The Boy from Virginia Breaks Routine (The Concrete Choronicles)

Novemeber 2012

 The first day of November, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I decided I was going to an open call. It would be my first open call in New York and I wanted to make it count. So I planned an outfit that would make me look 60s chic without going overboard, and I skimmed through my appropriate sheet music, finding that I actually didn’t possess the right songs for the show being cast. I instantly reprimanded myself and was about to can the entire idea when I thought to myself, ‘You made a decision. You can’t back down now.’ So I decided I’d go to the audition with whatever was in my songbook and if I were lucky enough to be called back, then I would do the extra prep work then. The fact that I’d built up the resolve to go to a cattle call was good enough.

The next day, to take away the stress of not feeling fully prepared for the audition, I linked up with a friend from London who’d happened to be in town on his honeymoon. He and his partner chose an unfortunate time to be in New York, however, as Hurricane Sandy blustered her way through town not too long after their arrival, leaving the newlyweds without power below 14th Street. Being resourceful, however, he’d managed to find alternative living quarters. He also managed to get me from the Upper West Side to Hell’s Kitchen to say hey and to meet other artists. It was a visit I welcomed wholeheartedly because I was in desperate need of London energy. I hadn’t been able to make many new friends in the city who weren’t co-workers, and the friends I did have in the city were so scattered about the place that linking up with them was becoming a more difficult task. I wasn’t feeling loved in the city.

I’d begun to prefer the London Fog to what I’d started calling “The Rotten Apple.” I knew I shouldn’t have allowed my emotional success to reside in such a specific location, as I definitely had hardships there as well…but forcing a connection with a place wasn’t healthy either. It felt akin to trying to make a relationship work because one felt he must; not because the foundation was strong enough for it to work on its own.

Upon linking with my friend -a former co-star in a brilliant new musical I’d had the chance to workshop multiple times while living in London- I was able to relax and talk shop for a bit. We’d both been informed that the show we work-shopped had been picked up to be performed by one of the most reputable companies in the world. We were both on pins and needles hoping that we’d get a call or news about when the show would premiere, and if we’d both still be a part of it. Conversation waned once the hype about art was over, but it was an important enough conversation to plant a seed of hope in me for my future. In the back of my mind, I was confident that, regardless of whether I lived in New York, London, or the Amazon, I was going to be a part of that new show if it killed me. I believe that second day of November was the day I remembered what ambition felt like. But how long would that memory remain?

The next day, I woke up, threw on a decent outfit, gathered some sheet music from my song book and packed a headshot and resume, and then trekked into midtown at 6:30am to attend the open audition for Motown the Musical. Having known someone who was a part of the workshop, I was confused as to why the show was still auditioning when they seemed to be fully cast. Still, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be seen.

About thirty-five other early bird artists and amateurs felt the same way, I discovered, when I entered the lobby of Telsey and Company. They were cold, and shivering, and ready to show the world that they belonged on a stage, anyone’s stage. And here I was…feeling…like I’d gone back to high school. Instead of feeling like I was at an audition, I felt like I was at a forensics competition with all the assorted characters. There was even the overachieving, know-it-all girl who made a list of all the people who came in so no one could jump the line.

“There’s an order here, and we want to keep it that way.” She smiled one of those psychotic smiles that warned me not to cut in line, or I’d be cut. Then she gave me the sheet of paper that was already covered in scrawls. “Number yourself and sign your name here.” I complied, mainly because it was 6:50am and I am a firm believer that all drama should be put off until noon.

What she failed to do, however, was read the fine print on the website –and the door– that said “unauthorized audition lists would not be taken into consideration at all unless distributed by Equity.” So after the doors were officially opened into the audition room (and after about 200 more people showed up), I moved from being the thirty fifth person to number eleven (merely because I was closest to the door). In waiting for the auditions to begin, I watched a good twenty people change into their best thrift store costumes to emerge as people from my grandparents generation. I enjoyed their efforts, and their outlandish afro wigs. Power to the people! I watched American Idol wannabees riffing up, down and around the scales as they warmed their voices. Girls plastered on too much make up. Guys got in touch with their falsetto. Yet, I was still wondering if singing Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” would motivate me to do exactly that. I wasn’t worried, but I was overwhelmed at the environment. I’d luckily avoided open calls my entire London career because of my wonderful agent there. It felt strange knowing that I’d only have 16 bars of a song to represent all of what I could possibly do. But when they called my name, I knew I’d have to try.  

It was a very brief audition. I wasn’t asked to remain, like some others were…and I was ok with it. Unlike others, I wasn’t there to compete or make fun of others or challenge anyone. I was there to challenge myself. The hard part was done; going to the damn audition. I was proud of myself for taking that risk. I laughed off the entire day and prepped myself for a return to work and normal non-actor routine.

My wake up ritual had become the same. My iPhone would play a snippet of the pop song I’d programmed to wake me up at my designated time, and I’d listen to see if one of the 4 other roommates were plodding across the floorboards. If so, I’d wait until I heard a door shut, and I’d start my day of avoiding people until I had to step outside of my building. Considering we still did not have a bathroom to call our own, I’d sometimes had to go to the coffee shop next door to pee.

The election was around the corner. In my mind President Obama was just bound to win. I had no doubts. But I was also disappointed in myself for not getting my absentee ballot mailed off much sooner that the day before elections. It was evident that my vote wouldn’t count, but I did try. Unfortunately just as I’d missed my chance to vote on time, I’d also missed the moment when the POTUS actually won his second term. Walking through Harlem at 10:58pm (I’d stayed at work late and went to the gym) and hearing the cheers and the overall relief at the victory was enough to warm me up on the suddenly chilly Election evening. If anything was certain in my life, it was that our President would be spending the next four years doing his best to make a difference. That was about all I could count on.

The next week, I was supposed to be celebrating my debut on ABC’s Revolution! I’d made the mistake of telling friends and family that I would most certainly be a part of the episode that was airing only to receive an e-mail from my agent stating “your part was cut from tonight’s episode.” I wasn’t completely crushed. I’d gotten paid for my work already, so that was proof enough that I actually did the job. “Embarrassed” is a more appropriate word for how I was feeling. People root for me -sometimes- and I wanted those people to be proud that I’d made it to primetime. Truth was: I hadn’t. The only lesson I learned, at that moment, was a professional one. Keep all successes quiet until they occur. I made a vow to myself from then on that if I did anything regarding film and TV, I wouldn’t speak about it to anyone. If I booked a job, I could be happy about it, but only to myself. To tell anyone else would be getting their hopes up and I didn’t want to do that to anyone. I’d experienced enough empty promises in my life to shatter the dreams or expectations of others. Funny enough, I was also beginning to get bored with the empty promises I was making to myself.

During the month of November, I’d been having sporadic text conversation and occasional meetings with my college heroine. Mo, a dead ringer for Brandy Norwood (if she’d worn box or micro braids and had a music career), was my saving grace many times in NYC.  There was once a time in our lives where we both considered ourselves royalty and lately we’d started asking life, “How in the hell did we end up in this particular moment?” There was something absurd about the fact that we were growing up and experiencing these epic highs, lows and adult-isms that we were somehow prepared to deal with. Getting older was just laughable to us. Mainly because we felt no older than the day we’d met back in 2003. Only now, she had 2 amazing sons and an apartment in Harlem and I…well… I was a no-money nomad who’d gotten complacent. This was a problem…

Two months prior, Rihanna released a song that, though lyrically cheesy, changed my perspective on things. “Diamonds” was a song that told you to shine bright. While others paid attention to the childlike tonality of Riri’s singing voice, I was hearing a command. The message in that line burst through like sun rays through interrupted sleep. “Shine bright like a diamond.” Be not afraid to illuminate this world in whatever way you can. The song itself wasn’t about individuals, but I took the message of “shining” as my personal responsibility. And I told Mo one day, “We must hold each other accountable. Please don’t allow me to let my light dim. And I will do the same for you.” It felt like I was in a twelve-step program…but I knew I couldn’t shine alone. No truly successful person ever shines alone. I would need loads of help from willing participants and people I could trust. In mid-November, Mo became a woman I could trust with my light. As diamonds, we promised each other not to dull.

But even diamonds get soiled every now and again…

It was hard to feel like I was shining at all when I would go back to my box of a room and have to sleep on a borrowed air mattress with borrowed sheets. Besides my clothes, I felt I was still borrowing my room though I was paying rent. I had no furniture. Most of my stuff was still in a suitcase, and I couldn’t shift or adjust myself on the mattress without sounding like I was farting out the tea, and Entemann’s cake that was becoming my nightly best friend. I wasn’t owning anything, not even my life. My life wasn’t being lived in the way I’d wished. Tough times wouldn’t last, I knew. But God knows I didn’t feel like waiting until the struggle was over for it to be beautiful. I wasn’t feeling beautiful. I was feeling stunted.  Luckily art would save the saved the day for a day.

After filming a small role for a “Finding Me,” a thriving webseries based on two popular independent films of the same name, I’d planned a trip back home to Virginia for Thansgiving which was that same week. My niece would also be turning one year old that week and I refused to miss her special day. Since her birthday was the day after turkey day, I’d also be killing three birds with one stone: food, family, celebration.

Despite a terrbible Chinatown bus journey home, I arrived back in Virginia, hoping that in the time I’d been away that things would have changed. I hoped my sister would’ve become more responsible, that my mother’s worrying about things she had no control over would subside, that my little brother was flourishing in school, and that my niece would still remember my face.

She did.

Me and my neiceAnd after spending months without me, she walked right over to me so I could pick her up. I almost cried from happiness. Sometimes joy really is in the eyes of a child. My niece looked at me with so much curiosity and no judgment, and then rested her head on my chest. Only a child’s love can be that unconditional, or so I’m told.

Thanksgiving Day was full of food -that I helped prepare- and family. The next day, my niece’s  first birthday was simple and fun, and then it was time for me to return to New York, where the cold has settled in and I’d have some personal changes to make.  What was great was that I was able to spend the end of my month seeing two more friends from London who’d come to visit the city. If anything could lift my spirits, it would be ANY Londoner.

Deep in my heart, I knew that I would eventually go back to London. I didn’t know how or when it would happen, but seeing my friends solidified that it would definitely happen. Because I believed in that dream so damn much. Somehow I knew that it would be art that would make me return. But until art decided to make its move, it was back to my daily routine: wake up, avoid roommates, pee at the coffee shop next door, get dressed, and serve people all day long until I got off work, went to the gym, came home, drank tea, ate Entemann’s cake, and fell asleep. Then repeat.

The Boy from Virginia Emerges from the Grave (The Hiatus Series)

“There’s always another chance. Another chance to make a change, to make new choices, to say sorry, to offer and accept love, to embrace responsibility, to understand, to create  romance, to make amends, to escape, to break the chain, to see the truth, to tell the truth, to reassess, to rebuild, to be reborn. Give yourself a chance to live. Give the world a chance to be wonderful” –Rikki Beadle-Blair

Last Friday, I performed a small interpretive dance piece about fair trade gold for Africa Fashion Week. The next day, I cut off my hair and went into work for a Burlsque night in central London. Then, on Sunday, I began my new job as a waiter in a restaurant. Only two and a halk weeks ago was I sitting in my room feeling as if I couldn’t move. Now here I am, moving as much as I possibly can. Things do turn around, don’t they?

The following was originally written on August 3rd

What a hiatus gives a person is the following: 1)serious time to think, 2) a clear head to figure out what’s next, and 3) a refreshing feeling that no vacation has the power to give.

So I thought. A lot. And I tried to pinpoint the root of my problem with God and with my situation and it boiled down to something quite simple. I wasn’t angry with God because I didn’t get a role in a play. I’ve NOT gotten roles before. Instead, I lost faith because all I wanted was a job that was going to help me get out of financial debt before leaving London. I lost faith because I figured that getting a role was such a small thing to ask God for. But He couldn’t do it. Or better yet, he chose not to do it. He’d rather give the rich even more riches and keep the poor, struggling no matter how hard some of them fight to make life better.

So I questioned him. I questioned Him hard. And it made people very mad I feel because of some unspoken rule that says He’s not to be questioned. Here’s my theory:  I don’t think God punishes negative thoughts. He doesn’t reward them, obviously, but why punish when he has bigger fish to fry? The world has tons of negativity. Instead, he tends to show you what he has in store. The more I questioned, and the more insecure I became, the more I began to care less about God and His miracles. But then, calls came in and doors opened and I figured that it would be stupid of me not to put in work to make good things happen for myself (which is why I now have a couple jobs to help me for a bit). So from now on, I will say, “Question God,” because he will definitely show you His answer. I think a cowardly entity would just refuse to show up at all.

I think God showed me an answer through a death. You see, it was Amy Winehouse’s death that made me think, this isn’t it for me. I still have a legacy to leave behind, and a mark to make on this world. To just quit my career (which is what I was considering) would be a testatment to failure, and people who know me well know that I only fail at relationships, not my career.

I love my job waaaay to much to just give up on it. Moments like the one I experienced are considered a “scuffle.” Like any other relationship in which you love something, you are bound to get hurt, and you need to recover from that hurt in your own way. This industry is something that most people love and hate at the same time. To be able to love/hate simultaneously shows the depth of my involvement in the craft. It’s like family; Only real family members know how to piss you off, and then make you smile 5 minutes later.

This is a journey that I am constantly on and the only relationship I know how to manage. I wouldn’t be surprised if I feel the exact same way about the industry in later years. Yes, I recognize how specific my situation is to me yet, for those who’ve forgotten, I write my blogs not just for myself, but for those people who aren’t near me and want to know how I’m living my life. That includes being candid with my readers and not stiffing them on the details that make my journey a real one. Not everything I write will be comfortable, nor understandable to some. Remember, regardless the emotion, the essence of me doesn’t change.

One of my favorite lines of any movie is in Scream 2 where Sidney Prescott says “I’m a fighter.” Her graying drama teacher looks at her with a hint of challenge and disdain and says not once, but twice “I don’t believe you.” She looks at him with a combination of determination and fear, and says with more than enough internal power, “I’m a fighter.” This is how I feel every single day of my life. I start my days with question marks about the things I believe in the most, and by the day’s end, or the next morning, my questions marks have turned into periods or exclamation points.

My personal plea to my friends and family and readers is this: Know me well enough to know that I’m fine and will always pick myself up of the concrete when knocked down. I’m not a hopeless case who will end up in a hospital somewhere for slitting his wrist. That’s too played out. People are remembered most for their actions, how they persevered and lived through even the worst of times.  However, also know me well enough to know that my hiatus was a form of rebellion. I don’t get to rebel often because people think that I am happy and together all the damn time. It seems selfish for people to want meto be happy for them as opposed to myself. So if feeling sad for a week, or a month, makes me feel happy, respect it.

For a time, during my hiatus period, people were suggesting all types of ways to diagnose my “problem” and I kept wondering if they knew that my problem was merely financial. If they had a get rich quick scheme, then I would take that on in a heartbeat. But the question of problems remained. Do I have a problem?, I thought. Yes, I do. It’s called “feeling too much.”  When I get caught up in something, I feel it to the nth degree. But funny enough, there is nothigng wrong with that. Most people don;t feel or care enough. I don’t want to be one of those people no matter how foot-loose and fancy free they appear to be. From my personal experience, I’ve come to realize that being considerate of others is rewarding, even thought it can get a bit stressful as well. Therefore, I need to find a balance between giving and not giving a fuck.

But a word to the wise, when it comes to me, I ask my friends to let me come to conclusions on my own. I have to live with myself 24 hours a day and no one knows me like I know me, so don’t try to solve me as if I am some sort of emotional equation. I can usually solve myself with silence, some well thought out words, and my laptop.

Sidewak drawig at the Southbank

The Boy from Virginia Begins his European Journey

One of the greatest memories I have, to this very day, is my memory of auditioning for the RSAMD three years ago, because it was the audition that changed my life…

I hadn’t looked at the weather forecast in that day, but I knew that upon leaving Harlem to head into Manhattan, I would need to wear multiple layers. Since I didn’t have my long underwear with me, I put on a pair of pajama bottoms underneath my dress slacks and headed out into the chilly New York winter. It was a Monday in January and I was spending my day auditioning for the top schools in America, hoping that I would eventually get a call back and an interview from the college what would be the best fit for me. Little did I know (that day) how soon those opportunities would come.

            After going to a very early cattle call audition in a hotel, I ran into a friend who was also on the graduate school search and she mentioned that she would be auditioning for “a small Scottish school” for fun. I said to myself, Scotland? Really? What is in Scotland besides Loch Ness? But I put my geographical questions aside and decided that any chance to audition would be a good one, so I began to run through my monologues in my head.

            I stepped into Ripley Grier studios that afternoon feeling very cool and nonchalant about auditioning for this school I’d never heard of before. I was sure that I would go into the room, not be able to understand a word of the Scottish accent, and then be told “we’ll be in touch.

That isn’t what happened at all.

            When I came into the audition room, I remember meeting Andrew Panton and another panel member. There was also a musical director in the room. The gentlemen asked me to recite my two monologues (I was interested heavily in classical texts at the time so I did  one from Hamlet and my contemporary piece was by Neil LaBute), and when I was finished, I was asked if I could sing. Go figure. I was so concerned about acting that I didn’t consider the idea of musical theatre. I told the panel that I could sing, but I was without sheet music. After singing a bit of a song acapella, I was asked to sit down.

            Andrew then asked me what I was looking for in a graduate program. I informed him. He did a lot of intent nodding as I spoke. Then I asked him about movement, to which he told me that he would love to see me at a dance call later that afternoon (coupled with a singing recall to which I needed to find sheet music).

            This was my interview, I’d assumed…and I had just received a call back!!!

            I was a bit bewildered, but extremely excited because it seemed I’d just had one of the most calm and productive auditions of my life. I called my mother with the good news, to which she responded with nothing but positivity.

 “Forget Yale, she told me. “Scotland has your name all over it!”

But I still had an issue. I was ill prepared for a dance call, better yet a singing audition. I needed to find materials, and fast!

            I ran eleven blocks to a music shop and purchased as many song-books as my pockets could afford, full of musical theatre songs I’d rehearsed before, or listened to as a kid. So, that was my sheet music sorted. Yet, there was still the problem of dance clothing. It soon hit me…I was wearing pajama bottoms. Though not the ideal choice for a dance call, they were moveable. I breathed easy for a minute. All I needed now was a shirt. So somewhere between the music shop and Ripley Grier studios, I found a t-shirt vendor who sold me an “I ♥ NY” t-shirt. At that moment, I did love New York for having exactly what I needed and I hurried, dodging the sea of city-folk, to my audition.

            Sweating and panting heavily, for fear that I would be late, I arrived in the dance studio ready to strip off and sing first, then dance later. When Andrew saw that I was nearly asthmatic an in desperate need of catching my breath, he said to me very calmly and with a reassuring smile “Take your time. We will wait until you are ready.” And for the first time in my theatrical career, I believed the sincerity behind those words.

            I went in for the dance call first and Andrew taught a routine to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” When I heard the music coming from the boom box, I relaxed, did the choreography to the best of my ability, and just tried to go with the flow. I didn’t even think about the other two candidates in the room with me. After the dance call was over, I sang two carefully selected songs and was told I did a good job. I changed clothes, and left the dance studio to head back to the hotel which housed my first audition, and realized in transit, that I’d missed a phone call from a foreign number. The message was from Andrew Panton, asking me to give him a call (or, at least, that was what I could make out from his accent), but since I didn’t have an international service on my mobile phone, I didn’t know how I would contact him. I got worried. In situations where fate is involved, however, worry doesn’t make itself a lengthy visitor.

            No soon as I’d received notice about my previous hotel cattle-call audition, I ran into Andrew Panton. He was coming up the escalator as I was just about to step onto the downward one. We spoke briefly, and he informed me that he was well aware that Scotland wasn’t on my list of “life-long goals” but he expressed interest in having me on board at the Academy.

And just like my mother said, I forgot about Yale and the other schools I’d applied to in America and set my heart on a school that I felt truly believed in my potential and wanted to nurture my skills; A school that would mark a new beginning in more ways than one. That school was the RSAMD, and making the decision to attend was the best decision of my life thus far!

The Boy from Virginia Ponders His Holiday Season

“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.

In my Christmas attire

The Boy from Virginia Gets Better

I never know where to begin when I start writing. Sometimes, I’m blessed with an idea of a format. I sometimes know exactly what I am going to say to my faithful readers. Most of the time, I tend to write in the “free write” format. And then there are times when I completely plan out what I’m going to say because I’m sure I have something clever or witty to impart upon the masses. But lately, I’m starting to feel a little massed out.

I have not been able to write to the extent that I would like because I have (luckily) been very busy with my part time job (at LUSH again) and my budding career as an actor. As many people know, I spent the summer in Edinburgh, Scotland performing in a wonderful site specific piece called CARGO which taught me very much about myself and where I fit in this industry. The show, being my first professional show (and a very well paid one, at that) gave me a bit of direction and is responsible for my newfound ambition. I left that show knowing exactly what I wanted from my career, thanks to having made a lot of professional contacts and seeing people put in good work. To anyone involved in my CARGO experience, I thank you loads, as you have made me a better person.

Speaking of being a better person, I have been trying my best to be exactly that every single day. I came back to London with a new zest for life and an unexpected job offer. Lush Covent Garden was hiring, and I was lucky enough to just slot myself back into gear. Yes, selling soap is not my goal in life, but damn if it doesn’t pay the rent (which has gotten significantly higher since I decided to move from Stratford to Clapham in South London). Of course, I would see some old faces, but the newer faces were just as welcoming and I am very sure that I have made a couple friends for life from this shop. Moving on…

September began with a casting call for a Nokia viral with up and coming directors, The McHenry Brothers. More auditions would follow, but none would be as memorable as the one I had for a play which seemed so promising. The whole experience taught me that as long as you do your personal best, you will be rewarded, even it’s it isn’t in the most obvious way. Here’s the scenario (for you actors/actresses out there, pay attention):

I went to an “urgent” casting call because they were looking to replace an actor who was no longer available. For me that meant being able to go in and do a cold reading (which is a skill I rock like no other). For those who are not familiar with that phrase, cold reading is basically reading/acting a script without having any prior knowledge of it nor any time to properly prepare it. I read the script and could tell that the director and producer were pleased with my performance. After asking me if I would be available for rehearsals the next day, and if they could contact my agent, they gave me the script to take home and I was feeling more than excited. There was a chance I would get to originate a role and possibly get reviewed for it! Amazing!!! But then…the sun went down that day…and I’d heard nothing from my agent. Strange….

The next morning…I figured ‘I’ve still heard nothing. I’m going to take a trek down to the theatre. Maybe they’ll be expecting me.’ (I mean…I DID rearrange my work schedule for them, putting my bosses in disarray for a bit) So I arrived at the theatre…and could tell immediately that I wasn’t the actor they excpected. In fact, I was rushed out of the room before making too much contact with the performers in the room so that the producer could tell me “I’m sorry, but you didn’t get the part.” (yes, he made the obligatory face that accompanies a person who has to give bad news…”the ooooo and the wince” and I didn’t even feel rage…well not immediately. I felt shock first.) After informing him that no one told my agent that I wasn’t the “selected” one, he apologized profusely saying that she should’ve been contacted. I was then told, basically, that there was someone better than me who came in and was exactly what they were seeking (and I thought to myself wow…if only dating was this direct, then most people’s time wouldn’t be wasted.) After that embarrassing fiasco (or let’s call it “misunderstanding” to be fair) I somehow managed to walk back to the London tube with my head held high (it was a sunny day after all) and my thoughts in order.

No soon as my train departed from the station, however, my thoughts turned into a jumble of porridge mush in my head and I started feeling a bit worthless. I knew the feeling wouldn’t last, but dammit, I felt inadequate and I was gonna ride that negativity out until it left my system completely. (Thanks to my Lush employers for allowing me to, once again, rearrange my schedule and burden them with the story of my audition gone wrong). Lucky for me, I am also blessed with colleagues who believe that muffins can cure all problems….even unsuccessful auditions!

The rest of September was 1) laden with days of work at Lush, 2) making peace with a distressful yet mutual separation, 3) me getting grumpy at slow walking, hand-holding commuters who have no walking etiquette, 4) having to say goodbye to a very important friend who moved back to America.  and 5) searching for a new flat with close friends of mine. The latter proved to be the most stressful (to the point where I had the flu and a high fever while I was on the hunt for London’s Next Top Affordable Flat).  But eventually, the place that we wanted, in the perfect location that we desired, was what my friends and I ended up getting! Thank God!

Then there was the lovely Nokia N8 short film/advert I filmed with surprise leading actor Dev Patel (of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame). Not only is he the nicest celebrity I’ve met so far, but he’s very talented and professional. And yet…he’s younger than I am, and I assume more well-to-do than me, as well. But there’s no jealously here…if anything, I know (for a fact) after working with him that I want to be doing what he’s doing. So I’m going to keep fighting as hard as I can (within reason, though) to do the best I can because I’m all about making a better me right now.

Being “better” means rising to the challenges that my career and (most importantly) my life have set forth. I was blessed with the opportunity to audition for Topdog/Underdog (thanks to some very handy work done by my diligent agent), and I can now say that I am reprising my role of Booth. Having done the show once and not really feeling as if I were able to perform it to my full potential (as the circumstances around my previous performance prevented me from doing so), this second chance gives me a chance to actually give more to this role than I did before. I have been able to find some nuances that I’d missed before. I have also realized that though I thought some things about the character before, I’ve discovered more about him since the first time and my interpretation of him has grown. The challenge now is to make this guy believable and to tell his story as best as possible. I am so taken with playing this role because I know for a fact that this story is one that would never really get told, and to have it written and scripted in such a beautiful and particular way, it widens the perspective of the audiences who get to see it, much like how the film Precious touched ALL people regardless of race, culture, economic status, etc. It was a universal story and I’m proud to be a part of that.

Basically, at the end of the day, I live to tell a story, whether it is my own or whether it means helping someone else’s come to life. All experiences and emotions are quintessentially human and as a human being in this world, I can only do my best to make sure I live my universal life as best as humanly possible.

My face on a flyer (for the first time!)

The Boy from Virginia and the Unforseen (Part 1)

As soon as it happened I wanted to run for a mirror. I heard the clink, and used my tongue to taste what felt like something chalky on the back on my front tooth. This cannot be happening, yo, was the first thought to come to mind. I mean, I didn’t think there would be blood, but I felt like maybe, there might be visible wreckage. And if there was visible wreckage, then my dreams of doing a Crest commercial would be out of reach forever…  and all because I’d chipped my tooth on a 69 pence, clay coffee mug. Really, though? What kind of story is that to tell: “Actually, a cheap ass mug took out my tooth while I was in rehearsal for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Isn’t that funny?

Some of my female cast-mates approached me mentioning that they’d heard the tooth and mug connect (was it THAT loud?) and wanted to see the damage. I kept my hands over my mouth (think Miss Celie in The Color Purple, but without the grin) very afraid that if I took them down, everyone’s faces around me would contort from caring and concerned to wowed and wincing.  I wasn’t ready to deal with that. But more importantly, I wasn’t prepared for the possibility that I might have ruined the one good thing about me: my smile. But since there are a lack mirrors in the warehouse where our rehearsals take place, I had to stop mentally screaming Ohmigod and drop my hands and ask very carefully, “Can you see it?”

            Fortunately, my mind made matters much worse than they were. The tooth, which in fact is definitely chipped (there goes my smiling career), is only chipped in a place you cannot see it: on the rear of the tooth, yet the collision happened in the front. I don’t understand how that could’ve happened, but hey, at the end of the day, it could’ve been much more dramatic. So I can smile, at least, but every time my tongue touches the back of my tooth, I am reminded of what I will now call the “tea cup accident.”

            The issue here is that I could not prepare myself for the events of today. Yes, it is a lesson that everyone is taught, and it is a phrase that many people hear multiple times in their lives. Most of the time that phrase is related to losing a loved one or bankruptcy, but we never attribute it to small things in our lives, or to positive things. With small things, like a tooth for example, we are told to let it go and it will heal over time (ha!). With positive things…we forget that we cannot plan for those either. You can try hard as you might to have good things happen to you, but like babies and other “tea cup accidents” of our lives, they can sometimes be just as unexpected.

May 2010

            I’d made the mistake of going shopping at a store and suddenly found myself flirting with staff there.  Upon second visit, and a couple text messages, it was understood that a coffee date might take place. Four hours after second visit,  I got a cancellation of the worst kind: “I’m actually married, I thought you noticed my wedding ring!” Well since I tend not to look down when I’m looking into someone else’s eyes, I guess that little (LARGE) detail sparkled just below my sightline. Initially, I felt embarrassed beyond belief and even admitted it. Then suddenly, I felt anxious as if thousands if people knew that I’d fucked up. Next thing I knew, I was feeling like crap. In my mind I thought, “Are you kidding me? I never pursue, I never date, and the second I try to hook something up as simple as a coffee date, I fail to the highest degree because I wasn’t observant enough?” I felt stupid, which is not a trait I’d like being associated with the Tommy C. brand. How was I to recover from such a mishap? In trying to find a solution to the mistake, I ended up inside my head (which for me is a bad thing especially in moments of self-doubt). 

            I’d begin to question my worth.  More importantly, I started questioning if I was worth knowing. If I could make such a mistake as to fancy (my favorite British term) someone with a wedding band, then what other blunders would I make? I dug deep and ended up sending a message to my Facebook friends asking them what they thought of me. Some told me what they thought, others didn’t. Maybe they didn’t have time, or maybe they weren’t ready to be honest with me, but those who did answer the question had loads to say. It made me realize 1) most people never actually say how they feel about each other in a tactful manner and 2) that like my tea cup accident, I wasn’t prepared for some of the responses. The amount of respect that I now have for those who responded is immeasurable because they told me the truth when I most needed it.

             A couple days later, I got something else I needed: a much desired ego boost.  After my wedding ring fiasco, one of my good friends suggested we hang out so that I could bring myself out of the dark hole I’d climbed into. Karaoke was his drug of choice and funny enough, the performer in me overruled the somber version of me and I agreed that I wouldn’t back down without a good sing!

            After meeting up with a couple of his mutual friends, I sat still feeling completely bewildered at my combination of embarrassment and stupidity from the days before. People were creating a cacophony of wrong notes around me and I couldn’t escape the din in my head. Then…I began a conversation about a passion of mine with someone new. I discussed writing and what it meant to me, which lead to discussion about my career, and then to a conversation about myself…and next thing I knew, I was intellectually attracted. I would come to find out that the feelings were mutual that next day. (…and unfortunately, readers, that’s as far as that story will go for the moment).

Fast forward to later in that week (as the above happened on a Sunday). On that Thursday, I got a call from the woman who would soon be my new director. She told me that she enjoyed my audition for her show Topdog/Underdog, and would be thrilled to have me on board as Booth! My heart leaped into my throat, but I gulped it back down to let her know that I would be happy to be on board. My history with that show went back to my senior year of high school and to work on the show, unpaid or not, was something I wanted to be a part of, period! Part of me knew that I rocked my audition for the show, but to get the part of Booth was unexpected for sure.

And there would be more moments like that to follow, such as getting a call that next week to say that I was cast in a music video for an actress turned pop singer here in the UK or being an extra in a film by a director who I’ve wanted to work with for the past 2 years, booking a gig as a model for banking brochure, or most importantly, being called for my first big paying gig of the year, which is the show I’m a part if right now here in Edinburgh, Scotland.  And the funny thing is, when things happen unexpectedly, they can catch you off guard a bit and throw your life off kilter…even the good things…

The Boy from Virginia…Breathes

The only thing that woke me up this morning (besides one of my roommates dropping something on the floor) was the sound of my telephone. It was a call seeing if I would like to come in and work on my day off and for once, I said, “No. Not today.” For some, saying “no” is such an easy task that they don’t have to think about it. Today was the only day I didn’t find giving a yes/no answer too complicated. For weeks now, I have been working my ass off doing overtime (because, like many, I would love a day where my bank account doesn’t border on zero). The shifts have been great, and so have the people I’ve worked with, but on Saturday, when I made the decision to work from 9am ‘til 9pm (might I remind you-on a Saturday?!?), I needed to take a step back. How much is this hard work paying off? And why am I so pissed at the fact that I feel like I’m putting more time into my day job than into my career? More importantly, why don’t I feel like I’m taking enough steps to get to where I need to be?

A couple weeks ago, I caught word of a friend who was cast in a major show here in London. Not only am I proud of him, but I can also confirm that his skills are definitely West End, and Broadway worthy. I knew for a fact when we graduated that he would be among the first to book something quite phenomenal. But in looking at how much I believed in his ability to be great, I think I began to doubt my own abilities.

Yesterday I had a talk with someone I consider to be my brother. I told him flat out, ”I know that my skills are decent. I know can do what I need to do to make it, but I am beginning to think that I‘m not West End worthy.”

Ok…now where in the hell did this train of thought come from? And why was I contentedly sitting in the caboose? Not West End worthy? I had to sit for a minute and think of things I’ve done in the past:

  • I did a workshop called “Best Friends and Butterflies.” I played a caterpillar that had to learn how to fly. People laughed, and they definitely cried. LESSON: My acting affects people.
  • I sang “If I Can’t Love Her” from Beauty and the Beast during a master class. I sang. I made some of my classmates cry. I had what we call an acting “breakthrough.” LESSON: My singing affects people.

 

So…survey says: Tommy’s is talented enough to act alongside the masters (being a master himself).

But I still haven’t discerned how this blotch of negativity manifested itself. Could it be from my excessive thinking (something that I will continue to do until my time of earth ends)? Or does it stem from the following:

Last week, I had 4 auditions and a callback. One of my auditions on Wednesday was hideous. I forgot every word to one of my audition songs, but yet, I was shown some pity (some SERIOUS pity) and the casting director decided to send me some materials to learn for a callback. On Friday, however, I went into an audition for one of my favorite shows. I have never had so much fun in an audition. I sang my heart out, was quite confident and secure. And I could actually see the audition panel physically relax and listen to me. Hell, I danced during the instrumental bit. One of the women in the room was even bobbing her head to the pop tune I was singing. Then I got the news that upped the ante a bit.

The panel was only looking to cast one guy and considering there are, like, 6 roles, I hadn’t a clue which role they were looking for.

I knew for a fact that on that particular day, only about seven to eight guys were auditioning, including myself. I took a deep breath, inhaled the information, and exhaled defeat. If anything I knew that I enjoyed myself in the audition (considering it was a show I didn’t think I would be seen for), and to be honest, even if I wasn’t cast, I thought that I at least deserved a callback. A callback would show me that I was considered, at least. Or so goes my reasoning. And THAT, my dear readers is when the insecurity train decided to depart from its invisible location right into my brain.

It has been a week since my Wednesday audition and I have still not received any materials. I keep thinking that maybe the casting director changed her mind. Maybe she thought, well if he couldn’t hold it together in here, then maybe he won’t be able to hold it together onstage. But that would be ridiculous because after my audition, she assured me that she knew I was nervous and that it’s ok to be nervous. Hmm…

Then there is the show I REALLY wanted. The Friday one…from which I’ve heard absolutely nothing. Now, yes, I know that sometimes it takes a while for people to get back to you, but I’m just hoping they haven’t casted the show without doing a callback. But yet, if they have done callbacks…then that means I wasn’t called…which for me, means I wasn’t considered and therefore am not worthy of the West End stage. (This is how insecurity works people. It makes us analyze all of the stupid, miniscule things and causes us to use the law of syllogism in the most inappropriate way). Here’s the thing. I don’t know an actor who doesn’t think this way. If there is one out there who actually DOESN’T take not being called back to heart, then he/she is not all that concerned with his/her career.

Part of our careers as actors is to make sure we get a second chance (as auditions aren’t enough time to get to know someone). Most auditions are 2-5 minutes long. And the pressure is on us to “give it all we got” in the shortest amount of time possible. Not only that, we have to be RIGHT for the role. Sometimes, we discover that we might not get called back because we are too young, too thin, too fat, too old, too something or not enough of something…and this is what we have to live with everyday. Until an actor books something, he has to try to remain optimistic while others are constantly saying “you don’t fit in here.” It is very much like being in high school again, but reputation isn’t on the line as much. Emotional and financial survival, however, is.

But until I hear any news, I am left in limbo. Or I will have to accept that it doesn’t matter how much of your best foot, you put forward…it will take years to be considered properly. But I doubt there are many actors in my same predicament (i.e, the “American in Europe” situation).

Most people think I’m over here in the UK, just living it up, performing and auditioning and getting what I want. Truth is…I am on so much borrowed time, it’s not funny. I have until December of 2011 to book something huge. Otherwise, I have to go back to America and start this whole networking process over. I will have to re-establish myself at home and hope that someone wants to take a risk on me (even though there will be thousands of people who look like me and who are more talented that I am). If I think things are difficult here in London, I’m sure they are 100 times more so at home in the U.S.  So I ask my readers to forgive my anxiety and “woe is me” attitude sometimes, but my mind is on my career, like, the bulk of the time. And when you’re on limited time, things become a bit more urgent.

            But the lesson I’m learning (because for some strange reason…when things don’t work out the way we want, some unwritten rule says there’s a lesson to be learned), is that even when things are urgent…I need to take time and do what I always do anyways: REMOVE and ASSESS. I remove myself from a situation before it gets any worse, and assess what steps I need to take next. There are many things I can do to make myself better, get myself seen, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day…I will still see something that can be improved upon. In this way…I am either my own enemy (because I am too hard on myself), or my own best friend (because I choose to make myself better). I don’t know about any of you out there, but I will continue to be hard on me because it keeps others from feeling as if they have the power to do so. I will also look for ways to further my progress. Just because I have a time limit, doesn’t mean things won’t happen for me. I just gotta breathe.