When I first met Bechir, I was auditioning for Ouise in Six Degrees of Separation at The Gorilla Theatre. my first impression was, "There's a handsome man who has a pleasant demeanor and a positive spin on everything. Granted he's here for an audition, so he obviously is putting on his public mask." In the four months I have known and worked with him, I have yet to see anything but what I just described. So I decided to ask a few of the people hes has worked with while here in the community and it is surprising how similar the responses are.
Nancy Cole and Bridget Bean were the first to meet him with me on that day he flew in from LA, on his way to Miami, for a four-hour visit to audition for Six Degrees of Separation. Nancy said, "Bechir Sylvain seemed to descend on our production of Six Degrees of Separation like a heaven-sent gift. He looks like a movie star, his manners are impeccable, he knows how to take risks as an actor and to carry others with him. I know we will be saying, 'We knew him when...' Thank goodness for young theatre professionals who know and love their craft as he does." And Bridget had to add, "I first met Bechir at The Gorilla Theatre
I thought, 'oo he's tall and handsome, I hope he can act!' And he can!"
I then went to fellow Six Degrees cast member, Curtis Belz, who had this to say. "Instant connection. Instant trust. We recently created a short film together while on a road trip to Miami. The scene I shared with him was magic. I plan on working with Bechir a lot more in the near future." Turns out, the two are already planning their next movie. They are playing a screening of their first short film venture together, Hero, this weekend at Gorilla for those involved with the project. By the way, that was about a four-week venture from shooting to screening. Industrious men, both of them.
Actually, Bechir is no stranger to film. He's a member of SAG and has his own theater/film production company in Miami called Ground Up and Rising. He says, "My company is three years old. Two of my friends, we sat one day and said we want to do a show. We were tired of waiting for the right part to audition for and have to battle it out. We decided that we should do a show, and we did, and the rest is history." You can read the "rest" at www.Groundupandrising.org.
My favorite bit of information from Curtis, however, was this. "The brother can dance," a fact I found out first-hand when I had the opportunity to hang out with the cats in King Hedley II at Cafe Alma in Downtown St. Pete. We had just come from a night of Buster Cooper's Jazz at the Garden and then proceeded to take over the dance floor till closing time at Cafe Alma. The boy did not stop. As a dancer he is equal parts technically savvy and generous with others on the floor, and creative as a mofo.
So, we're 4 for 4 in favor of Bechir being an all-around good apple. As far as the St. Pete opinion of Bechir? I asked Todd Olson at American Stage. He had this to say about his first impression. "Bechir came to us to audition after Drew DeCaro (who worked with him in Six Degrees of Separation at Gorilla) suggested that he would be great for the role of Mister in King Hedley II. We had some trouble finding the right actor for the role, and we were excited about how perfect Bechir was for the part." Hmmm, very similar to Nancy's "heaven-sent" remark, eh? No coincidence. I've shared the stage with him and had the pleasure of watching him perform. He's electric, giving, fresh, and has a presence you cannot take your eyes off of.
All of this has, I'm sure, led to his success with his company and with his gaining a healthy amount of film work. His company has now branched across the country and started to perform in Miami and LA. Although he admits that theater in LA is hard to do. "It's not easy in LA for theater. The (theater) community is really bad. There are very few good theaters out there that are doing really good work for the sake of theater. A lot of theaters are just doing work as a showcase so they could be in movies and TV."
I asked for his opinion of what is needed for Tampa Bay's community to take the next step. He had this to say: "I was watching the movie Moliere and was thinking about Shakespeare, and I just feel we all are missing that sense of just doing it. We are caught up with the reality of things such as bills and grant-writing and programs which allows us to do what we do. But we forget that within these programs we could still be as passionate with the work as they were back then. It's about expression, Moliere and Shakespeare etc. their need was to express, and what they did is just that. This is not just Tampa. Everywhere I go, I see people being safe and doing things that bring the numbers, instead of doing what they really want to do."
Coming from someone who is constantly taking risks, going the extra mile, burning the midnight oil, and whatever else is necessary to express himself, I take his suggestion sincerely and love him all the more for inspiring me to do more. He is a fantastic personality to have in your rehearsal room, living room, audience and just around in general. Olson agreed. "Bechir brings a great energy to the room. He keeps everything from getting too stressful, yet always comes to work, and work hard. We are already talking about other potential projects with Bechir, as well as keeping him in mind for the next eight years of producing the August Wilson cycle at American Stage Theatre Company." So, perhaps this isn't the last we'll see of The Man From Haiti who won the respect and admiration of the Tampa Bay theater community.
Farewell, Bechir, from Tampa, but hopefully not forever!
P.S. For those of you who have yet to experience the magic of Bechir's presence, I encourage you to take advantage of the last performances of King Hedley II this weekend at American Stage. Find out all you need to know here!
[Editor's Note: Creative Loafing theater critic Mark E. Leib thinks highly of Bechir Sylvain, too. Read his reviews of Six Degrees and King Hedley II.]