“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s really about the test of time,” University of Rhode Island Alumnus Erick Betancourt said about a career in the performing arts.
Betancourt graduated from URI with a bachelor of fine arts in 2012 and has recently found success with roles onstage in “The Prince of Providence,” which recently closed its run at Trinity Repertory Company and on the silver screen in “Blue Bloods.”
However, Betancourt didn’t always have plans to be an actor. He grew up between the Bronx, New York and Providence, Rhode Island where he was an athlete and people around him always told him that he should be a football or basketball player due to his stature.
“That was always pushed in my neighborhood and community,” Betancourt said. “Reading a book was always frowned upon.”
He remembers being teased for any interest in books when he was younger, but as a young adult, when Betancourt found himself serving two years in prison for a felony drug conviction, things began to change for him and the way he saw his future.
“I think when I found myself in trouble with the law, I was able to take a break from everything, discover more of myself,” he said. “Delve into the books I wanted to or find books that inspired me.”
Eventually, he switched from consuming books to plays and found them to be very meaningful. He started to examine the ways the plays he read dealt with human behavior, calling himself a “a detective of literature.”
“All that literature turned into a sense of me finding new ways to define things for myself,” Betancourt said.
Upon his release, his older brother, who was a theatre student, encouraged him to take an introductory acting class. He explained to Betancourt how acting could help him express himself and told him of how liberating acting could be, even if he didn’t pursue it as a career.
Eventually, it wasn’t just his older brother telling him that he should go into acting and he realized that he may have been onto something.
“I started being more aware of the signs around me,” Betancourt said. “Even though I couldn’t see it in myself, I had something to offer to the stage. It kind of starts when people believe in you more than you believe in yourself.”
That’s when he decided to attend URI and major in theatre with a minor in nonviolence and peace studies, inspired by his fascination with the civil rights movements across the globe.
Betancourt describes the well-rounded education he received from the theatre department as though he was getting “a piece of humble pie” as having to learn and work in all facets in the theatre gave him a great understanding and appreciation for everyone involved in a production.
“I take appreciation in all of it and treat everyone with respect because of my beginnings at URI,” he said.
This includes the artists and students he now teaches drama therapy to in New York. With his teaching, he helps younger students deal with mediating conflicts through roleplaying, which he said has also been very helpful for him personally.
Betancourt went down a long winding path before he found acting, but it was even longer before he could call himself a leading actor. He describes life in phases defined in five-year periods and from ages 20 to 25, he considered himself a strictly supporting actor.
Following his time at URI, he went directly to Pace University to pursue a master’s degree at the famed Actors Studio Drama School and started to get more lead roles.
“There’s going to be lumps and bumps in each of those phases,” Betancourt said, advising students to stay the course and remain creative. “Now in my 30 to 35 phase, now I’m seeing myself moving from a lot of secondary roles to lead roles.”