In 1984, as an acclaimed young actor, José Angel Santana recognized pervasive media violence's destructive influence on young people's lives.  Rather than continue making such programs, in 1987 he set out to work full-time to help young people. 

Over his 20 years of working with teenagers, first as Drama Director of Jane Fonda's Laurel Springs Performing Arts Ranch, then as co-founder and Drama Director of Santa Barbara's award-wining City At Peace Youth Program, Dr. Santana combined professional actor training with the open-hearted methods of conflict resolution/mediation to create a unique approach to reaching and teaching "empathy" to young people, who otherwise might have fallen through society's cracks.

For his work with City At Peace, he was recognized as a Santa Barbara "Local Hero" in 1999. 

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“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” 

– Hamlet Act 3, scene , 17-24 by William Shakespeare

​As a student of the craft of acting, later as a professional actor, then as a teacher of the craft of acting and directing, I have observed how the skills needed, “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature” are best learned for everyday life "first" and then, brought to the stage for reflection with an audience. Because, without mastering the actions of inter-communication between people in everyday life, all acting does “o’estep the modesty of nature.” 

To put it simply, how is a person supposed to reflect the essential human qualities of communion between characters under imaginary circumstances if they cannot commune with others in their own everyday lives? 

How could an actor hope to stay present with another person, from moment-to-moment with the countless eyes of an audience watching them, if they cannot exchange feelings, thoughts and respond to one another’s actions in their own everyday lives, with a friend over coffee?

Traditional acting classes that places a major importance on teaching inter-communication between characters under imaginary circumstance has put the cart before the horse. This is how I learned the craft of acting. This is how I taught until recognizing a pattern: students who listen with "empathy" in their everyday lives are better actors than students trying to learn how to "listen-and-respond" under imaginary circumstances.

Through teaching professional actors and directors, directing theatre for social change, and teaching military personnel, I have learned that teaching inter-communication skills that fosters empathy in everyday life, produces a double benefit; individuals became much better actors more effortlessly than in a traditional professional acting class, while at the same time becoming more sensitive, confident, and effective with people in their everyday lives: life skills for art and art skills for life. 

I would love to hear from you.

Let's talk. 917. 310.7333 or


José Angel Santana, Ph.D.




 José Angel Santana, Ph.D., is an educator, a Bravo Network "Arts for Change” award-winning director, critically acclaimed actor, and innovator in the field of interpersonal communication. He was a student of the great Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre and appears throughout the documentaries Sanford Meisner Master Class directed by Sidney Pollack and Sanford Meisner: The Theater’s Best Kept Secret

José Angel Santana, presently teaches at the Columbia School of the Arts and the School of Visual Arts, in NYC.

As the Head of the Acting Program at the NYU Graduate School of Film from 2008 – 2012, he has influenced and continues to mentor some of today's most promising and award-winning young filmmakers: Shaka King (Newlyweeds), Josef Wladyka (Manos Sucias), Dominique Deleon (Rez) and over 200 director members of The Casting Directory*Social, which he created and is one of the Internet’s most unique and innovative recourses for young filmmakers. 

Dr. Santana began teaching as a young actor in 1980, when asked by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet to join him and actor William H. Macy to teach undergraduates at the NYU School of Drama. Together they laid a foundation for students who went on to create the critically acclaimed Atlantic Theater Company. 

In 1981, Distinguished Professor of Film, director William Reilly invited Santana to help create the "Directing Actors" component at the renowned NYU Graduate School of Film. Among his first students were director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness), and Emmy Award-winning Writer/Producer Les Firestein (In Living Color). 

Between 1999 - 2007, Dr. Santana was the exclusive provider of customized, interactive, and high-performance PRESENTATION SKILLS TRAINING services for the Force Modernization Division of the United States Army Communications Electronic Command (CECOM).  During this time his human relations and performance clients have been EDS; Nexxus, Global Engineering and Logistics, The Hendrix Institute, Academic Innovations, Fitness Consultants, Plummers, and Dentists. 

In 2007, Dr. Santana began teaching his course The Art of Connecting to executives from the world's leading media companies in the School of Visual Arts (SVA), PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT division. He continue to teach the first interpersonal communications skills course at SVA until today.

In 2011, New York Theatre Intensives (NYTI) adopted Dr. Santana's collaborative methodology to teach international artists, writers, actors, and directors his collaborative process that focuses on empathetic inter-communication in everyday life.  He continues teaching this openhearted approach with NYTI until today.

He is a trained mediator and facilitator in the methods of the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP). 


As a young actor, José Angel Santana received critical acclaim for his heartbreaking debut performance as "José - the Junkie" in Sidney Lumet's Prince Of The City and is remembered as the "Strange Boutique Owner" with Madonna in the ‘80’s cult classic Desperately Seeking Susan. Among his other featured performances in film are, “Benny” in Batteries Not Included with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, along with roles in Night HawksThe Pope of Greenwich VillageGarbo Talks and The Morning After with Jane Fonda.

He has originated leading roles in works by some of our most important international contemporary playwrights: three world premiers of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet's works: The Blue Hour directed by Mr. Mamet at the New York Shakespeare Festival; Edmond directed by Gregory Mosher at Chicago's Goodman Theater and in its OBIE Award winning production at the legendary Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village; and Mamet's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard directed by Mosher with Oscar Nominees (Fargo) W.H.Macy and for Places in the Heart, Lindsay Crouse. 

​In 1979, he acted alongside Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington in the New York Shakespeare Festival's Central Park production of Coriolanus. 

He originated leading roles in Academy Award Nominee (Reds) Trevor Griffiths' Real Dreams directed by Mr. Griffiths and opposite two time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey at the Williamstown Theater Festival; in Joe Cacaci's Self Defense directed by Arvin Brown at the Long Wharf Theater and Off-Broadway; in Eduardo Machado's The Modern Ladies of Guanabacoa directed by James Hammerstein, at Ensemble Studio Theatre, in New York City; and the title role in Felipe Santander's, Casa de Las Americas award-winning play, El Extensionista directed by John Dillon, at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

In television he co-starred alongside renowned playwright/actor and leading member of the Nuyorican literary movement, Miguel Piñero in the Emmy award-winning episode of Miami Vice - Calderon's Demise; as well as in episodes of Hill Street BluesThe Twilight Zone and Beverly Hills 90210, and once again with Oscar nominated actress Lindsay Crouse, in the Lifetime Channel movie Stranger In My House.

He is a lifetime member of New York's Ensemble Studio Theater. 


The Killing: Applying his collaborative approaches in auditions, rehearsal, and performance in 2009, Dr. Santana made his New York directorial debut with the world premiere of William Inge's The Killing, one of the author's most challenging works. Opening off-broadway at 5959 Theater, The Killing opened to rave reviews and ran to sold out houses for its entire run. 

"José Angel Santana's direction is wisely restrained, and the two actors deliver truly heartbreaking performances. "The Killing," a superb piece of theater, is given an intelligent production here. It's a story of loneliness and great pain, and that explores the saddest parts of the soul."  - KEN JOWORSKY, NEW YORK TIMES. August 8, 2009

Dr. Santana's film "The Secret: listening deeply to young people's lives," which he wrote, directed and produced, chronicles his process of making a play with young people by combining a variety of theater approaches (Meisner, Spolin, van Itallie, and Heathcote) with those of the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP). The Secretmade its debut at the Creating Community With Youth: Perspectives From Depth and Liberation Psychologiesconference at Pacifica Graduate Institute, in May, 2002. 


José Angel Santana, Ph.D. received his B.A in Mass Communications from The University of Vermont, where as a VISTA volunteer he was among a small group of the nations' pioneers in the field of two-way interactive videoconferencing. Working with inmates from the Vermont State Maximum Security Prison, he produced over 250 hours of programing for the Interact Network, one of the first networks of its kind in the United States. 

He is a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. 

He earned his Masters of Arts in Mythological Studies and Doctorate of Philosophy in Mythological Studies with an Emphasis in Depth Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, in Santa Barbara, CA, home of the Joseph Campbell Library. 

Dr. Santana's aim is to make a vital contribution to the community in which he lives.​

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

 - Carl Jung, Man in Search of Soul