Setting the Stage

Setting the Stage
Michelle Danner

Michelle Danner — acting coach, actor, stage and film director, writer and founding director of the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica — does not exude the frantic anxiety common to the entertainment machine in Los Angeles.

During a Business Journal visit to the Edgemar Center for the Arts in late January, Danner said she was too busy directing her most recent movie project, “The Runner,” a thriller starring Michael Douglas’ son Cameron Douglas, to have devoted proper energy to enjoying the Christmas season, but would not forgo that simple pleasure.

Edgemar Center for the Arts founding director Michelle Danner has lost this vintage Cartier watch, a gift from someone dear to her, several times, but it always finds its way back to her.

“I didn’t have big holidays because I was prepping for the movie and I was constantly on the phone,” Danner said, elegant in a lightweight cashmere wrap, a holiday gift from one of her sisters. She likes clothing that is casual and soft, but said she is rarely found in jeans.

“As a matter of fact, I still have my Christmas tree up,” she added. “What I want to do, and this is the night I am going to do it, is listen to some Christmas music and drink some eggnog, and I’ll kiss the tree goodbye.”

It’s not surprising that Danner would be polite and respectful enough to say goodbye to a tree, which she could do in any of the five languages she speaks fluently. Drama in a scene is one thing — in her role as director and coach, Danner studiously avoids it.

“Whether I’m teaching class or on the set, I like a lot of harmony around me,” she said. “As a matter of fact, I (had) someone who was very high-strung in the movie, and I sat them down and said, ‘Listen, I can only work when things are tranquil around me.’

Michelle Danner, founding director of the Edgemar Center for the Arts, found these lightweight frames on a family trip to Italy and bought them in every color.

“My objective is to make the actors feel safe, like they can take risks,” she continued. “I’m known as a director with a lot of civility. I would never yell. I am super quiet and calm.”

Danner spent much of her childhood in Paris, where her father, Alex Valdez, worked as European director of the William Morris Agency. His star clients were often dinner guests at the family home. “I was immersed for a wonderful decade of my life in Parisian culture,” she said.

The performance spaces at Edgemar Center for the Arts are named for founding director Michelle Danner’s parents. Her father was agent for the William Morris Agency.

When Danner was in her teens, the family returned to New York where she studied with legendary coaches, including Uta Hagen and Stella Adler. She moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and in 2000 founded Edgemar with Larry Moss.

Michelle Danner, founding director of the Edgemar Center for the Arts, is preparing to direct “A Ticket to the Circus,” a show about Norris Church Mailer’s marriage to Norman Mailer.

Danner said the operating budget of the nonprofit center, which also hosts the annual Cinema at the Edge Film Festival, fluctuates between $250,000 and $500,000 a year. She admits keeping theater alive is a challenge but trusts the art form to survive.

“The experience (of) watching a group of actors live is incomparable to something you would have in another medium,” she said — calmly. “The most extraordinary experiences that I’ve had have been watching intimate theater and being moved by that.”

See the full executive style photo spread in the March 2, 2020, print edition.

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