Actor Keith David visits Archer for ‘inspiring’ panel about career, Shakespeare

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Photo credit: Archer Communications

Actor Keith David speaks to upper school students about his career and what inspired him to become an actor. The panel was moderated by English teacher Jennifer Dohr. “My dance teacher said, ‘Any fool can be happy all the time. Happiness is the result of your hard work,'” David said. “When you work hard, and you have earned where you are, there’s cause to be happy, and no one can shake that.”

By Nina Sperling, Staff Reporter

Three-time Emmy award winner and Tony- nominated actor Keith David spoke to Archer students Tuesday, April 19, in a panel moderated by English teacher Jennifer Dohr. The panel occurred during a US-FLX Block and was only open to upper school students. 

David has acted in several Shakespeare productions, including “Othello” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The panel was initially organized for AP English Literature and Composition students, as they were reading the Shakespeare play “Hamlet” in their class. The event was hosted in the amphitheater where David spoke about his career as an actor and his experiences reading and acting in Shakespeare plays.

David was born and raised in New York City and attended The Julliard School where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He went on to star in “Jelly’s Last Jam” on Broadway, for which he received a Tony Award nomination. Additionally, his credits include roles in films such as “The Princess and the Frog” and “There’s Something About Mary.” He has won three Emmys for his narration of three PBS documentaries as well.

During the panel, David spoke and offered advice to students about pursuing their aspirations and finding their passions in life. He spoke about why he enjoys his career as an actor.

“The real truth of the matter is, every day of my life, I’m living my dream because I get to do what I always wanted to do,” David said. “For me, acting is my ministry. I find that it’s a calling more than a vocation … Yes, I love to do it, but I’m compelled to do it.”

I really took away what he was saying about not performing for the audience, but for yourself … That’s just a really important reminder — to focus on what you’re trying to convey and what you want, and then it’ll come across to the audience.”

— Sadie Long ('24)

Drama Queens leader Glory Chase (’22) and Sadie Long (’24), who acted in Archer’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” attended the panel. They said his advice deeply resonated with them because it has the same value in and outside of the acting world. When Long and Chase heard that Archer would be hosting David, they said that they were both looking forward to hearing his panel.

“I was really excited,” Long said. “I was really scared I was not going to be able to attend, but I have loved him [in] so many things I’ve seen him in — especially after doing Shakespeare, but also all the animated films … I’ve loved that so much.”

Chase has been acting for eight years and has been a part of 10 Archer theater productions. During the panel, she volunteered to participate in a one-on-one coaching session with David and recited a soliloquy from “Hamlet.” She said the coaching session was an enriching experience and she enjoyed learning from him and the advice he gave her.

“He did talk to me about really believing the words and really thinking about the words and what they mean to me,” Chase said. “He really made me think about what I was saying and what it meant to me, and how to not just perform it, but to speak, and to not play to an audience, but to play to my own feelings.”

Similarly, Long said she resonated with the idea of focusing on performing for yourself and asking yourself thought-provoking questions to convey your feelings.

“I really took away what he was saying about not performing for the audience, but for yourself,” Long said. “That’s just a really important reminder — to focus on what you’re trying to convey and what you want, and then it’ll come across to the audience.”

Chase said that hearing from David helped her understand what it takes to go from an aspiring high school actor to a professional.

“It’s great to see somebody in the real world … who actually is in this profession. [David] is somebody who’s working and also teaching, which is just such a great thing to do,” Chase said. “It’s just really inspiring. I think it was a great opportunity, and I hope there is more like that.”

Similarly, Long also said that she enjoys hearing from professionals about their careers, passions and the advice they have to offer.

“When you’re older, it’s really nice to see an actual person who has experience in that field get to talk about all of their different experiences — what led them to get there and just the intimate details and advice that you wouldn’t get from a college guidance counselor or just a friend,” Long said. “It’s really nice to see somebody who’s not only been successful in their career but just enjoys it or is passionate enough to want to speak about it with other students.”