Neal Hemphill

Neal Hemphill is an actor, filmmaker, and photographer.

As an actor, Neal has worked in 31 states and 3 foreign countries, performing everything from off-off-Broadway solo shows to feature films to major touring productions.  He's always had a camera with him, and has taken photos everywhere he's gone.  This lifelong interest in performing and looking through a lens has led to third passion - filmmaking.  

Neal's passion for storytelling is now being expressed through screenwriting, directing, producing, and acting, as well as photography.  The common threads are heart, humanism, and love of life. 


Earning a Living

One of things I do to earn a living is to work as an actor/trainer for a company that works with major corporations.  They work with companies to create programs such as Diversity Training for their employees.

Here's how I got into it.  When I did "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville about five years ago, my housemate there was the terrific actor Stephen Bradbury.  When we returned from Tennessee, I received a call from him, saying that a replacement actor was needed to do a program in Texas.  I jumped into it, and I did the job for a program for Raytheon in Dallas.  I came through for them, and it was a feather in my cap.

Early last year, I was asked to be involved with a number of Diversity Training programs for BP.  This was a good while before the spill.

I took the job, went through a very interesting and comprehensive two-day training, had rehearsal, and eventually went to Chicago to do my first job.  It went well, and I did a number of them throughout the year, as BP moved into the headlines for the spill and the aftermath.

The training helps managers to deal w/ issues around race, sexual orientation, and other similar issues of Diversity that come up in the workplace.  It teaches very good skills, and a very humanistic approach with lessons that are good for all of us.

I really like this aspect of the work, spreading good common-sense ideas that help people who are often victims of discrimination.

Also, it is very interesting work as an actor.  What we do is play a scene that was written specifically to deal w/ issues that the company may have.  Then, there is a facilitated discussion, and we (the actors) remain in character, and improvise the conversation and give feedback in the discussion.  We have been trained in the background of the characters, and many of the "teaching points,", but the discussions can go in many directions, and we need to really think on our feet.  It's an excellent challenge, and has built confidence and skills for me.

This past week I did my first BP job in quite a while, as it has mostly died down.  I went to Houston for the program.

After doing "Snow Falling on Cedars," and having such an uplifting experience with that, it was a reality check to go back into this training.  I mean, we're not doing great theatre - we're doing scenes in a classroom that were written as teaching instruments.

And - we are working for BP.

I believe that what we are doing is good work, and that it helps to open people's minds regarding their treatment of minorities in the workplace.  For example, nooses have been hung as intimidating symbols in BP refineries (as well as in many other workplaces in the US, surprisingly showing up in greatest numbers in the northeast).  There is a lot to be discussed, and managed.

But it's really weird to go work for a company that has done what BP has done over the last year.

Just another chapter, I guess, in the journey of this actor's life.