East Orange native featured at acting workshop in Newark

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — Thanks to Wendy McKenzie’s “The Power of the Actor” workshop at Ironbound Film Studios in Newark on Sunday, Jan. 26, the area was teeming. Cameras were flashing, film was rolling, lines of aspiring actors were long, event crew was everywhere, guest stars were in attendance, phones were recording and there was not an empty seat in the house.

McKenzie, an acting coach and New York casting director whose company is called In the Wink of an Eye, was both teaching and looking for that special someone with the verve to be the next superstar.

“In the Wink of an Eye — I chose a name that was general, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” McKenzie said to the Record-Transcript on Friday, Jan. 24, before the event. “So, if I did casting, it would be In the Wink of an Eye Casting. If I did acting, it would be Act Now, in the Wink of an Eye. We can teach you about you in the wink of an eye.

“In the Wink of an Eye is more like a tagline, but it’s my company’s name and I do casting through it. I did the coaching through it, as well as production,” she continued. “What I’m doing on Sunday for the workshop event, In the Wink of an Eye is handling the production of it. As well, I’m starring in it. What I want to do in the future is be able to use the company, In the Wink of an Eye, and create conferences where people can come and learn … from other actors as well.

“A lot of my friends are actors,” she said. “They’ve all taught for me before. Michael K. Williams, who played Omar in ‘The Wire,’ Chalkie White in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and was recently in ‘When They See Us’ — he’s been in my workshop, because I mentored him in the very beginning of his career. … I teach etiquette as well, and it wasn’t until he mentioned it to me that I realized no one else was teaching that. So, it’s like, if you’re going to mentor young girls and say, ‘Hey, if you want to be a writer, yes, you have to learn how to write, but you also have to know how to run your business.’ So, that’s some of the stuff I talk about and teach my students.”

Featured at the event was East Orange native Naturi Naughton, best known for her roles as Lil’ Kim in the 2009 film ‘Notorious’ and Tasha St. Patrick in the Starz drama ‘Power.’ Naughton started out singing in the church choir at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and performing at various events in New Jersey, which developed into a musical career in her teens and eventually a solo career on Broadway and acting in film and television.

Naughton, who has worked with McKenzie before, explained the purpose of Sunday’s workshop.

“We do this once a year,” Naughton said to the Record-Transcript via phone interview before the event on Jan. 26. “It pairs a real actor with someone who has the desire to act, and we then give helpful feedback. We’ve done this in New York, New Jersey and Chicago. This gives the actors an opportunity to do something to inspire people.”

Through her own stories of perseverance, coming from East Orange and making her way in the industry, Naughton gave encouraging words to those aspiring to act. She said this event will give hopefuls an understanding of what it takes to follow your dreams and be successful in the field.

“I’m hoping they walk away with a real example of what it takes to be an actor or actress. … ” Naughton said. “Today, we’re going to challenge them, and I hope they are inspired. I feel fortunate and blessed to be in this position and have a workshop to work with Wendy McKenzie. … We’re really close, and she’s someone whom I really have connected with and really respect and love. I hope that being from my hometown will give people a chance to connect. I’m very grateful.”

With “Power” drawing to a close after six seasons and her character suspected of shooting and killing the lead character, her husband, Ghost, Naughton recounts her time as Tasha.

“No hints for tonight’s episode or about who shot Ghost,” Naughton said to the Record-Transcript. “This has been an amazing, incredible journey for something that has changed the culture. I got to play this awesome character for six seasons. I’m excited. This is bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter. We had an awesome ride. I’ve made friends for a lifetime and built relationships that will last forever.”

McKenzie had other entertainment-industry friends in attendance, as well. Nine-year-old actress Rylee Gabrielle King, who is in the soon-to-be-released movie “The Photograph,” participated in a demonstration skit about a lost child.

King mentioned that she feels really good about her first big role and said she made a lot of friends on set.

“I think the movie is going to be really good,” King said to the Record-Transcript during the event on Jan. 26. “I made a lot of friends. I made a friend and her name is Phoenix. Also, I made friends with Lil Rel, Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield.”

“The vibe here is just out of this world, as you can see,” actor and fitness coach Calvin Flex, who energized the audience with a fitness routine, said to the Record-Transcript during the event. “This event is about coming together, putting in the work and seeing the kind of craft that goes into committing to these great scenes and scripts. This is an amazing turnout. This is going to be something that’ll help elevate, help everyone grow and become more committed to their craft.

“I’m at a loss for words,” he continued. “I’m so proud of Wendy, because I know she’s been talking about this for so long. In order for you to achieve your dreams, you have to surround yourself with people who are looking to achieve the same kind of dreams as you are.”

Another friend of McKenzie’s who was in attendance was Marco Glorious, who is the audience producer of The Wendy Williams Show.

“This is amazing,” Glorious said to the Record-Transcript during the event on Jan. 26. “Wendy McKenzie is a phenomenal acting coach. She’s my acting coach. Jeremy Burnett is here as well. He’s a phenomenal actor and acting coach. And Naturi Naughton is here. This is amazing, especially here in the Ironbound part of Newark.

“They’ve done so much in such a short amount of time and just the amount of people and all of the fresh faces that are trying to break into the industry, people that are currently working in the industry, veterans in the industry just bonding and exchanging information and knowledge of how to better themselves is so dope.”

Also in attendance were actor Michael Oluwatosin Murphy and director Corey Bryant.

“I just want people to know that I have created a safe space,” McKenzie said, “where you can learn and grow and follow your dreams. Too many people get ripped off in the business because they don’t know. I’m creating classes with industry professionals. The people you see around me are actually on television now. So, then you know that, if that person is working and you see them on television, it’s legit. I’m coming from a true place.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman