Adjunct Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Michael Tourek brings his notable acting experience to share with students as a faculty member at Elon.
With the scene set and actors in position, the clapperboard sounds.
“Quiet on set,” shouts the director. “Camera set … camera rolls … action.”
In an instant, the back patio of Elon’s Martin Alumni Center transforms into a quiet coffee shop. It’s where we meet a romantic couple that sees its relationship slowly wither away over time until their only option is to dramatically call off their engagement days before walking down the aisle.
As the scene wraps, the actors step out of their roles as intense former lovers and back into their roles as Elon students, ready to take instruction from their director, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Michael Tourek.
“The best way I think for anyone to learn is just to do,” Tourek said of his ACT321A: Acting for the Camera course. “So it’s all about being on set and shooting scenes and trying to make the class reflective of what it would be like on a real-life set.”
Acting for the Camera is billed as an introductory course that examines and explores the technique of acting on camera, but the coursework is far from introductory. With students typically coming into the class with acting pre-requisites and experience on stage, Tourek hopes his class pushes students to their next level. That means trading in books for real-world experience.
Each week students learn their lines ahead of class and act out on-camera scenes with a partner, and then Tourek edits the scenes to be watched and critiqued by the class. For the most recent project, each pair of students performed two scenes, set a year apart, to teach students how to jump ahead emotionally, preparing them for the typically non-chronological order of shoots they might encounter on a professional set.
“It’s kind of an adrenaline rush being on set,” said acting and arts administration double major Anika Waco ’22. “He definitely knows what he’s talking about.”
Students have come to respect Tourek for his expertise, not only because of his years of experience, but also because he currently works in front of the camera. When he isn’t teaching the next generation of actors at Elon, Tourek is busy maintaining an acting career of his own. In fact, you might have seen him in your favorite TV show, movie or binge-worthy Netflix series.
Millions of people worldwide have seen Tourek in his role as Ash in the Netflix original series “Ozark.” It’s the story of a financial advisor and money launderer for a dangerous drug cartel, who uproots his family and moves from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, only to find more trouble awaiting him. Some of that trouble comes in the form of the dangerous Snell family for which Ash serves as an intimidating henchman. Tourek says playing alongside actors like Jason Bateman and Laura Linney was an extraordinary opportunity.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” Tourek said. “Not only was it a job, but when you have a really good set, with a really good crew and cast from top to bottom, it will feel like a family, and I think that’s what makes shows successful.”
The acting credits don’t stop there for Tourek. He also played alongside Bateman and Jennifer Aniston in “Office Christmas Party,” and played Wendell in the CBS series “Under the Dome.” In all, he brings 24 acting credits worth of experience to his role as a faculty member at Elon, and students are starting to notice. For instance, acting major Liam Heery ’21 immediately recognized Tourek on the first day of class because he’d recently seen him as Lt. Kiss in the DC Universe original “Doom Patrol.”
“He was really good,” Heery said. “It was really cool to see what he’s been talking to us about being implemented in his work.”
Heery says word of Tourek’s work is beginning to spread among Elon’s acting students, although the news doesn’t come from Tourek himself. Since he never volunteers the information to his classes, Tourek says it takes students a few weeks to recognize him, typically. While he’s humble about the expertise he brings to campus, he hopes he can use it to help students achieve their own goals.
“Seeing students and seeing their work is always fantastic because, if they’re having a good time and I see them grow throughout the semester, it’s amazing to watch,” Tourek said.
Working with up-and-coming acting students often reminds Tourek of his own journey. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Tourek was a music theatre enthusiast from a young age.
“I tried a lot of things growing up – you know, I tried this, I tried that – but theatre always was the one thing that kind of kept coming back,” he said.
That passion led him to New York City where he followed his dream of performing on Broadway. His plans changed, however, after meeting his future wife and moving to North Carolina in 2005. The move opened Tourek’s eyes to the region’s many opportunities in the film industry and marked the beginning of the path he follows today.
In the same way Tourek transitioned from the stage to film, he hopes to help his students feel comfortable doing the same in his Acting for the Camera course. Many of the students enrolled in ACT321A begin the semester with stage acting experience, but the class is often their first attempt at on-screen acting. Tourek’s students say it’s meaningful to have an instructor with real-life experience who can prepare them for whatever path they choose after graduation.
“This class is so refreshing,” said Jaelyn Alexander ’22, a music theatre and arts administration double major. “It’s nice to have someone who’s currently working and knows what’s currently going on in the industry.”
Heery added, “It’s one of the things that I like to say to people who ask about the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Elon – we have professors who are really working in the industry and who we can trust because we know they are going to give us the tips we need to succeed.”
As Tourek continues to search for his next acting opportunity, he hopes students can learn from his class, as well as his personal story. He especially wants students to walk away each semester having learned one very important lesson.
“The fortune cookie answer – that’s also the truth – is that they are enough,” he said. “Being an actor is so wrought with rejection and uncertainty, and if I can help them come away with skills that will help them in the business – great. But, if they can understand that they are enough, that nothing about them needs to change, then that makes me happy.”