One highlight of Philadelphia's recent Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre came when the F. Otto Haas Award for emerging artists went to Akeem Davis, a 28-year-old actor from Miami who has been working so continuously that the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns wonders how he found time to actually accept the $15,000 prize.
David Patrick Stearns: Not to be confused with the professional football player of the same name, Akeem Davis became rooted in Philadelphia almost by mistake. The promising Florida State University graduate landed a 2011 acting gig at the National Constitution Center, tried to find an apartment with a six-month lease, but ended up having to sign up for a year. The first few weeks were not cute.
Akeem Davis: I came to this city knowing no one. My first night here I was in my room at 40th on Market above a store and I dried off with the undershirt I had worn that day. I had nothing. I slept on the floor for a week until one of my fraternity brothers gave me their futon mattress. I knew no one and that was tough, but I was so happy to be acting that I kind of sailed on that.
DPS: Good roles continuously opened up to him, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller to In the Blood at Theater Horizon. Ultimately, he's come to a place - artistically - where he doesn't want to be caught performing, at least in the artificial sense of that word.
AD: I want to show onstage the things that resonate in the pit of other people's stomachs, the things that scare people because of how honest it is, the things that remind people of how they truly feel. I mean, we spend a lot of time lying to ourselves and to other people in life, and if I can sort of remove that from my acting.
DPS: Such ideas would be theoretical without the opportunities available to those not in the Actors Equity union, which can be a requirement for landing good work in other cities.
AD: There are streams of work here for Equity and non-Equity actors, that I just don't think they exist anywhere else in the country. Only in Philadelphia.
DPS: And that's simply because if they want you, they want you, Equity or not. With the Haas Award, Davis is fathoming possibilities.
AD: The big things that I hope and dream for myself are very much so possible. I want to be the most significant actor of my generation. I want to be somebody who is known for great work and an even greater work ethic. I just want to be involved in the significant projects of my time. And all of that is possible.
DPS: All of which might sound jarring in a culture where public figures maintain a modest veneer. But how can anybody achieve a goal without first envisioning it?