THE BLOG
07/28/2016 08:00 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2017

On Your Feet Writer, Birdman's Oscar Winner, Alex Dinelaris "Flies Back"--to School


Birdman's
protagonist Riggan did a fair amount of flying, with no one quite sure to what end. But after his almost Sisyphean start, Alex Dinelaris Jr.'s star continues to ascend. Last year I was fortunate enough to interview the break-out writer at possibly the most exciting time of his life. Birdman had just been released to spectacular reviews, culminating in multiple Oscar nominations and wins, including his win for Best Original Screenplay. Our interview can be read at...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melody-breyergrell/in-theaters-coming-soonbi_b_6899548.html

As of now, Alex's Broadway story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, On Your Feet!, is enjoying a successful Broadway run. With the TV show The One Percent (created by the Birdman team and set to air in 2017 on Starz), plus a new film Entering Hades, starring Michael Fassbender, Alex has not forgotten his Alma Mater, Barry University of Miami, or them him.

When Alex graduated high school, he had applied, and was accepted into several colleges but couldn't afford any of them. He kept in touch with his high school drama teacher, Russell Siller, who strongly recommended him to Patricia Minnaugh--a Barry alumna who was then teaching at the University. Because of his high school teacher's conviction that Alex had a talent that should be given a chance, Patricia flew him down for an audition. Long story short, Barry U accepted him and gave him a scholarship. Alex credits Barry with "saving his life."

"Barry gave me a stage and the freedom to work." Due to circumstances complicating his life at the time, Alex wasn't able to complete his degree and left after two years. Twenty years later, in acknowledgment for his achievements in the arts, Barry presented Alex with a doctorate in fine arts.

"My biggest regret was not finishing University. With this degree, I felt I'd completed something hugely important. I was the first in my family to graduate. Wearing a cap and gown in front of my family and daughters was a very significant moment."

While contacting Alex for comment on this honor, I learned that he was just a bit busy that night, but he was not attending an award show, or sitting down to plot out his next hit. Alex was on his way to another sort of graduation. He has somehow carved out the time to work with a program named "Open Doors." The organization provides an opportunity for students to experience Broadway theatre--kids who wouldn't otherwise get to do so. Founded by the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, twenty-four selected New York City schools are paired with a distinguished theater and dance professional, each of whom mentors a group of eight students per school. Throughout the school year, the students attend six live performances. Each performance is followed by a 90-minute discussion over food with their mentors. The students also keep journals to reflect on and document their experiences. At the end of the year, Open Doors celebrates with a ceremony to honor all participants.

"I got involved with Open Doors when the legendary Broadway and televisions actress, Kathleen Chalfant, asked me to substitute for her. I met the kids and saw how important the program was in opening up new worlds to them--a sense of self-esteem and the realization that they belong in the world of culture. I volunteered to be a mentor the next season and am now in my third year."

Alex also made an appearance with the TED organization, celebrating his father, a man who might not have had the education Alex had, but certainly put him on the road to his calling. The funny and touching video can be brought up on...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k3g8iInCJQ

I highly suggest taking a gander. Like many folks in the performing arts, Alex's dad was a real character, for without such family members what would we have to write about?