WHAT PEOPLE SAY...
Shoniqua Shandai stars in the upcoming series Harlem. You've seen her dynamic work in movies like Bodied. Find out about her new show, the journey shooting her first series regular, and collaborating with Desean.
Tell us about Harlem and your character in the show.
Harlem tells the story of four best friends as they navigate life and love. My character is Angie, a no-holds-barred, out-of-work artist. Angie is really and truly an unstoppable force and walks with such a black audacity that it’s almost impossible to portray her and not come out the other side loving yourself more. She’s fire and I can’t wait to re-meet her.
Is this your first series regular? What was the audition process like?
This is my first series regular to go all the way and I'm ecstatic. My audition process included 1 audition, a callback and 2 network tests over the span of a month & a half, which doesn't sound nearly as long as it felt. Ha!
Tell us about your process for auditioning in comparison to working on set. Is there a difference?
I immediately recognized pieces of myself in Angie. Her energy was palpable and easy to connect to for the slice of her life experienced in an audition, but set is where she becomes a full-fledged human being--someone with secrets and desires they want so desperately but can’t avoid sabotaging. Set requires truly knowing and a deeper level of discipline, analysis, and decision-making so that I am ready and able to take on anything that might come my way in the moment, while also maintaining a spirit of play. Don’t forget to play! Doing all the work at home and then releasing it for an openness to receive was such a #MajorKeyAlert for me.
What is the role training has played in your work up until now, and how does it impact your work today?
Training is my fail-safe and foundation. I couldn’t be the actress I am nor I want to be without it. The moment I feel any "oh God, what if I'm not any good?” pangs, I can lean on training. Take it back to the beginning, re-explore the fundamentals and in the midst of rehearsal the character opens up in a new way.
How has your process changed from working with Desean?
My process gained more variety, which is pivotal for multiple takes. I found new ways to creatively explore the core of a scene, was challenged to make it even more personal and to intertwine it with imaginative circumstances creating more ways to explore from take to take. I also went digital because of Desean. I used to do all of my character analysis on paper and I now have an excel chart that I can just go to for each project, breaking down all the facts of a character. It really sets me up for the most productive and seamless work day because at any given time while on set I can just open my chart and the choices I've made are readily available to me to build upon in the moment.
One of the tenants of the Last Acting Studio is empowering actors/artists to find the role in themselves. Do you find that easy or hard ? Has it changed over time?
It's definitely gotten easier now. There was a period where I didn't see myself at all in some of the roles I was auditioning for and I would picture other actresses who had a similar aesthetic to the description. So instead of me portraying the character, I'd pretend to be Kerry Washington or Taraji P. Henson playing that character ...needless to say there was a disconnect. Now I find just going to the core of what a scene is, what a person is yearning for and in the simple human want I'm able to find myself, even if the description isn’t traditionally someone who looks like me.
What would you say to the younger version of yourself?
You are already the success you desire! The WIN is in being as detailed, well-versed and creative in the fundamentals of a character. Trust yourself & make bold choices; you learn more in failing spectacularly than quietly slinking by.
“Having had the opportunity of working with Desean in both a studio and private coaching setting, I can say he is one of the most insightful, intelligent and helpful acting teachers out there. His knowledge of the craft, and thoughtfulness in coaching allows space for his students to experience and discover in the moment, and emotionally truthful choices."
Joseph Salazar -
WestWorld, The Passenger, Criminal Minds
“Desean is a complementary blend of professionalism, intelligence, humility, authenticity, compassion, humor and artistic creativity on steroids! But even with all of what he teaches us to bring to our work, the one thing that he has taught me through example is to be generous as an actor and a human. He cares and never gives up on us….that makes the difference."
Sheila Mears -
Manifest, The Tenant
“The lessons I’ve learned while studying with Desean are gifts that keep on giving whether I’m on set or auditioning. The biggest one that comes to mind is slowing myself down and making space for exploration. Acting is a messy ass form of expression and I credit Desean (almost entirely) for helping me embrace that. With Desean I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to tell the truth."
Sam Morgan -
American Woman, Shameless
“Desean has become a trusted and inspiring teacher who gave me a greater sense of my potential as an actor, artist and human being. His intuition and personal approach to me and my work has given me the support I need to be more courageous and bold with how I express myself as an actor. He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had."
Josette Canilao -
The Crossing, FBI: Most Wanted
“Desean has the ability to read the actor’s impulses and convey actionable inspiration, stimulating the actor to find where the scene lives for them. He gives a fresh perspective that guides the actor to find the writing through the character’s voice and body in a seamless performance."
Zac Titus -
For All Mankind, Criminal Minds
“[Desean's] focus on exploring the work through physical, non linear exercises helps you get out of your head and into the endless specificity of your heart and body. Most importantly he will always steer you towards trusting your own unique interpretation of whatever you are working on-and he will do so with kindness, dedication, and genuine excitement about the entire process."
Alyssa Jirrels -
Saved by the Bell, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Working with Desean is an incredible experience whether it’s in class, self tape, or even a phone call. He is always teaching me new ways and techniques to explore my mind, body, and soul in a way that I had no idea I could tap into. It is such an incredible feeling knowing after every time I work with Desean I get to walk away with my cup full of invaluable lessons, advice, and inspiration I know will benefit my career."
Jarrett Ellis -
All Eyez on Me, Baseline
“If you’re looking to train with someone who will help you create a process that you can rely on, day after day -- you will find that in Desean. His training at Juilliard, years of teaching, and his successful career on stage and screen -- set him apart... He is understanding of the actor’s struggle because he’s lived that journey, and he has a generous approach in guiding those who are building confidence in their craft."
Cynthy Wu -
For all Mankind, Calls, American Vandal
“I’ve worked with Desean both as an artist and as a coach and have found he has an innate ability to encourage our most authentic self to be present in each moment. Where many teachers have a formula or specific techniques to get you to make bold choices, Desean reminds you that your choices are found when you are able to bring your most authentic self to the table."