Actor Tries Making His Own Breaks

Hardy Hopes 1-man Show Will Get Him The Big Opportunity

August 13, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Actor Robert Lee Hardy has every single attribute needed to succeed as an actor: talent; training; dark, muscular good looks and a determination so strong it practically shorts out the stage lights.

If his big break has so far remained mysteriously and inexplicably out of reach, Hardy isn't letting that stop him.

"The days are long gone when stars were discovered walking down the street," says the 28-year-old lifelong Baltimorean. "You have to create your own opportunities."

And that's just what he's doing in his current, mostly one-actor show, The Best of Robert Lee Hardy, running this weekend at Baltimore Theatre Project. The 90-minute performance will include speeches from roles that Hardy has performed in the past from such works as Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," Cheryl West's "Before it Hits Home" and Al Letson Jr.'s "Julius X."

There will be an improvised scene about domestic violence, which he will perform with actress Chantia Jackson. Interspersed throughout will be sketches that Hardy has written about his relatives that range from comic to tragic, to emotions more difficult to categorize.

In one scene, he brings to life a 4-year-old cousin who blithely destroys his grandmother's relationships with her neighbors by innocently repeating what she's said about them. Hardy also performs a sketch about an older cousin lucid enough to realize he's schizophrenic, who begs for help from his jail cell.

Yet a third vignette is based on his uncle.

"He's a heroin addict, but I've learned a lot from him," Hardy says. "I suppose part of what I've learned is to not be him. But he's also always been incredibly supportive. If I was in college in New York and needed a ride home, he'd gas up the car and come get me. And, he's been to all my performances."

Though Hardy's resume admittedly is light on professional credentials, nearly everyone with whom he crosses paths offers heartfelt tributes to his ability.

Robert Chew, who played Proposition Joe on the acclaimed HBO television series "The Wire," began teaching Hardy in the late 1990s, when the then-13-year-old enrolled in an after-school program at Arena Players.

"I took one look at him and I said, 'This kid is going to be a big star,' " Chew says. "He has so much presence and sparkle on stage."

Several years later, Hardy won admittance to the elite theater conservatory at the State University of New York-Purchase. About 1,200 high school seniors audition each year for the acting program, and between 16 and 20 incoming freshmen are accepted. Hardy was one of the lucky few; he graduated from the conservatory with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 2005.

Though he's auditioned frequently since then in Baltimore, Washington and New York, and though he has been called back more than once for a second look, the roles he was seeking went to others.

"Of course, I get discouraged," he says.

"There's a lot of talent out there - black, white, Asian, and acting is our life. So it gets me when good roles on Broadway or on national tours get handed to a rap star or a reality show contestant, someone who isn't serious about acting, who isn't passionate about it like we are but who has a name that will pull in the crowds."

Anne Cantler Fulweiler, producing director of Theatre Project, hopes Hardy's new show will introduce him to a new audience.

"Robert is a shining young talent," she says, "and he's the kind of artist that Theatre Project is designed to foster. There's such a sense of excitement about someone who doesn't just perform provocative new work but helps to create it."

For his part, Hardy is eagerly anticipating the moment Friday night when the house lights at Theatre Project dim.

"There's always a feeling that comes when you're in the wings and about to go on stage," he says. "You never know what you're going to do when you go out there. There's a hush that comes over the audience that sounds like water, or fresh air."

It's also worth noting that Hardy is 28, not 82, and just four years out of college. There's still plenty of time for talent, training and determination to win him the chance he covets. He therefore treats his optimism like any other muscle group that must be exercised regularly to stay in shape.

"I'm a great believer in the power of visualization," he says. "Every day, when I wake up, I stand in front of the mirror and say, "I am Robert Lee Hardy, and everyone wants to work with me.' "

If you go

"The Best of Robert Lee Hardy" will performed 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Tickets are $10-$20. Call 410-752-8558 or go to www.theatreproject.org.

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