Acting Out

A humble Vestavia acting school becomes a powerhouse for young actors.

Written by Rosalind Fournier

Megan Deusner

Meg Deusner

Meg Deusner had retired from the professional acting business—been there, done that, and left Los Angeles behind for a new life in Birmingham. After working years of odd jobs “like all of us do,” she says—waitressing, bartending, working as an office manager for a time—she felt she had stalled in her career and simply wanted out. Newly married, she was delighted when her husband asked her what she’d think about moving to Birmingham, where he had an offer from a prestigious law firm. Deusner had never even been to the South, but it just felt right.

She had no way of knowing she would end up right back where she started—in show business, this time with a focus on coaching child actors—and on the leading edge of a trend toward agents casting talent from all over the country using audition tapes and Skype interviews rather than relying exclusively on the L.A. or New York-based talent pools.

For a while, Deusner—sometimes taking her daughter along—taught acting classes in an office building in Greystone to an average of two students a week. “I didn’t make any money,” she says, “but it was fun for me.” Eventually she built a website, named her fledgling program “Acting Out Academy” and began advertising using email lists of parents wherever she could find them. She rented a space of her own, and two kids turned to 12, and then 20, until someone suggested doing an acting camp. It proved so popular that she ended up hosting two that summer and then filling up classes for the fall…which is when a little girl named Hannah Alligood walked in.

Alligood was the first in what’s now become a series of young actors from Birmingham to land major professional roles through the academy. And while she is one of the rare actors who shows natural ability from the start, Deusner emphasizes that for many more of the young actors she’s coached, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. They learn it over time—with a lot of practice and time spent in front of the camera—until it begins to come naturally. “This is a learned skill,” she says. “It something that’s taught, like math. And I’ve proven it, because I’ve had kids come in here who have zero natural ability. Do some kids walk in the door, and they’re charismatic and understand things the way other kids their age don’t and have a natural ability for the business? Yes. But I’ve also had kids come in who are debilitatingly shy. But they have a huge desire to do this, and I’ve taught them. And they work. All they have to do is put in the time, keep the desire, and listen.

Flashback - Young Baby's birthday - Hudson Meek opens his first ipod in TriStar Pictures' BABY DRIVER.

Flashback – Young Baby’s birthday – Hudson Meek opens his first ipod in TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver.

“We’re not looking for kids who are going to jump out on stage and sing ‘Hamilton’ on day one,” Deusner continues. “We’re looking for real kids who can have real experiences and use their imaginations to immerse themselves in what’s happening in a scene. If you can teach a kid that skill, they become a huge commodity, and they find work because it’s so hard to find.”

Pervis, the agent who first signed Hannah Alligood and now represents a number of Deusner’s students, says she considers Acting Out Academy a major talent pool in the South and regularly calls on Deusner to help her identify good fits when good roles come available. “After meeting Meg and witnessing her own acting style, her passion for the business and her amazing trained and gifted students, I was immediately drawn to her,” she says. “I have found so many working actors from Acting Out that they are on my top (list) for scouting new clients. They are so well trained and have an understanding of what it takes to work hard and succeed in the industry.” She adds that it’s evident that Deusner makes sure the parents of child actors who come through her academy are educated on how to avoid stage parent-ism and help keep their kids grounded.

Tucker Meek on the set of ABC’s American Housewife.

Tucker Meek on the set of ABC’s American Housewife.

Pervis is far from the only one. Word about the academy has continued to spread. Deusner has brought in casting directors from all over to teach workshops, and after the most recent one, a participant returned home and told another major casting director—Jackie Burch, who has cast such famous films as Sixteen Candles,Weird Science, Die Hard and End of Days, to name a few—about it. He gave such a ringing endorsement that Burch’s assistant called the next day and requested audition tapes for upcoming roles she was getting ready to cast.

Wil Deusner starred in a Juicy Drop Gum commerical and several short films before landing a role in the Cinemax horror-drama Outcast.

Wil Deusner starred in a Juicy Drop Gum commercial and several short films before landing a role in the Cinemax horror-drama Outcast.

Deusner’s future dreams for the academy include giving more kids who want to act the opportunity that the youth enrolled in Acting Out Academy have. “I volunteer all the time, and I would love to open up shop in areas of Birmingham where they don’t have this,” she says. “It’s one of our goals, to be able to get grants and start not-for-profit organizations and to be able to train people to take our curriculum and teach after-school programs, things like that.” But for now, she’s still trying to catch her breath with all that’s happening in her bustling Vestavia Hills studio. One student, Hudson Meek, recently starred in Baby Driver, which came out this summer. When we talked, Deusner’s own nephew, Wil Deusner was leaving for Los Angeles to start filming in a Hulu series called Shut Eye, starring Jeffrey Donovan. And another student, Ashon Tyler, appeared in Hidden Figures. Increasingly, these kinds of castings successes are becoming regular occurrences.

Given that Deusner had been ready to lower the curtain on this business the day she left Los Angeles, she thinks it’s sometimes hard to believe. “Statistically, it doesn’t make sense if you look at how many of these kids are working,” she says. “I’m telling you, it is the craziest thing. I get so excited to watch somebody’s dream come true. And then I would be lying if I said I don’t love feeling validated as an acting coach, as well, because I think that will enable me to keep doing what I love doing. For the rest of my life, what I want to do is teach kids to act.”

One Response to “Acting Out”

  1. James Moses Black says:

    I think that her camp inspires many kids that come. It’s a confidence builder when your taught to trust yourself. I honestly think that this camp has just begun. I hope I can always be a part.

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