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Legacy

Shannon Sturges translates her experience as an actress and descendent of Hollywood royalty into a guide for the next generation of performers.

Connor Keaney

Hollywood dynasties have been framed with an almost mythical fasciation since the beginning.

Families built in the the industry have long been a part of the fabric of the culture, often spawning multi-generational catalogues of influential and innovative works. But from a myriad of notable legacies in the history of cinema, Shannon Sturges stands out as unique.

Sturges's own chapter started off as a more uncertain foray into the Hollywood sphere.

The granddaughter of legendary Hollywood director Preston Sturges (the Academy Award winning writer behind The Great McGinty) and daughter of two actors, Solomon Sturges IV and Colette Jackson, Sturges may have come from a long line of creators and performers, but found herself more or less on her own when it came to breaking onto the silver screen.

Raised by her grandmother, Sturges didn't have the "in" from which a descendent of Hollywood royalty might be the beneficiary. At the outset, Sturges entrance into the field was about flying solo.

"I did feel like I was going in a little blind," Sturges said, "My mother died when I was an infant. My father wasn't in the picture while I was growing up. My grandfather had such great success and then died impoverished, pretty much. I didn't really understand how the business worked, but I understood that it's not always a rosy, happy ending."

Despite what "was, in many ways, a cautionary tale," for Sturges, the desire to perform overcame, and Sturges began to make her way into the industry with a particular edge.

"My mother was an actor, my father was an actor, so I do feel like it was in the blood and I could kind of take their missteps and sort of use them to my advantage," Sturges said, "I learned from the mistakes that some of them had made."

The seeds of knowledge planted as Sturges studied the careers of her parents eventually blossomed into a wildly varied prolific career, beginning with her breakout role as Molly Brinker on daytime television mainstay Days of Our Lives, and carrying through into appearances on hugely successful television series such as Charmed, Nip/Tuck, and The Mentalist.

Throughout her work as an actress, Sturges developed a particular outlook on how a performance rounds out a larger production.

"It's a symbiotic relationship that you're going to have between the audience and the performer. If you, watching it, don't buy into it, if you don't believe in what it is that you're seeing," Sturges said, "It doesn't matter how beautifully it's shot, it doesn't matter how gorgeous the words are if you don't believe it. That's what the actor brings to that; it's the truth."

After nearly 25 years of television and film roles, Sturges had gathered a considerable reputation and a wealth of experience that would prove useful as she set her sights on a new endeavor.

"The wonderful thing is, having had a career, I have a unique perspective. A lot of acting coaches haven't had the career that I've had, so I understand all the different levels," Sturges said, "I understand what it is to screen test, what it is to have a contract role on something, and what it is to then be practical in terms of putting something on set.

"I'm able to give them sometimes some perspective on how difficult it can be, but also how you need to not take things personally."

Sturges parlayed this experience into a new career, and started the Speiser/Sturges Acting Studio with veteran acting coach Aaron Speiser. For Sturges, the experience has been exceedingly rewarding.

"It's so wonderful. It's just wonderful to see people achieve their dreams," Sturges said, "It is fabulous to see my students on screen or being nominated for something. It's so satisfying."

Sturges's teachings come from a deep reverence for the art, and an ideological outlook that places the importance of the performer as an artist above all else.

"I think anybody can be a great actor. The ones that are have the ability to get out of their own way. To allow the character to be uninhibited in the most beautiful way," Sturges said, "To be vulnerable and truthful. It takes a lot of work. You understand yourself better. You understand people better. It's such a wonderful art form, where you're able to use your mind and your body and your heart."

It's this eye towards basic human truth and authentic performance that Sturges believes has led to the present renaissance in television content.

"The quality is just amazing," Sturges said, "Everyone is always telling me about a new show I have to go and watch. We have so much freedom. We have actors who are creating some of their own content that's wonderful and edgy. We have freedom to go back and rethink the past."

Her work as an acting coach has allowed Sturges to reexamine her own past, including a new connection to her mother, The Singing Nun actress Colette Jackson.

"I had a very interesting experience happen a few years ago as I was beginning to teach. I never knew my mother. By happenstance, I ended up meeting someone who was one of her best friends back when she was an actress in New York. I got to see pictures of my mother in TV Guide that I had never even seen before," Sturges said.

"It was quite a moving thing. It's been kind of this whole new world that's opened up to me as far was what my past was, because my past has always been to legacy laden with my grandfather and his side. It was kind of a really nice thing to have this little window into who my mother was and what might have been with her and her career. It was kind of an amazing little thing to happen."

As Sturges continues to excite and educate based upon knowledge taken from her own career, she takes with her the work of her mother, whose contribution to the art form has been something of an inspiration.

"Now I can look back and go, 'She was a damn good actress.'"