By day, Larry Moses is the man with the booming voice and hearty laugh who leads diversity training for fraternities and sororities and advises the Bicultural Inter-Greek Council. When his workday is over, Moses transfers his boisterous personality to the Philadelphia-area stage, where he’s acted in close to 150 plays and directed more than 100, including “Purlie Victorious” for the Philadelphia Black Theater Festival in the mid-1980s, which was named one of the five best plays that year.
Moses is passionate about everything he does, following valuable advice from his parents: “My father and my mother always taught me, if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability and dedicate yourself to it. That’s what I’ve done.” Next on Moses’ list of things to do well is writing, as he looks forward to collaborating with a former student and crafting his own theatrical work.
Q. How did you get started in theater?
A. I come from an artistic family. My father was a choral director, a very well-known choral director. My mother was an English teacher who did plays.
Pretty much all I did when I first got to college was play soccer and explore the social scene. I was walking through the student union one day and I saw a sign asking for tryouts for the spring play. I went to try out and, fortunately, I had a first director who saw something and gave me a real small part.
As a matter of fact, it was a non-speaking role, but I had this physical comedy bit that worked every night so I was getting laughs and applause. That was it. I was done.
Q. How did you move into directing?
A. I came home after school to Cheyney [Pa.], and I started working at Cheyney University in the Act 101 program. The director of the program always liked to do a play at the end of the summer program, and he asked me if I would direct it. I had directed one piece in college for a directing class, which is still in the annals of Wilmington College history as one of the worst productions. It was a one-act play and it was terrible. My friends couldn’t even lie to me. I thought, well, let me try this. And that’s when I found out that directing really suited my style.
Q. What did you direct?
A. I directed “A Day of Absence” by Douglas Turner Ward. Black theater was real prolific then.
Q. What have you done recently?
A. I did a video short called “I Do What I Do So I Can Do What I Want.” It’s a self-written piece and I play the main character, this guy who cleans office buildings at night so he can pursue a theater career during the day. It ran about four minutes long and I submitted it to PBS, Channel 12, for a video competition. Out of 150 entries they picked 10 to run, including mine.
For the last two years I’ve been working for the Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival, where you go into the middle schools and high schools and teach playwriting.
Q. What are you working on now, and what are some challenges for you as a theater director?
A. I have wonderful ideas running around in my head, and my biggest challenge right now is to bring all these lifelong ideas and projects to fruition. A nice thing that has happened is one of my ex-students from Cheney—a guy who I got started in theater—has become a very prolific writer and has a development deal with HBO and Showtime, he just sold a piece to Forest Whitaker. He also wrote a trilogy on a Haitian dictator that Danny Glover is doing. So I’m really very proud. Now he wants me to direct a play he sold for a movie. He kept the play rights, so we’re going to work on the Philadelphia premiere and do the whole student-teacher-life-comes-full-circle thing.
The challenge is finding the time to do a play. You have to have time. I do a lot of evening hours here, so it’s very hard to set up a rehearsal schedule. And once you dedicate yourself to it, you can’t just halfway it. Right now I’m working on solo stuff. And I want to try out some of my ideas for screen treatments.
Q. What are you interested in writing about?
A. Every living situation that I see has the potential for a play. I live in an apartment complex and we hang out on the stoop in the summer. The stoop has its own personality and hierarchy. I catch the train every morning, and there’s a certain dynamic there.
I saw an interview that I did with a local channel back when I was 22, and the interviewer asked me, ‘What do you want to do with theater?’ and I said, ‘Well, as long as I can turn somebody else on to it.’ Theater did so much for me. It really changed me. Despite what you see now, I was basically very quiet and shy in high school and then I got into theater, and it was over. You see the world in a whole different light as a creative being, so I try to carry that into my job.
Originally published on February 26, 2004