It confuses Dingani Beza when people ask him why, having achieved success as a Hollywood actor, he is still a part of the Mid-Missouri theater scene.
If people understood his love for his profession, they wouldn’t need to ask.
“I didn’t go into the arts for Hollywood, I got into the arts for love of the arts,” he said. “There’s nowhere else in the world I could have the roles Jefferson City allowed me to play. No matter how successful I am in Hollywood, I will never stop coming here for shows, because of my love for the arts and this local community.
Beza is currently visiting Jefferson City and stars as Ezra Baxter on Capital City Productions’ new show, “The Yearling, the Musical”. This is the story of Jody Baxter, the son of a backwoods farming family who lived in the Florida scrub shortly after the Civil War.
Beza grew up in Jefferson City. At Jefferson City High School, he was an outstanding basketball player who won a scholarship to play ball at Columbia College. But it wasn’t until Emory University’s graduate school in Atlanta, while studying public health and theology, that a revelation revealed his true calling.
“I was looking for money,” he says. “And I thought, ‘If you could do something on this earth and there was no one to stop you, what would you like to do? “
Despite the fact that the last theatrical production he participated in 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 being a different type of performance, was a way for him to regain that feeling.
His father, a Lincoln University professor, put him in touch with someone in the LU Arts program, who gave him books on the theater 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 took the opportunity to immerse himself in the scene, learning all he could.
Soon he appeared in local productions such as “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 became a professional actor, that changed the course of his life.
After a rehearsal of play, the two were seated in Durkin’s car. Beza remembers telling him, “I don’t know if you’ll make it 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 a lot of determination and nothing else. But Durkin introduced him to a friend of his, Dan Lauria, who had played the father in “The Wonder Years.”
“Dan has really helped me navigate a lot of things in Hollywood,” Beza said. “It gave me some comfort 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 really supported me.
Still, the odds are overwhelming of not becoming a professional actor. Beza said 30,000 people move to Hollywood each year with this goal. A year later, about thirty remain there. Of these, only one earns a living by gambling.
However, Beza persevered. He has appeared in various films including “Marshall’s Miracle”, “23 Minutes To Sunrise” and “Jack and Jill”. His TV credits include “The Cool Kids”, “The Carmichael Show”, “Harry’s Law” and “90210”.
Earning a living is always a struggle, Beza admitted. 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 film about the Black Wall Street Massacre, told 100 years after it happened. It is the story of when mobs of white residents, many of whom were deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921.
Dingani Beza plans to appear in the film, but he works primarily with established producers, including members of Spike Lee’s crew, to produce the film.
People often ask him for advice on becoming an actor, “but there is no manual,” he says. “There isn’t any 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 good people. And it was the career that kept giving him that pre-show adrenaline rush he had been dreaming of.