Tamara Woods has been in the spotlight since she was three months old, when her mother sent her photograph for inclusion in Hollywood Spotlight Photo Magazine. In between then and now, she’s made stops in the United States Air Force, the retail and nonprofit worlds, and the Fox School of Business before pursuing acting full time.
Now Woods is preparing for two upcoming roles: As Sergeant Diane Torres in her first feature film, “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting for our Lives,” and as Frannie Lou Hamer in “Freedom Smitty,” a stage play about Kenneth Smith, a Philadelphian who helped desegregate Girard College.
Though she has performed all of her life — while dancing at family functions and acting in church plays — Woods, who comes from a military family, knew she wanted to serve her country. While stationed in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Woods started doing liturgical dance and singing in the military base’s church choir. She also helped organize a play for fellow military personnel.
“We had a packed house,” she said. “It was just beautiful because you have all walks of life, all colors coming together in the house of the Lord. It wasn’t just U.S. soldiers, and that ignited my passion again for performing.”
When she returned home, Woods juggled working in the nonprofit sector, serving in the Air Force Reserves, taking courses toward her Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Fox, and attending auditions and rehearsals. That hard work paid off. Today Woods’ dynamic background helps inform her career. In “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting for our Lives,” Woods plays a military veteran recovering from sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder.
She is also preparing for her role in “Freedom Smitty,” in which she will play a voting right activist and civil rights leader who was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer.
“In school for Black History Month, you always learned about Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but there are so many people in my culture who are heroes and who stood up in the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “I had never even heard of Frannie Lou Hamer until now.”
Woods sees her work as a way to give back. She hopes to continue touring with the anti-bullying play, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” in order to open a dialogue between school officials, law enforcement, and parents.
“I feel as though I’m inspiring, uplifting and empowering someone, hoping that it will make some kind of beautiful change in somebody’s life,” she said.
Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Tamara Woods:
3:30 a.m. Start my day with bible readings, prayer, and positivity that make room for productivity and prosperity.
6:00 a.m. Family business. (The work of a wife and mom never ceases.)
9:00 a.m. Create inspirational content and share industry information on social media.
10:00 a.m. Check and respond to emails. Search for auditions and apply. Make phone calls to follow-up on current and upcoming projects.
12:00 p.m. Eat lunch while promoting projects and events on social media.
2:30 p.m. Review a new monologue for auditions. Call to run lines with a fellow actress and schedule our next rehearsal through Skype. Call my agent to follow-up on auditions and put together my reel.
4:00 p.m. Prepare dinner while I wrap up a business call with a filmmaker.
4:50 – 5:30 p.m. Eat dinner with my family, and discuss our day and what’s coming up.
6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Rehearsal for “Freedom Smitty”
10:00 p.m. Prepare for the next day. I check email from my agent for any travel arrangements I’ll need to make.
11:00 p.m. Time for some sleep. (My routine starts all over again at 3:30 a.m. There’s a saying, “The early bird gets the worm!”)
Humanitarian, Entrepreneur, Dancer
No matter how Rebecca Davis phrased her question, the young boy from Rwanda did not know how to answer it. Over and over again, she asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. But the Rwandan boy was confused, eventually telling Davis that he didn’t even think he’d be alive as an adult, so how could he know?
That broke Davis’ heart – but not her spirit. And it’s become her life’s work to help children like him through her nonprofit organization, MindLeaps, which runs dance and educational programs for street children and out-of-school youth in post-conflict and developing countries like Rwanda.
“And now that kid is in boarding school and is in the top 20 percent of his class and has decided he wants to be an engineer,” Davis said. “It takes so little to help them totally change their mindset. To go from being a kid waiting to die to a kid waiting to be an engineer is kind of mind-boggling.”
Davis has experienced a lot of those awe-inspiring moments since she first decided to use her joint passions for dance and entrepreneurship to help children in need. As an undergraduate at the Fox School of Business, she developed the Rebecca Davis Dance Company, which created contemporary ballets based on historical events and social issues while also serving as a dance-theater training program for 12- to 18-year-olds. It won the Temple University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl in 2004, which helped Davis officially launch the company the following year in Philadelphia, where she stayed until in 2010.
At that point, shortly after putting on a ballet about the Darfur genocide and inspired by her first trip to Rwanda, she decided to change the company’s mission and develop youth dance programs abroad in three post-conflict and developing countries: Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Guinea.
“It’s been a progression from the idea and motivation in my own life that dance can be a vehicle to change people,” said Davis, whose company changed its name to MindLeaps in 2014. “With my dance company in Philadelphia, the idea was to change people’s perceptions about social issues. Now the iteration is to change the lives of kids who love dance in war-torn countries.”
Davis, of course, is well aware that her programs might only make a small dent in the deep problems that plague a country like Rwanda, which saw its population decimated during the 1994 genocide in which approximately 800,000 people were killed and many surviving children were left orphaned. But she firmly believes that the arts can be a “perfect medium” to discuss horrific issues that are often too difficult to face otherwise and that the joy of dance – something that many Africans love – can help lure homeless children off the streets and into classrooms. On top of its signature dance instruction, MindLeaps also offers English classes and computer training to build up children’s self-esteem so they can attain scholarships and attend boarding schools, which, in turn, can slowly help break the cycle of poverty that has haunted the country for more than 20 years.
“Kids wouldn’t come to the program if there wasn’t dance as an entry point,” Davis said. “At the same time, if it was just dance, it wouldn’t be enough to really help the kids move forward in life.”
Over the last few years, Davis has seen many heartwarming stories of kids succeeding as a result of her program. And the Fox alumna, who spends a quarter of her time overseas and much of the rest traveling across the U.S. for fundraising, meetings, and speaking engagements, is currently working on software that measures changes in the children’s learning skills through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, which she hopes to license. But she still called it an “emotional roller coaster,” knowing that when kids leave the center, they may return to the streets, where they spend their nights sleeping and their days begging for food.
In the future, she hopes to grow her company’s reach by partnering with a larger international organization so the program can be replicated in different countries. After accruing a Fox education and more than a decade of experience in the business world, she believes she can change the perception of those people who might be initially skeptical about her dance-focused model.
“People are always surprised to hear that’s what we’ve chosen,” Davis said. “And then they’re always impressed to see the results.”
Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Rebecca Davis:
Monday, Feb. 22, 2016:
6:30 a.m. Breakfast in Kigali, Rwanda, at the MindLeaps Center.
7 a.m. Answer emails regarding MindLeaps operations in the U.S.
8:30 a.m. Work with our team of five Rwandan dance teachers, and rehearse 90 street children for a presentation.
10:30 a.m. Watch the children as they present their dance performance to six of our U.S.-based board members and Rwandan special guests, and answer questions from the board members as to how they came to live on the streets and why they now come to MindLeaps.
1 p.m. Reveal a special surprise for our kids: UnderArmour clothing. Due to our partnership with American ballet dancer Misty Copeland, her brand sponsor UnderArmour has donated 225 pieces of clothing and shoes. In most cases, this is the first new piece of clothing the child has ever received.
3 p.m. Time to lead a staff meeting with the entire Rwandan team and our board members, at which we discuss how to better communicate between the NY office and the Kigali office.
6 p.m. Dinner meeting with the manager of our English program in Rwanda and our board members to discuss how to leverage basic English skills to help street children access more educational opportunities.
10 p.m. Back to my sleeping quarters at the MindLeaps Center, where I try to keep my eyes open to answer more U.S. emails.
Midnight Time for sleep before another busy day.
For Adam Ray, there’s nothing unsettling about the unknown.
“If anything,” said Ray, “it’s an opportunity to see what you’re made of.”
With minimal formal training, Ray moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. The Fox School of Business alumnus, who appeared in two seasons of the HBO medical comedy series “Getting On,” is looking to continue his path in the Entertainment Capital of the World as an actor and producer.
Ray earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a focus in Marketing, in 2012. Along the way, the Phoenixville, Pa., native said he “took two theater electives,” stoking a deep-seeded interest. A few months after graduation, Ray put on hold his career plans and moved to Los Angeles.
“I at least had to see and experience the entertainment industry for myself,” he said. “I didn’t come to L.A. with the intention of staying here, but I knew that if I took a 9-to-5 job right after graduating, I’d never pursue acting.”
To expand his acting depth, Ray has studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles. Inspired on set by the show’s lead actor Laurie Metcalf, Ray started studying comedy at Lesly Kahn & Company in Hollywood. He also produced and co-produced two short films in 2015. Fellow Temple alumnus Alexander C. Fraser wrote and directed Ray’s first short, “Cabo,” which led to Ray meeting Al Pacino and Broadway director Robert Allan Ackerman.
Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Adam Ray:
Tuesday, Jan. 19
9 a.m. Start the day with a conversation with my agent to discuss an upcoming audition and the recent headshots that I’ve had taken.
9:30 a.m. Reviewing the trailer of a recent film in which I appeared. (I’m looking over it and getting ready to put some posts out to social media.)
10:15 a.m. Receive another call from my manager, who provides updates on a pitch she made to a director, Gabriel Hart, who became familiar with my work through an Instagram video.
10:45 a.m. Running through a scene for my audition, with former “Getting On” castmate, Verton Banks. We like to work together on material. I have a blast working with Verton, and can feel assured that I’m putting in the right work.
12 p.m. Meet in Burbank with a casting director whom I’ve gotten to know a bit from being called in for various auditions. It’s a casual chat, and we talk about our perspectives of the industry.
1 p.m. Stop by my place to have a bite to eat and to get ready for a pitch meeting for a script I recently optioned from a writer whose work I enjoy.
2 p.m. At the pitch meeting, which goes on for a while. We talk about what they thought of the script. They loved it and are considering a few actors that I’ve suggested. This looks promising.
4 p.m. Attend a seminar for producing new media content. I like to keep up-to-date with current news and ideas for producing material. As online content becomes more mainstream, it’s important to be aware of the changes.
6:30 p.m. Meet with a friend for dinner at Bosanova in Hollywood. It’s time to unwind a little bit and just talk about our day’s work and what’s coming up.
8 p.m. Head home to unwind, but I can’t help but jot down some ideas. I’ve developed a new hobby: Writing. Lately, I’ve been writing a few comedy sketches and shorts.
9:30 p.m. Watching the season finale of “Master of None.” Brilliant show!
11:00 p.m. Time to head to bed.
Actor, Producer, Comedian
Nic Novicki took a circuitous path to Hollywood.
The New Haven, Conn., native was booking standup comedy shows within a week of his 2001 arrival to Temple University. While pursuing degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship at the Fox School of Business, Novicki also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Eventually, his interests in consulting and viral marketing steered him toward a career in entertainment. Within two weeks of earning his Fox undergraduate degrees, he had appeared on HBO’s hit drama, The Sopranos. He’s also appeared in Boardwalk Empire and Private Practice.
An actor, producer, comedian, and filmmaker, Novicki, a little person who’s worked on more than 100 TV and film projects, launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2014. He markets it as “a 48-hour film race,” with all entries featuring at least one disabled actor, director, writer, or producer. Submissions tripled in the competition’s second year, with entrants vying for mentorships with famous filmmakers and production equipment.
“When you have a disability and you’re trying to be a filmmaker or an actor, it’s not so much about getting the job. It’s about getting an opportunity,” said Novicki. “One in four Americans has a form of disability, but less than 1 percent of TV and film characters are portrayed by disabled people, which means few even get auditions. The Challenge allows people with a disability to hold the fate of their careers in their own hands.”
Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Nic Novicki:
Nic Novicki is flanked by writer/director Kevin Jordan (left) and writer/ producer Steven Martini (right), in Novicki’s office at Cross Roads of the World. The trio is collaborating on the development of a movie.
Thursday, Aug. 13
8:30 a.m. Head to my office at Crossroads of the World, in Hollywood.
9 a.m. Conduct a developmental meeting with my writing and producing partners Kevin Jordan, a veteran film director who worked with legendary producer Martin Scorsese on 2005’s Brooklyn Lobster, and Steven Martini, a TV and film writer whose work has made it to the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. The three of us are developing a movie that we hope will shoot in Sri Lanka in 2016.
11 a.m. Apply our edits to the story, with Kevin and Steven, before presenting the finished product to our financier. We also present our business and marketing plans, and some of the visuals behind our project.
12 p.m. Made a call to my lawyer to go over an agreement to shop a television show that had only recently been presented to me. Together, we address a handful of points we’d want to make before my partners on the deal were ready to sign off.
1 p.m. Quick lunch.
1:30 p.m. Begin coordinating with sign-language interpreters that I’d need to have in place for the opening night of the HollyShorts Film Festival, to take place later that night at the famous TCL Chinese Theater. Dickie Hearts, the winner of the “Best Filmmaker” award in my Disability Film Challenge, is hearing impaired. The winners of the “Best Film” and “Best Actor” awards in the Disability Challenge were also shown.
2:30 p.m. Head to the offices of the Producers Guild of America, for my final mentoring session with the Producers Guild Diversity Workshop. I served among many program mentors.
4 p.m. Return to the HollyShorts Film Festival for opening night.
8 p.m. Attend a HollyShorts opening-night after party at Hollywood’s Ohm Nightclub.
10 p.m. Make my way to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, which routinely hosts the industry’s best comedic acts, for a special occasion. On this night, the UCB Theater put on a show to celebrate its 10-year anniversary in Los Angeles. While there, I hung out with comedians Brian Swinehart and Terence Leclere before going on stage for my set.