Robert Townsend inspires crowd of students to trust their ‘instincts’

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During "Commerce of Creativity," actor and film director Robert Townsend engages the audience by talking about his career path through anecdotes, Thursday, at the Campus Theatre. Townsend has received 30 NAACP Image Award nominations during his prolific career. Photo Credit: Lucas Esposito / Daily Sundial

Daché Jackson

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During “Commerce of Creativity,” actor and film director Robert Townsend engages the audience by talking about his career path through anecdotes, Thursday, at the Campus Theatre. Townsend has received 30 NAACP Image Award nominations during his prolific career. Photo Credit: Lucas Esposito / Daily Sundial

The Commerce of Creativity Distinguished Speakers Series coordinated an event that informed aspiring actors and directors of the struggles Robert Townsend faced when trying to become an actor.

The event, sponsored by Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication Dean’s Office was called, “Trusting Your Instincts.”

It was presented to a full crowd at the Campus Theatre in Nordhoff Hall on February 27th at 7 p.m.

Townsend grew up in a gang infested neighborhood in west Chicago and didn’t have enough money to go to a film school.

“I went to a ghetto film school,” he said.

Townsend taught himself to become a performer by imitating the actors he watched on tv.

He could act out characters from movies such as “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz” and he could even do characters in foreign films.

Television was Townsend’s way of avoiding gangs.

“My mom was so afraid that I was going to be recruited by one of those gangs that she told me to run home after school,” Townsend said.

I went directly from school to home and watched TV, he said.  Townsend said, “I watched so much TV they nicknamed me TV Guide,”

His friends and family would ask him what was on at a certain time and he could name six shows that were playing during that hour.

In addition to gaining acting and memorization skills, Townsend also became a good writer at home.

My mother and stepfather “fell out of love,” they would get into these heated arguments and my stepfather would yell so loudly our neighbors could hear him, he said.

“I would go in the bathroom [to block out the yelling] and that’s when Robert Townsend became a writer,” he said.

In the bathroom Townsend lived in a fantasy world as a way to escape the harsh reality of living in a gang infested neighborhood and having two parents that constantly fought.

Townsend took the audience back to that time and imitated the voice of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz when he said, “You’ve got to do something, he’s just like the tin man, he doesn’t have a heart either!”

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During “Commerce of Creativity,” actor and film director Robert Townsend talking about acting experiences on Thursday, at the Campus Theatre. Townsend has received 30 NAACP Image Award nominations during his prolific career. Photo Credit: Lucas Esposito / Daily Sundial

Townsend’s self taught acting, voice acting, writing and improv skills got him discovered in the fifth grade.

His fifth grade teacher, Mr. James Reed, wanted his class to read Shakespeare. Townsend wasn’t fond of reading, so he checked out some records of Shakespeare’s plays and listened to those instead.

He listened to “King Lear,” “Othello” and “Richard the Third.”

In class, Townsend would read the lines with such passion his teacher decided to mentor him by taking him to speech festivals and investing in his acting career.

Townsend went to his first audition at the Experimental Black Actors Guild, studied at Illinois State University for a year then went on an exchange program to study at the Negro Ensemble Company.

He dropped out of school after he found work doing commercials.

For a while Townsend had a hard time finding work and was inspired to become a director to create more opportunities for people of color and, “to create positive images of people of color.”

Townsend directed, produced, funded and starred in his first film, “Hollywood Shuffle.”

“Hollywood Shuffle,” launched Townsend’s career and allowed Townsend to be recognized as, “a visionary filmmaker who transformed the way independent films are created.”

The Commerce of Creativity Speaker Series was formed in 2011 by the Mike Curb College of Arts and Communication to join current students, alumni and the San Fernando Valley.

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The crowds fills up the room. During “Commerce of Creativity,” actor and film director Robert Townsend engages the audience by talking about his career path through anecdotes, Thursday, at the Campus Theatre. Townsend has received 30 NAACP Image Award nominations during his prolific career. Photo Credit: Lucas Esposito / Daily Sundial