By Gabriela Gutierrez
Native Angeleno Judith Moreland shared her story with East Los Angeles College and talked about what has made her acting and teaching careers possible.
Interviewed by ELAC’s art instructors, and Moreland’s previous college pupils, Rodney Scott and Vanessa Pellegrini made “A Conversation With Judith Moreland” possible.
Being a black woman, Moreland identifies as a minority and can resonate with many ELAC students who are seeking a similar career path.
Moreland said she initially began her college education pursuing a career as a doctor because her father is a doctor.
She wanted to continue in his footsteps and went on to receive her BA in Biology from Stanford University, but said that acting has always been her true passion.
She studied at the American Conservatory Theater and received her MFA.
Moreland said she has never given up, thus her biggest piece of advice is “don’t give up.”
She said she has always loved acting and was often in school plays when she was younger.
Moreland said having the conversation with her parents about wanting to become an actor instead of being a doctor was a tough one, but they understood when she told them that she was going to continue her education.
Moreland said she recognizes her challenges as a black woman who is over 30 years old in the film industry, but regardless she always tries to find a way around those challenges.
She said she is most proud of sticking with her career despite all the odds that stood against her.
However, Moreland acknowledged the current times and said,
“We are being seen. It is a great time to be an actor of color because as you can see, the majority culture is interested in our stories and they see that our stories translate.
“For so long they thought white people would not want to relate to our stories or hear our stories and it turns out that is not true. A good story is a good story and people are interested in all cultures.”
At one point, Moreland reversed the roles and asked Scott what it was like for him, as a Black man, to walk into class and see a Black woman as his professor.
Scott said, “I was the only Black male, so I was excited to see someone Black.”
Scott said he remembered taking the bus to school and would get to class tired, but having Moreland tell him he cannot fall asleep in her class meant a lot because it showed him that she cared about him as a student.
Scott said one of the most significant things he learned as an actor under Moreland’s wing was how to use his voice as his instrument.
Moreland said it was a life-changing experience for her as well because being a Valley girl, she had no idea she had a dialect and that she could use it to improve her acting skills.
Scott pointed out that Moreland taught her class using a book called “Shakespeare Without Fear” by Joseph Olivieri which was vital to his learning experience.
Moreland said the reason she used Shakespeare as a teaching tool was because “He was that good.” She said Shakespeare’s “genius was that he put it all on the page.”
Scott attributed much of his teachings to Moreland and said she is his mentor. Moreland said her mentors were two Black women who were her professors during her undergrad years.
One of her mentors was Sandra Richards who taught her when she was at Stanford University. “All I can say is she saw me,” Moreland said.
Her other mentor was Ana Deavere Smith who, in addition to being a professor at Stanford University, was an ACT alum.
Smith gave her one of her first teaching jobs right after she graduated from ACT. Moreland said she felt seen by Smith, too.
Pellegrini also took a moment to thank Moreland for being her mentor and teaching her everything she has taught her.
Pellegrini said that a significant moment for her was when most of her classmates were able to get jobs in their fields, but she did not have the same luck.
Regardless, Moreland told Pellegrini to look at her options and take a different approach.
Pellegrini said that if it had not been for Moreland’s advice and care, she would not be where she is today.
As her last piece of advice Moreland said, “Everybody does not have to like you but find the person who gets you, and that’s where you go. Listen to them. If they get you and if they see you, then that’s all the affirmation you need.”
Moreland currently has three different plays she is working on.
She recently directed a Zoom play called “Smart People,” which was created in May 2014 by playwright Lydia Diamond.
She is also in pre-production on “An Octoroon,” a live play written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
The play is expected to be shown at the Fountain Theater on an outdoor stage this upcoming Juneteenth.
Lastly, Moreland recently helped produce a two-person Zoom play called, “This Bitter Earth” written by Harrison David Rivers.