LPC’s own longtime math professor Bobby August Jr. has always felt a knack for theater. From elementary school plays to the big screen, August’s experience in the acting world has allowed him to learn the good, the bad and the ugly. This fall, students are offered a chance to be let in on his official trade secrets with the launch of a new improvisational, or unscripted, acting class led by August.
In any facet of life, knowledge is power. Despite the ditsy stereotyped roles and the dumb blonde jokes, Hollywood is no different. August’s teachings about reality behind the director’s clapboard gives aspiring actors a leg up that could potentially propel them to similar career levels.
From playing the role of an esteemed child lawyer in a second grade production, to being directed by Spike Lee in a film shot for the popular video game NBA2K16, August’s career path has proven to be special.
That said, his passion started out much like the beginning of anything and everything— a kid with a dream.
“When I was growing up with my family, we rented movies and had pizza on Friday nights. I was just thinking about how great it was for us to get together and have a common ground. That was the initial seed of ‘Oh, what is this movie thing and how can I be apart of it?’” August said.
Eventually, he soon realized that his dream wasn’t so far-fetched.
“When I was in second grade, I was in a play. I remember playing a lawyer and putting my hand in my pocket in this powerful stance and I gave this speech. Afterwards, everybody was telling my mom how good I was. That was probably the initial thought of ‘Oh maybe I’m a good performer then,’” August said.
As he grew out of his adolescence, August pursued math by day and acting by night. It wasn’t until he was approached to do improv in an effort to become a better actor that he fell in love with unscripted acting.
“Somebody said, ‘You know, if you want to be a great actor, you should take improv classes.’”
“A great actor, for instance, is pretending to hear something for the very first time and responding for the very first time. They already know what’s going to happen on stage, they know all the lines and all the cues. In improv, you are literally hearing something for the first time and responding. It’s actually even more real than acting ever could be. And that blew my mind.” August said.
“In one of my first improv classes, I thought ‘Oh wow, this is amazing,’ and I really fell in love with it.” August said.
In 2009, August and a group of friends, soon known to be 5 Play, performed at various improv venues at least once a month. Collectively, they rehearsed out of living rooms until they reached a turning point and opened their own venue in 2011, called Made Up Theatre.
“That was when we were like ‘Okay, this is the real deal, we’re performing and people are coming to pay for us,’” August said.
Meanwhile, his newfound education and passion for improv allowed him to shape up in his math lessons, as he was able to be more engaging and entertaining despite teaching an otherwise mundane, analytical subject.
Naturally, all of August’s dedication paid off when he received the opportunity to be led in a role by Spike Lee in 2016. That isn’t to say there wasn’t enormous pressure weighing on August’s shoulders.
“I go in and audition for Spike Lee and end up getting the gig. On the day of the shoot, I go in and there’s a guy in front me. The first guy goes, and he’s not doing well because we all got new lines, and Spike Lee fired him on the spot. There was pressure, pressure, pressure.”
In spite of being featured in a superbowl commercial, numerous indie films and a television series, August acknowledged the entertainment industry isn’t always fast-paced.
“When actors first really dive into it, it’s so adrenaline inducing. And then you hit a point where it becomes a little difficult. Everything becomes stagnant for a while. It’s a tough gig because most of the time you’re not working. You’re auditioning all of the time and getting rejected all of the time.” August said.
Much like the rejection aspect of acting, there are always cons to every profession. Though fame is marketed as glamorous and glitzy, it’s hardly the sort.
“I think it tends to be a very specific story. It’s usually a white family in a white world, and that’s the majority of the stories that are told.” August said.
On top of an already slim number of opportunities for people of color, there are becoming fewer spots available to all actors in general.
“It used to be that all the shows were filled by actors, but now all the shows are like Survivor or Big Brother. That hurts actors a little bit because they don’t need the training, they just need millions of followers on TikTok to be famous.” August said.
The competitiveness alone makes it difficult to withstand the industry, however other issues such as misconceptions can also be problematic.
“A lot of nonactors think acting is just memorizing lines. It’s so much more than that. The amount of time, effort and energy it takes to create a character and what actors put themselves through to get to that specific place is a lot more than memorizing lines.” August said.
Ultimately, his passion remains catching fire despite all of the pitfalls.
“When performing, there is a drug-like effect. When you perform and do well and get adoration and you get to lose yourself in a character for a few hours. Or if it’s comedy, hearing people laugh is kind of a drug.” August said.
In addition to the emotions evoked, acting has allowed August to connect more with others and find refuge.
“A lot of actors find their second family. They get you in a way your sister, brother, mom and dad don’t get you.” August said.
Students of August can expect to find the same sense of unity and community. According to second-year student Megan Samuli, the class has given her just that.
“I really like the class a lot because it encourages you to be very social, build confidence and make friends. Considering that we’ve been sheltered for so long during the pandemic, you’re able to come out of your comfort zone a little bit.” Samuli said.
On a similar note, August’s advice to aspiring actors relates to the same idea— building relationships and having a support system is important
“Find your group that’s going to uplift you, take care of you and go through your ups and downs with.” August said.
Most importantly, August harnesses the love he has for his career to keep himself going, though the work may be tough.
“You have to do it for love. If you’re doing it for fame or the adoration, it’s not going to work.”
Sophia Sipe is Editor-In-Chief for The Express. Follow her @sophiasipe.