August 01, 2011
Otoja Abit ’08CPS is living his dream, and he’s made a few friends
along the way.
Actors Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan, Jason Patric, Chris Noth and
Kiefer Sutherland, to be precise.
Abit, a former athlete on the St. John’s men’s basketball team,
met this famous ensemble back in February when he began working as
Assistant Director for the Broadway revival of That Championship
Season, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama by Jason Miller.
Tony-Award-winner Gregory Mosher directed the revival.
be around Hollywood actors and an award-winning director, all of
whom are really great guys, was a dream come true for me,” Abit
said. “They helped me mature as a person, as an actor and as a
director more than anything else in my life.”
Abit’s experience as a Division I athlete with the Red Storm
made him a perfect addition to the crew. That Championship Season’s
plot centers on a group of former high-school basketball players
who, 20 years after winning the state championship, visit their
dying coach and reminisce.
“Gregory Mosher knew me because he had directed me in a reading
last year,” Abit explained. “So when I heard about the revival of
That Championship Season, a play that’s all about former basketball
players, I immediately contacted him. I told him I’d do anything to
help out and I’d share my experiences to help the actors learn what
it’s like to be a basketball player. Gregory and I had breakfast
soon after that and he asked me if I’d like to join on as Assistant
Abit’s duties included running lines with the actors and
assisting Mosher during practice.
“Those practices were such great experiences,” Abit recalled.
“The director, the five actors, two other people and myself would
all be working together for 10 hours a day in a small room. I’ve
always loved Kiefer Sutherland as an actor and then – boom – I’m
running lines with him! This is the only business where you can
work side by side with your idols tomorrow.”
The revival ran from March 6 to May 29, and Abit bonded with the
cast and crew during those months.
was with those guys from day one,” he said. “It’s kind of weird for
me to say this, but they’re really like my brothers now, and that’s
what this business is about. As Jason Patric told me throughout the
run, ‘This is the time of our lives. It doesn’t get better than a
classic play with good friends and good guys.’ So when the play
finished, I felt that same type of pain as when I had to leave my
teammates on the Red Storm.”
But Abit’s career as an actor and director is just getting
started, and his future certainly looks bright. Prior to working as
Assistant Director for That Championship Season, he appeared in a
television series called Seducing Cindy, a dating show starring Web
sensation Cindy Margolis. Abit also appeared in an Onion Sports
News segment, a pilot episode for an ESPN series and a number of
other projects and workshops.
The connections Abit made during That Championship Season helped
him land his most recent job: the starring role in a primetime
Burger King commercial, which has been running since the spring. A
casting director from one of Sutherland’s films met Abit at a
performance of That Championship Season and encouraged him to try
out for the role.
“That was a big deal,” Abit said. “It’s small change for the
actors in the play, but as Kiefer told me, ‘Work begets work,’ so
it will hopefully lead to more opportunities for me. Additionally,
I’m now a member of the Screen Actors Guild, meaning I’m with the
union. That’s especially helpful, because I’ve reached another
echelon of professionalism in the acting community.”
What keeps Abit so in love with acting is precisely what first
attracted him to playing basketball: teamwork and camaraderie. This
former Red Storm athlete is quick to point out that the bonds and
friendships he has formed – whether in basketball or acting – have
been just as important to him as the work itself.
“I love being part of a team, just like when I was an athlete,”
Abit noted. “Ideally, I’d love to one day be part of a television
show that runs five to eight years. Then I’d really get to know the
other people I work with, develop great relationships with them and
be around a consistently nurturing environment of actors. Of
course, I simply want to act in any capacity, but if it happens to
be television, that would be great.”
Nothing illustrates Abit’s friendly and personable demeanor
quite like his relationship with the actors in That Championship
Season. Though the play recently concluded its run, Abit’s
friendship with them remains strong.
“We’re like brothers,” he said. “When they come into town, they
call me up and see what I’m doing. It’s great. Some of my friends
tell me, ‘Hey, you have no time for us, you’re so Hollywood now,’
but that’s not the case. Those guys are simply great friends, and
that’s something I really cherish.”