by Carole Verona
Kyle Paul Dandridge, now 35, caught the acting bug at a very early age. “As a kid, I would go into my parents’ bedroom and do all these crazy characters, including a cowboy with a twangy southern accent,” he said. “I never considered it acting. I was just being a goofy-ass kid!”
Dandridge has been acting steadily on local stages since 2005. Perhaps you’ve seen him in “Mud, River, Stone” at Stagecrafters; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Old Academy Players in East Falls; or “John Henry in My Face’ at Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy. If not, you’ll have a chance to see him perform in “Superior Donuts,” opening on September 13 at Stagecrafters.
Born in West Philadelphia, Dandridge moved to Mt. Airy with his family in 1985. He attended the Houston School for a brief period and then transferred to Chestnut Hill Academy (CHA), where he was a student from 1985 to 1997. The family eventually moved to Chestnut Hill when he was 16. His mother Valerie, who passed away in 1998, was a guidance counselor at Cheltenham High School. His father Albert is an attorney. His younger brother Steve also attended CHA.
While in high school, Dandridge was involved with track and cross-country and was also a member of the drama club. He made his acting debut at CHA as a first grader when he played a pilgrim on the Mayflower. In ninth grade, he got a decent speaking role in “Anything Goes.”
“My mentors were Lee Smith and Court van Rooten, both language and drama teachers at CHA and Springside School,” said Kyle. “They had a profound effect on me. The level of seriousness and gravity that they expected from you made you take it seriously. You wanted to do it right. You wanted to be focused, to stand in character. The experience shaped me to try to conduct myself as a professional.”
Dandridge majored in psychology at George Washington University but left college early to go to Los Angeles “to do the acting/writing thing.” When it didn’t work out, he returned to Washington, D.C. and starting working as an intern at Central Casting, a talent casting company, where he was eventually put in charge of technology. He came back to Philly in 2001.
Between 2002 and 2012 he worked at CHA in various capacities. He was an assistant track coach to Paul Hines, who was his coach, mentor and middle school history teacher. From 2006 to 2011, he was an assistant to Debbie Gress, who ran The Players, the school’s drama group. Dandridge also supervised the black student affinity group from 2007 to 2011, and he was a substitute teacher at various times between 2004 and 2011. This past year he coached at Penn Charter.
He got back into acting in 2005 when Carla Childs, who was directing a play at Old Academy Players, was looking for a black male actor. “That experience gave me the hunger and drive to get roles,” he said.
Dandridge combines his love of athletics and drama by trying to choose roles that involve a certain amount of physical activity. “I like to be in good shape. People who are not familiar with acting don’t realize how much it can drain you. It’s not easy being on stage: you’re sweating; the lights are in your face; your character can be moving around a lot.”
He sees a strong correlation between theater and sports, between being an actor and an athlete. “In both, you have to have focus and passion. You have to be able to handle a certain kind of pressure and heat: being on stage on opening night; feeling the energy of the crowd; making sure you’re ‘on’; getting your lines right; doing all of the things the audience is expecting when they see you perform. That’s the same as being on a free-throw line, getting ready to take a shot. All the training you put in is for this moment.”
Dandridge works hard at improving his craft. When it comes to reading, he relies on what he calls the three acting bibles: “Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making,” by Michael Caine; “Acting Is Everything: An Actor’s Guidebook for a Successful Career in Los Angeles,” by Judy Kerr; and “No Acting Please: A Revolutionary Approach to Acting and Living,” by Eric Morris.
“I don’t watch TV the way other people do,” he said. “I’m studying what the actors are doing. What is he doing with his eyes? How is he moving? I’m constantly looking and analyzing, trying to see what I would do in the same situation. It’s important to be aware of those things and to take the time to study other actors on stage or TV. Study the best; steal the best!”
There have been times where Dandridge has been asked to audition or do parts because he’s black and they needed a black man for the role. “But I was also picked to play Damis in Tartuffe at Stagecrafters, a drama written by Molière in 1664, because of my talent and what I could bring to the part,” he said. Dandridge believes that choosing actors for roles based on race has to change. “We’re becoming a more diverse world. You have to accept that, go with the flow and create a new experience, or you narrow yourself.”
Dandridge currently lives in Wyndmoor with his girlfriend, Laura Kenny, a math teacher at Springside CHA.