Diversifying the Palette

April 9, 2009

CharleyLang smallOne of those rare actors who got to skip over the whole “being a waiter thing,” Charley Lang was fresh out of undergraduate school when he landed a lead role in Hugh Leonard’s Broadway production of Da,  1978’s Tony Award-winner for Best Play. His career successfully launched, Lang went on to work steadily on the stage and screen for over twenty years. “The business was always really good to me,” says Lang. “But even when you’re making your living as an actor, there are inevitable gaps in between jobs. I’m not the kind of person who can just sit around and wait for the phone to ring.”

On his way home from an audition, Lang happened upon a continuation school in an abandoned storefront in West Hollywood where persecuted gay and lesbian students who had either dropped out or been kicked out of the LAUSD school system had gathered to complete their degrees. Their experience struck a chord with him, prompting him to volunteer his time. When the students decided to plan the first gay and lesbian prom in America , Lang bought a camera and captured their stories. His efforts resulted in the 1995 award-winning documentary, Live To Tell: The First Gay Prom in America, which is used as a teaching tool in classrooms today.

Over time, Lang found that his service work was more gratifying than praying for the next acting gig and began exploring the possibility of graduate school. He applied and was accepted into Antioch University . With its close proximity to Hollywood, eclectic course offerings, flexible class schedules, small class size, and academic credit for life and work experience, Antioch was a natural fit. “It’s an incredibly dynamic learning environment,” says Lang, adding that graduate school was an opportunity to diversify his interests. “I never thought of graduate school as this new direction that would replace acting. The business will remain there. I like the analogy of adding something to the palette.”

Branching out was not without its own trials, however. With financial burdens mounting, Lang struggled to pay bills while juggling course work and acting gigs.

Fortunately, Lang found assistance through the SAG Foundation’s John L. Dales Scholarship Fund. The national program, established in 1973 to honor John L. Dales, Screen Actors Guild’s Executive Secretary for 37 years, offers Standard and Transitional scholarships to qualifying Guild members and their children. From 1974 to 2008, 1045 scholarships totaling more than two million dollars have been awarded, assisting students toward their educational potential at accredited institutions of higher learning.

Lang applied, and was awarded $3,000 towards his studies. Says Lang, “I don’t know that graduate school would have been possible, certainly in that beginning quarter or two, had I not received a scholarship from the SAG Foundation.”

Today, Lang heads his own private practice as well as the B.A. Psychology Concentration at Antioch University . Additionally, Lang is Director of the Postmodern Therapy Training Program at the California Family Counseling Center , where he supervises a group of student trainees in their first year as intern therapists. Says Lang, “I’m lucky enough to be doing something different every day. Perhaps that’s the actor in me.”

The John L. Dales Scholarship application for 2010 will be available November 1, 2009. For more information, please click on the “Scholarships” tab towards the top of the www.sagfoundation.org page.