About two years ago, the minds behind CBS's Survivor series crossed the line of the God-fearing and organized their landmark game-show-beauty-pageant-hybrid around race. And not simply around it, but hinged to the conceit of pitting races against each other to see which was better. And guess what? We ate it up! It's not much of a secret that this country feeds on the quasi-reality culture harvested for us by Big TV, at this point so scientifically formulaic that even you, the real, non-reality star, can enroll in a class to learn how to parlay your average-ness into the kind of average-ness America craves.
"I'm at the gates of hell and I'm doing something revolutionary, stepping into the epicenter and fighting the beast."—Robert Galinsky
The New York Reality Television School really exists, occupying a modest space near Manhattan's Gramercy Park. Don't blame founder and instructor Robert Galinsky; he just thought of it first. Since the school's inception at the end of June, Galinsky, a veteran actor, producer, and casting director, has taken dozens of students under his wing and taught them how to be more entertaining versions of themselves.
Galinsky took a break from cultivating the Dad Marriers of tomorrow and spoke with Gelf about TV as an emissary of benevolence, the political rebellion of "reality" entertainment, and how to save the genre. The following interview has been edited for clarity. [You can hear Galinsky talk about his work at Gelf's Non-Motivational Speaker Series on Thursday, August 28 in New York's Lower East Side].
Gelf Magazine: The idea of a school for reality TV is kind of novel, and definitely niche-specific. I'd imagine it's somewhere between School of Rock and Charm School, though that's only a guess. What was the real motivation?
Robert Galinsky: The motivation for the school came out of the work I've been doing for the past 20 yearsusing theater to improve people's lives and to give voices to marginal characters. Reality TV is really bad improvisational theater, and that's because 99 percent of the people on shows have no idea how to improvise a successful scene, story, or joke. They don't know it takes training. I've been coaching and directing live theater, and producing and directing Internet TV for years, and what I am doing with the NYRTS is really just another filter to let what I do play out.
GM: Do you ever worry that the fact that you are able to train people to be on “reality” TV undermines the basic idea of the genrelike you're teaching them to act?
RG: The whole idea of reality TV is a lie. It is not real; it's improv and unscripted drama with some of the greatest modern writers (video editors and directors) creating the stories. The people we train are going to make for better TV because they can now play back against the manipulation of producers and directors. The knowledge students gain here allows them to leverage themselves, to tap into themselves and expose stronger personas and portrayals of themselves in these shows. Add that to the fact they know how to combat the manipulation and pressure, and we may have some great comedy and drama.
RG: I have been accused of feeding the degradation of American society, and my answer is that I am down in the trenches of entertainment and performance, in the dirty nasty trenches where no one wants to go, trying to make it better. Just like the weeks after 9/11, there were scores of people who sat back and bitched, with a latte in hand watching CNN, getting angry because of what they saw, but didn't lift a finger to help. The American way: Bitch about things but don't get dirty to make changes. I feel like this is my Peace Corps work. I'm in the eye of the storm, at the gates of hell that everyone is whining about and I'm doing something revolutionary to make change, stepping into the epicenter and fighting the beast. So I'm not of the mind that I am contributing to the inevitable demise of American society. The whiners are.
GM: I was only (half-)kidding. But there are undoubtedly a lot of unsavory people who make it onto our television screens. In your experience, are they just playing that up, or are they truly that terrifying?
RG: I would say that the majority of people chosen are indeed terrifying and unsavory. I'm saying, give them a little training, a little head start, and they will hopefully feel more in control, and less exploited, and we might find the car crashes a little more watchable.
GM: Anybody the reading public at home might recognize?
RG: Jorge Bendersky is our star. We have only taught four classes up to now, so he is our leading alumnus.
He answered one of my coaching ads and told me he was a dog groomer with no experience performing, but was going to be on an Animal Planet show, called "Groomer Has It." I worked with him for six weeks, he finished in the top three, and I thought that perhaps I could open up what I do to a bigger demographic, namely, people who want to be on reality TV. I put a cape on, chose some superhero boots and created the school as the headquarters to clean up this mess called reality TV.
GM: What exactly do you teach people who come to you? To be real-er versions of their selves? What's the process?
GM: Where have you culled the skill set you bestow on your students? Are you a reality-show alum yourself?
RG: I have never been on a reality show and have no desire to be. My skill set comes from working with live theater, teaching special education, producing live promotional events, training staff in the hellish environment of corporate America, and producing internet TV (at the original Pseudo.com). I have worked with so many people on so many levels in the theater and internet TV world that I've just gotten better at knowing how to make interesting and compelling entertainment. Watching reality TV, it is easy for me to see what is missing.
GM: I noticed your Facebook profile lists you as "Robert Hussein Galinsky." I assume you're not big on the GOP?
RG: One of the reasons that people love reality TV is because they are jaded, cynical, and tired of the control that our government and our media has. Reality TV is spontaneous, irreverent, and out-of-control. Just what we need right now. It's a big "fuck you" to the paternal U.S. stranglehold on people's minds and lives. There is no laugh track to tell us where to laugh, no super-mugging "trained" actors to look at, no terrible writing from Law and Order types with absolutely unbelievable ad-libs from actor-cops and actor-doctors, only real people freaking out! So, yes, I would say I'm not a fan of the GOP and that this is my political mission: embolden the indecencies of American citizens in the face of "Johnny Short Arms."
GM: You've got your hands in just about every kind of mediafrom TV and film to theater and writing. What are you working on next?
RG: The next thing I am doing is turning this school into a TV show, making as much money as possible, and opening up a 60-seat theater in the Lower East Side where we hope to get arrested at least once each season for creating plays that piss large numbers of people off. I will also be creating a foundation for adults abused as children and children abused as children.