Celebrities in the college classroom

Malik Yoba encourages his students to take risks and push themselves out of their comfort zones.

In a room at Long Island University in Brooklyn, about 20 students listen as actor Malik Yoba explains the one rule of improv: never say no.

This is one of four classes Yoba is teaching as part of an intensive course at LIU called “The Working Actor.” About 13 of the people enrolled are either students or faculty at the school. The other seven are people from in and around the community who heard about the course and decided to sign up.

Yoba begins the class by explaining that he is the director and if you don’t want to follow his directions, you can leave.  He starts us off with an introduction exercise requiring each of us to perform an action and a sound and then state our name.  Heart pounding, I nervously wait for my turn and in a moment of panic and embarrassment, I “raise the roof” and say, “Woot, woot! Cassie…from Cleveland!” Then the entire class repeats it.

Later, Yoba fields questions from the group and presses them about what they are hoping to gain from the course about the world of acting.

“I haven’t been able to cry since 2008,” one student told the class.

Yoba, who is currently starring on the new series “ALPHAS” on the SyFy channel, offers up many of his own experiences from re-working scenes written by Tyler Perry to his personal friendship with Janet Jackson. The students are in awe of him and eager to impress. It is Yoba who is impressed, though, after two students improvise a powerful scene in which they must establish their relationship with each other during the first 10 seconds.

“I live for watching people discover things about themselves and grow,” Yoba said when I asked what inspired him to teach the course. “I love that I can share information that can unlock human potential.”

“The Working Actor” is one of several recent courses at a university headed by a celebrity. James Franco and director Spike Lee each have their own class at NYU this fall. For Malik Yoba, the draw is from helping others achieve in a craft he has been practicing his entire career.

“I love to see people shine,” he said.


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