Meet Alberto Santiago. You’ve probably seen him perform at your local community theatre or on television’s “Law & Order” on NBC. He’s probably even given you a ride somewhere, too.
“Good afternoon! Rough day?” were the first words my friendly Wednesday bus driver asked me on the way to school. “You seem worried about something.”
I smiled. “I’m going to school– That’s what I’m worried about,” I replied, both surprised and flattered that a bus driver cared enough to read the anxiety on my face and ask about it. I was also curious to know why.
So I sat right behind him, as opposed to somewhere in the back where I normally sit on the bus, to continue the dialogue. He asked where I went to college and what I was majoring in. I told him my major was Journalism, so he shared that he majored in something very similar– Communications. He also minored in Theatre Arts. And that’s when I realized I’d seen him somewhere before.
After college, Alberto Santiago pursued acting. He looked through trade newspapers and auditioned for television shows and movies. That’s when he fell into the NBC cop show, “Law & Order.” Alberto had played several small acting roles there, such as a corpse, police officer, paramedic, and lawyer. He worked with actor Chris Noth, known as Detective Mike Logan, who has also starred in “Sex and the City” as Mr. Big– Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend. One of his favorites was Italian-American Paul Sorvino, also known as Detective Sergeant Philip Cerreta.
“Paul will talk to anybody, whether you’re a big star or an extra, [he’ll] give you advice on anything. And he’s just very approachable.”
As for movies, Alberto played a party-goer role in the 1992 movie Boomerang, where he met celebrities like David Allen Grier and Martin Lawrence before they became really famous. He has even exchanged phone numbers with Halle Berry (before she became very famous, that is). At the time, Alberto adds, Halle was interested in writing and producing a play with him in the Bronx, though it never happened.
Acting has taken Alberto to many fascinating places where he’s met many interesting people. Yet at age of thirty-two, Alberto has had to cut back on acting and focus on his 6-year-old son. He now drives a bus to provide for his son while he waits his turn to become very famous.
“Once you have a child,” he says without a shred of resentment, “You have to become more stable. My son needs money EVERYDAY-not just enough to last a single guy six months.”
Alberto lives in upstate New York. It normally takes him about fifty minutes to commute to his Bronx bus route every weekday. He currently has the day shift that he prefers, so he can spend more time with his son.
Even though Alberto no longer has an acting agent, he still searches for small weekend gigs or roles that simply pay well. However, he notes that he hasn’t auditioned in more than three months. But Alberto realizes he is no longer in his “discovery phase.”
Alberto originally studied Communications at Iona College to become a T.V. personality. He said he would have liked to report or write for a T.V. program. While he minored in Theatre Arts, it wasn’t always one of his passions.
Alberto was raised in the Spanish Harlem apartment projects. The streets were really all he knew. The friends he grew up with are either “dead or in jail.” But once Alberto became involved in a church play at the age of seventeen, he realized he might just want to chase that dream.
“Being a T.V. personality and acting almost go hand-in-hand. You have to be a good actor and acquire a good deal of professionalism to go in front of people,” he points out.
In college, Alberto did a lot of theatre work. Alberto starred in plays such as the National Tour of Les Miserables. He directed and produced Little Shoppe of Horrors in Brooklyn. Godspell was his favorite production, in which he played all roles except for Judas– simply because Judas’ role is “second banana.”
During his daily bus route, Alberto mentions he likes to draw on some of his passengers when creating characters of his own. He says he still meets so many fascinating people on the bus.
“Some stick out in your mind. So when you audition for roles, you take them into consideration,” he adds.
Alberto says he developed a Jamaican accent from one of his passengers who accused him of being fifteen minutes late. “You’re such a nasty, nasty man,” she cried. But according to Alberto, following his dead-on impression of a Jamaican, she actually became a very good friend.
Alberto sometimes also thinks of his passengers as “an audience.” For instance, when making bus stop announcements, he’ll go into a comedic role (which I personally have witnessed). When I was on a crowded bus with him, he would try out his different foreign accents. Once Alberto went into a Tony Montana accent, yelling “STEP BACK, STEP BACK, LET ‘EM THROUGH, LET ‘EM THROUGH.”
One of his hobbies? Sketching. That is, he draws on the outside of his bus whenever it’s dirty. “It gives my bosses incentive to clean it.”
Alberto likes to draw faces, mostly saying “Clean me!” In honor of Black History Month, he drew Frederick Douglass’ face, among others. His kid passengers enjoy it, too. They point and laugh. “We like it, mister!” They even add to the drawings whenever they can.
Another hobby is singing. Alberto likes to sing and (of course) act. The only thing he regrets he hasn’t done is take dance lessons. He claims to have two left feet. For shows that incorporated dancing, Alberto would have to stay extra hours to practice, step-by-step, before the actual performance.
This summer he hopes to audition at Summer Stock- based in Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center. A summer stock is a theatre that presents stage productions in the summertime, so you won’t see Alberto leaving the spotlight anytime soon. He still loves the standing ovations.
As far as I’m concerned, although he may not dance too well, Alberto is already a quadruple threat. He can sing, act, draw, and drive a bus better than anyone I know.