From Childhood Introvert to Acting Ambitions
Linda Bright Clay is an accomplished thespian, powerful performer, and gorgeous print model. This Chicago native is most notably known for her tear-jerking performances as she graces the stages of many theater districts. Despite all of the talent, acting credits, commercial success and longevity to rival many household names, Linda Bright Clay is still a humble human being.
Born and raised on the Westside of Chicago, Bright Clay was an adorable introvert that became inspired by watching Cornelia Dozier (affectionately known as Honey.) Dozier was another local star shining brightly doing community fashion and talent productions. Intrigued by the multi-faceted young woman, Bright Clay said to herself with admiration, “I can do that.”
The Acting Bug Takes Root
Bright Clay attended Proviso East High School in a western suburb of Chicago. By the time she graduated, the acting bug had obviously taken root. Then, the ever so ambitious Bright Clay gained admission to Northern Illinois University (NIU). While there she took a full course load of all of her interests, which included sociology, psychology, and theater. After a great deal of thought Bright Clay decided, “If I’m going to work so hard, I want it to be on what I am passionate about.” From that point on, she switched her major to theater and was ready to take the acting world by storm.
Creating Opportunity in College
While attending NIU, Bright Clay was deeply rooted in the Black Theater Workshop of which she was a co-founding member. The group was created to showcase more productions that included black actors.
“Black theater actors rarely touched the main stage unless there was a maid needed or someone to hold a spear,” Bright Clay said of NIU campus theater. “ So an older grad student opened a black student theater group for black students.”
By senior year, Bright Clay had begun co-directing plays for The Black Theater Workshop.
Facing the Realities of Professional Life
Soon after college she was involved in a few independent projects. Notably, one project was a production for Nora Brooks, daughter of Illinois Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks, at her Chocolate Chips Theater Company. Bright Clay realized that if the stage was going to be her career path, she needed an agent.
“If you’re going to be a professional in this industry, acting, you need to have an agent to represent you,” she asserted.
When asked if an agent was necessary for success, Bright Clay said, “I’ll put it like this, most people, if you’re doing something, you have an agent.”
“Get an agent,” she said. “They’ll come to shows because they’re looking for new talent to sign on.”
Navigating the Tricky World of Agents
Many talents today struggle to find even one agency to represent them. Often they give in to pressure and sign exclusively with just one when they finally find representation. Bright Clay’s experience was slightly different. She began in an era where you could be multi-listed with more than one agency. Her talent wowed industry professionals. So agencies from all over immediately wanted to sign her to do everything from radio voice overs to on-camera commercials, industrial videos and then film. Bright Clay’s gift was undeniable and had started to catapult her from aspiring actress to a talent booked to capacity.
As a newly signed talent Bright Clay landed her first television commercial for Illinois Bell subsidiary under the AT&T Corporation. That commercial was just a taste of what was to come. She has since been the face for many major corporate commercials. The brands she’s represented in commercials include, but are not limited to, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Crest, United Health Care, Fifth Third Bank and Glade.
Staying True To Your Core Values
The world of entertainment can be a vicious place to many, overwhelming to most and extremely challenging to the rest. However Bright Clay has used her faith and belief that acting is her ministry. This conviction assists her in staying encouraged and in implementing core values that cannot be shaken.
“Acting is about changing and becoming different roles,” Bright Clay said. “But, I always feel like there’s a core part of you and you have to know who that is.” She says this is particularly true for acting “because this is a business that if you don’t know who you are, you’ll be trying to change for every person, institution and opportunity that comes along.”
“You have to know what your values are,” she continued. “ I tell people now don’t go to the line before thinking ‘is this a line you want to cross?’ You better know [your answer] before you get to the line.”
In line with her truly genuine and transparent nature, Bright Clay shared a moment of disappointment on her own journey. She goes back to one of her first encounters at a high profile modeling agency in Chicago.
“Sometimes they want you to change your appearance. I remember when I first got out of college, I was so heartbroken. You heard of the freshman 15? I’d put on the freshman 45,” she sadly remembered. “I barged up to one of the top modeling agencies in Chicago that was also nationally known. I barge in with my pictures and say I want to register, and the woman says to me, honey come back when you lose 20-25 pounds.”
Bright Clay continued to express her sadness from the encounter.
“My face fell to the floor. I was devastated. A couple of nice guys standing around said don’t pay attention to that. Just keep going,” Clay recalled. “Primarily, it was a modeling agency and it wasn’t like today. The scope was very narrow with what you could look like. It was a hard pill to swallow.”
Bright Clay indeed kept going and did not look back. Her amazing answer of how she managed to keep going was simply a combination of a gem and genius. She simply said “I have champions.” Bright Clay elaborates by saying, “Everyone needs champions who believe in you.”
In line with her outlook, Bright Clay advises aspiring talents, “Keep yourself encouraged. You’ll have big highs. Then you get the valleys. Take a class. Do smaller things to keep your skills and techniques sharpened. I am a faith based actor. Without my faith I would have to quit. Sometimes even when things are well you want to quit because it can be difficult. “
Aspiring Actors Must Know This
With so much success and longevity even through trial and triumph, she is well qualified to give advice to an aspiring actor. In true Bright Clay fashion, she delivered the most sincere and truthful tips that any newcomer would need to know.
“It’s kind of hard to say one piece, but I would say, know the basics. What do I need to be in this industry; I need talent? Talent can be improved by building your skills and techniques. What does it take to get an audition? You need a headshot. You need a resume. A lot of professional credits. So put everything you’ve done [on your resume] even if it was in school or the community.
She continued, “Everybody starts from somewhere. Aim high. Have goals, but know that it takes more than talent. It takes preparation. It takes the right attitude. People have to want to work with you. The other piece of wisdom: it’s not always about your talent. It could be about the look,” she said.
Your Best is Good Enough
Bright Clay also advises that if you’re trying your best, that is good enough.
“It can be other things you’re not aware of. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it. Be kind to people and support your fellow actors.”
1AM could not pass up the chance to find out from such an inspirational woman who a few of her own inspirations were. The list included local trailblazers such as Abena Joan Brown (Founder of ETA, Theater), and world renowned legends like Cicely Tyson, Diana Sands (Raisin in the Sun), Abbey Lincoln and Lena Horne.
Bright Clay shared a final priceless quote as 1AM ended its interview:
“Give people their props. You’re always the beneficiary of someone else’s stand.”