Had it not been for a kidney stone attack on Eighth Avenue, Greg Procaccino would have pursued his acting career in New York. As it turns out, this stroke of fate proved positive. Following surgery, he came to Washington to convalesce with relatives -- and found the city a good place for an actor to train and get exposure.
"I'm working. I am in the minority of my profession that is working," he says. "I have a friend who went to New York about the same time I came here to Washington. She has done maybe three or four Equity shows in the past four years. I have done maybe 20 or 30 in the same four years."
Procaccino, 25, who will play Harvey Milk's friend in "Execution of Justice" at Arena Stage in May, has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Folger and local dinner theaters. Dinner theater, he says, is a good place to "try, fail, succeed and ply your craft," as well as to work with such stars as Eddie Bracken and Nanette Fabray. "I don't know if I would have had these opportunities in New York, because the line would have been longer to get the chance to work with these people. It was a plus to be a local actor."
Fred Strother, 35, a Washington native whose credits include the film "Moscow on the Hudson" and the recent HBO special "Finnegan Begin Again," with Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Preston, echoes Procaccino's thoughts. He stresses that Washington offers opportunities to act in a variety of settings -- industrial films, stage and television.
"In New York," he says, "it's usually just one thing -- either going straight for stage or just doing commercials. Using Washington as a base works for me. I get to do more, and I am constantly working. That's the point. I'm not out to be a superstar, I just like to work." In New York and Los Angeles, Strother adds, much of the work is filtered through agents or casting people. In Washington, theater producers and production companies call actors directly.
Because Procaccino and Strother are union actors (they belong to the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Actors Equity), they can work only in union theaters. Salaries are higher in union houses, but since there aren't that many in Washington they must rely on industrial films, a big market here, for their bread and butter. Aside from being lucrative and providing fairly steady work, industrials -- in-house, informational and how-to films -- offer training in film acting.
"To people outside the business, they might not sound like much," says Strother, "but we get a lot of chances for exposure on camera and to work on our craft as far as camera acting -- where the camera is and hitting the mark. It's just like a feature in the sense that there's the camera and there's the director." He adds that many of the technical people on industrials have also worked on features and can give actors valuable feedback.
Many Washington actors do not confine their work to the city limits. Rather, they work the "corridor," the string of East Coast cities following the Amtrak routes. Besides their extra work on features that have passed through the area, both Procaccino and Strother have worked in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Florida and Virginia. They visit New York often for auditions -- Strother was cast for "Moscow on the Hudson" through a New York agency, and Procaccino did an off-Broadway show last year. Work in other cities enables them to meet new directors, producers and agents.
"New York would have driven me crazy five years ago," says Procaccino. "The pressure has been less down here, and I have been able to move along at a gradual rate. This city is prettier, more spacious and it's cleaner. In every apartment I ever stayed in in New York, I never knew what time it was because it was always dark. Sunlight gets into Washington, D.C.
"Boy, it makes a difference in how you feel and how you live."