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Coaching Boom: Von der Couch zum Coaching
by Pat Frickey

The couch played absolutely no role in this two-hour panel discussion led by moderator Loretta Stern to a packed house in the Studio Hamburg Lounge. Stern was joined by two acting coaches, Wolfgang Wimmer and Frank Betzelt; two casting directors, Nina Haun and Corinna Glaus; and director Kai Wessel who spontaneously filled in for missing actor Max Riemelt. While the job description of an acting coach was hardly known in Germany until a few years ago, it has recently become, at the very least, a tolerated profession.

Coaches train actors in workshops, prepare them for auditions, and work with them once they have a role. Coaches Wimmer and Betzelt, both experienced actors and directors, have found their passion/vocations in this relatively new profession. Wimmer presented his book Coaching für Film und Fernsehen: Die beste Vorbereitung für die Arbeit vor der Kamera. The panel agreed there was still skepticism about the legitimacy of coaching in Germany. Betzelt, who had training as an acting coach in the U.S., explained that in America coaching is established; he revealed that it is rumored that Julia Roberts always has a coach with her on the set. Wimmer self-deprecatingly joked about what made him a successful coach; he had been involved in the theater in every capacity, and had not been very good at anything. He could not recommend failure, but having had so many jobs certainly had prepared him for coaching.

The panel agreed that there is growing acceptance of acting coaches in Germany due to increasingly tighter budgeted shooting days. Glaus and Haun, also in the neophyte profession of casting director, explained that coaches could help build the confidence of actors in preparing them for upcoming auditions. It was suggested that the best way to find a coach (there are at least 30,000 to 40,000 self-named coaches in Germany) was through word of mouth because there is no uniform certification or standard qualification in Germany. Though the hourly cost, between Euro 50 and Euro 150 might seem extravagant for struggling actors, the long term outcome is well worth it. Director Wessel positively described coaches as being dynamos in the process. He cautioned that no actor who has been coached should feel “finished” after coaching sessions; an actor should remain open to developing his character’s role even further.

As the two-hour discussion slowly came to its conclusion Wimmer let the cat out of the bag and revealed the reason for coaching: angst.  (Yes, this is Germany.)  Angst became the recurring theme of the final ten minutes with the panel. Managing this fear and insecurity was the real job of coaches; with their help actors could overcome their angst and succeed. As all stood to leave, Wimmer gave a parting word of advice to the actors in the audience: coaching yes, but make sure it remains invisible to everyone around you.