The Academy Celebrates Black History Month
In honor of Black History Month, The Actors Society recognizes the work of many Black alumni whose contributions to the entertainment industry (and beyond) have been both influential and inspiring. This February, we salute a selection of these actors who have given continuously through their efforts to the craft.
Actor Donald Paul (Class of 2011) can be seen across network television in a number of roles. Best known for his work on ABC’s hit Quantico and the CBS political drama The Good Fight, Paul has found his way onto television sets across the world.
The Florida native has also been in several seasons of the Starz series Power starring Omari Hardwick, and in 2018 his work hit close to home—literally—when Paul starred in Grown, a dramedy set in his home state of Florida.
From 2019 to 2021, you could catch Paul in Queen of the South, USA’s action series starring Alice Braga and Hemky Madera. You can catch his work on Raising Dion, the sci-fi drama from Netflix starring Alisha Wainwright.
Paul’s career shows no signs of slowing down, either. You can catch him in the following productions soon to be released: the supernatural thriller Blacklight, the Ben Kingsley starring Jules, Red, White and Water, a military drama with Jennifer Lawrence, and the Will Smith-led Civil War period piece, Emancipation.
Recent grad Chanté Odom (Class of 2017) has started her career strong right out of the gate. Impressively, Odom has landed a role in the ensemble of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in San Francisco, a production that lauds impressive tech and acting chops equally.
Odom’s work doesn’t stop when she exits the stage. The owner of Black Catalyst Productions, an organization dedicated to enhancing and promoting the work of Black artists onstage and onscreen, Odom works hard to promote underrepresented voices in entertainment and beyond.
Hayley Marie Norman
It’s no surprise Hayley Marie Norman (grad year) found her way onto this list: she’s always popping up with a new role on television. The comedic knack possessed by Ms. Norman has allowed her to carve out a place in the business, securing roles left and right and dotting our screens.
Last year was one of her busiest yet, and chances are you saw her in one of the many roles she nabbed. Here are just a few of her credits: Janay Brooks in Kenan, the comedy series featuring comic actor Kenan Thompson, the Peacock comedy A.P. Bio, and the Netflix comedy The Upshaws.
Find Ms. Norman on season 2 of the star-studded series Dollface, out on Hulu on February 11th.
Alumna Gail Fisher (Class of 1958) cemented her legacy as a prominent actress and member of the BIPOC community for her contributions in the second half of the 20th century.
For her now-famous role starring as Peggy Fair in Mannix, the CBS detective series with Mike Connors, Fisher received critical acclaim and quickly became an audience favorite. During her seven-season tenure on the show, Fisher won two Golden Globes and one Primetime Emmy—the first Black woman to win either award—and received an NAACP Image Award in 1969.
Academy graduate Jennifer Fouché (Class of 2008) frequents the stage in a wide range of productions from Shakespeare to musical theatre. A trained vocalist and graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Fouché’s skill with voice has opened countless doors and opportunities for her—and made her a standout, top-tier actress in any role.
Fouché has been hard at work to usher the return of the American Theatre in recent months, lending her talents to the Broadway production of Chicago as Matron Momma Morton last October, and the comedy Chicken and Biscuits alongside Norm Lewis.
Haitian American actor Carvens Lissaint (Class of 2012) brought his charisma and poise to the role of George Washington, the de facto father-figure to Alexander Hamilton and by extension, the United States, in the Broadway and Los Angeles productions of Hamilton. His work goes beyond Hamilton, though, having been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, the Kennedy Center, on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and the Off-Broadway Hip-Hop Theater Festival. His work stretches beyond the United States: he’s also graced stages in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.
He also holds a degree in Dramatic Arts for Film & Television from St. John’s University and an MFA from NYU Tisch School of The Arts Graduate Acting Program.
Keith Randolph Smith
With a career that spans decades, Keith Randolph Smith continues to set himself as one of the quintessential actors of the American Theatre.
A 1986 graduate, Smith has been seen across the United States in a number of high-scale productions, including the following Broadway credits: Jitney, American Psycho, Fences, Come Back Little Sheba, King Hedley II, Salome, and Piano Lesson. Off-Broadway credits include: The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll’d, Paradise Blue, First Breeze of Summer, and Tamburlaine the Great, just to name a few. He has also worked with The Old Globe, City Theatre, and Seattle Repertory Theatre, and is a company member of Quick Silver Theater Company and The Actors Center.
With no shortage of screen credits, either, you can catch Smith in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington, The Good Fight led by actress Christine Baranski, and dotting numerous episodes of Law and Order and its subsequent spinoffs.
Later this spring, Smith is set to join “…What the End Will Be” with the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Having graduated in 2019 from the Los Angeles campus, Makena Hammond’s work has most notably been on display at the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival, writing and performing the solo show, Black Woman in Deep Water, a piece inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner. Garner, a runaway enslaved woman, escaped with her husband, in-laws, and four small children while pregnant with a fifth, only to be recaptured. Faced with a horrible decision, she takes the life of one of her children rather than allow them to suffer a life of enslavement. Los Angeles faculty member Jane Fleiss Brogger directed the show to overwhelmingly positive reception.
The play began as an assignment during Makena’s conservatory training. She was instructed to write a solo show about a real person but the assignment turned personal as she began researching the life of Margaret Garner. She found several parallels in their lives, including the names of Margaret and her husband sharing the same names as her own parents. Makena felt a connection to Margaret that compelled her to create the show, wanting to inspire compassion, and tell a powerful, provocative story.
Hailing from a working-class neighborhood of Gary, Indiana, Ernest Thomas (Class of 1974) had a close connection to his pursuit of acting; it being in-part a desire to find a world of success and make a name for himself. Attending The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York on a scholarship from The America Theatre Wing, Thomas performed in Winterset, Scuba Duba, The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet.
His career was quick to take off, playing in in the 1974 Broadway revival of Love For Love with co-star Glenn Close (his Great White Way debut), and the revival of The Member of the Wedding the following year, once again starring Glenn Close.
Fast-forward two years and Mr. Thomas is starring in the acclaimed mini-series Roots. (He missed out on the role of Kunta Kinte, but landed the role of Kailuba.) Like fellow alumnus Keith Randolph Smith, Thomas can be seen in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.
Esteemed theatre actress Phyre Hawkins (Class of 2002) has been in enough productions across the country to fill this article alone. From Broadway to Regional Theatre, her resume is chockfull of an eclectic array of shows.
Perhaps most notably, Hawkins played in the Broadway production of the smash-hit musical The Book of Mormon, and subsequently joined its national tour. Also on Broadway, she starred in Hair, and its national tour, and joined the touring company of The Color Purple. Her Regional work has consisted of Avenue Q, Black Nativity, Macbeth, and Trojan Women.
Photo Credits: Donald Paul (IMDb), Chanté Odom (Twitter), Hayley Marie Norman (Deadline), Gail Fisher (Emmys), Jennifer Fouché (Broadway) World, Carvens Lissaint (carvenslissaint.com), Keith Randolph Smith (Broadway World), Makena Hammond (Hollywood Fringe), Ernest Thomas(allfamous.org), Phyre Hawkins (Playbill)