For more opportunities to work with guest teachers curated by Heidi, check out the Acting Collective.


Class size: Limited to 6 students
Prerequisites: Open to all
Location: Online
*$250 deposit is required to guarantee your slot. Non-refundable, but transferable to a friend.

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Nov 13, 20, (skip Thanksgiving week), Dec 4, 11
3:00pm-6:00pm EST
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(ONLINE) PRIORITY LIST | Taking the Lead with Carly Zien

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Class content

Prepare yourself to audition for a main character in film/TV. 

Dive deep into the mechanics of playing a leading role and get experience crafting a central character’s arc from start to finish. Learn how to shape the role and make it your own so that your auditions show an understanding of how your character moves through the story. 


CLASS 1: The actor will choose a three-minute scene from the “first act” of the character’s life. Through scene work, we will create a solid physical, emotional, and vocal beginning for the character, as well as review techniques for breaking down the script and memorizing effectively.



CLASS 2: This week, the actors will prepare a scene that contains their character’s inciting incident—the event that sets the course for the character’s journey through the film, episode, or play. We will build on what we created during week one, discuss appropriate rehearsal conduct, and learn how to create your character’s gestures, habits, and relationships with others.



CLASS 3: This class will focus on a scene from the climax of the story—the moment in the story that changes your character’s life forever, the crest of the wave of rising action. Carly will help the class make physical and emotional choices that tell the story of the character’s growth from the beginning of the story to this climactic moment. We will also discuss tips for staying healthy when performing: warming up, taking good care of our instruments, and being a strong ensemble member.



CLASS 4: In week four, we will tell the last chapter of the story and use the script as well as our previous work to create an ending. We will perform scenes from the final act of the story, and we will also perform our scenes from week one again, to see how far the character has come. We will also discuss how to bring your relationship with the story, the character, and your colleagues, to a close. 

Who is this class good for?

  • Anyone who understands that acting on film is a craft! Craft takes time and attention to develop. And the perfect practice is when you’re working on a character’s arc.
  • This class is for actors who know they’re talented and who want to harness that talent using structure and craft.
  • Actors who want to make conscious character choices that make sense in the context of the big picture.
  • Actor-creators who are creating work and building entire stories around their characters—and want everything to be carefully thought out.
  • Actors hired to play the lead and starting their preparation now.
  • All are welcome: all skill levels. These tools and exercises are timeless, and they’ll serve you no matter where you are in your process.
  • P.S.—This class can be taken multiple times! Choose another lead role you’d love to dive into.



You will need to plan for homework time to research your assignment, prepare your materials, and practice your self-tape set-ups. All studio classes are designed to stretch and support your complete prep process as an actor for self-tapes and in-person auditions. The more you put into the class, the more you get out of it!



Artists teaching artists is the inspiration for bringing Guest Teachers to the studio. This class is intended to expand your process as an actor and to reinforce your skills, confidence, and natural talent.

What you get

In this four-week class, you’ll do a deep dive into a leading role. In this class, you’re first on the call sheet, and that means you have a lot of decisions to make! Who is your character? How do they move? How do they grow and change from the first scene to the last? You ‘ll work with the same character all four weeks, crafting their arc from beginning to end. Carly will also share her tips and tricks for faster memorization, preparedness on set, and closure after shoots and performances.

  • Deep character work
  • Extended work on one character
  • Shaping a character
  • Taking the lead
  • Making a character your own
  • How to prepare for a longer job
  • Script analysis
  • Creating physicality
  • Memorization
  • Closure after performance

Let’s empower you with skills and confidence to play the lead.

A few years ago, I personally requested Carly to design and teach this class because I know how essential it is for the working actor.

Let’s get thinking about the big picture.

Thinking about the big picture of the story will help you strategize on how to approach a single scene in an audition.

How does this scene play within a character arc? How should I make the two audition scenes different?

These choices get revealed by thinking about the big picture journey. And, when you head to set and film your scenes out of order, you’ll already be piecing together where each scene fits within the arc!

Big picture analysis gives you incredibly valuable insights about your character choices in every single scene. Each scene is a building block to the next one. There’s a reason that scene is written.

What does it reveal about character development? Why now? Or, why isn’t everything revealed yet? Which choices can you make in Scene 3 that pay off later in Scene 56?

Oh it’s so much fun to analyze and build your character in the context of the story!

You’re a contributor to the WHOLE of the story. In this class, actors build one role in four weeks.

Let’s see you take the lead. You know you can do it. Yes, you can.

About Carly

Carly Zien

Carly is a working actress, business owner, intimacy coordinator, and audition coach for actors in all mediums.

Carly attended Yale School of Drama for both her undergrad and her MFA, and she was always involved in the audition process for their MFA program. From watching thousands of MFA hopefuls, she learned what makes a strong, well-crafted, and inspired audition. Carly is passionate about empowering artists and helping actors discover and rediscover their passion for what they do.

Carly served as Intimacy Coordinator on the following sets: Almost Family (FOX), Porcelain (short film), Geranium (short film), #LoveMyRoomie (web series), White Flags (independent film). She lives and works in LA.


Carly is an incredibly compassionate teacher and fellow actor-artist who deeply understands all the angles that an actor needs support for in their journey—from prep to performance to nourishing yourself for a lifetime in the career of acting. Her coaching and teaching skills are backed by a genuine love of the craft and art of acting. Carly is a gem of a guide for actors. Carly is also an alumna of my studio and shares a philosophy of empowering actors with inspiration and tools!

Conversations with Carly

What was a difficult challenge for you as an actor? 

Deciding between my passion for acting and my need for stability and security.

What was a crazy or silly moment on set? 

I’ve found that the best way to learn something is to teach it yourself. When I pass on my knowledge, it helps my students and me to stay in shape!

What is the main thing you wish you knew then but that you only understand now?

Salaries. We are at the top of our field and are being paid less than fifty dollars an hour for shows. I believe we should only be performing in six shows per week, and that we should demand higher wages.

What moment or experience as an artist do you feel most proud of?

Playing Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Who do you really look up to in your field and why?

All of the women working towards 50/50 by 20/20. I’m excited to have more female directors, cinematographers, editors, screenwriters, art directors, etc. etc. etc.




Read Carly’s blog post, The Top 5 Biggest Mistakes Actors Make when Auditioning for Grad School »

“When I was getting my MFA at Yale, I watched A LOT of auditions for the program. Our acting teachers would invite us to watch and learn as they searched tirelessly for the next class of incoming actors. What struck me was this: many actors made mistakes that had NOTHING to do with their acting. And…these mistakes were so easy to fix with just a little know-how…” Keep reading »


Cameron Giles

My experience was one of the best 4 weeks of my life!!

Kristin Yancy


Carly was great! A really attentive, sensitive teacher and a great listener with a great eye.

Rafael Vasquez


I’ve always felt overwhelmed with the idea of playing a lead character from beginning of a long journey to the end in a film, but Carly helped orient my mentality and my approach to such a task. I feel empowered with playing a lead character and not just a supporting character as I’ve been told throughout my acting career.

Kiara Fung


I like how everybody was so supportive. Feedback from everyone was valuable. This timing works well for me (because I’m in Australia now) 🙂 Overall I’m just really grateful for Zoom and Carly (and Heidi) for making this happen.

Lee Hubilla


Carly’s approach to portraying a character will stick with me. The concept of letting the character leading you through a scene and trusting yourself your prep to allow the time spent in the scene to be a discovery has shifted things for me in a big way!

This class was such a great way to end the year.

Raven Adams

This class gave me tremendous confidence to continue my journey. I felt loved, encouraged and supported. It was wonderful. Everything I wanted and more!

Natalie Neckfarow


I feel like I am much more in my body and impulses when working on camera, which was ultimately a big goal from me in taking the class. I discovered that I have the ability to work through very wordy and intellectual text and bring more strength and power to my work while doing so.

Jovan Tyler-Graham


Loved it! I love working with Carly! Her class reminded me to trust my instincts more.


I loved how Carly’s feedback always moved the process forward. There was always somewhere to go or some adjustment to try. In that way, the class felt very positive and supportive. I felt that she created a safe environment to work in. I felt comfortable enough to risk messing up, which made the whole process so fun! I don’t think I held onto my sides for a single take…that’s a big step for me!

Michelle Vo


Carly is highly sensitive to the inner workings of an actor, and this special quality makes her an excellent teacher. During scenework, I felt like her guidance was tailored specifically to me and my approach. She took the time to get to know us as students. Carly was very good at posing specific challenges during a given scene/moment in a way that was accessible to me, yet stretched me as an actor. I remember making many discoveries and also having a lot of fun exploring my character’s bigger picture. Carly was wise, encouraging, and intuitive; her classroom was grounded yet playful. Highly recommend this class!

Lee Hubilla
The class has had a great impact on how I prep for a scene. What I'll do differently is....follow Carly's guide! She gave us so many tools and revealed her exact process in how she preps for every character/audition. Following them really helps me understand the character, even more than I realize. Her in the moment coaching was super helpful in helping recognize and break certain patterns/habits. So great! I got a lot out of this! I also want to credit my fellow classmates for really bringing it. People brought great challenging scenes that really made a safe environment for us to be vulnerable and try things. Carly of course was amazing at pushing us to try these things and challenge ourselves.
Lauren Bell


I had the BEST experience!

Briana Reed


As a dancer transitioning to acting with no training, I’ve tried to be very pragmatic in building a technical foundation. I felt that this workshop fit perfectly. Its impact was how well Carly was able to simplify and summarize techniques and of course her infectious love of the craft.

Dave Weinstein


Carly is a great teacher. She creates a fun, warm atmosphere to learn in.

Amanda Goble

I feel much better about my prep process, and I feel more confident in general.

Brian Culbertson


Absolutely thrilled! One of the most useful classes I’ve taken that provides more resources to explore!

Gabriel Awan


I feel like a have a much more solid idea of what I need to do to prep and then let go and trust. It sounds basic but I felt lost before the class and I feel like I have the tools to work so that I may play now.

Dawn Vicknair


Loved, loved, loved Carly!! Wonderful supportive teacher and class. Would love to have a Part 2. As always, you always provide the best teachers and the most supportive environment! Thanks, Heidi!
It was beautiful, challenging and a safe environment! I feel more self-trust! Thank you, Carly and Heidi, for keeping the actor’s life meaningful! It gave me awareness of my body sensors! It reminded me that it is not about me! This class drew myself out ! I got the tools how to do it ! I will approach learning script with more depth!

Absolutely thrilled! One of the most useful classes I’ve taken that provides more resources to explore!


I feel like a have a much more solid idea of what I need to do to prep and then let go and trust. It sounds basic but I felt lost before the class and I feel like I have the tools to work so that I may play now.


I have been so BLOCKED recently, and this class was step one in loosening up the blocks and trying to get back into acting. It was a very useful first step. I think I will go from not auditioning at all, to prepping auditions and actually getting a reel together.


It has given me the confidence to look at a script or side and decipher the meanings, subtext and importance of what I am going to be presenting to my audience. It has also shown me that I have a true love for this art form that I want to pursue further.


Loved, loved, loved Carly!! Wonderful supportive teacher and class. Would love to have a Part 2.

Studio guarantee

Full disclosure — please note that we do not guarantee that actors in these classes or workshops will be hired for any project that we might direct, produce, or cast. We teach and coach because we enjoy supporting and nurturing actors as you develop your personal process for auditioning, working and creating your own work.