The Boy From Virginia Chips the Coal

I entered 2013 asking myself the following question: “Where the HELL have I been?

Since the devastating event of last May where I lost my cousin to gun violence, I feel I have been wandering this planet with a piece of my soul sucked out from me. I’ve not been zombie-fied, but I’ve lived a very zombie-like existence where I have been fueled by one thing: fear. I’ve allowed this entity to consume my cerebral and emotional core. I gave fear power over even the miniscule part of my life. Not once in about five months have I placed dominion on my own actions or feelings. I relinquished my whole self away to fear. I guess it’s understandable for that to happen, however. Once you bear witness to the fragile nature of life firsthand, and when you see how fast a spirit can be snatch away from its vessel, it’s quite easy to comprehend how fear can overwhelm one’s soul.

My fear caused a pit of confusion and silence within me. I only broke that silence once, last year, in order to pay tribute to my cousin’s life. All other attempts to express myself were muffled by life and the journey that I was taking. (Trust and believe, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a blog since July. It’s just the first one that I’ve completed and published on here until I can make sense of the other ones) Part of me wants to go into full detail about why I left Virginia to come to New York. Part of me feels it’s a part of myself that might remain blank. Many of my readers have been privy to so much of the good, bad and ugly of my life, yet I still am on the fence about how much more to reveal. You see…since July, life has thrown me into the deep end and my ass has been constantly gasping for air, and choking a bit on the super salty water.

Still, my limbs stil work, so as long as I can kick my feet, my journey ain’t done. And if I’m reminded, salt water can be used to heal wounds. And if only you knew how many different types of scars/scab I now have…

But my pain will be used to bring me back to life.

Most of you thrive off of other people’s pain. Some of you learn from other people’s mistakes. Few of you face your own pain. And only you can heal you.

My healing will take place over the next few weeks…before I return to London to retrieve the piece of my heart that I left there…

 

This boy is about to shine brighter than he ever has. And I’m chipping away at the coal that’s been blocking my illumination. By the time my truths are told…you won’t be able to see for all the brilliance. Project Illumination starts now…

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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 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 Recaps

When I look at Facebook photos of myself smiling all toothily, I sometimes say to myself, “that gap is too wide.” It’s a flaw I blame on genetics. Sometimes, however, I think, “ah, it’s no big deal, it’s just a gap,” and I accept the uniqueness of my grin. In regards to my career as an actor, though, I’ve never actually thought about gaps. (Well, maybe financially, but that’s to be expected, right?) Nothing has truly ever seemed out of my reach. Instead, things have just been either “right for me” or “not right for me.” There is no in-between, unless it’s being in-between jobs. That’s the only “in-between” I know.

            For the past 3 months, I’ve gone from being a working man, to being out of work, to having 3 projects. This, as I have said many times before, is the life for which I signed up. I’m no longer surprised by an empty bank account. It seems to be quite standard, actually. But, I made a vow ages ago to never be in this business for financial gain. Yes, it’s a plus to make money doing the thing you love, but my mission in art was always to redefine the image of what it means to be a black man in this world. At the end of the day, I need to make sure that people who look like me, or people who are fascinated with me, know that I’m not one “type” of man. There are no labels that fit me, except the one I so lovingly embrace on Facebook: Tommy C. I’ve spent years establishing myself as a human being first and foremost and art is just my way of giving back to the world which so inspires everything I do. Let’s recap the things I’ve done since January.

January:

  • Made a resolution to make every day an adventure. I have been adhering to this train of thought all year.
  • Told myself to be smart and not compromise. This seems to be working well for me.
  • Been broke. A lack of funds in January spilled over into February and I was forced to use my security deposit as a rent payment.
  • Been de-friended by people on Facebook. I guess people have felt that I am not an assest to them, or they got tired of my rantings and statuses…who knows. More importantly, who cares. If you remove yourself from my life, I need to trust that decision and not try to keep you in mine.
  • Smiled despite the low points. I found that even when things are shit, good friends, music, the occasional drink, and watching TV online sure do make up for dry, dull days.
  • Starting submitting myself for castings. I understand that my agent can only do so much, and because she helps me so much, I wanted to help her as well!

 

February:

  • Auditioned left and right. I had an audition for a 1930s musical revue, an all black-version of Macbeth (which I’m in), an innovative production of Little Shop of Horrors, and a play called Six Rounds.
  • Worked on new pieces. A friend of mine called me up to see if I was available to be an actor in a short play she was writing. Because she’s my homegirl, I said yes. The process is the most thrilling thing I’ve worked on since Topdog/Underdog this past October.
  • Started dating. Self explanatory (still in tune with having an adventure everyday)
  • Dealt with a very traumatic family experience which helped me learn loads about myself. (I will speak about this at a later date.)
  • Worked on motivating myself and others. In this business, actors tend to be so fucking insecure that they forget to uplift themselves and others. I’ve made it my business to be encouraging because to be honest, I didn’t get here because of negativity, but because every person I’ve ever encountered has believed in me. I want to give a bit of that back!
  • Taught. By far the most important thing I’ve done in London is teach. I taught August Wilson (as well as dialect and acting) with some students aged 18-22 and it was the best experience. These students are more professional than “professionals” I have encountered and they want to be in this business. And they are hard-working, diligent. And they remind me of the spark of hope I had when I was their age. That spark in me has never died!

 

March

  • I lost a friend to Singapore. My roommate and one of my best mates over here had to go go back home to find his dreams. I totally support him in all his endeavors.
  • I remembered my grandmother. March 2nd will always be the day that I remember getting the call, having the breakdown, and finding the strength to keep going. It is now an anniversary that I dread, but love at the same time because I get to remember my grandmother’s greatness.
  • Started rehearsals for Macbeth.
  • Got called back and casted in Six Rounds (a show that excites me)!
  • Saw my students perform August Wilson! They really did him justice. And unfortunately, that was my last day of teaching them, but they surprised me with a gift card to Selfridges!!! Now I can eat in the food court!
  • Welcomed a new roommate into my life. She’s a great addition to my life!
  • Been a bad friend. I have been neglecting a good friend, and though my reasons aren’t all too clear as to why I’ve separated myself from him, I hope that we gravitate towards each other eventually because he’s a good guy. I just think energies have pulled me in a different direction. But like all good friends, you come back  around….right?
  • Modeled clothes. That was a thrilling experience! I felt like I was able to do something I always dreamed about, but felt too average to actually do. The modeling was part of the promo for Six Rounds. Luke clothing is sponsoring the show. www.luke1977.com  For those of you who know me well, I have never considered myself model material. I am average in looks. My body is thin. I have no tone or muscle. I’m not anyone’s fantasy. The only time I actually feel great is when I wear decent clothing. So when I was at the shoot…I was wearing decent clothes (which I get to keep) all day long…therefore, I felt attractive all day long!

So there you have it…the reason why I haven’t been able to write a blog since February. I have been getting a bit of grief about my lack of consistent entries as of late, and I feel this need to say this: yes, I love writing, when I get the time to do it, but from this moment on, I can no longer classify myself as a writer. Writers wake up and think about writing, they actually write, and they can do so all day. It’s what they breathe. I breathe art, in general. Some days, I wake up with lines in my head. Some days I wake up with music playing. Sometimes, I wake up thinking of a brilliant line for a play or a great topic for this blog. I am not ONE thing! Actor, Singer, Dancer, Writer, Student, Teacher, Son, Brother, Friend, and overall MAN. These are ways I describe myself.

            In about a week, I will be turning 26. I will not enter into that year with fanfare, but instead thoughts about how I can wear these hats more effectively. How can I be a better actor, friend, family member, etc.? I will not be celebrating on my day as I will be in rehearsals. Instead, I hope that getting older makes me a bit more wiser than yesterday. More importantly, I hope to continue to have a busy career that makes me happy. I also hope that the decisions I make in the future are ones that I will never regret. This year is all about adventure and I’m going to keep exploring the world and aspects of myself that I’ve yet to discover.

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

The Boy from Virginia Goes Up the Water Spout

Finally a Master

“I really don’t know what to say.” For most people, this phrase means: 1) The person is trying to be nice because what they actually have to say could hurt feelings, 2)That the person really has tons to say, and just used that phrase to preface all the ramblings that were about to follow, or 3) The person actually has NOTHING to say.  I’m on the fence between reasons 2 and 3.

Three nights ago (November 19th, for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math) I attended what was probably my final graduation ceremony. I say “final” because I have no intentions on getting a doctorate degree (college loans are expensive enough as it is without adding more debt to the debt I can’t pay off now). Usually one’s graduation day seems to hold about the same weight as someone’s wedding day. There’s hair to be tended, clothing to purchase, gowns to order for the ceremony, and tickets to request as every family member you know has been invited; Not the case for me in Scotland.

It was agreed a long time ago that to have my family over here from the US would be more than expensive. So, my mother agreed to let me go it alone (but only if I took pictures, which I did). I have enough trouble finding a barber over here that can actually make me look presentable without messing up my hair  -or lack of- too much, so I’d gotten the grooming taken care of Saturday before work. And since we had a dress code of sorts indicated on our graduation instructions, I realized I had to go no further than my closet to find what I needed for the ceremony. What I’ve just mentioned, however, were the least of my worries.

Last Monday, I developed a tiny cough. I thought nothing of it, but I did hope that it wasn’t the makings of a terrible cold. But something in my heart kept telling me, this is something to worry about. Just the day before, I was on the bus looking at a fellow passenger with disdain because she coughed without covering her mouth. I instantly thought ‘This is how people catch swine flu, because of people like you.’ What a coincidence that on Tuesday my cough rapidly became a scratchy cough (which hurt my chest), congested sinuses, and a stomach that didn’t know if it was queasy or not. I was losing the battle to stay in control of my body.

My job at LUSH only had me scheduled to work on Wednesday. I figured, my sickness should be gone by then, but of course it wasn’t. That night, when I tried to go to sleep, I had to sleep in a hat, gloves, and socks and I was thisclose to actually putting on a coat as I was freezing cold. The heat was on full blast and I had actual goosebumps. To top it all off, I couldn’t touch my skin, let alone hair follicles because they hurt. Mind you I didn’t get proper rest that evening. But somehow the next day, I made it to work, with a running nose and a persistent cough and managed to make the money I so desperately needed…and still need to see to believe (I also got the devastating news that jobs only pay once a month here………can we say livid?).

Anyway, I slept from 2:30 that afternoon, until 10:45 that evening, and didn’t eat (as my appetite wouldn’t allow).  At that point, I hadn’t cared about what I was wearing to graduation. All I cared about was getting the piece of paper I’d worked all my life to have. For me, I have never known a time when I wasn’t in school. This would symbolize the end of academia and the true start of my life, whatever my life is supposed to be. Somewhere deep inside me is that excitement that one is supposed to have when he finished something big. But to be honest…It hasn’t manifested itself.

Yes, I smiled a lot during graduation day. I smiled during the ceremony (though all I wanted to do was blow my nose) and I smiled afterwards when I shook the hands of many and thanked tons for their kind words. Yes, I’d worked hard for this day. But something still felt like it was missing.

I wasn’t missing my family’s attendance (I did have a couple friends who showed up to support me). And of course I wasn’t missing “a special someone to share the moment with” (Do I look that pathetic?). But I was still unsettled. It would take two more days for me to discover why….

Last night, I was out to dinner at Oko Express, a small Japanese restaurant (which always makes me feel like I’m in New York). We were saying our goodbyes to a classmate who was heading back to Canada the next morning. It was all very chilled-out, no frills fun. When I was waiting at my bus stop, I saw a bunch of drunken Scotsmen yelling something indecipherable at the top of their lungs, causing a ruckus. Some uncouth guy, wearing a sweatsuit (yes…they wear sweatsuits and full tracksuits over here in the UK), had his hand completely down his pants, while another drunk man was trying to make some woman’s baby laugh (while the baby kept swatting him away). The bus finally came and as I sat watching the city of Glasgow race by me, the realization hit me hard….Just because I have a Masters degree doesn’t mean the world will change.

Now most people reading this are saying “Aw, C’mon, don’t say that,” while others are wondering “What does that mean?” Well…here goes….

My having a master’s degree is not going to make the world a better place. It makes MY world better, supposedly, but drunkards will still be yelling offensive shit at the top of their lungs. Young kids will still have premarital sex and father/mother babies they don’t know how to take care of. People in Philly will still cling to their stoops for solace and comfort.  And racism will still simmer under the surface of the new presidency.

At my graduation, I was the only black man present. The only one.  And I was seated smack dab in the center of everyone. (No lie) There was no way you could miss me. In Scotland, I will continue to stick out and I will continue to be made fun of by ignorant people because I would rather dress up and look presentable than be frumpy, or pretend to have “swagger” (whatever that means anymore). More importantly, I will still be financially struggling until “my day” comes. Lastly, just because I’ve achieved this goal doesn’t mean it will stop raining in Glasgow (which I’m sure is influencing my mood).

But all hope isn’t lost, people.  I’ve not completely out of touch with my faith. You see, my cold has subsided. And there is a song that has been on my mind since graduation day:

The eensy weensy Spider went up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the eensy weensy spider went up the spout again!

 

It’s a wonder we don’t see hidden messages in songs until we get older. I am that eensy weensy spider. And damn if there haven’t been many times when the “rain” hasn’t come down and washed me out, made me feel bad about myself, and hurt my pride, or whatever. The sun always does come out eventually, and in the song the spider, as eensy weensy as he is, chooses to go back up the spout, knowing the danger of being washed out again. That is bravery. That is having faith in yourself. That is also persistence and patience.

That spider waited until the rain was done to try again. What is never said though is whether he makes it to the top of the spout, which leads me to believe, this up and down journey is something this spider will just have to deal with, as will I. It’ll be tough, but I want this spider’s resilience. Eensy weensy, he may be, but they wrote a song about him, and he’s making a difference in my world. That leads me to my next question: Did I really need a masters degree to make a difference?

At the end of my graduation ceremony, The Chairman said something to us graduates that will always resonate with me. He said, “You were extraordinary before you came here.”

If that were the case, then why did I feel I needed that piece of paper? To open doors? To make my family/friends proud? To join the upper echelon of Masters? What’s the significance?

Here’s the meat of why I feel I needed this degree…

To be blunt, I’m sure the number is small, but I know there are tons of people who could care less about my progress. Most of these people are black men. I’ve met these men before in my life and either we’ve had little in common, or they’ve never uttered a word to me. Instead these are the men who have ridiculed me from the age of 5 until even now, judged me because I never fit in with them or fit a stereotype like they did, and whose lacerating words/comments to me have been the reason I push myself so hard, even now. They dismiss me because my conversations are about substantial items as opposed to the mundane. Lastly, none of them wanted to be truly associated with me. (I dare people to refute this) Though my master’s degree will not change how they feel about me, it’s proof to some of these men that disliking me doesn’t stop my hunger for greatness and going about it through the proper channels, at that. These haters have reminded me, in little ways, of my father, whose heart means sooooooooooooo well…but he just never executed the job of being a father properly.

Though I love him, I always vowed to never be like my father, who I used to watch cheat on my mother. I vowed to never let opportunities pass me by, like he did. I also chose to not become the guy who “waited on foodstamps” to come to my house or use sickness as an excuse to not work. I needed my family name to be associated with greatness…not mediocrity. For far too long I needed full support from my father, but over time, he’s proven too inconsistent to trust, so I have to trust him to be inconsistent. That sucks, but its life.

I always had huge dreams and I had a mother who was there to see them flourish. She was someone who never got mad at my success and who ALWAYS found a way to support me financially and emotionally. She and I have been through too many rough times for me to even list, but it was always she in my corner. And she never thought twice about helping me. My mother  is the woman who told me two week ago that she has always been so proud of me and she’s happy I pursued the thing I loved the most and that she will continue to invest in me because she knows the outcome will be hugely rewarding. She is the woman who when I was in tears about having no money at all to my name here in Scotland, she said, “Shut up! And stop worrying yourself. I got something put away for you for a rainey day (so I could climb back up the spout).”

She also told me, “Tom, I have all the faith in the world that you are going to succeed. You just have to have that faith in yourself.”

I still have days where my faith in myself wavers a bit. How could it not when I’m alone in a foreign place? But I have my mother in my corner, my LIVE 5, my family, and my grandmother watching over me in heaven. I’ll be fine. 🙂

It’s still raining here in Glasgow…it’s light sometimes and sometimes it’s pouring, but you best believe, when there is a sliver of sun, I’m starting my journey up the spout again…

Life Changing Piece of paper