It baffles Dingani Beza when people ask him why, after finding success as a Hollywood actor, he’s still part of the Mid-Missouri theater scene.
If people understood his love for his craft, they wouldn’t need to ask.
“I didn’t get into the arts for Hollywood, I got into it for the love of the arts,” he said. “There is no place else in the world would I be afforded the roles Jefferson City has allowed me to play. No matter how successful I become in Hollywood, I will never stop coming here for shows, because of my love for the arts and this local community.”
Beza is visiting Jefferson City now and is portraying Ezra Baxter in Capital City Productions’ new show, “The Yearling, the Musical.” It’s the story of Jody Baxter, the son of a backwoods farming family eking out a living in the Florida scrub shortly after the Civil War.
Beza grew up in Jefferson City. At Jefferson City High School, he was a standout basketball player who earned a full-ride scholarship playing ball at Columbia College. But it wasn’t until graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta, while studying public health and theology, that an epiphany revealed his true calling.
“I was chasing money,” he said. “And I thought, ‘If you could do anything on this earth and there was no one to stop you, what would you want to do?”
Despite the fact the last theatrical production he was a part of was a Christmas play at Belair Elementary School, he knew he wanted to act. As a basketball player, he thrived on that adrenaline rush before a big game. Acting, while a different type of performance, was a way for him to recapture that feeling.
His father, a Lincoln University professor, connected him with someone in the LU arts program, who gave him books on acting and told him to call Rob Crouse, who founded Capital City Players (now Capital City Productions) in 1991. Crouse welcomed him into the theater scene. Beza used the opportunity to immerse himself in the scene, learning everything he could.
Soon he was performing in local productions including “Take Me Out,” “Lillies of the Field,” “Superior Donuts,” “A Few Good Men” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
But it was his friendship with Tom Durkin, a local actor who went on to become a professional actor, that changed the course of his life.
After a play rehearsal, the two were sitting in Durkin’s car. Beza remembers him saying: “I don’t know if you’d be successful going to Hollywood, but you have the talent. It’s just in the stars if you can make it.”
In 2010, Beza moved to Hollywood with lots of determination and little else. But Durkin introduced him to one of his friends, Dan Lauria, who had played the father on “The Wonder Years.”
“Dan really helped me navigate a lot of things in Hollywood,” Beza said. “That kind of gave me a little solace with his help. He became a mentor and a good friend. He actually came to JC for a week to watch one of my shows, so he was really supportive.”
Still, the odds are overwhelmingly against becoming a professional actor. Beza said 30,000 people move to Hollywood each year with that goal. A year later, about 30 remain there. Of those, just one is making a living from acting.
However, Beza persevered. He’s been in various movies, including “Marshall’s Miracle,” “23 Minutes To Sunrise” and “Jack and Jill.” His television credits include “The Cool Kids,” “The Carmichael Show,” “Harry’s Law” and “90210.”
Making a living acting is still a struggle, Beza acknowledged. But a project set for this year could change the trajectory of his career.
His twin brother, Zondwayo Beza, wrote “Black,” a script for a planned movie about the Black Wall Street massacre, told 100 years after it occurred. It’s the story of when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921.
Dingani Beza plans to appear in the movie, but he’s mostly working with some established producers, including some members of Spike Lee’s team, to produce the film.
People often ask him for advice on becoming an actor, “but there’s no manual,” he said. “There’s no book you could read that would tell you how to navigate the arts. Just figure out what works best for you. It’s a very intimidating world. Very intimidating.”
But for Beza, it’s the right world. And it’s the career that hasn’t stopped giving him that pre-show adrenaline rush he craves.