FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) -Darius J. Manuel plays many roles.

At the Florida Children’s Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, he’s a teacher and director.

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But he’s also a student.

Shari Upbin is Darius’ mentor. She’s helping him prepare his monologues for a competition next month.

“Darius is the kind of actor that he gets himself into the gear. And he does it. It grows. I keep using the word passion. That’s what Darius has,” Shari said.

“I simply just breathe and I think about the given circumstances,” Darius explains of his artistic process. “I think about what these extraordinary playwrights have given me.”

Darius started acting when he was a sophomore at Dillard High School.

Shari has been in the entertainment business practically since birth.

“That’s what I do, my whole life. That’s all I do. And I am so passionate about the arts,” Shari said.

Darius J. Manuel with his mentor Shari Upbin (Source: CBS4)

Now, the two have connected through the National Society of Arts and Letters, which has been supporting young people in the performing, literary and visual arts for 75 years.

The society hosts annual competitions.

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This year, it’s a drama competition and NSAL has paired performers with mentors to help them fine-tune their work.

“I think mentorship is a huge thing, especially when it comes to theater,” Darius said. “It’s so easy to feel alone. It’s so easy to feel like you don’t have anywhere to turn. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have the support system behind you.”

Darius says Shari’s guidance has helped him improve his performance and her connections have opened new doors for him professionally.

His dream is to star in a Broadway musical.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen. I think that’s what excites me about theater. That feeling,” he said.

“It’s the passion. It’s the excitement. I understand how he feels,” Shari added.

When asked if he gets intimidated to perform in front of his mentors, Darius replied, “Always! Because they are such esteemed people. But they have a way of making us feel comfortable. Of having a way of making us feel like our work matters.”

Darius will compete at the end of May and could win up to $12,000.

If you’d like to support the mission of NSAL, which provides scholarships to young creatives, visit

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Lauren Pastrana