The Acting Life

In the June 29 Arts section, a photo credit did not appear on pictures for "The Acting Life." Richard Anderson took the photographs.

On stage they are commanding, charismatic. They rivet your attention through sheer force of personality.


But when the house lights come up, the cast of August Wilson's "Seven Guitars" become ordinary mortals again, men and women who have to struggle to pay the rent and buy groceries.

"People see you on the stage, they think glamour and fame and that whole mystique," says LeLand Ganntt, who played "Schoolboy" Floyd Barton in Center Stage's production of "Seven Guitars" last month.


"Whenever I talk to kids around the country they just kept asking, 'Do you make a lot of money?' And I have to say, 'Wait a minute. You do this to get paid, but if getting paid is mainly what you're concerned about, be a plumber.' "

An actor's life is not easy. You constantly audition for parts, chasing after gigs that may range from a hit movie to a day's work on an industrial promotion film. You consider it a good year if you appear in just one commercial and work nine months in regional theater -- all of which might earn you $50,000. But you're thankful if you can make half that without having to flip burgers or wait tables.

And if you're a black actor, your problems are compounded because there are so few roles for people who look like you. You're trained to do Shakespeare but all the casting directors see is a gangbanger or a welfare mother.

"At first, you kind of hope you'll have a kind of Lana Turner story, where somebody sees you and swoops you right into the mainstream and you're making a million dollars," says Lisa Louise Langford, who played the role of Vera in Wilson's play. "It's not like that, obviously."

To find out how it really is, we asked five cast members of "Seven Guitars" -- Langford, Ganntt, Linda Powell, Russell Andrews and Harriett D. Foy -- to describe their lives and their craft. We caught up with them just as the play's sets were being pulled down and crated up, and the artists were preparing to follow them to Pittsburgh, where "Seven Guitars" will run through July.

What follows -- in the artists' own words, edited for space considerations -- is the result of a series of free-wheeling discussions about the business of acting.

Pub Date: 6/29/97