Learning to be truly real on reality TV

NEW YORK Thu Jul 17, 2008 9:23am EDT

1 of 11. Student Kristina Powis introduces herself on camera during a meeting of the Reality TV School in New York, July 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Judy Bolton wants her 15 minutes of fame.

Keen to appear on TV show "Big Brother", the 51-year-old therapist and mother of two enrolled in New York's new Reality Television School, one of a growing number of people on both sides of the Atlantic seeking help getting on reality TV.

"I want the 15 minutes of fame that everybody wants," Bolton told Reuters during a break in the three-hour course, one of about 30 people who paid up to $140 to attend the second session held by the school.

Bolton, who said she also liked "The Amazing Race" but was worried about the stunts, was aware of the irony of taking a course to learn to be real. "You say to yourself 'What do you need that for, when reality really means being one's self?' Why do you need to go to school to be yourself?"

But she and many others are lining up.

In London, the Central School of Speech and Drama -- which has made its name teaching traditional theater to the likes of Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench -- has been deluged with reality television wannabes.

It received 4,000 applications this year for 47 places in its undergraduate acting program. Geoffrey Coleman, head of acting, said most of them had come to the wrong place.

"There are quite a lot of people who are, unfortunately, quite frankly, deluded," said Coleman. "There is no 15 minutes of fame here. This is about a lifelong career, a lifelong journey into their art."

But acting coach, performer and producer Robert Galinsky saw a gap in the market. He opened the New York Reality Television School after helping animal groomer Jorge Bendersky prepare to compete on Animal Planet's "The Groomer Has It."

Bendersky came third and now gives students at Galinsky's school his top 10 tips, which include learning how to do makeup, preparing outfits, and alerting cameras of what you plan to do so they don't miss it.

"CONCOCTED AND CONTRIVED"

Galinsky said criticism that his school was training people just to be themselves was naive.

"Reality TV is not reality TV, everything is concocted and contrived and it's just an unscripted drama," he said. "So if you think you're watching real people being real, then you're already way off base."

Galinsky dishes out "eight commandments of reality television" to his students, which include: "show confidence not cockiness," "say 'yes' as often as possible" and "never say 'I am an actor.'"

Five television cameras film their every move and screen it on large televisions around the room, preparing students for the intensity of being watched constantly.

A producer who casts reality television gives audition "do's and don'ts," and they are tested in a speed-casting session. An exercise, modeled on the police parading of a suspect known as a "perp walk," tries to help students deal with the range of reactions they might encounter.

Billy Garcia, a former contestant on U.S. series "Survivor," told the students reality television was a good way to have fun and make money. "Two years later, I'm still making a buck off it," he told them.

"ROCK THE WORLD"

From shows like "Big Brother," where cameras follow every move of a group of strangers living together, to talent-based shows to find the next top singer, model, designer, chef or dancer, reality TV has spawned endless hours of hit TV viewing around the world in the past decade. It contributes to 127 hours of television watched by Americans each month.

"Big Brother" -- aired in The Netherlands in 1999 -- is widely credited for cementing the TV genre.

The concept has been a ratings hit, seen by more than 2 billion people in 50 countries, but its popularity is waning in some countries. This week Australia's Network Ten announced the eighth season of the series would be its last.

In India, which has had 'Indian Idol' since 2005, ratings suggest reality shows are struggling to keep up with soaps.

But John de Mol, who created the original "Big Brother," told the Financial Times his new show, "The Golden Cage," which puts 10 contestants in a mansion to live like millionaires and encourages them to bully each other into leaving, was the next stage of reality TV.

And with new shows come new reality television stars seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

Kristina Powis, who recently moved to the New York suburbs from Alaska and works part-time in a gym, said she would be heading home after the course to remove "actress/model" from her business card, in line with Galinsky's commandments.

"I see that (reality TV) would fulfill the reason why I want to get into acting in the first place," she said. "I have that desire to express myself, to get what's inside outside and there's no more raw, real way than reality television."

The popularity of reality television means that producers are looking for more "everyday" people for other shows, said Paul Booth of London casting agency The Casting Suite.

After presenting certificates to Bolton, Powis and his other graduates, Galinsky exhorted them to "go out there, be genuine, be authentic, be yourself, rock the world."

His school has already attracted the interest of production companies and cable networks: they want to create a reality television show about his reality television school.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Siddhartha Dubey in London, Niclas Mika in Amsterdam and Tony Thakaran in New Delhi; Editing by Sara Ledwith and Eddie Evans)

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