A place to shine 

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Sheldon DeSouza Jr., Edgar Ward, Selina Affram, and Leroy "J.R." Johnson, perform a scene in the St. Philip's College production of A Place to Stand, by San Antonio playwright Vincent Hardy. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Actor and director Vincent Hardy finds the perfect niche at St. Phillip's College

"This is one of San Antonio's hidden treasures," said Vincent Hardy, sitting onstage in the Watson Theatre at St. Philip's College. He was referring to the gorgeous theater, with its state-of-the-art sound paneling and multi-level seating, as well as the St. Philip's College Academy of Fine Arts, which provides city high school students with instruction in music, painting, and theater arts, Hardy's own subject.

He easily could have been talking about himself. Hardy, the actor, director, and playwright who in 2004 wrote and directed Angel In Blood: The Nat Turner Rebellion for St. Philip's and starred in Angels In America at the San Pedro Playhouse, has made his mark in San Antonio without shouting his credentials from the rooftops. Why waste the effort when his charm and theatrical gifts naturally draw the spotlight toward him? His newest play, A Place To Stand, written for Black History Month, is currently in performance at St. Philip's.

Hardy's talent was almost lost to a career as a mass communications mogul. "I thought my acting career was over," he says of moving to San Antonio. Having lived and worked in New York City and Chicago, homes to Broadway and the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre Company respectively, his skepticism is not surprising: Central Texas seems a world away from those pace-setting dramatic communities. Hardy quickly found a job with Qwest Communications, but just as quickly left when a teaching position opened at King Middle School.

Hardy has split his theatrical career between performing and teaching, never content for long in either role, ever since he completed his Masters degree at Cornell University and moved to the Bronx. In his first teaching job at an inner-city elementary school Hardy found the plays written for youth constricting. "The material wasn't appropriate for urban kids," he says, "so I began to write plays I felt they could relate to."

His experience writing for his students follows Hardy wherever he goes, including San Antonio. After helping to establish a theatrical curriculum at King Middle School, Hardy turned a failed audition for a Charles Jefferies production of In The Mind Of Hedda Gabler into a job teaching theater on Saturdays for the St. Philip's College Academy for Fine Arts, which in turn led to a full-time position at the college. Hardy again exercised his writing muscle, aiming for material that would resonate not only with his students, but with the larger community as well.

   A place to stand

8pm Fri-Sat, Feb 18-19
$10 general;
$5 ACCD student, senior, SATCO member
Watson Fine Arts Theatre
St. Philip's College

1801 Martin Luther King

Anthropology was Hardy's primary academic interest until his first stage role, Smaug in a Northwestern University jazz-musical version of The Hobbit, turned him onto acting. Studying how groups of people develop their lives and relate to other cultures has always accompanied his acting, however, and found voice in his first play with St. Philip's, Angel In Blood. "With the story of Nat Turner I wanted to look at our responsibility, as a nation, to other cultures," says Hardy, "especially when violent reactions surface."

Connecting Turner's story with modern terrorism and insurgency in Iraq isn't difficult, and Hardy doesn't shy away from such an interpretation. He describes himself, with a grin, as "worse than a Democrat, worse than a liberal ... a revolutionary." He frowns at what he considers a growing conservative bent in the black community, and at pop culture's misrepresentation of African-American values.

A Place To Stand sets Hardy's belief system on a collision course with several other ideologies. The conflict ends with one clear question: Everyone wants something to believe in, but can we agree on what that thing is, or should be? The playwright offers no definite answer, but that doesn't stop him from asking, looking, and evaluating, like a good anthropologist should.

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