TFMA Visiting Professor Shares Advice and Experiences with Students
by Toree Weaver
Throughout the semester Kenny Leon has visited Temple University numerous times to sit down with students to engage in open dialogue. During the talks, he shared personal experiences, his path to success, and advice with aspiring artists in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts. He also attended acting and design classes, providing feedback and instructions to students.
Leon is a Tony Award winning Broadway and film director and co-founder/artistic director of True Colors Theatre based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has directed numerous Broadway and film pieces that include the 2004 film and 2014 Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. He was also the director for NBC’s The Wiz Live and Hairspray Live.
While sharing his experiences in directing, he shares that his career path was completely different when he was in college. The Clark Atlanta University alum was a political science major and theatre minor on an acting track. After trying his hand with directing, he fell in love and knew immediately it was what he wanted to do. Though Leon didn’t pursue a career in political science, he expressed how he still incorporates it into his work.
Within the talks, Leon opened up about how he has learned to navigate through the industry.
He describes his experience by saying “you either have to be a snake or a snake charmer, and I’m not a snake.” He expressed that an important part of working with others is observing and moving accordingly. Approaching people with respect is also tip Leon shared. “Set the wrong tone, logic doesn’t have a chance,” he said.
Leon also discussed the importance of inclusion in not only the realm of theatre, but in life as well. He expressed that “sitting together and realizing we are all similar” is a necessary step for us to move forward. He later goes on to explain that there is always something to learn from people’s experiences. “When America learns, things will begin to change” he said.
Furthering the conversation, Leon said that when it comes to inclusion of acknowledgement and awards, we must change who makes the rules. He shared that he believes the awards should be an accurate reflection of the population. He expressed that if the African American population makes up fourteen percent of the American population, fourteen percent of the awards should go to African Americans. Getting the right people in the room and diversifying those in charge is the first step. “Acknowledging racism is not the goal, it’s doing something about it,” he said.
During the conversation, Leon shared some philosophies on life he has learned during his time in the industry. He explained the importance of “taking you wherever you go.” He expands on the thought and shared that being your honest self is the best thing you can do. “The more I search and discover about myself, the more of a blessing I can be,” he shared. While working, he is determined to live life on his own terms.
He explained that you must know what you will and will not do and that compromising yourself is never the option. Leon also shared the importance of acceptance. He shared that accepting all that you are and “playing with the cards you’re dealt,” is an significant piece of living. Leon also touched on accepting others. “Humans [mess] up all the time,” he shared while discussing how essential it is to not harbor negative feelings.
Wrapping up his conversation he shared with the aspiring artists that the “only thing you have on this earth is your time and your talents.” He explained that by keeping those two things sacred, everything else will fall into place.