Actor Terry Kiser shares his craft with Ouray teenagers
It seems unlikely that a longtime Hollywood actor could gain anything from a teenager. But that is not the case.
Ridgway’s Terry Kiser, 60, perhaps best known as the deceased Bernie Lomax in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies, has spent the past several years coaching a select few aspiring teenage actors in the Ouray area.
Kiser doesn’t advertise his services or charge the students. He simply wants to help the young actors improve.
“I love that young energy,” Kiser said.
Along with his work in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies, Kiser has appeared on popular TV shows such as “All in the Family” and “Hill Street Blues,” and has acted on Broadway, where he got his Tony-nominated role in “God’s Favorite.”
Although Kiser is still busy traveling to shoot films, TV shows or commercials, he considers mentoring teen actors to be one of the greatest roles of his life.
“I’ve studied with the best,” Kiser said. “To be able to pass that on is a gift I can give back.”
Kiser studied acting under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City. Kiser continues to learn while working on sets for various projects.
And what he knows, he has shared with former Ouray High School student Jake Abel, now a freshman at Baylor University, and current Ouray senior Stormy Pyeatte.
The mentor relationship between Kiser and Abel, and then Pyeatte, began several years ago when Abel learned that Kiser lived in the area.
Abel approached Kiser for help with dramatic interpretation, the event Abel competed in with his high school’s chapter of the National Forensic League, an extracurricular program aimed at improving students’ speech and debate skills.
Dramatic interpretation is a 10-minute solo performance in which a student must memorize and act out a written piece adapted from a published work.
For months, Abel and Kiser, who Abel calls “coach,” spent three days a week together after school working to refine his piece, Abel said.
All the work paid off when Abel took second place at the league’s 2009 national tournament with a dramatic interpretation of a piece about troubled actor John Barrymore, grandfather to Drew Barrymore.
“It blew them away,” Kiser said of the reaction to performance by the small-town teen. “But I had talent with Jake.”
Kiser and Abel laughed when the other finalists from places such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia could not pronounce Ouray.
Abel gave his second-place trophy to Kiser, who still gets choked up when talking about Abel’s gesture.
But Abel said he is the one overwhelmed by Kiser’s willingness to be a mentor.
“It’s like a Christmas miracle to me that he was humble enough and willing to take me on,” Abel said.
“Terry’s made it clear to me that he gets stuff out of (our relationship) too. It’s the first time he’s had to articulate the nuances of the craft,” he said.
Along with coaching Abel with his dramatic interpretive pieces, Kiser taught the teen how to analyze acting.
Kiser is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He votes on the Academy Awards and receives movies and soundtracks before the viewing public.
“We would watch films,” Abel said. “We would stop and pause to consider (acting) choices.”
For all the passion Kiser holds for film and television, his biggest piece of advice for Abel and Pyeatte — and any other young actor serious about the profession — is to begin on stage.
The opportunity to perform before a live audience on Broadway is still an experience Kiser holds in high regard. In fact, it is what prompted him to leave the Midwest, where he grew up, and move to New York City in the mid-1960s with $1,500 in his pocket.
Abel is taking Kiser’s advice and is studying theater and medieval literature at Baylor. Abel and Kiser speak several times a week about school and life.
For Kiser, life includes more mentoring.
Pyeatte, who recruited Kiser to coach her after seeing how he helped Abel, begins work with Kiser in the months ahead to refine her piece for her June appearance at National Forensic League’s national competition in Kansas City.
Pyeatte took third in dramatic interpretation at a state qualifying competition earlier this year.