Legend has it that Lana Turner was discovered while sitting at a soda fountain. Lehigh alum Rayland Van Blake ’98 may very well have been discovered while asking for directions to a water fountain.
Van Blake was wandering around on the set of “All My Children” on his first day in the small role of “Officer Jeters” when he walked up to Michael Bruno to ask for directions to the nearest water fountain. Bruno just so happens to be one of the biggest daytime talent managers in the industry.
“He (Bruno) immediately called the AMC casting director to inquire about me and to have me get in touch with him once he got back to LA. I was called in by ‘One Life to Live’ to audition, and shortly after, I was given the part of ‘Bartender’ on the set that was called ‘Upscale Nightclub.’ I only had one line, but they booked me for several more episodes. After that ‘Bartender’ became ‘Charlie’ and ‘Upscale Nightclub’ became ‘Xanadu,’ and my lines continued to increase.”
Before the water fountain, Van Blake got his first acting break at Lehigh’s Diamond Theater. While majoring in finance, Van Blake was also active in school productions, playing multiple characters in “Bound and Unbound,” MacHeath in “A Threepenny Opera,” and Bono in “Fences.”
“My roles at Lehigh prepared me (to be a professional actor) in that they helped me explore myself as a performer and gave me experience in learning how to become truly connected and grounded within the characters that I had to portray,” he says. “To learn how to play from a place of truth within yourself is probably the hardest task to achieve as an actor. I also learned to make strong choices and take risks, both which have stayed with me.”
After graduating and before entering acting full-time, Van Blake worked for both Citibank and Deutsche Bank. When he was laid off from Deutsche Bank, he used his severance package and income from investment properties he owns to financially support himself so he could pursue his dream of becoming a full-time actor.
Besides acting Van Blake is also passionate about politics. He is on the City Council in Plainfield, NJ. “I was elected in 2002, running an underfunded grass roots campaign against a 16 year incumbent. I won the election by a margin of 2 to 1.” He is currently Councilman First Ward and will become President of the Council in 2006.
Whether through politics or on stage, Van Blake’s goal is to touch people. “With so much out there in the entertainment industry, I would like to use my craft to touch people, whether that means making them laugh or cry; but I also want to be known for the things I do off camera or screen to help people and give back.”