The Wake-Up Call That Brought Gabrielle Dennis Back to Acting

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Photo Source: “The Big Door Prize” Courtesy Apple TV+

Gabrielle Dennis is currently starring on Apple TV+’s “The Big Door Prize” and HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” This essay has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Growing up, I loved to entertain family—be it by telling jokes, reenacting scenes from movies, dancing, or performing a full-on concert at a cousin’s birthday party. So I always knew a career in the performing arts was in my future. But life will always throw you a curveball.

I started studying dance at age 4, and by fourth grade, I was attending a local performing arts school; there, I found my people and my calling. I was consistently cast in school productions, and I landed my first Equity and SAG jobs in fifth grade. I was truly in my element, and was confident performing was what I would do forever. 

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Then, that curveball came. My mother took me out of arts school before I was able to finish the program, and I was devastated; she wanted me to have something “to fall back on.” Though I know she was doing what she thought was best for my future, I was confused about where I fit in the world. I questioned whether I was good enough to make it as an artist if my own mother felt I needed another option. So for years, I put performing to the side and followed the plan.

My mother enrolled me in a college preparatory high school where she felt I could thrive in the communications department, which I did. Next came college. I majored in communications and minored in theater, electing to take non-performing classes such as directing, makeup design, and set design. But being in such close proximity to performers awakened the artist in me that had been dormant for so long, so I dabbled in acting again, “just for fun.” I joined a local dance group, performed in a stage show at Six Flags, and found myself acting in student films and independent projects to try to quiet that voice inside me. 

The Big Door Prize

I eventually graduated with honors and got a job as a camera operator at a news station. I was excited to put my degree to use; but when a better position opened up that I was qualified for, I was told that hiring was based on seniority—and the news hit me like a bag of bricks. I looked around and saw how long some of the employees had been there, and it scared me to think that I, too, would have to work for so long not doing what I love. That was the wake-up call I needed. The performer voice in me was loud, and it was time to listen.

With the help of my mother, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams. I instantly found my groove and began booking roles, and it reminded me that there was a reason that the voice I had tried to ignore for so long never went away. I always knew what my dream was; it just took a while for me to feel bold enough to go for it. So I put on my blinders and got to work, determined to make up for all the time I had lost. 

The beauty of this industry is that you can be successful at any age; getting a late start may have been what I needed to excel at acting now. I’m currently starring on two television series and recurring on another (Netflix’s “The Upshaws”), with a ton of credits under my belt—and hopefully, many more in my future. So if that voice in you is still talking, please be bold enough to listen. It’s never too late.

This story originally appeared in the May 4 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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