Spotlight on Alumni: Herb Newsome ('02 M.F.A. Acting)

Herb Newsome

Interviewed by Jamika Williams ('12 B.F.A. Design and Technology)

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Herb Newsome (’02 M.F.A. Acting), a seasoned actor, director, writer, and set designer, and learn more about his captivating journey from Staten Island to the bustling streets of Los Angeles. Newsome's path to the world of theater was not a conventional one. He initially pursued business at The University at Albany, where he did his undergraduate work, but his passion for acting led him to switch gears to theater after his sophomore year. The switch, of course, came with much skepticism from his adviser, as he would need to cram four years of coursework into two years, but this decision was also influenced by his early start as a child actor at the age of 6, which set the stage for a lifelong dedication to the craft.

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’re also wondering how his time at Albany ultimately led him to Penn State for graduate work. Aside from a fellow Albany alum who was already enrolled, it would be an interaction with Professor Emeritus Barry Kur at URTAs that influenced his final decision to attend. An undergraduate professor encouraged Herb to further pursue voice classes after graduation and those that know Barry know he’s among the best in that area.

Reflecting on his time at Penn State, Newsome often referenced his connections to faculty that made a lasting impact on his professional career. He fondly recalls his experience working on The Piano Lesson under the guidance of director Charles Dumas, professor emeritus. This production was the first Black theater piece he was in, and Dumas’ approach as a director played a pivotal role in shaping Newsome's own directing style. There was an emphasis on the importance of meticulous tablework through the use of images, articles, and items to root them in the decade, but also on fostering a sense of camaraderie within the company. Herb notes that he enjoys taking “all the best things” from each director he’s worked with in his approach when directing productions today.

Following his graduation, Newsome's career took flight, with highlights including performances of Macbeth and Richard III at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and performances with esteemed theater companies such as The Hartbeat Ensemble in Connecticut and Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Notably, his playwriting debut, Revenge of a King, a hip-hop musical adaptation of Hamlet, garnered attention and has been produced in eight cities across the country, in addition to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. Herb initially produced the show with funds from waiting tables and the piece was first directed by the School of Theatre’s own Steve H. Broadnax III, current head of M.F.A. Acting.

Always the self-starter, Herb has written and performed three one-man shows: In Devil’s Heaven, Break It Down, and Free Man in Paris. It is this dedication and his ability to network that keeps Herb actively working despite spending the vast majority of his career without an agent.

Newsome's network eventually led him to form a connection with Pittsburgh’s New Horizon Theater. That connection has blossomed over the years to include acting, directing, and scenic production credits. Most recently, Herb directed the production of Blues is the Roots, written by Charles Dumas, at New Horizon Theater. In mounting the show in 3.5 weeks, Herb leaned into many of the directing tactics he learned from Charles, cooking dinner for the cast while viewing blues music artists of the time. His commitment to creating meaningful connections with both his cast and the audience shines through in his work, as actors are able to create vulnerability more quickly to embody the world of the play.

Despite his success, Newsome remains grounded, offering sage advice for new graduates: “Work. There is no small job, no small theater – continually work. Remain in the theater community, build your network. Little jobs can lead to big jobs and it’s about who you know. Actor today, director tomorrow.”

As he looks toward the future, Newsome continues to wear multiple hats, from acting at Lyric Repertory Company in Utah this summer to designing sets for The Nacerima Society for New Horizon Theater in Pittsburgh and WIG at the Willie Agee Theater in Los Angeles this spring. His unwavering dedication to his craft serves as an inspiration to aspiring theater professionals, proving that with talent, determination, and a strong network, anything is possible in the world of theater. Whether it’s acting, directing, playwriting, building sets, or serving you a drink at your favorite music venue, Herb is determined to immerse himself in the arts at all times. To learn more about what Herb is doing next, visit or follow him on Instagram @herbnewsome.