Day and Night Runner: Lehman Alum Hustles for Acting Career

By Jean Carlos Soto

Actor Angel Dillemuth working the control panel at the Lovinger Theater. Photo by Jean Carlos Soto.

Lehman alumnus Angel Dillemuth ’06 may not share the fate of the many gun-toting “thug” characters he plays, but the Bronx native has pursued acting with the spirit of a hustler.

“It really is a grind,” he says, sporting a black graphic T-shirt that reads “Night Runners” above an image of a claw. He has a tattoo on his right forearm---the comedy and tragedy masks, a known theater symbol he got during his MFA at the Actor’s Studio Drama school. Apparently, a gang in upstate Connecticut has also adopted the symbol.  

The working actor sacrifices financial stability to attend auditions and meet with a trusted acting coach throughout his busy week. Instead of full or part-time work, he juggles a number of per diem jobs---he works at a catering company, a hospitality company, as a substitute teacher, and puts up Christmas decorations throughout the city. He even serves as a senior house manager for Lehman’s Lovinger Theatre. Although challenging, he refers to it as “playing Tetris.”

“A lot of people think this is an overnight success kind of thing,” he says, “and it’s not. Even for the people who end up doing really well, there’s a lot of work you put into it. A lot of time.”

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists 22 films and television series featuring Dillemuth since 2007, including NBC’s “The Blacklist,” and the independent film “Dope Fiend.” In the spring of 2017, he completed his latest project, “Night Runners,” a sort horror film recently shown at the Nightmares Film Festival on Oct. 22 and nominated for best short thriller. 

Dillemuth grew up in the Soundview section of the Bronx during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, where he could walk from his Rosedale Avenue residence and find a nearby park strewn with crack vials and smokers. At home, he and his five siblings were raised by his aunt and uncle in lieu of his absent parents, who were addicts at the time. To avoid this harsh reality, he acted in the religious- and Disney-themed productions of the C.A.C. Christian Theatrical Program at the Blessed Sacrament Church. One of his earliest roles was as a dog in “The Little Mermaid.”

The “misguided clown,” as he says, was always getting into trouble until his senior year at Cardinal Spellman High School. While auditioning for the school’s production of the musical “Grease,” he realized that acting was what he had to do; he resolved to pull himself together and work harder. 

After graduating, he threw himself into auditioning, with no training, no guidance, and no luck.

“I think just being from the Bronx for me has just taught me a lot about survival and perseverance,” he says.

In the fall of 2002, he enrolled at Lehman as a theatre major and found a small crew as devoted as he was, including the current assistant director of Lehman Stages, Henry Ovalles ’06.

“The four big productions that the theatre program would put on every year were not enough for us,” Ovalles says. “So, we created a student repertory company, started doing shows in the summer, then later started doing shows in between the four shows.” They outdid their predecessors by doing “seven or eight shows” on a yearly basis and would take turns acting and directing one another. 

“We were strong,” Dillemuth says. He began doing one-act shows and one-act competitions, primarily using the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, a “great space for beginning playwrights and people that just want to put up their work.” 

Even though his focus now is on film and television, he finds theater training more beneficial to an actor than film training. “With theater training,” he says, “you’re training your whole body. With film training, you’re just learning to play angles, but you’re still not learning how to be yourself, how to react, how to listen appropriately, how to break down a scene. Because you can do a horrible job or you can do a brilliant job and the editing can make you look great or it can make you look horrible, [and] sometimes it’s not completely in your hands.”

“As far as the craft of it,” says Ovalles, who agrees, “I think any actor will tell you that it’s easier to make the transition from theater actor to film and screen actor, as opposed to the other way around.” 

Early on, Dillemuth stood out to the director of Lehman Stages, Dante Albertie, who had taught and directed the actor at Lehman for years. “He was the most serious of the serious,” Albertie says. Dillemuth, Albertie added, is “a raw nerve, and his journey is to get through life not feeling everything.”

“He was the most serious of the serious.” 

- Dante Albertie, director of Lehman Stages

“He’s an intense person,” Ovalles says. “We would be doing shows and if there was stuff going on in his personal life, he wouldn’t let it affect his performance. He was always gonna show up on time and bring his A-game, but he would be backstage punching walls in the hallway or by the bathrooms and the dressing rooms, and then he would come out to rehearsal with, you know, his knuckles all beat up.” As a senior house manager, the actor can also be hard on his ushers, “but if you know how to do your job, then he starts to respect you,” says Aleigi Dume, an office manager for Lehman Stages who has worked as an usher with Dillemuth for years.

Dume sees him as a good leader. “He knows how to teach an usher to eventually become a house manager,” she says. 

“I didn’t have that much support growing up,” says Dillemuth, so “if I can motivate and help people out now, sometimes that’s the difference.” 

Self-motivation fueled Dillemuth’s latest venture, his short film, “Night Runners.” It was his first finished project, which he wrote, produced, and co-directed. In the film, two thieves, Louie (Dillemuth) and Julio (Quincy Chad), botch a robbery and escape to a suburban house where they are haunted by the eponymous Night Runner (Morgane Ben-Ami), a vengeful, hooded woman from ancient times. It serves as a prologue to a feature-length film still unwritten. 

After writing it, Dillemuth held onto the script for a year before sending it to a producer-friend who told him it would cost more than he was willing to spend. Dillemuth decided to invest his own money, confident he could do it for cheaper, and did all the legwork to put the film on camera within five weeks.

“I felt I needed to just do something,” he says. Before he began filming, he had been searching for a house to use. He phoned Ovalles, who had just bought a house with his wife. Although reluctant at first, Ovalles finally agreed to support him. 

“He’s a go-getter,” says Ovalles, shrugging. “He’s gonna figure out a way to get what he needs to get done, done. Even if it means my wife being upset at me for a couple of months because I gave the house away.”

Dillemuth wrapped up “Night Runners” within five weeks, but went over budget and had little money left. Still wanting to push the film forward, he launched a Kickstarter project on July 9 to fund marketing and submit to film festivals throughout the country, including its first---the Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio. As of Aug. 8, backers had pledged about $2,000 more than his initial goal.  

Including his role in “Night Runners,” Dillemuth has played many “thug” roles over the years, as a drug runner in the season three premiere of “The Blacklist,” and as a gangbanger in both “Dope Fiend” and a season 4 episode of “Person of Interest.” He believes he is often typecast for “thug” roles because he is ethnically ambiguous with a somewhat deep raspy voice; he actually does not mind as long as they do not fall into a certain stereotype, the loud, “Oh, I’m a thug!” type, as he puts it.  

He says doing “Night Runners” was an opportunity to combine his acting with his love of horror movies, and portray a “thug” character with a backstory.  “If it’s very much a tough character who has depth and there’s some sort of emotional involvement,” he says, “that’s something I can get into very easily. That’s something where I can mix my experiences with what’s written on the page.” 

Lehman Undergrads Showcase Activism through Academia

By Jean Carlos Soto 

Activism in Academia. Photos by Jean Carlos Soto. 

The Activism in Academia Symposium, held on April 7 at the Segal Theater of the CUNY Graduate Center, offered academics and selected students from across CUNY an opportunity to discuss and present work that challenged what Lehman English professor Olivia Moy called the “false dichotomy” between activism and academia. This dichotomy arises from the belief that the “contemplative life” of academia, especially in the humanities, has no real-world value nor impact on society, whereas the “active life” of activism inherently does.

The symposium consisted chiefly of department chairs from various CUNY campuses, whose interdisciplinary work touched on a range of topics. However, the student panels of five Lehman undergraduates were the highlight of the conference, exemplifying the activism the symposium’s organizers had sought to address. The Lehman undergraduates used the platform to present theses reflecting academic research that tied into issues both personal and social.

The first half of the student panels focused on the Black-authored text. C. Lionel Spencer, a Lehman English major and Africana studies minor, examined the academic value of hip-hop in presenting “strong positive Black leadership,” a representation he seldom found in the literature of his English classes. As an example, he analyzed the lyrics of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s song “King Kunta,” which, as Spencer stated, has us “re-imagine that [Black] history does not begin as slave, but as Black royalty.”

Panelist Nadia Floyd also touched on representation, primarily on the marginalized voice of the Black woman. Drawing from the characters of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Floyd’s own experiences in classrooms over the years, Floyd presented on the need for Black women to execute and reclaim their voices in a classroom setting. Fittingly, the conference allowed Floyd to realize such a situation.

“It was great to relate to people around the room,” recounted Floyd, a Lehman double major in English and Psychology, “[and] to have our voices heard.”

“They blew away every other panel,” said Moy, who coordinated the gathering with Dhipinder Walia, a fellow Lehman English professor, “and they showed every other panel how much we have to learn from them...what they had to say today really educated all the faculty and tenured emeritus people show that it’s already equal, it’s just that the platforms haven’t been there.”

The coordinators wanted a diverse audience, because they felt that academic conferences typically draw a homogenous crowd. In contrast, the audience at this activism conference was diverse in terms of education, age, race, and ethnicity. However, the panels of faculty presenters were less so.

“The only thing that was a bit weird to me,” said Floyd, “was that most of the panelists weren’t people of color. I mean, there was the department chair who was Caribbean, and there was Jorge [Valldejuli], but other than that they were talking about issues that directly affect us, the urban, and I thought it was weird that they were speaking from this privileged space, even though they have ownership of what they researched. That unsettled me a little bit that I didn’t see more people of color, and that shows how academia really isn’t diverse, in terms of faculty.”

On the panel of current and former English Department chairs, John Jay professor, AllisonPease, likewise suggested that the conversation of diversifying the curriculum should include discussion on who is teaching the material, i.e. more diverse hiring.

According to CUNY’s “Fall 2016 Staff Facts,” 60.5 percent of the total full-time faculty across CUNY was white, 12.2 percent was Black, and 8.9 percent Puerto Rican or Hispanic, with part-time faculty just slightly more diverse: White 58.6 percent, Black 16.1 percent, Puerto Rican or Hispanic 10 percent.

In the same year, Lehman reported a greater disparity between full- and part-time faculties: the former was 66.5 percent White, 10.2 percent Black, and 12.8 percent Hispanic/Latino. Part-time faculty, who receive a fraction of the full-time faculty’s salary and resources, was 52.4 percent White, 20.4 percent Black and 15.9 percent Hispanic/Latino. Although Lehman prides itself on its “diversity and commitment to multicultural understanding,” its students may struggle to see that in who is teaching them.

Some of the presentations during the second half of the student panels addressed the experience of navigating academic settings where their identities were not fully welcomed, and offered examples of how their presence there could be a kind of activism. Lehman undergrads Alegna Santos, and Sheema Alamari related how they reconciled religion with other facets of their identities in class room settings, followed by Lehman junior Ndeye Fatou Coundoul passionately reading her poem, “A Letter to My Future Daughter.” Alamari also openly pondered how women who identify as both feminist and Muslim could balance and embrace both worlds.

“Here’s the way I do it,” began Alamari, “I don’t march on the streets, but I do so through the choices of what I read and write on campus. In fact, I take on all these feminist ideas from professors and classes which have shaped my identity through all my college experience.”

Along with bridging the gap between activism and academia, many panelists, like Alamari, indicated that activism can take various shapes besides the stereotypical, such as marching, demonstrations, and boycotts.

For Professor Joyce Harte, chairperson of the English Department at BMCC (the Borough of Manhattan Community College), activism can even come in the form of college enrollment.

“Many are first [in their families] to go to college,” said Harte,“and the fact that they are there embodies activism.”

Floyd echoed this sentiment. “I learned that my pen was my tool in pursuing social change,” said Floyd as she presented. “Being an honor student in both majors [English and psychology] is an act of activism for me, because hardly anyone in my public life expected these feats from me.”

One audience member, Marceo Bravo-Lopez, 22, a double major in English and philosophy at Lehman, said he also uses the act of writing newspaper articles on topics like policing policy to participate in what he considers “indirect activism,” more so than the “direct activism” of demonstrations or protests in a public space. Another audience member, Nisha Varughese, a double major in English and education at Lehman, said she finds activist value in her educating others, but shies from the label “activist” as a fear of judgement often holds her back whenever it comes time to speak in a large group.

Even Floyd is hesitant to call herself an activist. “I feel like an activist,” she said, “[but] it’s a term that’s very glorified, it’s very loaded, and I’m still sorting out my identity. So, it’s sort of hard for me to say ‘activist’... I can say it, but I can’t say it at the same time.”

“Activism starts at the heart and mind,” said Spencer, “and moves to the feet and hands. So, whether it’s holding a protest sign or pen, marching on Washington or dancing with Alvin Ailey, we must all choose what we’re going to do with what we learn.”