“It’s right behind you!” This is a classic term used as part of a call-and-response scheme in a pantomime. For those readers who are American and have not visited the United Kingdom during the holidays when these productions are performed, a pantomime is a fairy-tale inspired show intended for families. They are usually filled with jokes about the local area. Men sometimes dress up as women and play Dames, and women sometimes dress as men and play princes. It’s all a bit befuddling. But there’s music, some cheeky innuendo, the eventual happy ending, and everyone tends to go home in a jolly good mood (which is what people need during the holiday season, right?). So seems to be the case whenever I take a bow at the end of the pantomime I’m in at the moment: Cinderella. But while little kids are leaving the Greenwich Theatre with their flashing toys ablaze, I hastily trek it back to my dressing room, baby wipe the make-up off my face, throw on my clothes and walk briskly to the train, silently praying that the power won’t go out on my iPod.
My days have been a bit monotonous for a long while now (give or take random night where I’ve hung out with drinking buddies). Ever since finishing my show, Topdog/Underdog (which was a tremendous professional success for me and others involved), I have switched gears majorly, from playing an eager-to-please younger sibling who kills his older brother, to playing an almost Will Smith type of ladies man in fairy-tale land who raps and does the splits. (The world of theatre is something else, isn’t it?) What these two characters have in common is the following: they both end up alone (the latter character moreso voluntarily than the previous character). What they also have in common is me, and my dedication to making them come alive.
Since starting the rehearsal process for this Pantomime, I have had to challenge myself to bring life to someone else’s words and vision. Now, this isn’t an alien task for me in the slightest. I am very familiar with receiving a script, coming up with my idea for the character, and then blending my idea into something in which both the director and I are pleased. For this particular show, it has been me giving a whole lotta Will Smith, with some Tommy C. dancing and facial expressions. So far, this combination seems to be working as a lot of what I did in rehearsals is in the show. And funny enough, no one finds it odd that I am an American character in a very English (and sometimes Irish) show.
What has been strange, however, is being an American participating in a hugely British tradition. Seeing so many families come to see the show and then leave saying, “Now it feels like Christmas-time to me” makes me feel more foreign than I am. But feeling foreign is better than what I have been feeling lately: nothing at all. These past couple weeks leading up to Christmas, I have felt absolutely nothing; no holiday cheer, no wonder, no magic…
It’s official…Like my feelings for Love, I have forgotten how a Happy Holiday feels.
Oh, I may parade around the dressing room with a half smile (saving my outlandish one for the stage), and joke about secret Santa gifts, but at the end of the day…I am empty; devoid of all things merry, snowy, and bright (except thought, go figure).
At the end of November, I tried to get myself into the spirit by writing out Christmas cards. I got a list together of about forty-five people, and managed to send off all forty-five cards. But after sending them, I still felt nothing. Of course it would make all of my recipients very happy that I thought about them, I am sure. For me, however…I still can’t muster up enough strength to utter “Merry Christmas” believably (and I’m an actor for goodness sake).
There are reasons for my emotional vacancy…some of which I am willing to discuss openly in this blog entry and others that I still have to make sense of. One thing for me is very clear: I need to somehow convince myself that God’s love is what to strive for on this holiday. I’d written in a lot of my Christmas Cards “Remember that this holiday is about sharing God’s love.” There has to be some kind of optimism in me when it comes to this holiday, right? Maybe if I dig deep enough I can find it.
But digging seems to get me into trouble with myself. When I delve any deeper into my brain, I begin to find the problems more easily than I can find the solutions.
Problem 1: I am homesick. This Christmas will be the fourth one that I have not spent at home with my family. It will also be Christmas number two without my Grandmother on this earth. More importantly, I finally have a decent job (for the moment) and I have still not managed to get gifts for my family.
Problem 2: My professional future is something of which I am afraid. This fall/winter season, not only have I been involved with my pantomime, but also auditions for The Lion King. I had seven auditions, six callbacks, and did not get the one role I was hoping to have: Mufasa. Granted, the casting process was out of my hands so I am not mad about it at all (I’m also a tad bit too young to basically play James Earl Jones). But in the future of West End Theatre…there’s not a great deal of roles open for young, skinny, black males in their 20s. Will I even have work in 2011? Maybe if I create work for myself and the people who look like me…
Problem 3: Finances. (I’m not EVEN going to go into this one, but I will just say that since I’ve become an adult in the real world….financial matters are just no laughing matter.) Hoping that you can bring in some sort of income each month become the only concern.
Problem 4: I’m starting to sense a lack in kindness of people. I don’t have personal interactions with thousands of people daily, but I’m not feeling the love and general goodwill towards all mankind. I could go into detail, but let’s just say…being a commuter on the London Tube is a fine example of how detached people have become due to technology and overall fear of their fellow man.
Problem 5: (and this is a personal one)…Love. Nope, I’ve not fallen into it, nor am I trying to get out of it. I’m just trying to understand the idea of it more and more as I get older. I’m sick of people telling me that the vacancy I feel is because I’m single and haven’t allowed love into my life. That’s NOT the issue at all, actually. That is an assumption and people couldn’t be more wrong. I am of the belief that love is a choice you make, not something you have no control over. The reason that some relationships last longer than others is because people have worked hard at making it work. They put in the effort.
When it comes to me, I feel like I could give a shit about putting in the effort. Seriously, my life is fine. As a singleton, I couldn’t be having a better time. Granted, intimate times are sometimes desired, but they aren’t constantly craved. Therefore, I should be quite content with myself, right?
Well this is why I’m not. (Content, that is.)
My world was rocked (just a bit) when I was reading Simon Callow’s book, Being an Actor. During his early years as an actor, he discovered that falling in love not only opened doors to his heart, but opened him up creatively and allowed him to push his boundaries. Something about the idea of opening up the heart to let in love AND creativity is something I still need to explore. But now that the idea is in my head, it’s sparked something and I feel it’s something worth listening to; this idea of being receptive to “New-ness” in whatever form.
I mean, if I am completely honest with myself, I was receptive to the idea of leaving home at fourteen to go to Private school 12 hours away from where I was born. I was receptive to leaving my bubble of privilege to go to college in Philadelphia. More importantly, I was receptive to the idea of going to get my masters from a school in Scotland and then move to London, on my own to make things happen for myself. If I were to evaluate my history, I’ve done very well for myself, considering that only 20 years ago I was a smart little country bumpkin boy from Virginia with no cares in the world.
But the lesson, I guess is that, when I was five, I had no boundaries. The world was big, yes but it wasn’t impossible. I knew my dreams would come true. I wasn’t concerned with finding love at five (what kind of child would I have been?), but I knew I would want all the good that was to come my way. Maybe this holiday is about that goodness. Maybe I need to see goodness in order to feel something. I don’t think I can do much more except hope for goodness and love in this world, because if I can receive them (and not have any reservations about receiving what is deserved), then I might be able to have a very happy holiday…I hope.