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Meet Benji Kaufman in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Benji Kaufman.

Benji, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been a performer my entire life. From a young age I would love to create different silly characters using all sorts of clothing items and accessories at my disposal. I was obsessed with making people laugh and making people smile. It was at this age I developed a deep love of Charlie Chaplin, silent movies, and the art of slapstick comedy. This eventually turned into a passion for performing theater in my hometown of Simi Valley. From the age of eight, I have never looked back on a life without performing. My first ever role came when I was the assistant prop master on a children’s theater production of “The Velveteen Rabbit.” The closing day of the show, one of the kids playing Toy Soldier #3 was sick and couldn’t do the show. My time to shine had arrived. I gladly accepted the challenge of memorizing four lines and a 30 second marching sequence a few hours before the curtain. The thrill of the challenge and the rush I got under those lights was like nothing I had experienced before. I eventually became a regular player in the Simi Arts Conservatory as well as performing in community theater, DTASC drama festivals, and school plays. It all came to a culmination at the end of middle school when I had to choose between a performance track or a sports track. The two schedules could no longer coexist. I chose acting. This was probably the best decision of my life.

I immediately began taking acting classes, got professional headshots, and even signed with the youth division of Abrams Artists Agency! I attended a performing arts magnet school where I was able to study acting and comedy in a much more in-depth way than I ever have. While there I fell in love with studying all different types of comedians from the 30’s to the present. Style, shtick, routines, and bits became my life. I would perform in our school’s sketch comedy shows, improv comedy shows, and musicals! The combination of the increased schoolwork/extracurricular activities, combined with parents who worked full-time jobs, I was unable to go out on as many professional auditions as I wanted/as my agent wanted. We ended up parting ways so I can finish up schooling. My final year of public education led me to perform with Dick Van Dyke, win a huge arts grant to help building a performing arts center by shooting/directing/editing my own film and beating out thousands of other students across California, being announced as the Valedictorian of the performing arts, and finally becoming a top 5 finalist on NBC’s “Last Teen Comic” performing at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club. I attended college at CSULB, where I was a performance and directing major in the theater arts department. I was the only freshman to be cast in a mainstage show, as well as several student showcases. In my time at CSULB I learned to hone my creative voice. I performed in over 30 productions there, both mainstage and student showcases. I directed four shows, wrote three, sound designed ten, and even learned to be a professional stage manager. I began to experiment with different forms of theater. I played with Theater of Cruelty, which is a type of theater that forces an audience to have an experience, by creating a show in absolute darkness all around the audience. I staged a three person production of Hamlet in a pit that was located on the roof of the school, where the audience was staring down at Hamlet as if he was a prisoner. Side note; this production had the cops called on closing night because someone heard screams, and almost resulted in me not being able to graduate. While in college I got very involved in LA Theater. I produced my first (of now 6) shows at the 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival titled “Lemon Boots.” I started training with Not Man Apart Physical Theater and Shakespeare Santa Monica, where we would perform a summer stock of Shakespeare’s comedies on the tennis courts on 7th and Wilshire in SM. I began to attend the Clown School of LA to further train in physical comedy, which led me to joining the LA theater group Four Clowns where I performed in and produced a number of shows across LA. It was through this company that I was connected to the next group that changed the last five years of my life. In December of 2014, while rehearsing for a Four Clowns production of Ubu the Shit, I auditioned for a company called Pure Praxis. Pure Praxis changed my life. Pure Praxis is a company that created shows in the style of theater of the oppressed, which is a style of education theater that gets the audience involved in the production to tackle social issues. We did shows about homophobia, workplace safety, domestic violence, social pressure, and our biggest piece; Sexual Assault prevention. Now these weren’t the type of shows you would see at a boring high school assembly telling you “Drugs are bad.” This was a show filled with improv and comedy, audience interaction and participation, and engaging story arcs. Pure Praxis changed my life because our biggest client was the United States Navy. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program of the Navy contracted us to create a show about Sexual Assault to bring to Navy bases all over the world. Our show was created using real stories and experiences by sailors throughout the Navy, so we were able to create something relatable and deeply engaging. We didn’t just focus on prevention of Sexual Assault, but also advocated how to create an environment to support sexual assault survivors, and to support them when and if they make the decision to report.

One of my favorite parts of this show was that it made audience members be proactive about how they would intervene in situations. They would tell us how they would stop someone, or how they would stand up and support someone, and then we would bring them up onstage to improv with our actors exactly what their ideas would look like. I was so grateful to do this work for five years. From performing shows in two different continents the same week, to being able to experience remote places like Guantanamo Bay and Diego Garica, I got to truly experience places I never imagined going. While studying Bob Hope and his USO tours in high school, I had always dreamed of touring with the USO. Pure Praxis fulfilled not only that dream, but it also allowed me to give back to a community that makes sacrifices every day. Since leaving Pure Praxis in 2019, I have dived head-first back into the acting business. Being on tour for a few years meant I had to leave my previous acting representation. Coming back to it was like starting fresh. All my credits and work were five years old at least. I had no representation. I needed a new portfolio. I slowly began grinding away, getting a commercial/theatrical agent. A talent manager. Booked national and international commercial and print campaigns. I submit to and audition frequently for projects all over Hollywood. Still waiting for that one project that will get my ball rolling! In between all of these auditions and occasional bookings, I began to perform at Teatro Martini, the Adult Vaudeville comedy show at the Pirates’ Dinner Theater in Buena Park. Here I get to live out all of my slapstick, clown, and old time comedy dreams for a rambunctious crowd every weekend. That brings us to today, where amidst this global pandemic, I am still trying to stay as creative as possible. in March i created a 48 Hour Creative Quarantine, where I gave artists 48 hours to write a 10-15 minute play using elements, I revealed to them at the start of the 48 hours. During this I had submissions from almost 200 playwrights/artists from all over the country! After reading through them all, we had a staged Zoom reading of some of the spotlight plays, and I was able to cast 20 actors from around the country to participate. Eventually I will be publishing a number of the plays into a book. My next project is a full production of the Musical “Les Miserables” filmed entirely by actors quarantined in their own homes. We have a cast of actors who filmed the entirety of their roles by themselves. My production partner and I will then edit all of the videos together into an entire production of the show, we which are planning to livestream at the beginning of June. I know you said to briefly walk you through my story, but I have a lot of points that I felt were key to who I am! I hope to be brief on the rest of this!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has most definitely not been a smooth road. With that said, I am extremely grateful for a majority of the aspects of my life. First off, having parents who support your passion is invaluable. I cannot express of how much their support helped in guiding me to pursue a career in the arts. With that said, not being able to attend auditions as a kid when I was represented by one of the industry’s best agencies was hard for me as a child. I didn’t yet understand the commitment it meant for a parent to have to be able to drop what they were doing at any moment, pull their kid out of school, and drive them into Hollywood for an audition. The life of an actor is incredibly difficult. Not only are you dealing with rejection every single day, you’re dealing with rejection on a very personal level. Especially for someone like me who is a very niche character actor. While there are an increasing number of roles for my type, I know have to compete against people with huge YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok followings! You also have to invest a lot of money into creating a competitive portfolio, training, classes, and developing your brand. This was my biggest struggle when I had to start fresh after I left Pure Praxis. I had to work multiple jobs to be able to invest in making myself competitive in order to get into a Casting Director’s room to audition. I had a great deal of struggle working with Pure Praxis as well. While some may consider it “first world problems” because I was traveling the world and go to so many cool places, it did put a great deal of strain in my life. Being away for 2-3 weeks of every month for most of the year put a big strain on my relationships. It put a great strain of my relationship with my girlfriend, who felt like she lived alone since I was always gone. It put a strain on relationships with my closest friends because I would never be able to see them, and I would miss birthdays and other special events. It even put strains on my relationship with my family because I would see them the least of all over this time frame. I love my co-workers from Pure Praxis, we’re still all great friends, and a lot of them became my family when we traveled. Yet sometime it could get incredibly lonely staying in a room at the Extended Stay America in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service and sometimes no Wi-Fi! It was also very difficult to travel internationally because sometimes the time difference and lack of an international phone plan made it impossible to speak to anyone at home for more than 30 minutes early in the morning or late at night.

Please tell us about your work.
I like to think I specialize in character driven comedy, especially slapstick and lovable oaf comedy. While I did stand-up for a little while during my NBC pilot, I eventually gave it up after somebody stole my routine book backstage at a show. That’s why I think I shine in a setting where I can perform as a fool! This is my true specialty and what I hope to do for my life. Like I’ve said before, one of my true ideals in life is to make people smile. I feel like every career decision I’ve made in my life has been with the intent to lead to a place where I can make the most people smile or laugh possible. Another way that I think I stand out, is I like to tell stories in the theater in ways they’ve never been told before. Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with commercial theater at all, it serves a great purpose for many people’s lives. Hell, it would be a dream of mine to perform in some commercial theaters. However, I think the best way to keep theater alive in a world where people can access so much content without leaving their homes, is to do something new. This is why I created the types of shows I did in college and then again with Pure Praxis. New ways of telling stories to make an audience understand it, excites me!

Other things I’m proud of/known for: -A deep affinity for Shakespeare with an emphasis in Shakespeare clowns -Always being the one to make puns as often as possible -Creating silly characters complete with stupid voices/outfits -Being one of the founders of the undergraduate Theater company at CSULB called “Theater Threshold” -Producing shows for 6 different years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival -Being the face of Patrick Star on all the posters that were hanging up in Hollywood for “The SpongeBob Musical”

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
While I have had a good number of people who have helped me here and there, I unfortunately have never had anyone along my journey who I could call my “mentor,” I do want to say that I have a great deal of supporters that have introduced me to opportunities. This industry is all about connections. All about who you know to get your foot in the door. So, while I do my part in hustling to be seen, and hustling to work, i do owe a great deal to a few friends who have gotten me auditions or jobs here and there! I also owe a great deal to my parents. I know I keep saying how grateful I am that they supported my decision to pursue a career in acting, but it literally makes the journey so much easier. They enrolled me in theater classes as a child. They took me to rehearsals and performances. They allowed me to go to drama festivals. They took me to see plays and musicals to increase my passion and knowledge. Instead of making the decision for me between going to a performing arts school to pursue acting or going to a “normal” high school to play baseball, they let me decide. I’m sure it must have been very difficult for them when they had dreams of me going to medical school or law school, but they supported and affirmed my decision making. While sometimes I would hear, “But make sure you have a backup plan,” other times I would receive multiple casting breakdowns sent to me by my mother because she, “Saw a posting and thought I would be perfect for the role.” Without their constant support for my passion, I don’t know if I would have pursued it to the point I am today. Other than that I have a very supportive girlfriend who is a Musician. We love to work together on projects and push each other to create, and always put everything we have into our work. I have an incredibly artistic sister who is a production designer. She had a huge influence on some of the art that enthralled me as a child. I have a huge network of artist friends who I love to perform and create with. We love to support each other by seeing shows, reading their stories, sharing their art, etc. This powerhouse of a community I have keeps me focused on my creative goals.

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Image Credit:

(me in the green suit throwing confetti) photo by Teatro Martini

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