Feb. 12, 2014
Educator to the Stars: CWU Alumnus Takes Teaching Skills to Hollywood
Rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite might involve more academics than Academy Awards, especially when your role is to teach child actors when they are on a production set. Educators, known as studio teachers, are mandatory on movie and television sets whenever there are actors under the age of 18.
"You are more than just a teacher," says actor and studio teacher Mark Alkofer. "Under the child labor laws regarding children in the entertainment industry, you’re also a child welfare worker."
Alkofer began his college career at CWU in 1990, earned his bachelor’s degree at Washington State University in 1995, and later returned to Central to earn his teaching certificate in 2000. He immediately moved to Los Angeles for his first teaching job, at Guardian Angel Catholic School in Pacoima, California, near Burbank.
“I learned a lot about classroom management, discipline, planning, and organization, mostly through trial and error—especially error,” he laughed. “I went to acting classes on nights and weekends.”
“When the economy was tough, and it was hard for teachers to find work, I made an effort to add high school endorsements to my credentials,” he related. “Adding the high school single-subject certificate made me eligible to take the exam to be a studio teacher.”
According to Alkofer, getting the job as a studio teacher “like most things in Hollywood,” involved a lot of networking, establishing credibility with production companies, and then becoming eligible to join the studio teachers' union, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 884.
“The official title of the job is Studio Teacher-Welfare Worker. When parents and directors see you doing a good job of teaching kids on set, while making sure they are safe and don't work too long, you get requested for jobs on other projects,” he added.
“My first studio teaching job was on a Reba McEntire video,” Alkofer said. “I was new to the profession and was working about once or twice a month as a studio teacher. I would work as an extra on days when I wasn't teaching.
“At that time, I was an extra on Moneyball. The director asked us to laugh at Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, during a trade negotiation scene. Toward the beginning of the film, I can be seen smirking.”
Alkofer has also appeared in Mad Men, Hot in Cleveland, CSI, on NFL pregame shows, in commercials for the Game Show Network, and in Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel. In Alvin, Alkofer plays one of the football officials—“a small part, but it got me my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card.” He has also appeared in plays and provided the voice-overs for his original cartoons.
Alkofer, who signed up with an agency to get assignments, says that the job changes all the time. “The schedule is a lot like being a substitute teacher. And sometimes you’ll be on a set where you’re responsible for a four-year-old, some middle-school kids, and a couple of teenagers.”
The variety and flexibility of studio teaching allows him to pursue his acting career as well as provide incredible networking opportunities. Recently he was on the set of one of 2014 Superbowl’s favorite commercials, seen here.
This was especially meaningful for Alkofer since he was a Wildcat football player from 1990 to 1992.
“My times at Central allowed me to become a teacher, and eventually a studio teacher. Going back to college there made a major difference in my life,” he reflected. “To this day, I feel very much at home walking on the CWU campus. It's a lot of fun to go to Central football games down here [in southern California], like last season's win against Azusa Pacific, or to come home and see a game in Ellensburg.”
“My future plans are to keep being a studio teacher, and hopefully get a call for one of the Portland shows such as Portlandia, Grimm, or Leverage, and be able to work a bit in the northwest,” he said. “I'm going to keep acting, and writing my own sketches and cartoons, and with them, I hope to make a few people laugh.”
A Yakima native, Alkofer graduated from Davis High School in 1990.
Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518, firstname.lastname@example.org