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California Graduate On Making It In Theater During A Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

LeRoy Graham III has a passion for theater.

LEROY GRAHAM III: I would love to play Muhammad Ali one day. I would love to play Martin Luther King one day. I'm really interested in telling the story of Kalief Browder.

SIMON: He discovered the stage in his Brooklyn high school. He was in a student production of "Little Shop Of Horrors" at the age of 14. He eventually moved to the Bay Area to study at the Acting Conservatory Theater (ph). LeRoy Graham is a member of the class of 2020. And you know how this drama unfolds from there. Pandemic hits, plans thrown into uncertainty. They wound up canceling the ACT's showcase production, where LeRoy Graham and his classmates had their one best chance to show their talents.

GRAHAM: Agents, managers, casting directors come and view our work. God willing, if all things go well and people like your work, you'll get signed.

When I heard that the showcase was going to be canceled, I was going through a lot of stuff. Like, my grandmother was dying at the moment. Me and my grandma were really close. She never really got to see me act. And I was hoping that she would see me act in, like, the showcase because my plan also was that, like, when we did the showcase in New York, I would be able to get her to come and see that. But, you know, that never happened.

SIMON: The showcase became, like so many other things, all virtual. Because theaters and film productions were shut down, not many directors, producers or agents saw it. There was no need to scout new talent for shows that weren't open. So at the age of 31, LeRoy Graham went back to New York, moved in with his family and waited.

GRAHAM: My acting during that time - for the first month or two, I didn't really think about wanting to stay in shape as an actor at all. I kind of was, like, stuck to staring at the wall at times in my room and just kind of, like, figuring out, like, did I go to grad school for the right thing? Like, thinking about all of the debt that I had (laughter) and student loans, I felt like this is kind of like a weird trick to be played on someone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAHAM: So it was pretty depressing 'cause I wasn't sure if I was going to act again. But there was a point where I started making my own content. I had purchased all of this stuff for self-taping. Like, I got a ring light, an external mic. I got a backdrop and all this stuff, trying to figure out, how can I piece together monologues that I'm really, really passionate about to make a series on maybe Instagram and stuff like that?

(As character) If I start rousing things up before its time, I'm going to be the one to lose out. My kids - I'm thinking about Delina (ph) and Darnell (ph), how much they love bringing friends over to the house now, how often they hang outside because they feel safe, how I could lose my job and make my family lose everything, we've been (ph). I'm walking the line, Faye (ph), and I'm trying not to fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAHAM: As we start to kind of, like, you know, get more vaccinations and stuff like that and the industry starts to open back up, I have been going on, like, maybe an average of two or three auditions a week now, which is really nice. Getting these auditions have been, you know, a reassurance things are going to get better. I am finding my footing. And I think my grandmother would tell me as I continue to move forward with these auditions and acting, continuing to put God first and know that I can do all things as long as I believe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: That's LeRoy Graham III of Brooklyn, N.Y. He's an actor.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly identify the school Mr. Graham attended as the Acting Conservatory Theater. The name of the school is the American Conservatory Theater.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 5, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous introduction on this story incorrectly said Leroy Graham instead of LeRoy Graham.