Young, Gifted, and Black

(L-R) Ms. Eula Shaw, Chris’s senior English teacher at
Asheville High School, Chris Chalk, and Betty Cooper,
Eula’s sister. Taken backstage the Cort Theatre, after the performance of “Fences.” 
Photo: Urban News

by Sarah Williams

Those lyrics, from To Be Young Gifted and Black, are a good description of up-and-coming Broadway actor, and Asheville native, Chris Chalk.

A 1996 graduate of Asheville High School, Chris had not dreamed as a child that he would become his family’s first college graduate. But as Eula Shaw, a former teacher of Chris’s at Asheville High, noted, “Chris was an academically gifted young man who aimed to excel and he did. Whatever the task, he did his best and that best was of quality.”

His gifts and the determination to do his best were likely what
ensured his admittance to the University of North Carolina at
Greensboro, even though he wasn’t sure what direction his studies would
take him in. Once he learned that acting was a possible choice for a
major, he went for it.

After graduation he moved to New York,
where like all struggling actors he took odd jobs—including working as a
doorman at a hotel in Times Square for a couple of years. He finally
got an audition for Law & Order: SVU, and, according to an online
interview with’s Kathy Henderson, Chalk felt that he didn’t
do a very good job on that show. However, he told Henderson, the
casting department forgave him enough to allow him to do a voiceover
retake. And later he appeared in several more Law & Order episodes.

that, Chalk landed roles off-Broadway in such plays as The Hasty Heart,
Defiance, and, in 2009, in the Pulitzer Prize winner, Ruined. He has
performed with three of New York’s most renowned theater companies,
having appeared in The Overwhelming at Roundabout Theater Company,
Defiance at Manhattan Theatre Club, and Unconditional at the LAByrinth
Theater Company.

Last month Chalk won a 2010 Theatre World
Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut during the 2009-2010 theatrical
season. He was honored for his performance as Cory Maxson, the aspiring
football player who clashes with his unsupportive father, Troy, played
by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington in the Broadway revival of
August Wilson’s Fences.

Chalk met the star when Washington
came backstage during Chalk’s appearance in Ruined. According to Chalk,
“I noticed that night that he’s just a dude; he doesn’t buy into all the
stardom stuff. He is himself at all times — low-key, sweet, generous
and very spiritual.”

That same quality might describe Chris
Chalk. Mrs. Shaw remembers, “He had a warm personality that was
reflected in his smile and laugh. I’ve watched a couple of his
interviews on the Internet and he still has that laugh. He liked and
respected people and they liked him; this contributed to him being a
leader in the class.”

With his talent, intelligence,
generosity of spirit and burning determination, it should be no surprise
that Chris Chalk is making a name—and a career—for himself on Broadway.

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