The Binghamton Film Initiative (BFI) held a talk Saturday in the Fine Arts building featuring actor, writer and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Santiago-Hudson, best known for his play “Lackawanna Blues” (now an award winning HBO movie) and his Tony winning performance in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” graduated from Binghamton University in 1978.
Throughout the talk, Santiago-Hudson reflected upon his undergraduate experience at BU and offered advice to aspiring theater and cinema majors. Speaking from experience, Santiago-Hudson looked back on his 40-year career and isolated the key elements that he said led to his success.
The talk was held like a forum, with BFI members Jared Biunno, a junior majoring in cinema, and Tyler Downey, a senior double-majoring in English and theater, as mediators. The first question involved what Santiago-Hudson’s undergraduate experience was like as a theater student at BU.
“I wasn’t just a theater student. I was different than everybody else. Black. Except for one other actor, and he was the black actor,” Santiago-Hudson said.
As a black theater major, Santiago-Hudson was at a unique disadvantage to his white peers. There weren’t many leading roles for him to fill. He never used race as an excuse for failure, however, maintaining that if he had to work harder than the next person to get a job, then he would just work harder. He was ready to leave BU to transfer into Howard State University when a faculty member convinced him to stay and study under him. At one point during his time at BU, he was kicked out for low grades. He didn’t let this become the end of him, however, as it motivated him to return and to start taking his work seriously.
“I didn’t take acting seriously until 1976”, Santiago-Hudson admitted, “For a while the most important thing in college is growing, but then you need to get serious.”
Another key point of the talk was character building.
“You can use [challenges] as a burden, or as a ladder. Your reputation is what others will think of you. Character is what you think of yourself,” Santiago-Hudson said. “Rejection and fear are the biggest motivators if you have any self worth.”
The central message of the talk was that nothing is going to just come to you. You can sit and wait around for opportunities, but even if they came, would you be ready? There is no substitute for hard work and confidence. If you are confident in your abilities in your craft, then there is no reason for you to not take initiative in your life and go for it.
“Instead of waiting for opportunities to knock on the door, I knocked on the door of opportunity” Santiago-Hudson said. “Don’t wait to be picked for the rest of your life. Pick!”
On making the decision between getting a job or going to graduate school after college, a student asked which path Santiago-Hudson felt was the smartest choice.
“Everybody’s journey is going to be unique, you have to do what is going to be best for you. For me, you can’t get enough education,” Santiago-Hudson said. “When you get a masters degree, you’re able to do a lot more than just acting. Now you can teach!”