I bet that if I could have seen my reflection in the mirror of Studio 7 at Pineapple Dance Studios, I would’ve laughed at how ridiculous I must’ve looked. I mean, there I was, a skinny black American boy standing among a collection of around 30 or more black Brits, trying to keep a hold of my smile (or else I’d faint from Hairspray dance exhaustion). My royal blue stretch cotton T-shirt was drenched with sweat and about 2 pounds heavier than when I put it on at the start of the dance routine. Surprisingly, my feet were fine, considering I danced the whole routine in Converses. But the thing I couldn’t get off my mind was my face; ‘Do I look like a wet dog right now, or a runaway slave?’ I thought. And when I was sure no one else was thinking about the sweat on their faces, I heard a female voice murmur:
“What kind of make-up are these girls wearing? Sweat proof? My face is melting!”
Well it was reassuring to know I wasn’t the only one concerned with how I looked post-dance call. The group of us (guys and girls) were waiting to hear whether or not we’d be called back to sing for the casting director and his panel which included the Dance Captain (who’d pointed me out a couple times earlier that day for landing in a lunge instead of second position and for not “listening to my crotch”). The energy was fizzing in the room. We were all smiling for our lives…and secretly hoping that our names would be on the list in the casting director’s hand, if not the tip of his tongue.
“Well…I must say to you all,” he began, “this was the best dance call we’ve ever done! (I figured ‘that’s because black people know how to let loose, when we need to’…but I kept that thought to myself) “But, that being said…some of you are not right for our show. And it’s at this time that we are going to call the names of those who are. If your name isn’t called, you may gather you things and take your leave for the day. Those who are called back, we ask you to stay behind and sing for us.”
Talk about a Top Model moment. I half expected him to hold out our headshots and hand them to us so that we’d know we’d made it to the next round.
Thought it only took about three or four minutes to call my name, I felt like I’d been smiling for twenty five. (Actually, I’d been smiling like a My Buddy doll since I started learning the damn routine.)
“…Tommy Coleman…” and I didn’t hear anything else he had to say because MY name was the goal that day (though hearing my name with a posh London accent was quite jarring) and it was achieved! The world did slow down for a second or two once I registered that it was my name he called, but I didn’t have too much time to process it. I needed to think about what was next: the singing. I couldn’t believe it; after all that hard work, dancing to such high energy music, and feeling like my heart would leap out of my chest, I realized I had done something right! But what exactly?
Was it all about wearing the right dance clothes or having the right headshot and resume (C.V. to you U.K.-ers)? Was it the fact that I shaved my face so I would look prepubescent? Was it the fact that I had continued smiling my happy, yet reserved smile even though I wanted to call up all my homies back in the U.S. and get a little hood? I’m quite sure that all of those things played a part. But the sure-fire answer was the following: I’d begun to take control of my life, and began surrounding myself with people who believed in me and my potential.
A week before, I didn’t even have an agent…and now here I was, being seen by a major casting director… all because I decided to sign with someone? How did I get here?
The Week Before
It was supposed to be a business trip and it was for the most part. I’d planned 5 outfits, for 4 days, to meet with 3 interested agents, who I’d wow with one of my 2 pairs of suspenders (braces to you UK people) and all so I could eventually find the 1 person fit to manage my career. The search was on!
I’d arrived in London on Monday evening, very happy that the only traffic I had to endure was that of the city. And after having a lovely ride down, I ended up at a classmate’s flat. (It’s funny how not seeing someone for four weeks makes a big difference) Well, because I’m secretly a fat boy, I was hungry and decided to try out this restaurant that so many people were raving about: Nando’s. During the MOBO award time here in Glasgow, the new boy-band group JLS ate at the UK chain, so I figured, if they eat there, why not me? When I tasted the infamous Nando’s “Hot” sauce…I knew why.
I had a tough time figuring out whether or not my mouth was on fire, but once I realized that it actually was, it became apparent that a glass of Sprite wouldn’t be enough to douse the inferno blazing on my tongue. All eating habits aside though, it was an experience I’ll never forget and one I’m sure my friends will continue to find hilarious.
The next day started later than I’d wanted it to, so of course that meant I’d have a late day. I was supposed to wake up at 9, get some breakfast and then leave for my 12:30 meeting at 11:30 so I wouldn’t get lost. I woke up at 11 instead, threw on a pair of gray pants, a long-sleeved, ribbed, navy blue shirt and finished everything off in red (red suspenders, red belt, and red Converses). I chucked on a hat as I raced out the door with my headshot and CV in tow. Dammit…I didn’t know where I was headed.
In a nutshell, I got off at the right stop luckily…10 minutes after my meeting was supposed to begin. Panicked, I called the interested party to explain that I was on some crowded corner looking for a landmark. She giggled at my confusion, but directed me to her office and in 5 minutes I was sitting across from her, sweat collecting under my hat.
We introduced ourselves. I apologized. She asked me what I was looking for in an agent. I actually didn’t know the answer to that question. I apologized again. I searched deep for questions and answers that sounded feasible and honest and I managed to successfully fumble my way through my very first agent interview. The woman was great (though she asked me to perform a monologue and of course…I froze…and apologized once again) and made me feel comfortable, but at the day’s end. Something just didn’t spark. And it was all me, not her. I couldn’t help but feel inadequate and unprofessional. I mean…I’d arrived late, didn’t have any questions to ask, didn’t know what I wanted, and I felt completely lost.
Then I went home, complained about how awful my day was to my friend, checked my e-mail….and found that I had an offer! Well, I guess befuddlement was still an endearing quality to have.
The next day, was a day I was happy to see come. I’d be meeting with the woman who tracked me down after my showcase (a good sign with me. It meant that she was truly interested and wasn’t afraid to show it). So I threw on a new concoction of colors (gray jeans, red shirt, turquoise suspenders, and my red Converses) and headed into London-town.
Arriving on time, I was happy to see a familiar face. We’d chatted, got to know one another, talked over some items….and then we started talking about my grandmother. And during that topic, she confessed to me that she read my blogs (which is when my heart said “JUST CHOOSE HER NOW!!!”) She’d gone the extra step to find out who I was before taking me on? That’s a woman I wanted on my team. At the end of our meeting I’d agreed to a trial contract and she was submitting my details to Hairspray and Wicked (two shows I would kill to be a part of).
Thursday was a simple day. I toured the city of London and caught up with a friend from Glasgow, a friend from high school, and some friends from this past schoolyear.
Friday came. It was my final day to meet with an agent (another woman) and again…I was late…this time 20 minutes late. (I should’ve seen that as a sign) Traffic was atrocious during midday and the Tube was moving at the speed of snail. I was appalled at myself for getting into this mess a second time. Lateness? When did that become what I was famous for?
I was to meet this woman at a Starbucks and when I got there, she wasn’t. But my phone was vibrating and when I answered it was her telling me that she hadn’t received my messages until that very minute was was on her way back to meet with me.
She came in, bought me a coffee, we talked. She was very pretty. Nice, even. She was very smart and knew all the right things to say….but my mind was made up. Yes, she did see one of my shows from this summer, but would she ever know me? (Basically, would she ever read my blog?) I felt like it was a no go. She was brilliant, but just not for me. No spark.
But something else was igniting. My phone once I had returned to my friend’s house. It was the Wednesday agent calling to say that the casting director for Hairspray was interested in seeing me for an audition the next week! All I could think was ‘not only did she believe in me enough to read my blog, but she is already willing to put me out there. She’s the bomb-dot-com.’
The Next Week
And so, I ended up at Pineapple Studios in Studio 7 preparing myself to sing for the Hairspray panel. After the others were dismissed, the remaining people were told that we needed to sing the part of our song that had the “money notes.” Well, there went my first song option. I was going to sing a cute Sam Cooke song that was a personality piece. Time to pull out the Stevie Wonder! I hurriedly thought of a new way to cut and paste “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and quietly rehearsed. The lobby of the area was swarming with dancers: people for Hairspray auditions, people for dance classes, and the sweaty remainders from my session. I’d changed from my wet clothes to my gray skinny jeans, my red button-down with white sweater overtop, a navy blue tie, and of course my red Converses. I also took in my newly shaved baby-face. I wanted to make sure I looked relatively 60s. They called my name Lucky for me, I was already standing by the door, trying to control my perspiration, and ready to sing.
I ran to the piano, went over the song-cut with the pianist, and I trumpeted Stevie’s lyrics and melody from my mouth. I was happy to have gotten this far and I know it showed. (Besides, I can hit an A flat now…when only last year I was not singin above E flat) I watched as the choreographer’s eyes widened in surprise. (I bet she was surprised I could actually carry a tune), and I watched the other panel members smile, and relax a bit. Good sign! Once the song was over, I gathered my music, smiled a polite exit and jogged out of the door (literally, I had to jog because they were needing to see people rapidly)
This was only the beginning, but it was what I’d hoped for: a chance to be seen, to prove my worth, and to show people that I am a fighter. Now I’m just waiting to have the chance to fight some more whether it’s for a role on the West End of London, a role in a Broadway show, or even a role on television. But, I feel, fighting is what gives a person clout in this industry. And I can tell you now…I WILL have clout! I will have to do some waiting, but boy-oh-boy when the time comes to fight, I will rock’em and sock’em. Until then, however, I ain’t gonna worry ‘bout a thing…