Acting Students Ready for Their Next Role

The Amazing Grace Conservatory in Los Angeles takes young students who want to sing, dance, and act, and gets them ready for life's big stage. Farai Chideya talks with actress and noted acting coach Wendy Raquel Robinson, who founded the acting studio.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. Today we wrap up our month long series on African-Americans in film. We've talked about making music for the movies, stereotypes on the big screen and Indie documentaries. Today we look at the art of acting, who's nurturing young African-American talent and where will the next generation of black actors come from. In a moment we'll speak with two people from Black Nexus, an acting studio that's coached everyone from Jamie Foxd to Sean Combs and Chris Rock. But first we have actress Wendy Raquel Robinson. You can see her on the series, "The Game" on the CW network. She is also the owner and co-founder of the Amazing Grace Conservatory in Los Angeles, which trains students aged 7 to 21 in voice, dance and acting. Welcome to the show, Wendy.

Ms. WENDY RAQUEL ROBINSON (Amazing Grace Conservatory): Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

CHIDEYA: Yes, so what made you decide to start Amazing Grace?

Ms. ROBINSON: You know, it started actually as a passion of love. You know, I graduated from Howard University and came back to Los Angeles and found it really, really difficult, not only to break into the industry but to get solid representation. And I started doing what I know best. I started teaching my class. And I came together and collaborated with my best friend and co-founder, Tracy Coley. And before we knew it, we had a following of young people in the city of Los Angeles that was amazing. So we just took it to the next level and developed our entire curriculum and started our own program.

CHIDEYA: What do you want to happen for your students? Is this really just a safe place for them to be off the street or are you trying to really create professional actors?

Ms. ROBINSON: We do professional theater with children. So whether they want to pursue this as a career objective or many of our students just want to have better communication and articulation and be able to you know, hold an intelligent conversation, we provide that for all of them. But ultimately we provide a platform where young people can express themselves in a non-judgmental environment. So a lot of my students are working actors. Some of them have basically cultivated their skills into becoming working actors, singers and dancers.

So no matter what it is that they want to do with their particular discipline, we try and give them the skills where they are able to compete effectively or if they just want to you know, be better human beings. You know, because there's so much going on with our young people. The dropout rate is 50 percent and I've just seen a lot of young people turn away from an alternative lifestyle. You know, from the gangs, from the drugs, you know, coming from disadvantaged homes to really discovering the self-love through the arts.

CHIDEYA: What did acting do for you when you were younger and what does it do for you now?

Ms. ROBINSON: You know, it changed my life. I started as a dancer which is ironic. I started in dance classes when I was like seven years old. And the arts in general, it kept me not only off the street, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, so it kept my mind focused. It kept me passionate about something. So I wasn't easily distracted. Many of my peers you know, unfortunately, you know, they did get distracted by other things. But I was able to stay really, really focused on my craft. And before I knew it, you know, when I'm graduating high school, I've been doing something that I loved since you know, I was seven years old and it basically cultivated a dream for me.

What it does for me now, especially working with the young people, it keeps my passion alive because in this business it's so much rejection and it's so much — I want to say there's a lot of negative things that happen on a day to day basis. But when I come to Amazing Grace Conservatory as we refer to it as AGC, I'm always reignited and recharged and you know, I realize why I do what I do.

CHIDEYA: Why don't you give me an example of someone that you've worked with who's gone on to do great things?

Ms. ROBINSON: Wow, I guess one of my greatest mentees that I'm the most excited about is a young lady named Nichole Salter. She started off as a very quiet young lady, wasn't quite ready to be on stage and wanted to assist me in a stage management position. So she assisted me on one of my productions since you know, I write a lot too. And she was fabulous. I got her accepted to Howard University where she went and she graduated summa cum laude. From there she went on. She was accepted to Tisch School of the Arts. And she went on and got her master's. And then at Tisch she met an African sister and they wrote a play about HIV and they traveled all over, from Africa to all over here in the United States. And they actually finished a performance at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

And just to see her not only cultivate a dream but to develop it and to nurture it and define her own voice through the arts and do it so ambitiously, you know, that she inspired me. I feel like I'm not doing enough. And you know, I've never been to Africa. You know, but to see her so excited about having a dream and having something that she can be excited about.

CHIDEYA: Okay let's talk about you in front of the camera. You've been a part of the hit series "The Game".

Ms. ROBINSON: Yeah, uh huh.

CHIDEYA: What do you like about doing TV acting and what else might you have coming up?

Ms. ROBINSON: You know, I guess what I love the most about TV acting versus film and theater — theater of course is my first love. So actually I just finished a play this weekend. I always try and go back to my roots which is definitely theater. But what I love about television, I guess I have to be selfish, are the hours the most. It's so fast and you really got to be at the height of your game. But at the same time, I am able to have a life, you know. I am able to cultivate my marriage. I am able to have a business, you know, with Amazing Grace Conservatory and still feel like I have my life.

CHIDEYA: Anything else you got percolating, either with Amazing Grace or on your own?

Ms. ROBINSON: Well right now, you know, the strike really set us back. So I am back at work officially this week. We have 11 more episodes that we're shooting and we're going to go really fast. So the new episodes will be airing in March. And then with Amazing Grace, we are working on "Beauty and the Beast" for our spring musical. And actually I just closed a play on Sunday here at the Los Angeles Theatre Center we called "Peaches", starring myself and Dorian Wilson and Buddy Lewis and some great talent in LA. So I've been pretty busy.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

Ms. ROBINSON: And you know, right now I'm just going to concentrate all my energy on "The Game" and pray that we'll be back for a third season and get ready for "Beauty and the Beast".

CHIDEYA: Well Wendy, it sounds like you're doing great things. Thank you.

Ms. ROBINSON: Thank you. I thank you for the interview.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with actress Wendy Raquel Robinson. She portrays Tasha Mack on the hit CW series "The Game" and is the owner and co-founder of the Amazing Grace Conservatory.

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