J. Bernard Calloway gives advice to act on
Broadway star gives MFA students benefit of his experience
When J. Bernard Calloway MFA’00, advised students at his alma mater last week about the acting life, he pulled no punches.
“Most times in our business, we get rejected,” Calloway told a crowd of third-year MFA acting students in the Spingold Theater studio. “So I’m honored to be in a circle of actors in New York City who are working.”
The originator of the role of “Delray” in “Memphis,” Calloway seemed as tough-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside as the nightclub owner in the award-winning Broadway musical.
Based in New York, Calloway, 37, is currently performing with “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston in the American Repertory Theater’s production of “All the Way,” in Cambridge, Mass., before the show’s Broadway debut.
With talents that range from stage combat and football to singing, piano and dialects, Calloway’s 13 years in the business have been productive. He’s acted opposite stars like John Travolta, James Gandolfini and John Turturo, but has never let stardom go to his head.
First and foremost, Calloway told his audience to take advantage of their Brandeis education. Citing various vocal and relaxation techniques he learned at Brandeis — and teasing his former professors about them — he explained that even the most unlikely exercises can come in handy.
“It’s easy for me to drop into a Caribbean accent because of the work I did here,” he said. “Even if you think you’ll never use it. You’re in school — perfect it. Keep it in your back pocket. If you never need it, don’t worry about it. If you do, you have it. When you are tired and have nowhere to pull from, you have that technique.”
Calloway advised the aspiring actors — who are preparing to do their showcase, when they perform for agents and industry professionals — to stay flexible and learn the differences between mediums. He has performed on Broadway, in television dramas like “Law & Order” and “Rescue Me;” worked as a voice over and appeared in commercials, including a Dr. Scholl’s spot airing now.
But know where you excel and what speaks to your soul, he told the third-years. “Hone directly in on whatever best fits your skills. You have to know yourself,” he said. Respect yourself and colleagues, maintain relationships and constantly make sure new people are seeing your work, Calloway counseled, “Even if you think you’re auditioning for something you don’t think you’re right for.”
It’s also important to take the work seriously and continue to grow as an actor, the burly actor noted. Every two years, he said, he sets new goals for his career.
“I’m not perfect but I’m very proud of what I’ve done,” Calloway said. “Very proud of where I am. Very proud of where I’m going.”