Being an actor during the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t easy. With Broadway shut down, filming halted for many new TV series and movies, and the utter lack of auditions because of the uncertainty ahead, many actors and actresses have struggled to find work. Akron Watson, a Dallas-native currently living in Los Angeles, talked with me (virtually) about his experiences being an actor during the pandemic and what he hopes will happen as the business begins to reopen.
Watson catapulted from success as a regional actor and singer in productions at Dallas Theater Center, WaterTower Theater, and Theater Three, to name a few. He then made his way to Broadway, where he was cast in the revival of The Color Purple and The Play That Goes Wrong. Most recently, he played Aaron Burr in the Chicago cast of the blockbuster show Hamilton, which he auditioned for 13 times prior to being cast.
When the Chicago show closed in January 2020, he planned to move back to New York to search for upcoming projects. However, one week after moving into his new apartment in mid-March, the pandemic hit and he ended up coming back home to Dallas.
Watson caught up with many of his old theater friends, each doing what they could to get score on-camera work while theaters remained closed. Inspired, the actor decided to take it one step further. Watson moved to Los Angeles just over one month later.
Though he says some of the most rewarding work he’s done has been on stage, on-camera work is the best option for many actors during this time. (Voiceover work, in particular, is having a moment.) It’s been challenging, but Watson, who has scored small roles on Empire and Friday Night Lights in the past, tries to keep his head lifted high.
“Something I’ve learned about myself during this pandemic is that it’s more important to me to know what I’m doing than to actually be doing it,” Watson says. “I feel more fulfilled when I’m hitting my own marks.”
I asked Watson a few questions about his experiences, in hopes that others could find some solace in hearing from other creative voices.
What are some things you learned in Dallas before you branched out as an actor?
Akron Watson: Check my ego — it’s not about me. The craft is never ending and you are never going to stop learning. The way people work in Dallas, I just feel like anyone from Dallas can make it anywhere. I don’t think Dallas people know how good they are.
Progress versus perfection. I wanted to work at all the theaters in Dallas so that it would be undeniable that I could work other places. I’d audition for something and not get it, but I felt like it would always lead to the next thing. My mentor was talking to me about progress versus perfection, and in everything you do it’s not about being perfect, you aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s about progress.
It’s about who you meet, who you sent your stuff to, how good were you in this audition, what do you need to work on, get your feedback, and keep going, keep going, keep going. When I got to New York, I was auditioning seven days a week for 6 months before I even got a callback.
What piece of advice would you give to people in the industry who just graduated from college, or any actors who are trying to keep their hopes up that more opportunities are coming?
AW: I can’t really speak from personal experience, I didn’t go to school for acting. But when it came to the actual gig, I didn’t want someone to tell me my “type” or that these were the kinds of shows that I should be going for. So that’s my advice to people – don’t ever tell yourself no. Let other people tell you no, but you don’t tell yourself no. When I’d show up to auditions and they’d be like “can you tap?” I’d say yes. Never tapped in my life. But I can! I can.
It’s always yes, yes, yes. It wasn’t about lying to get in the room, but it’s more about myself believing that I am capable of anything. I would go to auditions where there were no African-Americans being called, but my manager was always on the same page as me. I do not care what the notice says, I will show up because the answer is yes. That’s my advice, to just always say yes. Seek out all the notices, show up to all the auditions, and say yes to everything so that you can start the work and start to learn where the good work is.
Watson’s Acting Future
As to Watson’s goals for himself, he is allotting two years to explore and grow in Los Angeles. He’s also got some other lofty goals in mind, and in this part of his career he is aiming to win his own Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and once the theaters reopen, winning his own Tony. He’s already won a Tony, Grammy, and Daytime Emmy award as a cast member of The Color Purple on Broadway, but he hopes to win each of these awards on his own, for his own hard work.
In the meantime, Watson is creating, creating, creating. Whether it be writing music, taking classes, or other means, he is always trying to find inspiration for his art. To read more about Akron Watson and his work, you can find a link to his IMDB here.