A man of many talents, Steve Harper can honestly say he’s done a bit of everything in entertainment. With an impressive education including Juliard, Harvard, and Yale behind him, Harper has taken his time perfecting his craft. Now he teachers others, writes for big networks, and creates masterpieces like “Send
“Send Me” is an online series created and aired on BET and will be moving to YouTube in March. We talked with Harper about the series, his background, and many (MANY) upcoming projects!
KRISTIN: You have an incredibly impressive background regarding your education. You graduated from Yale, The A.R.T Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard, and the playwriting program at Juilliard. Clearly furthering your career is important to you. How do you feel these experiences have shaped you into the actor you are?
STEVE: Hah! Thanks for that. I often say of my background: “That and a Metrocard will get me downtown.” Honestly, I think the upshot of my training in acting and writing is that I’ve been trained to be adventurous. There are so many moments in conservatory where I was encouraged to push the envelope and color outside the lines. I think that sense of bravery flavors what I do. It allows me to take chances that I might not otherwise take.
KRISTIN: Having trained in theater and doing film work as well, do you have a preference between the two?
STEVE: I’ve always loved theatre because it’s so immediate. The challenge of it is that, career wise, it’s easier to get traction in the industry if you do film and TV because the audience is larger, and because the work can be seen for a longer period of time. I did solid work in a series of regional and Off-Broadway shows, but the work I did on TV or film will have a longer life with a larger audience (and with services like Netflix). Ultimately, there’s something intimate about TV, because the storytelling and the actors come home with the viewer. It can be powerful because of that.
KRISTIN: You were the mastermind behind the series “Send Me”, which premiered on BET.com and is continuing on Youtube in March. Tell us about how this project came to fruition.
STEVE: I spent a few years writing for the TV show Covert Affairs, which was fun and a great learning experience. Afterwards I wanted to create something that was a little closer to home. I decided to try to make a show of my own where I could invite an audience to obsess about race the way I sometimes do. So it was an attempt to dig into the race and history in America, and to make it personal and dramatic.
KRISTIN: This is a show touching on things people tend to want to not talk about. Time travel and slavery. What made you really want to create a show like this?
STEVE: As a writer I’m committed to exploring what I call “The invisible things” – the things that people aren’t talking about. I think that’s where the juiciest conversations and the juiciest drama lives. My goal with the series is to get people talking about and reflecting on how issues of race play out in their own lives. Since I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching time travel shows and movies where the leads are White (and can blend in really easily no matter the time period) I thought I would turn that on its head and see what might happen.
KRISTIN: There was a great response to this show on BET.com with just under a million views in its first two weeks on BET.com. How did it feel when you saw the reaction from people for your series?
STEVE: It’s really amazing. Just a few years ago this was just an idea. Then it was a short story. Then it was a script. Each step was pretty exciting to see people come on board to support the project. It’s gratifying to know that more people are seeing my work in this form than my work as a playwright. And it’s been fun to hear people’s response to seeing it. I’ve been having some deep conversations with strangers and friends about how much it has made them think about slavery and its impact today.
KRISTIN: Who did you work with on this project?
STEVE: I had a host of incredible collaborators. The first team was our crowd funding team, led by my friend Adam Johnson. During the campaign, incredible artists came on board to support us, like Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy) who became our Executive Producer. Chris Rock was a donor and became a producer of the project. My producer for the web series, Greg Reeves, who works at Grey’s Anatomy, was key in rounding up our crew and finding locations. Peyton Skelton shot the series beautifully. My friends Phil Kaufmann and Phyllis Toben Bancroft were terrific directing our episodes. And our editors (Rachel Eisengart and Brian Miller) made it look amazing in editing.
KRISTIN: How did casting go with this show? Did you have a general idea of who you wanted for roles or what you were looking for in each?
STEVE: I knew I wanted Tracie Thoms for the lead. She’s a terrific actress, and she’s a friend. I’ve worked with her a few times before and so I asked her first. Originally she said: “It’s about WHAT?” but then she read it and came on board. Gabrielle Carteris is also a friend (and someone I’ve worked with as an actor). I approached her as well and was thrilled that she said yes. Then Tracie and Gabrielle brought some friends on board and several other crewmembers and cast members made suggestions. Most of all I wanted a group of really good actors who could bring individuality to the roles. It’s a largely Black cast, and at the same time it’s a really varied group of people.
KRISTIN: Moving to other work you have done, you also go behind the screen to the inner workings of a show. You even wrote for ‘Covert Affairs’ on USA for a few years. How difficult is it to write a show? Because it seems it would be hard to ensure viewer satisfaction and writing for the purpose of staging a scene.
STEVE: Writing for television is a great job. And it’s a job. Most people watch TV and have a comment about one or two moments of an episode – whether they love it or hate it or something in between. To come up with every moment of an entire season of a TV shows is heavy lifting. We had 9 writers on each season I was on and there’s a whole methodology to coming up with ideas, dividing up writing assignments and creating a dramatic arc. For 8 – 10 hours a day we’d be in a room together brainstorming how each episode would lay out. And then someone would be chosen to turn those ideas into an outline and then into a script – with lots of feedback and notes along the way. Doing that for 10 months of the year can be pretty intense – and rewarding too.
KRISTIN: You also do creative coaching for dramatic writers. How did you get involved in that?
STEVE: I’m really fortunate to have been to the schools I’ve been to, and to have the experiences I’ve had. And, partly since my parents are retired teachers, I’ve got the desire to give back. When I knew that I had that instinct, I got certified (through the Creativity Coaching Association) and I started working with artists of all kinds – though now I focus on writers. Coaching is my way of helping aspiring and professional writers get the kind of help and guidance that it took me years to piece together. I do workshops and coach people one on one. It’s really fun and I’m happy that I can support artists who are looking to move ahead in their work and career.
KRISTIN: You seem to do it all. How do you balance what appears to be a love for all aspects of the entertainment business and stil have a normal life on as well?
STEVE: Define “normal”. Hah! Balance is a tricky thing. I love my work and that helps. And I work a lot. So I spend a fair amount of time trying to make sure I’m taking time off, exercising, meditating and things like that. I also have a powerful support team (including my partner, Kelley) to keep me grounded. I don’t always feel like I have the balance I want, but I have awareness about it, which I think is key.
KRISTIN: Do you think you could choose one area to work in if you were only allowed to work in one?
STEVE: I honestly think if I had made a ton of money as an actor, I wouldn’t have done anything else. (Hah!) Then I turned to writing plays. If that paid me well, I don’t know if I would have turned to TV. Or coaching. I’ve now devised a combination of things partly because I’m having fun, and partly because I’m piecing together a way to make a living.
KRISTIN: What other projects are you working on aside from the million it seems we have already talked about? Anything else we should keep our eyes peeled for?
STEVE: I’m planning a few things for the future. One is that I’m brainstorming a podcast, which I’ve been considering for a long time. It would be an extension of all the stuff I’m doing – another way to encourage and support people who want to create their own work. I have hopes for a second season of SEND ME, but that depends on several factors. And I’m working on new writing projects: a TV script and a play. Of course, I’ll continue to coach and teach, too.
KRISTIN: Where do you keep up with fans online? Social media?
SO much going on! I’m not sure how Steve Harper does it, but he manages to balance multiple areas of the entertainment industry and still make time for a life outside the industry. Make sure to check out “Send Me” on BET.com and soon to be YouTube. Also follow Harper on all his above linked social media sites. We are looking forward to much more from him!