The Boy from Virginia Weathers The Storm -Part 3- (The Concrete Chronicles)

“Every storm runs out of rain” –Anonymous-

 Patience. It’s my most uncharacteristic of traits, according to my astrology chart. But all my life, I’ve always managed to wait for things because I knew that doing so would produce one of two results: I would either be surprised by waiting or I would miss out by waiting too long. So I chose not to delay my much needed conversation with my manager about keeping me on the work roster. If I didn’t take action, I’d have been out of work in New York City and I wasn’t ready to add “homelessness” to my resume. 

Our conversation was brief and filled with her pleasantries, my explanations, and our shared compromises. It’d become clear to me that the reason work wasn’t so fun anymore was due to my working more than I’d wanted. My availability in work –and, sadly, in other areas of my life- was too open. When I first began at my job, I’d expressed wanting something flexible so that I could go on auditions. I’m sure this was a common request for many working in Manhattan. Truth be told, however, I hadn’t pursued an audition in the city since my arrival. This was my own fault. I needed money. Money came from working as many hours as possible. Working as many hours as possible meant, for me, no time to invest in auditions or classes or anything truly creative. So I asked my boss if I could cut back on hours. It wasn’t as if I had intentions to move up in the company (though it is assumed everyone in any job will eventually want promotion). A promotion, to me, meant new responsibilities and people that I would eventually disappoint when I decided I’d wanted to depart. Obviously, I think too damn much about my unknown future.

Luckily, my boss met my request, of course requesting that I adhere to her policy of cheeriness on the job. I promised to give “the best of what I could possibly give” and waited to see how taking charge of my situation would play out.

*          *          *

As I said before, the advantage of waiting meant surprises and I was happy to have waited three weeks for my payment from Revolution to finally arrive. The massive amount of money that went into my account would not only feed me, but keep all necessary bills paid (which warranted a Hallelujah quick-step on Lenox Avenue). Hell, if I wanted, I could treat myself to a real dinner since I was tired of eating cereal, hot dogs, and sandwiches everyday (my new New York diet). That same day, I came home from work to discover that the ceiling was fixed in the bathroom. Were things looking up?

Indeed.

I was thrilled that same week to hear from the cleaning company I e-mailed not too long ago. One of the co owners called and explained my mission. There was an apartment that needed cleaning in Brooklyn (yikes). The location was Park Slope, the apartment was relatively large, and I’d be teaming up with another worker for my first assignment. He wondered if I’d be interested. Hesitancy was non-existent as I accepted the job immediately. The voice on the other end of the phone seemed pleased (relieved, even?) at my enthusiasm and I ended my phone call more grateful than I’d been in weeks.  

Until my roommate knocked on my door with an announcement.

“Our bathroom is out of commission,” he’d said, nervously smiling to . My perplexed face made him continue. “Apparently, they need to gut the entire thing and it’s seriously overdue. We’ve been asking for a new bathroom since we moved in here (Wait…wasn’t that two years ago?) and it seems it’s finally going to happen. (But I just moved in!) The whole process is gonna take two weeks, max. (Whatchoo talking ‘bout, Roomie?) Hopefully, we can get a whole new kitchen too.

He didn’t sound too convinced about the prospect of a new kitchen.

“So… what are we going to do about showering and whatnot?” (I mean, I drink tea at night. Knowing where I would pee in the middle of the night was a necessity)

“So here’s the thing. We are going to be given a key to go upstairs to a vacant apartment. No one lives there, so we can go there to use the bathroom and to shower.”

None of this made any sense to me. But I knew what I needed to do. I went into my room, packed clothes into my book bag and headed out the door and back down to the Upper West Side to the gym. Now I actually had a reason to go every day. If I couldn’t shower at home, I’d at least utilize my gym membership and their shower facilities as well.

The rest of the week, I woke up, ran upstairs to the vacant apartment to pee, hustled to the 2 to work during the day, and walked 3 blocks over to the gym every evening when I was done. Each day, I returned home smelling fresh and feeling lucky that I didn’t have to go through shenanigans just to keep up my hygiene. On the rare days one of my roommates would beat me to the vacant apartment upstairs, I found that I could go next door to the hipster coffee shop and pee without hassle. I’d explained my situation to the guy behind the bar and after a “Man, that sucks” he gave me free access to the shop bathroom. I didn’t even have to buy a coffee to do so, which meant that, because I felt guilty, I would have to buy some large coffees to make up for it.

Bathroom drama aside, my weekend arrived. Day One of my cleaning job was upon me.  I arrived early, like the good employee I know myself to be. Somehow, however, I knew that my patience was going to be tested that day. Upon entering the Park Slope basement apartment, my breath caught in my lungs. I felt I was in a cavern; a cavern cluttered with dust, accumulated furniture, clothes strewn about, and…what was that stuff on the ground? It looked like snow, but I was pretty sure it was fur.

My chest tightened in response as two cats slinked past me confirming my analysis. Cats? I wasn’t aware there were asthma-inducing cats on this job. And where in the hell was my partner to prep me for this job?

I excused myself outside of the Hoarder’s Cave to call my new colleague and catch my breath. There was a nagging feeling I’d be taking this break multiple times during the cleaning. Upon re-entering the apartment, I’d began evaluating how I was going to make a miracle happen and how  I’d magic fur and cat vomit out of an old, unwashed carpet while not ending up in the emergency room afterward. This job would require fortitude, prayer, and a pint of something strong when I was finished.

My partner arrived 15 minutes late and with an “I-really-don’t-have-time-for-this” attitude. I hoped he hadn’t approached other jobs in this way. When I found him getting snarky with our (suddenly) persnickety Hoarder, I realized, he shouldn’t be in the business of cleaning up after others. I was doing this job because I truly needed the money and I also didn’t mind helping clear this man’s space. A house is supposed to be a sanctuary, but I doubt our Hoarder could find any peace, let alone his underwear in that cacophonous mess. I felt it was my job to at least make the space feel so new that he’d be able to invite guests over for a Hipster soiree.

Five and a half hours (and some awkward interactions) later, that man’s house was fur-free, dust-free, clutter-free, and I could breathe without wheezing despite the presence of cats in the house. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back and prepped myself to leave the job when I was stopped and given a hefty tip. At least I could pay for that pint I’d been thinking of the whole time. (Side-note: the Hoarder , disappointed by the tardiness and the attitude of my partner hired me to do his future cleanings.)

I left Park Slope feeling at last I was crafting a New York life on my own terms.

Then there was my surprise job interview at Levi’s…

I’d completely forgotten that I’d submitted my resume online at other retail shops during my “I might be getting fired” period earlier in the month. One company called me for a random phone interview which was unsuccessful because I didn’t eat, breathe, and shit fashion. But then there was Levi’s, where I’d applied to be an “Overnight stockperson” (mainly because I didn’t want to have to deal with customers hands-on anymore). They’d called me in for a group interview and being the old school person I’ve been when it comes to job interviews…I dressed up and went to the afternoon interview in Soho.

I was immediately out of place in the crowd of late teens/ early twenty-somethings who all looked as if they’d stepped out of teen magazines. With my tailored jeans, button-down, vest, tie, and Italian shoes, I looked more prepped for an office job than a stock person. Still a first impression should never be an attempt; it should always be a success. Or maybe I was the only person who ever believed in this philosophy…

 Three minutes into the group interview, I realized that job interviewing is 1) a skill and 2) something I legitimately abhor…especially when it’s enforced in a group setting. I was the only person there for a stockperson job, but I still had to answer pre-written and trite interview questions which would barely scratch the surface of anyone’s interpersonal skills, let alone ability to sell clothing. What was worse was, though I looked young for my age, I felt old. But that’s a whole ‘nother chapter in a different book…

I listened to the young children give cookie cutter answers: “I want to work for you because I like fashion and I love your jeans.” I, on the other hand, suffered from honest-itis. No, I didn’t say “Please hire me so that I can pretend to be living above my means, while actually living pay check to pay check so that I can barely scratch the surface of my bills and student loan debt.” But I did state that I understood how to work on a shop floor and I wanted to something more independent and behind the scenes, therefore a stockperson position would be more desirable. After the round table of interviewing torture, I was told that I would get a chance for another interview. (I guess old school works). The meeting was scheduled early the next week…but unfortunately a coy storm named Sandy was sashaying towards the infamous five boroughs and I would never get to go to that interview…nor have it reschedule

The day before the storm, I made the mistake of going to my local grocery store and entered a war zone. People had gotten word that the end of days were near and so like other hungry hysterics, they’d purchased all the important food and produce in the store and were fighting their way into the narrow checkout lines. I’d only gone in to purchase my obligatory sandwich bread, milk, deli cheese and deli meats, and some soda and juice. For some reason, I believed the storm wouldn’t be too heinous so my small buys would get me through.

Hurricane Sandy was doing her best to prove me wrong. My day job closed early, in preparation for the storm. I decided that I couldn’t make any more last minute groceries, so I went to Papa John’s, purchased a large pizza, went home, and downloaded season one of Homeland.

As the storm ripped though Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and the winds intensified in Harlem, I got sucked into the calamitous lives of Carrie and Brody while eating sausage and mushroom pizza, drinking ginger ale, and eating Entemanns’s ( addictive) red velvet cake. Right up until my wi-fi connection failed, I choose to invest in a fantasy world while waiting for the current tempest to end. For the first time that October, I’d had time to truly escape the personal catastrophes that had come before. So far it’d been experience after experience after frustrating experience. Life was happening too fast to me and I really wanted to happen to life. I fell asleep during the downpour, confident that it’d be over in the morning.

I awoke not sure what to expect. Then news came. Brooklyn suffered devastation. Residents below 14th street (and their guests) were left in the dark. In Harlem, the most damage I’d seen was a fallen awning. The morning after Sandy hit, I drank coffee on my borrowed air mattress and wondered if any more storms world rush my way. Also, if they were manifesting in the atmosphere would I be prepared? Or would I succumb to being swept away by some other disasters?

Well…I woke up on the other side of this hurricane and a tempestuous start of the month. So I was beyond sure I’d wake up on the side of many more to come.

 

 

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The Boy from Virginia Weathers the Storm -Part 2- (The Concrete Chronicles)

After my week from hell, I’d managed to summon enough energy to start my (unpaid) training at the Harlem restaurant. Though my serving skills and shorthand were rustier than I’d expected, I’d proven competent and friendly enough to be among the staff there. I’d even met the owner of the restaurant who made it her business to remain warm and friendly with me during the busiest of times: Sunday Brunch. I was thrilled to be surrounded by good food, and hard-working people, but I also felt that the work being done was much harder than it needed to be.

In London, I worked diligently as a waiter, even setting a record for most tips received at my particular branch during my second month there. Serving comfort food, however, to greedy Harlemites after church or foreign tourists getting their voyeuristic fix was more taxing than serving the high end, suburban clientele I’d once served on the murky, yet lovely Thames River. Still, I gave it a go…for free. Deep in my mind, I’d believed I’d been given this opportunity to train because it would eventually become my new -hopefully lucrative- job. I mean, it happened so quickly that that had to be the reasoning behind it, right?

The next week, I wasn’t on the work schedule for my day job as much as I’d been before, and I was okay with that. Soon, I’d be out of there. I’d be making enough tips to pay my bills and save up for dance classes or theatre classes or that gym membership that I’d signed up for the previous month and hadn’t yet used. Not one to languish in idle time, I managed to acquire quick side job: cleaning an apartment.

I’d mentioned to a new New York friend the month before that I’d had a background in domestic and janitorial work and I didn’t mind cleaning as an occupation. Knowing that I wasn’t at full financial capacity and wanting to help me out, she allowed me to clean her apartment, which, oddly, helped me clear my mind. It also helped put a much needed $40 in my pocket. After hurrying home to buy some items for my empty section of the shared fridge, I hopped on my laptop to revise my resume. It was high time I applied for a job in a field that I could manage. The first month I moved to New York, I discovered a small cleaning company that needed “Cute Guys” to clean houses, paint walls, organize shelves, etc. As dubious as I was about the company, I quickly learned that judging a website by its homepage wasn’t particularly appropriate.  I read their mission statement and got the feeling that they were quite friendly and legit. And hey, people referred to me as “cute” in the “puppy dog” way so I figured that adjective would suffice until I could become cute in a “sexy” way. What I truly cared about was that I didn’t need to take off my clothes to clean a house.  I indulged people’s fantasies on stage. I refused to do so while cleaning a toilet.  

I sent my cover letter and resume via e-mail and prayed for a response sooner than later. In addition, I’d sent my resume out aimlessly to other retailers looking to hire soon. If I could manage two jobs in New York City, I would. No sooner had I clicked “send” did I hear a large ripping sound followed by a soft thud and what sounded like trickling debris. It came from the bathroom, which was situated immediately next door to my room. The guy who roomed next door to me stepped out of his room moments before I decided to step out of mine and I dreaded the origins of his subdued “Holy. Shit.” 

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Upon exploring the bathroom, myself, I concluded that I had, indeed, heard falling debris. It had been preceded by the bathroom ceiling caving in over the tub; the only tub that was shared between the 5 people who occupied the apartment. Dirt, ceiling, dry wood, and probably one hundred years of dust/dust mites layered themselves like lasagne inside the tub, with remnants of the recipe powdering the bathroom floor. I managed to speak an underwhelmed “wow”, and my roommate began to rant while simultaneously laughing incredulously about how “this has happened before but not to this extent.” (I wish I had known this before moving in.) He made some phone calls to our other roommates while the lead roommate (a British guy who was never home due to flying all over the world), made a call to the super.

Within an hour the super was surveying the bathroom and speaking at the glacial pace Miranda Priestly mentioned while she was being all devilish in Prada.

The tub

“It looks like the ceiling came down,” the simpleton said. Ya think? “I don’t know how this could’ve happened.” Part of me wanted to say, ‘we’re not concerned about the how, but instead with the where are we going to shit and shower now?’ My next door roommate had reached a moment of calm and decided he would give his diagnosis.

“You see,” he began, “I think if you look right there (he pointed at the piece of ceiling that was hanging). I think that the tape you put up, wasn’t strong enough.” (Hold on, our ceiling was put up with tape? What kind of ramshackle apartment was I living in?)

“No. That’s not it,” my super said matter of factly, still sloth-like. (Was he high? I understood he was West Indian, but I hate to feed into stereotypes, even when they are true.) I didn’t have time to answer my own internal question because the Roomie was now reprimanding the Super for his shoddy job and storming out and down the hall to his room. I’d actually witnessed a hissy fit but lemme tell you; if they don’t look good on two year olds, they’ll never look good on a twenty three year old. Kids these days, huh?

I gave up trying to rationally explain to our Super that I thought the ceiling caved in because the ceiling was old and the shower condensation caused whatever adhesive was there to fail. He nodded his head, considered my evaluation, and then said, “Nah. There’s flooding or something. A leaky pipe somewhere.” Some people prefer their own truths.

Shenanigans aside, my roommates and I were left with one option: in order to shower and use the rest room, we would have to go up to a vacant apartment on the fourth floor of our building. This would last for about two weeks, the Super told us, while they completely renovated our bathroom. At least we’d be getting a modern room in this ancient apartment of ours.

I figured now was as good a time as ever to become invested in my personal health. I had no acting gigs, no agent, no connections in New York. I had a job I’d soon be leaving for another, and more importantly, I needed a place to shower. My gym had shower, steam room, and sauna…and I was paying for it anyway. So unlike my roommates, I made it my mission not to climb up to the fourth floor, unless it was for exercise -and my bladder’s- sake.

*          *          *

The week was swimming by fast, despite little activity. I was becoming addicted to cardio as the weather was starting to change. Our bathroom construction was driving me insane. Hammering and drilling began every morning between 9 and 11am. On the first day of renovating, the Super managed to put holes in my bedroom wall: the curse of living next door to a faulty room. My day job was becoming more tolerable and, dare I say it, I was building an attachment to the friends I had made there, even though I was on my way out the door. Just as I’d started coasting on the new vibe that was settling in…I got a rude awakening.

At the end of my third (unpaid) training session at the Harlem restaurant, I was told that someone would be in touch. The hiring manager who previously showed an interest in me before beginning my training had become distant and rarely engaged with me at all. It couldn’t have been because I was doing an awful job, was it? (I had made some mistakes, but I was rusty and I was literally thrown on the floor as if I’d been working there for years.) I was being trained by a veteran waitress who knew the ropes and who had expressed that they were in dire need of someone like myself since they’d recently fired a guy for being drunk on the job. In addition, the hiring manager was never there when I was working. Regardless, it was she who’d stopped me at the door when I inquired about being put on the work roster.

“Thanks for coming in, but we won’t be needing your services.”

The sentence was simple and sharp. Like a box-cutter. There was some half-hearted attempt at mentioning that my information would be kept on file…but everyone knows that’s the new version of “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.” Then she walked her pug face and animal print blouse back into the restaurant. Hungry Hungry Harlem folk started to line up outside the door and I turned swallowing my rejection to walk past their growling, expectant stomachs. For the second time in New York, I left a job site confused and wondering, What next?

I’d just closed the door to my room when the veteran waitress called me to ask what had happened. She’s seen me come to the restaurant and asked why I wasn’t going to be joining them. “I don’t know,” was the only answer I had. I really didn’t know. I didn’t know why I couldn’t manage to get a new job. I didn’t know why I wasn’t good enough to serve food at that restaurant. I didn’t understand why my apartment was falling apart and I hated that I couldn’t seem to get my life in order. Something needed to be done. So I did the only thing I could think of: I emailed my manager to ask her for a private meeting.

*          *          *

When a person puts in two weeks’ notice at his job to find another, and then that other job opportunity falls through in a big way, there’s no choice but to use your last dime to buy a margarita with a friend. It was a Sunday and not only was the drink welcome, but so was the company.

Erin had contacted me a week beforehand to reconnect. She was a fellow thespian who I’d met in college and whose work always captivated me. I was sure that she’d be living the best life there  ever was in New York City. So when we hugged each other on the corner of 43rd and 8th, I’d figured, from her smile alone, that she was living the dream. It wasn’t until we got to Blockheads that the truth came out for both of us. Life hadn’t been a crystal stair for her either and she was only just starting to climb her self-made staircase.

We caught up over nachos and much needed frozen margaritas (though it was approaching 30 degrees outside) and I discovered something: Every little interaction in life counts. Erin and I weren’t the closest of friends in college, but we’d always been pleasant to one another, and as I said before, I thought she was a stellar performer. I kept thinking to myself, ‘why hadn’t we been friends back then?’ Yes, we shared a department major, a circle of creative folk, and now a profession that would send us on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Still, the ease of our conversation made me feel that our reunion should’ve occurred much sooner. I felt I was speaking to a kindred spirit who knew my plight, and like me, was successfully surviving. I was both comforted and inspired by Erin because I knew, in that moment of eating guacamole and chasing it with frozen tequila, we’d definitely be the sort of friends to call on one another in times of emotional hardship. More importantly, she wouldn’t judge me for my negative/insecure moments, because like many other creatives, she’d probably already been there, done that, and gotten a souvenir.

God had decided to put the person I needed into my life at the exact moment I would need them. Funny how the Universe works.  

Our conversation -as well as the margaritas- gave me clearer insight to the environment I’d infiltrated. I’d come into New York trying to find peace. What I’d ended up doing thus far was shifting my emotional balance. If I didn’t actively try to salvage my situation and turn it around soon, I’d fail in this city. Failure isn’t a brand to which I happily subscribe. 

Life only works if you stop bullshitting yourself, and lend it a helping hand. So, the next day, with a clearer head, a plan of action -and more humility than I thought myself capable- I decided to ask my manager for my job back.

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The Boy From Virginia Takes a Leap

“Success” means a myriad of things to many people. For some it means living out the mythical “American Dream” of having a big house, picket fence, 2.5 (I still don’t get that .5) kids, and some sort of pet. For others it can mean riches. For some it means living another day. And so on and so on.  I found myself wondering late last night what does being successful mean to me now, in this very moment?

            If you asked me what success meant to me about three years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clear answer, but I would’ve expressed that it meant changing lives and social perceptions via the artistic medium. Today, I am certain that my success still has its foundations in remaining artistically relevant. Achieving fame and fortune, however, has ended up on my list of undesirables. Being financially stable is one thing (and necessary), but if there is anything I’ve learned from my experience in a failed/ unprofessional shows, it’s that selling one’s soul to make a buck is about the most draining thing one can do to his/her spirit.

            Some people have made soul-selling into an art. And I guess it furthers what we perceive as their success. An unfortunate example: The Kardashians, who are now being paid forty million dollars for a “reality” show (which I am happy to say I STILL haven’t seen), when as a family their contributions to American society are the equivalent of what a hangnail is to a digit on the hand: unnecessary, lingering pain. And I won’t begin to mention any “real” housewives or “bachelors” or anything else that suggest “reality” at the expense of actual realism. My reality at the moment isn’t eventuful, nor is it lucrative, but it works for me.

            I know that there are many who would ask me, “So if you got a chance to make millions of dollars for acting a fool on screen, you mean you wouldn’t do it?” Let me just say this: There are loads of people “acting a fool” on screen and the internet at the moment so joining their company isn’t going to make me feel like I’ve broken new ground. One of my favorite artists (who I can admit, I’m a HUGE fan of), Brandy, just did a VH1 Behind the Music special in which she said, referencing her time has a young artist in the entertainment industry, “For me to have had it all, I was the most unhappy teenager in the world.” If having it all means feeling like that, then someone else can have it.

            But Brandy also said something else that was very interesting. She said that she knew she would be a star and she never ever doubted it. Then she went on to joke about wishing she still had that courageousness she once had as a youth. I understand wanting that feeling of invincibility to return all too well. When you’re young you feel you can take on the world. And every door seems to be opened to you until its closed, and even then, you think that you have the power to re-open those doors. As of late, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve hit some sort of plateau. But did I reach this place because of outside forces or because I stopped believing that I could be on my Michael Jackson status someday?  I can only attribute my feeling of paralysis to one thing: fear.

            Many people who read my blogs in the past have probably given up on waiting for me to write anything new, as it’s been so long. It’s not as if I haven’t had some fantastic topics to sift through. On the contrary, I would begin to write and then stop because I felt like I didn’t have enough, or because I was afraid that no one would really give a damn that I was writing anything, despite me having a readership (albeit a small one). Also, I had some crazy obstacles to overcome as well and when I was figuring out my priorities, writing always came in last place. I needed to deal with the tangible before dealing with the technological. If I am completely honest, I was much more fearful that nothing I would write would be as great as my “Breaking the Silence” entry which was so in depth and so full of me that I felt I’d given all I could give. (I guess I did put an invisible ceiling on my artistic life, just a bit.)

            Two days ago, however while I was putting final touches on a cover letter that I was sending out to start my process of self-promotion, I felt a surge of energy…no…I felt a surge of power. It was a feeling of such surety that I became overwhelmed. I found myself happy and fearful simultaneously to the point where I was sure I would combust. It was like seeing something glow and knowing that glow you saw was actually coming from within. The exact thought I had at that moment was ‘Something spectacular is coming my way and I’m going to be so blessed’ and immediately after I thought, ‘Am I ready for the responsibility that comes with these impending blessings?’ I then thought one last thought: ‘Have I been working hard enough to deserve whatever it is I’m about to receive?

            There are some people who’ve been on this journey with me from the start and they will vouchsafe and say that I’ve never stopped working. I will say that I’ve been working as hard as my circumstances will allow me to. Every single day, I’m pissed at the fact that I’m not enrolled in some sort of class somewhere, but I also know that given the right situation, I’ll go out and get what I need and God will make a way, somehow. I will learn as many monologues as my mind can hold and I will practice songs for as long as my voice can tirelessly carry a tune.  But I’m also not going to overwork myself either. Up until February 12th, I was in a country without any family, except the friends I adopted over the years, and I had to survive on my own. I worked every day to the best of my abilities and was fortunate enough to work in my chosen field and meet loads of significant people who have influenced my life in a positive way. Keeping myself afloat as a foreigner in another country was definitely hard work so if I give myself enough credit, then yes, I’ve not stopped working.

            But after a fun yet tumultuous end to my London adventure (I had an emergency surgery during my final show in Scotland, had to fight with the UK Border agency to return to America, and ended up spending all of the money I’d just earned in a desperate need to come home), a holiday was in order…even if it was just an excuse to reintegrate myself into the life that I’ve been absent from for many years. Still, people who know me also know that I don’t know how to rest for too long.

After two weeks of just breathing and being with the family, I searched for local representation and got it, as well as some on-screen work which, so far, has been pretty rewarding. I even worked on my very first union film and I couldn’t have been more pleased. You see, a goal of mine when I returned, was to do my best to break into television and film as I’ve spent the past 13 years of my life gaining stage experience. I need a new challenge and I am ready to embrace it, if the opportunities come my way. Of course, I have to encourage the universe to work with me. How is anyone going to know what I want to do if I don’t put it out there, right?

            After returning home and being privy to the success of many actors/ actresses who I’ve worked with or met in passing, I’m starting to feel like there is room for me to excel in this industry as well. Before I left London, I had the chance to witness my former classmate, Da’Vine Joy Randolph electrify the West End Stage with her original portrayal of Oda Mae Brown in GHOST the Musical. Having been Hamlet to her Gertrude in college, I felt triumphant knowing that someone with tremendous talent was getting to exhibit it in a phenomenal way! She is currently on Broadway showing the world, or at least NYC, her capabilities. Also, in late 2007, I was fortunate enough to meet and be inspired by Leslie Odom, Jr., who I discovered is a fan of my blog series! If you are not familiar with this gentle spirit, all you have to do is tune into NBC’s SMASH or go see him play Isaiah in Leap of Faith on Broadway. His skills shine! And I can’t even begin to mention all of my London, Philadelphia, or Temple University connections that continue to make me proud each day. Their successes have prompted me to take action.

            In the past, I’ve been quite blessed in the way that good things did seem to just come my way. I was a chosen child, I guess. Or so I thought. If I took a microscope to all of the situations where it seemed like I was being “given” a wonderful opportunity, I’d realize that I’d already put in the work somewhere else. Rewards don’t come to those who don’t work. Nothing is luck. I’m of the school of thought that if you meet God halfway, then he’ll do the same. So two weeks ago, I began drafting out a cover letter to send to any casting director who is willing to read what I have to say about my overall experience as a performer. I intend to send about 150-200 letters because someone is bound to believe in what I have to offer. Someone is going to trust my talent enough to hire me and not be disappointed. Someone is going to care enough to give me feedback. Someone will hear how eager I am to stay in this business that I love, for all of its thrilling ups and dismal downs.

            Funny enough, when I sat down to write the letter, I couldn’t think of a way to talk about me (which is odd because I write a blog that’s ALL about me). I fought with how I would be perceived, whether or not I was including enough information or too much. But mostly, I thought to myself…There are thousands of people in the U.S. trying to be actors and working at a high professional level. What makes me standout? Then I thought to myself…someone will think I’m perfect. To some casting director, myself will be enough. So yesterday, I sent out 11 letters (my first wave of them) in hopes that someone will say, “This Tommy guy is interesting enough to employ. Let’s give him a chance”

            There are 139-189 more letters to send, but I’m sure this is going to be my biggest lesson in stepping out on faith. In the past, I left home at 14 only because I knew I’d be stepping into a great experience. I ended up at Milton Academy and subsequently Temple University.  I left the country in September 2008 for the same exact reason: I knew greatness would come of going abroad. So far I’ve been lucky enough o continue working in my field since my return. Coming home may have not been my goal, and yes, my work will never be done as an actor, but there is a future here that has been waiting for me. (“We’ve had this date from the beginning.”) So in sending out the cover letters, I’m hoping I’m stepping into a future that I can handle. That’s all I can hope for when I step out on faith: A future that I can handle…and one in which I can thrive and showcase the best me that there is to show!

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 Looks Ahead

When the New Year rolled in, I had all these new-fangled ideas about keeping positive and writing to my heart’s content, all while juggling theatre and maybe a second job at Lush (or some other part-timey place). I would also have celebrated having been in London for a full year and every decision I would make would have purpose. I would be 2011’s poster child for positive thinking!

            Instead, I’m sitting in my room with apprehension (nerves) about tomorrow’s audition, the fact that I have now been unemployed for almost two weeks, and the fact that next month’s rent may consist of whatever’s left in my bank account plus my security deposit. When did I allow things to get like this? How was I living so lavishly only 2 weeks ago, and now I’m as useless as the dust bunnies camping out under my boiling radiator?

            Can I blame lack of proper financial planning? Yes! (but then again, my money was only going towards the rent, the bills, and food…and if you know me, I gotta eat) But as far as my career is concerned, could I accurately plan for moments like this? Not really.

            The actor’s life is never certain. Like a teenager’s addiction to trends, one day you’re in, the next you’re out. I am a part of a very fickle business. To borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga ( I know. I know. She’s usually un-quotable), I am unfortunately caught in a Bad Romance with my art. What’s odd is that I,  unfortunately, like it.

This is what I signed up for when I said “I want to be in this business.” I wanted thrills (I get them when I perform), I wanted drama  (I get that when I look at both of my bank accounts), and I wanted the feeling that someone was being affected by what I did (i.e applause). Am I stupid with stay with a lover (i.e. Theatre) who’s only interested in me when they feel they can exploit me? Well…not stupid, but content. This is the life I chose. And I know, like anything, you have to make things work.

            When I was finishing up my Panto two weeks ago, I had clear plans for everything I was going to do. For one, I was going to take this industry by the hair and say “Look, bitch, I am in charge now! Pay attention!” (Of course, the only thing I’ve managed to yank is myself out of bed at 2:30 in the afternoon). On a serious note, however, I was going to make phone calls, write letters to casting agents and directors, meet with other artists to discuss creating new work. Before the new year began, I had every intention to start writing a new play. I’ve have 3 strong play ideas brewing inside my head for a long time now and I was going to take a week off and find a place where I could just let my words flow (not Starbucks). If it killed me, I was going to make art my life.

            What I have successfully done, however, is simply had the ideas. And I’ve stored them away, while I’ve rested. Ah, yes. There’s that foreign word: Resting. Something I’ve not taken the time to do in a very long time. It’s seldom that I have actually had the time off to just sit and do absolutely nothing for an extended amount of time. I’ve never even taken a vacation. Not one for leisure at least. Sleeping in has to have been the greatest luxury I’ve allowed for myself in ages. And on top of that, when I wasn’t sleeping, I was reading, or watching something inspirational to give me more  ideas! My “stay-cation” is actually the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. My mind is clearer. I’ve stopped fearing my future and instead, have put it into perspective and I’ve said to myself  “when I am ready to kick-start my life/career back into gear, I will.” At this moment, I am ready to do so.

            This audition I’m attending tomorrow is for a small film. I am very enthusiastic about it because at the moment, film is not big on my resume and I am aiming to change that fact in 2011. My nerves come from a place of want. I am hungry for this role and so I’m hoping that I bring my A-game. I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I am working my hardest, and my best.

After spending a year here in London and having so many beautiful opportunities come my way, I’m not going to allow myself to slack off, not when there is a world to be changed. Lots of artists have the goal of being famous, or being seen, or just (fill in the blank as you so choose). I, on the other hand, am a different type of artist. I need to change the world, but instead of just going at it willy nilly, I’m going to find my niche and work outwards.

            I have an audience, people who I cater to unknowingly; a faithful audience who follow me even when I’m not sure they are. I encourage those people to continue to promote me and support me because if they keep believeing in me, then I will succeed. Most people don’t change lives just on talent alone…they build an audience.

            To anyone reading this…will you applaud for me when things work out?

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