An August acting workshop in the Tri-Cities featuring actors working on films and in popular TV series, including The Mentalist and True Blood, is possible thanks to a former Tri-City girl's dream.
Katie Gillette was born in the Tri-Cities with cystic fibrosis. She died at age 14 -- but not before moving to Los Angeles to use her final years to pursue becoming a singer.
The Richland workshop will be conducted by the Los Angeles-based Performers House.
"The proceeds from this workshop help with scholarships for those trying to make it as an actor in L.A.," Jessica Soss, CEO of the nonprofit Performers House, told the Herald in a phone interview. "And a portion also is donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to honor the memory of Katie."
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If it wasn't for Gillette there would be no Performers House, Soss said.
Katie and her sister Gabrielle were both born in the Tri-Cities with cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.
"Both my girls always wanted to be in show business," said their mother Christy Gillette, who now lives in Los Angeles. "Gabby (15 months older than her sister) wanted to be an actress and Katie a singer."
Few children with the disease live to adulthood, so in 1997 she moved to Los Angeles to give her daughters a chance to fulfill their dreams before the disease claimed their lives.
The girls were welcomed into the Hollywood network and earned scholarships from top L.A. training programs. The sisters, in turn, wanted to help other struggling entertainers, but Katie lost her battle with the disease in 2001, just shy of her 15th birthday.
A few days before her death, Katie asked her mom and sister to find a way to provide disadvantaged young people the same opportunities she had received, Christy Gillette said.
Five months later Performers House opened. Christy Gillette ran the agency out of her L.A. home.
The nonprofit agency keeps its focus on providing a safe, supportive environment for struggling artists who are actively trying to break into the entertainment industry, she said.
"Its primary goal is to help the stars of tomorrow launch and transition into the L.A. film and entertainment industry without having to go it alone," she said.
"Performers House has seen many talented residents pass through its doors. Some go on to establish stable working careers in the entertainment industry while others come to the realization that show biz just isn't meant for them after all. In every case, each (one) is offered the opportunity to embrace their dreams with the unique support and caring affirmation of Performers House and its alumni, friends, advisory board, and supporters."
At the Richland workshop Soss will be joined by actors Jobeth Wagner, Ryan Egnatoff, W. Lee Hill, Drea Castro and Mike Hope, as well as makeup artist Kate Dixson, a photographer with Wjrparks photography, and model Ambreal Williams.
Soss has a recurring role as an FBI agent in The Mentalist. Wagner and Egnatoff are regulars on HBO's True Blood series. Castro was in the film Act of Valor. Dixon is a makeup artist for the television series GRIMM and Wjrparks' photography in L.A. provides professional head shots of actors for their portfolios. All are Performers House alumni.
Hope is one of the leads in the not-yet-released film Vampire Soul. He resigned Thursday as a Snohomish County state legislator in the wake of reports about him being registered to vote in another state.
The Richland workshops will cover four major acting techniques:
-- Monster movement, or learning how to act, walk and behave like a zombie.
-- Improvisation, which helps actors learn to be quick thinking on their feet when asked by a director to do something spontaneous.
-- Fit for life: exercises to stay fit for the demands of acting.
-- Audition techniques defines all kinds of helpful hints, including how to enter an audition with confidence.
Soss saw an ad for Performers House on Craigslist in 2009 and the next year she moved to L.A. and started taking classes at the agency.
Los Angeles was a huge place for the Everett-born actor and Soss said she found herself lost and confused at her first class.
"I felt like I had to not only relearn how to drive in L.A., but I had no idea how to even start getting into acting," Soss said. "Performers House not only gave me the necessary skills needed to make it in this cut-throat industry, but also the resources and support."
Besides being a working actor, Soss is also a producer, director, talent manager, screenwriter and owner of V.S. Films LLC. She took over the reins of CEO of Performers House last year when Christy Gillette retired.
"I know I would not be where I am today if it weren't for Performers House," Soss said.
Christy Gillette continues to stay involved with the agency. She runs the agency out of her L.A. home, which is also where classes are held. She keeps it running through her own Social Security income, private donations and many of the residents covering their own expenses and through the workshops, she said.
"When we hold these workshops, our former students and celebrity friends volunteer their time to make it happen," Christy Gillette said.
Her daughter Gabby defied the odds of a short life with cystic fibrosis. Today she is 28 and recently was married in Los Angeles. She also earned a degree in clinical management. She has been unable to pursue her acting dream but finds fulfillment helping her husband who is a minister, Gillette said.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dorioneal
If you go
What: Performers House two-day acting workshop
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 2 and 1 to 7 p.m. Aug. 3.
Where: Academy of Children’s Theatre, 213 Wellsian Way, Richland.
For reservations: Go online to www.performershouse.org and click “events” or call 818-538-8122.