Photo courtesy of Charles Tentindo.

Charles Tentindo was living a life that most people can only dream of. He was traveling across the country to direct several videos, he had just won an award for directing a documentary, he had designed an instrument that had made it on the cover of Keyboard Magazine, he was in a relationship and most importantly, he was teaching acting classes, an activity he holds close to his heart.

After two weeks of enduring both a persistent low-grade fever and a cough in August of 2010, he went to his doctor to get checked out. Days later, his doctor called to say something was off with his labs, and Tentindo needed to come back in. Within 48 hours he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and given a 30 percent chance to live. He was then sent by an ambulance from Long Beach Memorial to The City of Hope to prepare him for a bone marrow transplant. While no one in Tentindo’s family was a match, he was lucky enough to find a matched donor in New York. A stranger saved his life.

“I will tell you it is hell, it is a hellish experience. It’s scary. Every day is filled with not knowing whether you’re going to make it or not,” he said.

Four months spent at The City of Hope helped him transition back to his normal living environment, which included short visits back home. Tentindo said it was hard to leave the hospital “bubble,” a place where he felt so protected for so long. He attributes much of his recovery to the support of his family, friends and loved ones.

“We are experts as human beings at pretending that we’re going to live forever,” said Tentindo. “So when you are looking at your potential demise in the face, like the grim reaper, when you look at him, and they’re calling, you really go through something that is inexplicable. It felt like I was falling from the top of a 30-story building and I didn’t know how I was going to land. It was just a perpetual fall.”

Those who know him say Tentindo’s battle with ALL changed an already sensitive individual into an even more empathetic, observant and passionate teacher.

“I’m more appreciative of each moment that I’m here; I realize that every day is a gift,” he said.

He describes his experience as a brutal wake-up call to the fact that life is short, and that you may as well do what you’re passionate about while you still can, and do it as well as you can.

“The biggest thing is taking in each moment, everything is hyper real now, from watching how customers interact with, say, workers at a restaurant, to the interactions that happen between patients at the City of Hope[…]” Tentindo said. “Now when I see someone suffering I can immediately connect with how that feels and I will be empathetic and find a way that I can help that person, in my way.”

“It’s helped my teaching,” he continued. “Being a more sensitive teacher helps with the intuitiveness of how you’re working with the students. I’ve been hammered in acting classes and it’s not a fun place to be because you’re open and vulnerable and someone is telling you something negative about what’s going on. So I handle the work there in a very empathetic, yet strong way, to inspire them and push them.”

As far as his teaching philosophy goes, Tentindo says his style is a culmination of everything he learned from his former teachers as well as all he has learned from the greats, including Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner.

“I prefer you not to act in my class, I prefer you to be, because it’s interesting to watch a human being just living in the moment. It may seem simple, but it’s a much more difficult thing to do when the camera is rolling and there’s 30 people looking straight at you.”

Those aspiring to improve their acting abilities take classes at My Acting Studio, but also those who want to learn how to live a fuller, more vibrant life. Whether his students make the grade as award-winning performers in the end is the lesser focus, while the base layer is all about helping his students feel comfortable in their own skin. If the latter is achieved, Tentindo considers his job done and he can go home fulfilled, knowing that he’s made someone’s life, at the least, just a little bit better.

“It’s almost like a little trick,” he said. “People come with one idea but they walk away with much more for themselves personally and that’s about self expression, it’s about them discovering a deeper more interesting part of themselves that may have been blocked off from some experience or trauma that took place in their lives.”

“There’s an interesting phrase that I heard that I like to tell my students,” he continued. “I say, ‘Do you want to win an Oscar?’ and they all say, ‘Ahh yea, yea yea.’ And I go, ‘Great, would you win an Oscar for the way that you live your life?’ It’s about being deeper and more expressive human beings that are not run by their fears and their anxieties about communicating with other human beings. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Tentindo has made recent changes to his class schedule. He realized that most beginners aren’t ready for the camera so now instead of one class he’s offering three: a beginner, intermediate and, at the end of the curriculum, a class where students will learn to act in front of a camera. This new series of instruction begins Monday, February 2 at 7:00PM.

Along with teaching at My Acting Studio, Tentindo now works as a mentor for other leukemia patients. He encourages whomever may read this to be a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant; it’s an easy way to potentially save someone’s life.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].