Laureen Benson Hall, a television-acting instructor at Howard Community College, always told her students they would have three takes toget a scene right.
But her experience acting in "The Raven," the first evening soap opera featuring a cast of black actors, has taughther that even second chances can be rare.
Hall, 32, of Catonsville, has the only white principal role in the one-hour drama, which premiers at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on WJZ-TV (Channel 13). The locally produced program is being considered for syndication.
Even if the show is broadcast nationally, Hall said, it will remain a Baltimore production, with local actors.
"The Raven" portrays an elite black family, the Tylers, who own a national night club chain and a record label, "The Raven."
The character portrayedby Hall, Vicki Matheson, is a lawyer and campaign manager for Ellen Stuart, a Tyler family member and candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Only the first episode has been taped, but others have been written. Actors playing returning characters have been told subsequent episodeswill be taped in February if the show gets a green light, said Hall.
Hall's acting career ranges from an appearance in the film "The Accidental Tourist" to commercials for Bell Atlantic. "The Raven" is her first venture into soap operas.
Getting a role in the soap opera "was a fluke," she said. "I looked in the paper and saw the ad for a black soap opera and thought, 'I know I'm white, but what do I haveto lose?' "
She also was concerned about being the only white cast member.
"I was worried at first that I would do or say somethingwrong. Or if I was late or didn't know my lines, they would say I was taking privileges."
But she worried needlessly. Now the cast jokes about it, she said. "When we were taking a photo, they said, 'Put the white girl in the middle so we can have some color in here.' "
Being in the middle is nothing new for Hall. Many of her experiencesas a student activist at Mount Hebron High School in the mid-1970s help her identify with her character in "The Raven." Back then, she went by the name Laury Turyn. As student government association president and founder of an interracial relations group, she learned to workwith diverse student groups.
While some girls worried about making the cheerleading squad and selecting a prom dress, Hall concentrated on student rights.
Racial relations were tense in 1976, the yearshe graduated. To reduce the antagonism, Hall founded the Human Relations Club. The club sponsored the first school dance with a black band.
While soap opera acting might be new for Hall, interracial relations are familiar terrain. And so is social activism -- she is currently working to improve the status of women in the film industry as a board member of the Maryland chapter of Women in Film and Video.
Hall said her personality is very different from that of her TV character, Matheson. "Vicky is much more hard-boiled, tough, and much more deliberate. She even speaks slower," she said. "I'm much more cheerful, friendly and crazy."
Her experience with the show has taught her the importance of concentration. There are plenty of last-minute changes in acting, she said. "Our script was changed 10 minutes before the filming."
"Now, I always tell my students, whether they are interested in TV or screen acting, they should try to get experience with stage acting," she said.
"Stage acting really teaches an actor how to concentrate, because if you make a mistake there is nothing you can do about it."
With "The Raven," "we only had one shot to get it right, and we did it," Hall said.