person on the phone, two times, the entire publishing process, everything else was over email, I never really knew if someone even read the book, they were going through a transitional period. And it was not at all what I thought the publishing process would be. So what I would say is a word of advice, make sure that you don't just rely on the publisher to help you with your book, which I definitely did not. I gave it to people who I knew I could trust to read it and really tear into it, and tell me the truth about what I had written and what I needed to fix. And if I hadn't done that, I don't think it would have been a very good book. And there's a lot of luck, too, that came along. It was just timing. And also there just isn't a book out there to help actors with self-tapes, and with, you know, basic on-camera technical tricks to make that transition from theater to TV and film. So it was just the right book sort of at the right time to
Tony Howell 9:25
I love it. And where can people purchase the book?
Stef Tovar 9:29
They can go to my website, which was created by Tony Howell, and it's StefTovar.com. There's a lot of different places you can get it. You can also get it at the Drama Book Shop in New York, you can get it on Amazon. We try not to buy too many things from Amazon. But yeah, there's a lot of different ways for you to buy it. You can find all those ways on my website.
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Tony Howell 9:48
Now I feel like I know you but there's so much that I don't yet know. So I'm excited to dive into some questions today. And you know that one of my mantras is, “Honor Your Past.”
So I know it's no longer in existence, but you had a theatre company for many, many years. A very successful theatre company! Tell us about Route 66 Theatre Company. How did it come about: beginning, middle, and end, please?
Stef Tovar 10:11
Well, okay, so I lived in LA for six years. I had a buddy out there, Johnny Clark. He has a successful theatre company called Versus Theater Company: VS. He kept telling me he was trying to get the rights to this play called On An Average Day by John Kolvenbach. And I was leaving town, moving back to Chicago, because I just had a baby. And I said, “Yeah, sure, you know, let me know if that ever happens. I'll come back and do it. No problem.” Not thinking, like, that'll never happen. Well, in 2008, he called and said, “Hey, I got the rights, will you come out and do this? And maybe we can get it produced in Chicago, too.” And I said, “Okay,” not really knowing how that was gonna work. I was doing a musical at the time, called Knute Rockne, All American, which was a story of Knute Rockne, the football coach, and I was playing Knute Rockne. And I would do the show and then fly to LA, rehearse in LA, and then fly back and do the show. I did that for like a month, I was an insane person. We had a very successful run in LA: a sold-out run, Critics Choice, all this stuff, the play On An Average Day. And then I had to figure out how to produce it in Chicago. So I was part of the American Theatre Company in Chicago, they had just gotten a new Artistic Director. And that artistic director said, “Yeah, you can have the summer slot, no problem, all set to go.” And then that artistic director pulled the rug out from under me. And I had no place to produce the play. And I made a promise to Johnny that we were going to get this done. So I formed a theatre company. And I called it Route 66. Because of the connection between Chicago and LA, we did the play here in Chicago. It was a huge hit. And then people were like, “Okay, so what's next?” and I www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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didn't really have a plan. So I just kept producing. And our second show was the Chicago premiere of the musical High Fidelity, which had a very limited run in New York. But Amanda Green came out to see it, it was a big hit here that we ran it for, like, I don't know, four months or something like that. And then a theatre company was born, but it's very hard to sustain. I wasn't at all prepared to deal with raising the money and the financial portion of it. I wasn't very good as an artistic director. But we had a nice 10-year run. And it was because I found people like Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss, who at the time were trying to get their play A Twist of Water done. And no one would let them produce, no one would produce it for them. Or if they would produce it, they would be like, “Great, Erica, you can't direct it.” And I said, “This is beautiful play. Let's do it, whatever you guys want.” And that's sort of launched their careers. Caitlin's a very successful writer for TV. And they turned A Twist of Water into a television show called The Red Line, where Noah Wyle played the role that I originated, I mean, Noah Wyle what’s that guy done, right. And it was a great TV show. It only lasted one season. But I'm very proud when I look back at Route 66, that I was able to identify great talent and try to work with them because I always had the mantra of, “You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with.” And I know that I surrounded myself with really good people. I know that I wasn't very good at my job as Artistic Director, but we had a great run. And we were able to produce a couple things at 59E59 theaters in New York. One of those is a play called No Wake, written by William Donnelly, that I am adapting into a screenplay and we're going to shoot the movie version of that play this fall.
Tony Howell 13:29
Work! Amazing. Well, I love this because you have been everywhere. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. And the other thing that I love about your résumé, which is very like subtle, like we just nod to it on your website. But you've done some of the greatest roles in the American Musical Theatre: Harold Hill in The Music Man, some of the newer fun characters like Cookie in Nice Work If You Can Get It, like George, Sunday in the www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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Park with George, Jamie, The Last Five Years, like it's so diverse, Stef. And people can go check out your résumé there. But is there one particular role or show in the musical theater that you particularly treasure?
Stef Tovar 14:12
Wow, so many. So I have been very lucky. You know, I got to do George, I got to do the LA premiere of The Last Five Years, which was, of course, an incredible show to work on. I did the Midwest premiere of Big Fish after it finished on Broadway, and played Edward Blum in that and that was one of my favorite roles I ever got to do. It was vocally very demanding and there was dancing, which is not my forté, I'm more of a mover and I worked really hard to step into that role. There was an actor in Chicago whose name was Bernie Yvon who is cherished and loved by so many people. He was supposed to do that role and was tragically killed in a car accident. And after some time, they decided to go ahead with the show and recast. I felt like I had very big shoes to fill. I worked really hard. And I just think that's just such a beautiful show that I'm very proud I was able to do.
Tony Howell 15:09
Interesting twist: I did Show Boat with Bernie, prior to that accident. So like, yeah…
Stef Tovar 15:15
Yeah, I mean, it just… we lost a great and he… he was… he's just, as you know, just a wonderful human outside of being a dynamic performer. And he's still very, very missed.
Tony Howell 15:30
Well, with you being all across every genre, what do you love? Let's just say… yeah, tell me what you like about on camera, what you like about musical theater? What do you like about legit theater? What are the pros and cons of all of these different playgrounds?
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Stef Tovar 15:45
Yeah, you know, they're all so different. And I think I've definitely learned to be more comfortable in front of the camera and sort of understand that world a bit more. So I really love being on set. You know, those jobs in Chicago there... it's tough. There's only four casting directors here. And with the pandemic and stuff, you know, I've been lucky to have a couple of jobs in the last couple years. But that's it. I'm getting ready to step back into a rehearsal room. I'm doing my first show at the Goodman Theatre, we start rehearsals May 4th. It's a new show called Life After written by Britta Johnson and directed by Annie... I don't know how to pronounce her last name, I think it's Annie Tippie. I've just been corresponding with her over email, and we're very excited to start rehearsals. I’m understudying a gentleman by the name of Paul Alexander Nolan, who's a Broadway guy, he did the role of Guy in Once on Broadway. And I'm looking forward to meeting him, he's not going to be there for the first 8 days of rehearsal. So I'm going to be holding the chair down for him. It's the only male role in the show. It's a beautiful musical about a 16-year-old girl who loses her father in a car accident on her 16th birthday after they've had a fight. And she tries to piece together what happened that night and ultimately learns how to forgive herself. It's gorgeous. And I just, I can't, I just, I'm so thankful to be a part of it. So I love the purity of a musical. There's something about doing musicals in LA that I really loved. Because when you went to see a musical, you went to see it because you wanted to see it and you loved it. When you did one, you didn't do it, because you're hoping an agent would see you and cast you in something else, you know. So I just feel like it's this genre out there that has a purity about it, where it just kind of stands on its own. And, you know, I got to do Floyd Collins and Evita and some great shows out there. I just kind of love the purity of that genre. There's just nothing else like it, and we're getting to see some really good movie versions of musicals. And I just, I love to see the crossover between the two mediums. I thought West Side Story was just incredible, right?
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Tony Howell 17:50
What about theater without music? What about that? What do you like about that?
Stef Tovar 17:54
Oh man, in 2019, I had a good year of working from show to show to show, and I got to do some plays, and some nice ensemble plays, too. Working together with a group: and just the stillness and the quiet. In a theater when you're hot, you know, you're creating a moment, without music without anything, right. And the power that you feel when you've got all those eyes on, you know, you know, holding a moment, there's also nothing like doing a play, you know, and I've been lucky enough to be able to do plays and musicals and television and film.
Tony Howell 18:28
Something that I think that your book highlights that I know that we're all talking about in the industry is that you don't necessarily have to be in New York City or LA anymore because self-tapes are global. So I am interested to know what it is that makes Chicago home for you? What do you love about Chicago? And maybe if there is a listener (because I know that I have students in Hong Kong and Poland and all over the world), what kind of encouragement can you share to someone who may not be based in New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Atlanta, or any of these major cities for entertainment?
Stef Tovar 19:04
You know, listen, I was born in Chicago. I was raised here. I lived and worked here for 10 years before I moved to LA I love this city. It's home, you know, and it's got such a great theatre scene and now an amazing television and film scene as well. But the great news for you now, and I tell this to my students, the great news now is back in the day when you wanted to be on TV, if you weren't on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, you weren't on TV, those were your only options. And there was a pilot season and everybody had to go out to LA for pilot season to try to get that one pilot that would maybe get picked up and those are your only chances to be seen for television and film. Well now, the industry has exploded
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and there's Netflix and Amazon and Apple and all these different ways to be a part of a television show or mini-series or film. There's movies that are made that go straight to streaming services, and with self-tapes, and I know some actors Is resist self-tapes. But with self-tapes, you can get seen for anything from all over the world. Also, now's a great time for non-binary people, people of color women, the industry is just looking for these people not just for roles in acting roles, but to be a showrunner to be a writer in the room to give their project authenticity, there's more work out there than ever before. And you can live anywhere, if you got access to make a self-tape and a gatekeeper, a casting director to send it to, sometimes you don't even need an agent. So it's it's just a really exciting time. And there's more work than ever before. So I'm living in Chicago right now. And I kind of go back and forth between Chicago and LA. I think ultimately, once my son graduates from high school, I'm going to probably be based more in LA, there's just more casting directors, more work. But I know a lot of people that live and work out of Atlanta, you're close to New York, there's a great television and film world there. It's not just New York and LA anymore.
Tony Howell 20:59
I know that there are probably also parents and future parents in the room. So this is a bonus question for you. But for someone that is looking to still maintain their artistic career and become a parent, what words of advice would you give to them? Because I just love that you like… Yeah, I'm blown away. You're successful.
Stef Tovar 21:22
Well, listen, you know, it's a balance, right. And whether you have a child or you have pets, you know, you’ve got to find that work/life balance. And being a dad was something I knew I always wanted to be. And I got lucky and got a great son named Sam. And, you know, it was a struggle when I was doing theater in Chicago, and he was a kid. And you know, his mom and I divorced. We’re still very close and great friends and raise him together. But it was a struggle. When we first got divorced, they moved back to Michigan. I was doing shows where, you know, you're www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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doing 8 shows a week, and the one time that I could see him, I'd have to drive to Michigan and maybe meet him for lunch at his school. But we made it work. And he embraced the sort of crazy life. I would bring him to shows because, you know, if I have him for the weekend, I wouldn't want to hand him off to a sitter. So I’d just take him to the theatre and say, “Alright, you're sitting in the dressing room.” I mean, he's been in so many dressing rooms with me and chilled out and you know, casts love him, because he's a good kid. So you just figure it out, just like we're doing. We're all figuring it out. Right? It's so whether you have a child in the mix or two, you know, you figure it out. And I think in order to go down this path, you’ve got to love this business. If you didn't, it's too hard. Like, you know, you find something else and be like, “Oh, that's just too much.” But I've tried to do other things, real estate, this, that. And there isn't anything I love more than acting in the theater. And I just figured out a way to make it work.
Tony Howell 22:53
I love it. I have a wildcard question for you. But I picked up on your social media that you have participated in naked cycling. So I've just, like… what is this, Stef? I've never known what was going on with that? What's that about?
Stef Tovar 23:09
So I, that's hilarious. I, for my 50th birthday, I rode my bicycle from Chicago to LA, landing in LA on my 50th birthday. I've always wanted to ride my bike across the country. And so I said I'm gonna do it. It was during the pandemic, it was fall of 2020. And I did it in 32 days. And I reached out to a lot of people who have done long-distance cycling to get some advice. And it wasn't until I was almost on the road and Courtney O'Neill, who's a set designer from Chicago, I think she lives in Paris now. She's like a pro cyclist, like racing, and has also ridden across the country several times. And she said, “Well if you're doing this ride, you have to do the naked mile.” And I was like, “What's the naked mile?” And she said, “So you’ve got to find a patch of road where there's not going to be a ton of cars. And you’ve got to go for one mile naked, with the exception of your shoes.” Because you're wearing cycling shoes. So, I www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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forget where we were. Katy Sarah, who's my best friend and she was my companion as we did this trip, along with our dog Sophie, rode behind and filmed as I did the naked mile. There was one car that passed. We were in the middle of like Nowhere, California because Route 66 is very obscure. Now some of it's not: it doesn't even exist anymore. We're in the middle of nowhere, and the naked mile happened and it got a little tense at the end because it started to be an incline. So you know, you obviously can't sit down when you're doing the naked mile because that's a little rough. So I was standing up on the pedals and it was very exhilarating. Made it happen!
Tony Howell 24:46
You only live once! I love the freedom. And now let's talk about the future a little bit. So recently, we got back together and created a logo for the official Stef Tovar Studio. So tell us more: what's the studio? And yeah, let's go there.
Stef Tovar 25:07
Yeah, I mean, the work you did was great. I always knew I wanted some kind of logo to coincide with the website and stuff to have a studio. I teach online courses for on-camera, a four-week course, and I also teach privately, I tape actors here in Chicago. So I was creating the studio and gathering more and more students. And I just wanted to look more official. And I had no idea of what I wanted. And you like, in one email sent me like three different versions. And I was like, this is perfect. It's eloquent, but simple and says everything I needed to say with one little symbol. And yeah, I loved it and was like, let's do it. So it's on my website now.
Tony Howell 25:52
Yeah, go check it out. And just for me to throw in a little tip here, I learned about logo design from Sagi Haviv, who is a part of this amazing branding agency in New York City. But the questions to ask yourself, if you're looking at a logo design:
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Is it appropriate?
Is it distinctive?
Is it simple, but special? Is there some sort of magic to it?
Now I'm going on a tangent, but I just love talking about this stuff. So you know, the Nike swoosh symbol: Is it appropriate? Yes. Is it distinctive? Yes. Is it simple but special? Yes. And is there some sort of magic? Yeah, because it's like, it just, it just is what it is. So it's an acronym that is ADS.
And you can always ask yourself that question, if you are looking at logo designs. So yeah, and go check out step two of our studio at StefTovar.com.
Stef Tovar 26:44
Yeah, it's beautiful. It's everything I wanted it to be. It's great.
Tony Howell 26:48
Yay. Now your latest on-screen roll, as far as I know, there may be something more recent. But you were Barney Atash on CW’s 4400. How did you apply The Map technique to your audition, and then on-set during the performance?
Stef Tovar 27:04
Yeah. So I turned in a self-tape. It was three scenes. And Kenny Leon, who just won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play was the Director. I did not meet him, I got put on hold for it. It all happened very quickly. And I didn't even meet him until I got on set. There wasn't a callback. So I used The Map technique, definitely in my self-tape, where I'm finding those active moments in-between the lines. And then when I got on set, things like the thinking places, which I mentioned earlier, where your eyes go, when you are thinking, you know, your subtext essentially, yeah, even if there was two cameras in the shot, I always was able to find a place between my scene partner camera one would be rolling here. And I would have a thinking place right there. And whatever the shot was, I would make sure that when it was being set up, that I had a go-to place that my eyes would go when it looked like I was looking in www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
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the camera, and I could execute the technique. And Kenny Leon was a dream to work with. And so was the lead character, J, she was great. And it was fun to be the bad guy. So…
Tony Howell 28:08
Sometimes the bad guy, sometimes the quirky musical guy. I love it.
Stef Tovar 28:12
Yeah, it's fun to be the bad guy. So that, and the show is great. So just being a part of it. And being on that set, because I got to work with, there was a big group scene in my last scene where I get fired. SPOILER ALERT: but I play a mean bartender who gets fired in front of everybody. But there was, I mean, all the 4400, the stars of the show, were all in that big scene. So I got to meet and work with all of them. And it was just, it's just a very exciting set to be on. So I had a great time.
Tony Howell 28:35
Fantastic. You have many, many success stories of your students as well and rave reviews, testimonials. So can you just highlight. I know that might be tricky. So you don't have to pick one. But can you highlight one of your students and share one of their success stories?
Stef Tovar 28:53
You know, it's so funny. The thing that I love to hear the most is that “Stef, I just… I feel so comfortable now doing self-tapes. They're not a burden anymore. I feel like I can crank them out. And I know what I'm doing” That kind of feedback I get on the regular, which is great. Actually, it's so funny, but I coached a rap artist named Che Rhymefest Smith on a movie called The Public, which was directed by Emilio Estevez. It’s the first time Che and I met, his manager at the time had heard about me and set up a meeting, and we immediately hit it off and I coached him on his performance in that movie. And a week ago, he kind of called me out of the blue. He's a world traveler. He does so many different things. He's like. “Stef, I got this film audition. I don't do a lot of auditions but I really love this film and this role. Will you help me?” He came over and we spent the whole afternoon. We got well, of course
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we did, his self-tape was three scenes, but we just talked. We talked about life and what's been going on and my son got to meet him and you know this is an Oscar and Grammy and People's Choice Award Winner and one of the most just humble, great guys. So I'm very proud to not only be a coach of his but also a friend, cuz he's just a really good person.
Tony Howell 30:02
Likewise, I feel the same about you. And for people listening, I will embed that Instagram post alongside this episode so you can check it out.
Stef, you've been teaching, for this continued pandemic, you've been teaching on-camera technique via Zoom, which makes sense: self-tapes and whatnot. But for someone who's skeptical about taking a class online via Zoom, how does that work? What is the structure of this class?
Stef Tovar 30:29
It's so interesting, because I've done both now, you know, I've been in the room. And the reason why virtual works better for this is my goal, as a teacher, is to get you to be able to tape your auditions yourself at home without me. I mean, certainly, you can pay me to coach you, and you can pay me, you can come to Chicago, and I'll tape you. But you know, with self-tapes happening, you know, sometimes three times a week, you want to be able to do this at home, and you can and so I teach you how to create a great setup and teach you the language of this box so that you can direct yourself, you don't benefit from having me in the room because you ultimately want to be able to do this on your own. And I can do that all by meeting virtually,
Tony Howell 31:10
I just want to highlight: I think the mark of a great teacher is that they want the student to graduate per se, like move on and not need them. So thank you for being a great teacher.
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Conversations with Changemakers
Stef Tovar 31:20
Well, thank you. No, I love it. And I love watching other people just Yeah, I love when I teach the four-week class, I love the last class where it's like, okay, here you were in week one, and now looking at your work, and it's night and day. And they're the ones that did the work, can always point back to that and say, No, I thank you so much for giving me this, I'm like you did, you did the work. And that's the thing I love about self-tapes. It's a little like math or music where you're either on pitch or you're not. And when you execute a self-tape things either land or they don't. And I can show you why that is and help you with just some technical tricks, figure out how to make it better.
Tony Howell 31:56
Now I know from building your site, and just seeing what you're posting about that, like those intensives, they might not be happening for much longer. So can you tell us about what you are able to offer people as your schedule picks up with your Goodman show and all the things you're doing?
Stef Tovar 32:12
Yeah, I mean, I really wanted to set aside the month of May, especially in tech into June to just be focused at the Goodman, even as I'm the understudy. It's been a while since I've been in a theater, and I wanted to give myself that time. That said, I'll probably kick up another one, you know, towards the end of June. But it's a commitment because we do, you know, four weeks, a weekly class every week, and then I'm assigning scenes. I'm working with every single person in the class one-on-one for a half-hour week. So it becomes a full-time job in and of itself. And I want to make sure that I'm able to dedicate that time. So I'm just taking a little bit of a break while I get the Goodman show up on its feet.
Tony Howell 32:49
Fantastic. And I just also I need to highlight I'm selling you, you offer notes on self-tapes, you offer private Zoom coaching. If they want to fly
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to Chicago, you'll put them on tape. And everyone go to Stef Tovar, to learn more. That StefTovar.com.
Stef Tovar 33:04
Tony Howell 33:05
So I obviously wanted to have you on again to celebrate your book, which I'm just jealous that you have a book out in the world. It's coming from… I'm-ma be birthing a book soon.
Stef Tovar 33:16
Yeah, you talked about it.
Tony Howell 33:17
Yeah, that's coming. Now, you also were a student, you worked with us as a client, but also as a student inside Smartists, which is the class that I teach on social media for artists. So I just want to know, has your social media changed since taking that class?
Stef Tovar 33:32
It's so interesting, because I took Smartists and it was in the fall. And I had a plan to sort of do all of the things that I was given. And I still have that plan. But I ran into some tough times in the fall, my father passed away, and then it went right into the holidays. And then I started back up with teaching. Now I'm gonna go back and apply that gameplan, to the website, to the social media. And also I'm coming up with some new teaching models, including working with high school students, teaching them how to self-tape for their college auditions. And to try it for high school kids who want to get an agent: what those audition tapes should look like. So I'm coming up with more content. And now I have a great blueprint of how to reach those people over social media. And I gotta tell you, like, my whole reach right now is just social media. That's how I get clients. And it's really due to the help that I got taking that Smartists course. And I'm not even applying like half of what was given. So it was something that I'm definitely going to dig back into right after the play gets going.
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Tony Howell 34:38
Oh well, I have to reflect back to you. I think that there's some imposter complex because I've seen you step up your game on social and I just want to applaud your work there so
Stef Tovar 34:46
Well thank you. I'm really trying and it pays off. It really does. So I get people that are in my classes who just saw a post on Instagram, and that's how they found me and they applied and joined the studio and are in the class. So thank you, sir.
Tony Howell 35:02
Haha, boom! Healthy CEO. And I need you to know that I often go to your website for various reasons. But the beautiful photography of Joe Mazza, always incredible work from Brave Lux in Chicago, people can go there to see what Member Areas are like: with having a login to your site like Netflix. But the other thing that I like about you, Stef, is because people have gotten a glimpse of your career today, we've talked about like, you just like casually dropping “Yeah, I did the world premiere of this, and I did that. And that's that.” But something that I think people can go, actors can go to your website and see, is that we are honoring your past. There are featured videos and featured credits and featured news. We're not trying to put everything out there. Because the work is there. It speaks for itself. And so my final question, which is selfish, but like, well, how has your website helped you grow your businesses, as an actor, as an author, and a coach?
Stef Tovar 35:56
Well, it's so great that you use the word imposter syndrome because that's a lot. When we, you and I, started working on it, I was like, “I don't know if I need a back end of this to post videos, or do these things. A member area? You know, I mean, the book’s not even out yet.” And you were like, “No, you’ve got to think about where you want to be six months from now, after the book is launched.” All this, you set me up for that great success. And when I look at that website, I'm just like, wow, that's me. And I own it now in a way that I didn't own it, frankly, six
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Conversations with Changemakers
months ago, my mindset has completely changed. And I think it was because of what you built for me. And now when I look at where I want to go next, in terms of adding some online content, I want to have a member area where members can come together and share their self-tapes together once a month, almost like you know, dropping in on an acting class once a month. And I have the capability with my website now to be able to do all of those things. It's already built-in. And it was things that I thought I never would need. And you were totally right. And you also it wasn't just about the website, but you also kind of pumped me up as a human, as an actor, as a teacher, and an author to say, “Hey, you got to be ready for this because it's coming.” And so I look back at the website now. And just… I'm so proud of it. And it's exactly what I wanted, and so much of what I didn't even know that I needed. And I'm so grateful that I have it.
Tony Howell 37:19
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And final question just because the purpose of this show is helping you know, my mission is to help the artist become a healthy CEO. But this podcast in particular, is for everyone listening. If they're a designer, or a director, “How can you use your work to change the world?” So I just am wondering if you have any sort of final encouragement to leave us with for the artist to help them step up and be the healthy CEO and fulfill their purpose on the planet?
Stef Tovar 37:52
Wow, that's just such a big question. You know, part of being a good on-camera actor, whether you're self-taping for Broadway, or you're self-taping for a television show, is trusting yourself, trusting that if you take a moment, and you don't have a line, and you're just thinking and being active in your mind, that you will be enough that the camera will come to you and it will capture it and that you need to be able to trust yourself. So many actors, like just move so fast through their auditions. And I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa. And that's about trust, I went through the same thing. I was like, if I didn't say my lines quickly, I'm going to lose my audience. No, you are just as talented, more talented, actually, when you're not speaking, than when you're speaking when it comes to www.TonyHowell.co | hello@tonyhowell.co
Conversations with Changemakers
self-tape. And it all goes back to that self-belief and mindset that you're capable of this. So I would say whatever your art is, just believe in yourself and flip that mindset from what you think you might be capable of, to. This is mine, it's already out there for me, I deserve and to be and have a place in the world. And this is what it is. And it's really just about instilling that confidence in yourself. And you know, I know it sounds corny, but you really helped me with that. I don't think that I would be as confident as a teacher as an author if I didn't go through this process with you. And now I look back and go, Thank God I did.
Tony Howell 39:20
Thank you so much for being on the show, Stef and for unnecessarily reflecting that back to me. And now I want to do a little bit of reflection with you.
This podcast intentionally comes out at the end of every month, because I want you to take a moment to look back, to look around, and look ahead.
Reflecting on this conversation, what stood out to me was that last piece of advice: believe in yourself. Have confidence in yourself.
As artists and entrepreneurs, we’re very quick to downplay our past achievements. But as you heard from Stef today, even he deals with an imposter complex and guess what? So do I.
What stood out or spoke to you? What tip or quote are you taking away? Take a screenshot right now. Now share your takeaway with Stef Tovar and Tony Howell by tagging us on social media. I can speak for us both that we'd love to hear from you.
Check out the description below before you move on because I've created a bonus link that goes alongside everything that Stef shared today. You can find their photos and videos of his work, get a copy of his book, check out that brand new logo and so much more.
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Conversations with Changemakers
If you want to get inspired for your website or apply to work with Stef, make sure that you also check out StefTovar.com.
Can I ask you one more favor? Take a few extra seconds to rate and review this show on Apple Podcasts. While you're there, you can check out our other conversations and know that I've got some incredible surprise guests lined up for this season. So do make sure that you are subscribed.
Thank you so much for listening. And as I said earlier, the reason I am making this podcast is to help you use your work to change the world. Hopefully, you and I can have a conversation about that very soon.
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On this episode of Conversations with Changemakers, we speak with Stef Tovar.

Sometimes the bad guy, sometimes the quirky musical guy, Stef is an award-winning actor who works regularly in television, film, and theater. As the founder of the Stef Tovar Studio, he also teaches on-camera acting at universities, acting studios, and casting offices across the country. His debut book, The Map: An Actor’s Guide to On-Camera Acting was published by Applause and is now available worldwide.

Listen to this episode for insights on:

  • Creating a full-time acting career—no matter where you are in the world.
  • Bringing your on-camera acting and self-tapes to a night and day difference with The Map technique.
  • Writing a book, starting a family, running a theatre company and more!

Click here to access bonus resources from this episode

Connect with Stef Tovar:

Connect with Tony Howell:

Episode Credits:


If you enjoyed this episode, leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be sure to check out our past conversations and subscribe for next month’s special guest!

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