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Hollywood hopefuls of all ages can now prep for the spotlight with the help of actress-turned-acting coach Cheryl Felicia Rhoads. Leaving 21 years of Los Angeles’ bright lights behind, Rhoads found herself working around Falls Church about two years ago in order to be closer to family.
“It was hard to be away from my family and it was sort of like, this is a great ride, but I want to try something else. I want to be in a different place,” said Rhoads.
Rhoads’ late father’s family was originally from Virginia, which is perhaps where her fond memories of the Old Dominion state were born, visiting Williamsburg as a kid and once doing an impromptu vocal solo for a crowd of strangers in Washington, D.C. when she, like so many youngsters, found a quick escape route from the watchful eye of her parents. Even a four-year-old Rhoads knew she was destined to be a performer.
Looking up to the greats like Susan Hayward growing up, Rhoads remembers being a little girl and liking the idea of a woman with a big talent who’s struck by tragedy but only becomes better for it, like Hayward’s character in With a Song in My Heart.
“Her character used her experience to help others and I think that defines my life nowadays – to benefit others to make life bigger than just yourself,” said Rhoads.
And that’s just what Rhoads hopes to do in her acting classes, currently being offered at The Oakwood Apartments in Falls Church – pay back some of the help she’s received from her mentors to her own students.
With experience spanning all the way from acting to casting, and even script writing as the only woman writer on NBC’s Motown Revue with Smokey Robinson, Rhoads has shared the stage with Ben Affleck, the cast of Saved by the Bell and Rodney Carrington. Rhoads is best known for her lead role as Mother Goose on The Mother Goose Video Treasury. With so many show biz stories to tell, she often reaches for a stored tale to calm her nerve racked students.
A childhood memory of forgetting her lyrics onstage became the catalyst that spurred the idea for Beverly Sills Cop, a comedy skit Rhoads performed with Arsenio Hall where a coughing opera singer improvises with soul singing. Rhoads now always tells her students not to be afraid to make mistakes.
“I don’t want them to worry about being perfect because they never will be. One of my acting teachers once told me ‘Tonight, you’ll be 500 times better than you were five years ago and five years from tonight, you’ll be 500 times better than you are right now, so relax and just be where you are,’ I tell my students all the time,” said Rhoads.
Her students perform standard monologues until they eventually write and act out their own, thus Rhoads is always emphasizing that they should write the show they want to be in instead of waiting by the phone for casting directors to call.
Rhoads’ mother, who was a child of the Depression, would often encouragingly ask her what else she could do.
“Show business can be such a tough industry. So, when acting wasn’t happening for me, I became an agent, did casting or I was a producer,” said Rhoads.
She credits her array of hats worn with teaching her how to be sympathetic and empathetic to the other ends of the business. Because of this, she reminds her students that they are there to be of service to the directors, the producers, the writers and whoever else has a higher-up betting on the actor’s performance to be a good one.
While she’s well aware actors and actresses get a reputation for being narcissistic, she’s believes that’s partly because they’re focused too much on themselves and not what they’re delivering. “It’s got to be less about [them] and more about the story [they] are telling,” said Rhoads. She compared an actor to a mug merely holding the sought after latte inside – all while sipping her own cup of Joe, of course.
It’s relatable examples like these that allow Rhoads to be less of an intimidating veteran hailing from the Hollywood Hills, and more of a woman who immediately comes across as an old friend. Rhoads noted that her parents are responsible for her charming ability to tell stories through acting and educate through teaching. Her father sang her songs as a child while her mother, the fact-driven reporter, had a knack for always talking to people on their level without talking down to them.
“It was such a great combination for me growing up and now I get to do both,” Rhoads said about being able to do, or act, the whole time she’s been teaching, challenging the rule of “those who can’t do, teach.”
Rhoads said that since she has settled in Falls Church, she’s found quite a talent hub in the area, claiming that, unlike a metropolis, smaller towns are “where life is being lived.” She went so far as to call a current student of hers in Falls Church easily one of the best actresses she’s ever worked with.
Rhoads believes the entertainment industry itself, paired with such outlets as YouTube, has become a whole new platform, no longer limited to L.A. and New York City.
“It’s a changing animal, from silent movies to the talkies, and now with the advent of the Internet and film festivals, there are not the same gatekeepers as it was when I was a kid,” said Rhoads.
She hopes to open doors for her students, just as acting mentors opened them for her. After guest starring on The Tracy Ullman Show, Rhoads’ acting coach at the time, Daws Butler, was so impressed that he wanted to call casting directors on her behalf. Grateful for such rare kindness in an often-harsh business, Rhoads asked how she could ever repay him.
“He told me, ‘Help somebody else, that’s how you repay me,’ and I’ve taken that very much to heart. That’s where I’m at now,” said Rhoads.
For more on how Rhoads can help actors get their foot in the door, read about acting the classes she is offering for a whole spectrum of age groups at cherylrhoads.typepad.com.