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Remembering His Past, Alcaraz Looks To Present, Future

Published: July 15, 2013

Roberto Alcaraz didn’t want to be a welder like his father. His father didn’t want that for him either.

“My dad didn’t want us to be welders like him. He didn’t want us to work like he worked,” said Alcaraz, an actor who is teaching in CSULB’s Department of Theatre Arts through the next academic year while also pursuing his Master of Fine Arts degree at the university. “I’m not sure he knew what that meant, but he came to this country for that opportunity, so his children would have an avenue to do something different.

“My mother and father always supported us,” he added. “That is one of the most amazing things; they knew there was potential and opportunity here. They didn’t know exactly what it looked like, but they were very encouraging in saying, ‘Go try it.’”

His first real foray into the world of entertainment came about with a nudge from a teacher at Bell Gardens High School who invited a group of students to attend a play with him, something none of them had ever witnessed.

“If he hadn’t said that, I don’t know when I would have had my first experience seeing a play,” said Alcaraz. “It was a tiny hole-in-the wall theater in Hollywood and it gave me the bug.”

Attending that play, said Alcaraz, was a personal “ah-ha” moment for him, the thing that put him on the path to pursue his dream of being an actor.

“I think the ‘ah-ha’ moment is different for everybody,” he said. “As a teacher, if you are moved at the elementary school level, then you probably enjoy being an elementary school teacher. I’ve been in the classroom for every grade, from pre-school through the university in some teaching capacity. The university setting is really a great fit for me. The department here is a wonderful department to work in and the student body is also great.”

He also realizes college is a critical time for students, many of whom are on the verge of making life-altering choices. Alcaraz feels it’s his job to get them headed down the right path.

“There’s a real enthusiasm in watching students get it,” said Alcaraz, who has a bachelor’s degree in music from Loyola Marymount University and a master’s degree in classical vocal from Cal State Northridge. “They are making decisions for their lives and, if something can happen that makes them turn left instead of right, that’s great, especially when it comes to choices that are really going to fulfill them. It’s exciting when a student is ready to go, but it’s great when they themselves feel ‘I’m ready’ and it’s great to be a part of that.”

Alcaraz started out as a trumpet player and then took up singing in his 20s, by which time he was stage-struck.

“There was something about being on stage that interested me,” he said. “I was thinking how amazing it was that there were people in the world who did this for a living. I never really thought that I could do it, that I would be performing as an actor. It wasn’t until I met mentors in the theater that I was encouraged to do so.”

His first acting gig was with the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, a small community theater that continues to thrive today.

“The theater is aimed at doing productions in English and in Spanish and we did both,” he said. “They would run one week in English and one week in Spanish and did plays primarily by Latino playwrights. That’s where I got my start and for me it was a great learning experience.”

Alcaraz’s acting experiences have been varied and rewarding, with performances before audiences in small, 100-seat theaters to being on stage at such prominent venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In his stage work he has portrayed Latino heroes and historical figures including Pancho Villa, Diego Rivera and Cesar Chavez. In addition, Alcaraz has done television, film as well as voiceover work for radio and TV. Most recently, he has appeared on the TV dramas “Longmire” on the A&E channel, “In Justice” on ABC and “CSI Miami” on CBS.

His talents also landed him a job serving as the on-air host of a travel and culture show which took him around the world, Latin America mainly, talking about the coming together of traditions and how those have created the Latino community in the United States. It was a 13-part series during which time he visited Cuba, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico.

Roberto Alcaraz
Theatre Arts’ Roberto Alcaraz interacts with members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach during an on-campus event in the spring.

And, while Alcaraz gives 100 percent in his pursuit of becoming a teacher, he also said he is first and foremost an actor, so much so that he goes on five to six auditions a month, having gone on hundreds of auditions throughout his 20-year career.

So how does he handle rejection, which is just an inherent part of the business?

“You have to have thick skin. You have to understand that there is a difference between business and the arts,” he said. “As an artist you have to be as well prepared as possible, you have to know your craft, you have to know what the director or writer wants. But, as far as the business goes, they’re looking for a particular look, they’re looking to sell a product and so I think it’s important to recognize where you fit in. It’s not always about you.

“Early on I took it personally,” he continued. “I thought it was about me. Later on I was able to negotiate what might be about looks, what might be about casting, who goes better with who, and what might be about me, about my technique or style and how I can improve.”

Sometimes, however, he does get that call of acceptance.

“That’s a great feeling,” he said. “Sometimes people say I’m not going to get too low if I don’t get it or too high if they do get it, but you do get excited. It can be an affirmation of your work or of that particular audition at the very least.”

So, while Alcaraz begins the second half of his two-year MFA program at CSULB with his seven-person cohort, he plans to keep acting whenever the opportunity presents itself.

“This cohort I am with is wonderful. We’re all older, so we have that in common. We’re all in the same boat, so there is a lot of support there,” he said. “It’s a wonderful program and it’s aimed at mid-career professionals. The seven of us who are in the cohort have had their established career and we’re coming here to add this as another color to our palette with the idea of teaching.

“I hope to continue acting; that’s what I do,” he continued. “I think what’s wonderful about teaching, especially at the university level, is that part of professional development is that we need to work on our craft, so you would be expected to keep performing at a high level, whether it’s during the summer breaks or other arrangements. That way we can continue to grow as actors and bring that to our students.”

Alcaraz also acknowledges that the support he received early on in his career and continues to this day has never nor will ever be taken for granted by him.

“I’m very aware that I’m not here by myself, as a student or a teacher,” he said. “I’m very aware of the sacrifices of my family and that I stand on the shoulders of ancestors and people who put me here.”