The Boy from Virginia leaves London (Chronicles of a Return Home)

February 12, 2012 around 4:00am

I crept into my shared Brixton flat still damp from the night out I’d had with my friends, a group I’d lovingly dubbed the BBoyz (which stands for both “Barcelona” boys and “Brown” boys). Somehow-as always-I’d allowed them to persuade me to spend “one more hour” out on the town and seeing as it was my final night in the United Kingdom, I obliged. I tossed my vintage London Fog trench onto my bed and tried to heat myself up. My tuxedo shirt was soaked though with my dance-sweat and my H&M combat boots needed to be peeled from me and packed into the suitcase I’d finished pre-loading only days before. It had been 2 years and one month that I’d spent in London, and the memories, trials and the overall tribulations had swarmed my mind in a rush of images. I blinked them away as I desperately tried to make sure I’d packed every single thing I needed and had all my alarms set so that I could hop on my one-way flight back to Virginia, a place I’d hadn’t lived consistently since I was 14 years old. Was home an accurate term for America anymore?

            I had so many thoughts (a trait that has seriously become my downfall), and as I tried to filter them and make sense of the flurry of emotions I only thought I’d prepared myself for, my mind kept going back and forth between two things: the death of Whitney Houston only 2 hours prior, and what would soon be the end of the life I’d created across seas. Between my grieving for Brandy Norwood (yes, I thought of her heavily at the time because Whitney was her mentor) and trying to process how such a legend could be snatched away from this earth, I only kept thinking that if I were to die, I’d need to leave behind something of which I could be ultimately proud. I didn’t know what that would be back then, and even today, I’m not sure if what I have to give to this world is as significant as my voice. Yet, maybe the idea is merely to give freely of oneself in the best way you know how. Even in love; give. The taking is easy. The giving is courageous.

            I’d given so much of myself to a country that had given me the worst exit process ever. Getting out of college wasn’t as difficult as leaving the United Kingdom (Thanks UK Border Control…), though even that was hard too, if I recall correctly. But unlike other places I’d given myself to, I felt like things were actually reciprocated in London. When I laid a foundation, my English universe around me helped me build a house. And I felt that in my journey to the past (England is five hours ahead of Virginia), I’d be demolishing the house that Tommy built. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in my mind: Deny.  I denied that I was leaving for good and vowed to return if it was the last thing I did. So, with prayers for Whitney Houston and her family on my heart, prayers for my safe return home in about 6 hours, and a body that had finally got some heat from my duvet, I warmed up to the idea that a return home was not permanent and would ultimately be for the best.

 

February 12, 2012 around 9:00am

If I dreamed at all that night, I’m sure it was about something fun because I awoke prepared and with no fear.

My best friend -an Italian gent and former RSAMD classmate who I considered family-called my phone to tell me he was ready to accompany me to the airport. It was time. The leaving was real and I couldn’t deny it any further. So he’d come to flat early in the morning to help me schlep my luggage to the airport via the Tube system.. I said goodbye to my lovely roommate, who had become like a big brother to me, gave him my keys and he locked the door behind me. I walked confidently out of and away from my Brixton flat, luggage in tow, my best friend at my side. With each step I pressed into the pavement, the ground soaked up the despair I’d swallowed deep into the pit of my stomach. I felt the wind try its best to blow away at the thick skin I’d managed to wear that day. But the silly banter and conversation between my Italian brother and me served as a barrier to its breezy attempts.

As far as I was concerned, I was going to make it to the airport with no tears, no regrets, no sadness, because as I’d said the night before, I was going to return home to London. Period.

My friend seemed to have the same thoughts. He treated me as if we’d be hanging out at his house the next day, talking all things theatrical and gorging ourselves on homemade casserole. He was in denial too. And I appreciated him so much more for it.

An hour’s train ride later, I arrived at London Heathrow Airport and my brother and I looked at one another and basically gave each other hugs and both said, “This isn’t the end.” There were no tears (thank goodness, because I would’ve looked at him like he was crazy) and it was the simplest “see you later” I’d ever experienced with him. He watched me step through the door into the departure gate and if he did shed tears upon my leaving, at least he had the decency to wait until I disappeared behind the double doors.

I had two hours to kill until take off. So what better way to spend that time than to send goodbye texts to everyone? I decided if I was going to be schmaltzy, I would at least do it along the lines of of a high school yearbook (you know, “You’re an awesome friend.” “Never change”. “K.I.T *happy face*”)…but with my signature honest/ loving style. I’m very sure I sent all of the BBoyz a text thanking them for their contributions to my London life and for being my family when I felt I had none. I thanked every single person, teacher, mentor, coworker, friend I could via text. And the most important person I thanked was the last person I texted: a friend of mine who I credit with helping me discover the true meaning of “adventure.” He was a person I swore I would write a novel or a series about someday as his presence in my life gave me a confidence I’m certain I’d never have if I’d never encountered him two years prior (um…that was along sentence). So I told him all of this in the sappiest text message I have ever sent to him. And fortunately, I got a sappy text back. (But not a seriously sappy text as Brits still manage to keep a certain awkward, stoic, aloofness about themselves.)

“Now boarding…” began the announcement and I knew that after a flash of my ticket/ passport and after a walk down a long cold corridor, I’d be terminating everything. “Hasta la vista, London.” With departure imminent, I began to think…

“I’ve managed to perform a multitude of shows while I was here…I just performed a lead in a phenomenal workshop with a well known playwright…I have been well reviewed twice in this country by The Globe….I’ve been on a set with both Dev Patel and Ed Westwick…I’ve met one of the coolest British celebs I’ve ever come across and have been privy to see him multiple times in London…my agent has been the most phenomenal agent I could’ve asked for…my friends love me…I’ve done so many things that I’d never have done in America…I’ve been to SPAIN and spoke Spanish with the natives!!!… I’ve loved…have I made a difference here?…did I leave anyone behind who may have loved me enough to try and keep me here? (That last question is definitely going to remain unanswered in this lifetime I’m sure).”

I felt the plane pull away from the gate, and like the best move I’ve ever watched, I replayed the entire duration of my two years in five minutes. I saw myself getting on a plane in Virginia and leaving my family behind to start my graduate career and eventually my theatrical career in Scotland. I saw my first day at grad school. I saw myself graduate with my Masters at the age of 24. I saw me performing and being both happy and sad at some of my experiences. I saw loads of successful and rather unsuccessful auditions and conversations with my agents after all of them. I could hear myself singing at Cellar Door in Covent Garden and I could see how many times I’d hung out with the people who had become my family. And as the pressure inside the cabin increased, and I felt the plane begin its ascent into the sky, I descended involuntarily into tears.

Window seats can be blessings. I didn’t have to face the other passengers who were prepping the seven hour flight home by watching in flight films. So I looked out the window as the clouds began to blanket my view, and the city that had once appeared huge to me became a net of streets and tiny cars driving on the wrong side of the road. Had it been a dream? These past two years? Had I truly lived away in another country and gained love, respect and ultimately freedom for myself?

It felt like I’d gone over the rainbow, overstayed my welcome, and was being forced back into the world of sepia, black and white. And true…I guess there is no place like home…but what if you couldn’t discern which home was the right one?

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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 Virginia Made Dies a Little (The Hiatus Series)

“If you’re brave enough to say “good bye”, life will reward you with “hello.”–Paulo Coelho-

Last weekend I decided to die. Not in the literal sense, as I’m quite aware that’s never the route to go. But I did need to let go of the “me” that felt bottled up. The hiatus has been a long time coming, if you ask me, and I’m just surprised I didn’t think of it sooner. But the elements of a “good bye” were clearly in place as far back as last Tuesday.

July 19th, 2011

“Thank you. That’s all we’ll need to see today,” said the woman from the audition panel. I gathered my black H&M duffel bag from the floor (the one with my dance clothes and shoes inside “just in case” they called me back to do a dance call) and started my journey from the Dance Attic Studio space in Fulham back home towards Clapham. I called my agent (as is the usual procedure) to tell her that I’d sung the song they gave me to learn, but that I unfortunately still needed to use the words (because upon first sing, I got nervous and they all went from my head). while we ended our conversation very cheerily, I began to think, ‘well maybe this door closing is for the best. Maybe God is preparing me for the next best thing! Maybe I’ll be able to get this role, pay my bills, and leave London on the highest of high notes!’ So I got on the tube.

Somewhere between Fulham and my full thoughts, I found myself alighting at Piccadilly Circus. A celebrity on my Twitter feed had tweeted about an art gallery in the area, and I decided if I couldn’t be a part of art, I would go look at it. I spent about twenty-five minutes strolling around, looking for this suggested gallery and felt more or less like I was trudging towards the gallows. You see, the whole time I was walking, the more and more, I was thinking “I’m never going to get the life-changing call. Oh my goodness, I am going to be stuck in retail, giving out free sugar scrub hand massages to every old woman and pretentious teenage girl for the rest of my duration in London.” As a thunderstorm started in my soul, an actual dark cloud began to hover over Piccadilly. So I walked with as much speed as I could muster, and made it under the Ritz awning as the first droplets of rain began to fall.

I weaved my way around a school of Spanish students  and in-between Chinese tourists taking pictures of themselves in their newly purchased Wellies. Then it was back out into the drizzle to try and stop the thoughts that were catapulting to the front of my mind.

“No news is good news.” My mom said this to me once…and when she said it, it turned out to be true. Sometimes, she’s a prophet. But in this instance, she was a false one. That phrase “No news = good news” makes me think immediately of the word “hoax.” Think about it; if a person, company, or any interested party legitimately wants you, I highly doubt that they’d leave you in limbo about their enthusiastic desire to have you on board. On the contrary, I believe that you’d hear from  them as soon as humanly possible. Silence, to me, confirms rejection.

That was how I felt as I somehow ended up walking through Hyde Park, where people rollerbladed blithely around me and horses trotted respectfully on side paths. That same feeling continued as I somehow ended up in Mayfair trudging thoughtfully past homes I would never be able to afford. Then, the music on my iPod changed and Jill Scott’s voice was filling my ears with serenity. Unfortunately, the sounds of Jilly from Philly weren’t synching up with the aesthetic of London town. The sentiment of her song “Slowly, Surely” however, was resonating someplace deep in my soul. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was a message in her lyrics that I wasn’t quite hearing…

But then the thought came so suddenly, it was as if I’d been hit by an oncoming black cab in the middle of Grosvenor Square. If there was ever an epiphany for me it was this: Both in business and love, I want to be what someone wants. I don’t want to have to alter anything about myself, nor should I feel the need to lie to make myself more appealing. I want to be enough for someone, period.

Eventually, I’d made my trek to Covent Garden, where, because my job was short-staffed and I was in desperate need of cash, I signed up for more shifts. And immediately after I took them, I wondered hard to myself, if this hard work and willingness to help was genuinely appreciated. I went home, and prepared myself for work the next day.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that same week were very similar. I would work, come home at around 5 or 6ish, and immediately go to sleep. I did not eat. My appetite was non-existent and all I seriously wanted was quiet. I could’ve cared less if anyone needed me. I just didn’t want to be bothered. My blackout curtains remained closed. Dried laundry remained uncollected and I refused to contribute to making dishes as that would mean coming downstairs, bumping into a roommate, and having to make idle chat which I had no energy to do.

I would wake up late some nights, around 2:30 am, hoping to have received some messages from friends, or responses to Twitter postings, and I realized that NO one was contacting me. So on the Friday, I figured it would be a wonderful idea to remove myself from Facebook for a while. It’s not as if it’s serving a purpose for me at the moment, I thought. So with the click of a button I was “deactivated.”

The fear came immediately. What was my removal from the social world meaning? Was I hoping for peace or was I crying out for help?  I think I was so jumbled up inside when I made the decision that I couldn’t find a coherent answer. All I knew is that a weight had been lifted in some manner. The only thought I had from that moment was, ‘if my real friends want to contact me, they will find a way. Facebook isn’t the only way to communicate with me. It’s the lazy person’s way out.’ I was clearly in meltdown mode and I was going to discover who my real friends were soon enough.

July 24th, 2011

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I had no clue that it would be my final day of work, but it was. Granted, I’d put in my month’s notice about two weeks prior, as I was going to look for a job as a waiter (a job I have secretly craved since December 2009). During the week, however, I’d been reminded that I actually don’t like dealing with customers who constantly complain that our shop “smells too much”, that “your shampoo still uses sodium lauryl sulfates”, and that we “don’t have enough options for liquid soap.” I also got a bit tired of unsupervised children coming into the shop and basically having our staff babysit while they continued to shop elsewhere. Last time I checked, I wasn’t a father and I’m damn for sure not a father-in-training for pretentious children. On the way to work that Saturday, I decided “no more!” So I quit, and made my emotional load even lighter.

There should’ve been fear about how I was going to manage with bills and whatnot, but there wasn’t. I just knew that deep inside, my personal happiness takes precedence over everything else. As lovely as my colleagues were over the past year and a half, I needed to move on. My chapter at Lush was over and the thought of stepping into the unknown was delicious.

I must point out that I don’t think I had a clear thought process during my mini-meltdown. I was acting as I felt purely based on instincts; instincts that I’m sure no one would understand unless they were me. But I was also acting with one goal in mind: to make myself feel better. Then during the day, after I’d made the announcement that “today is my last day” another announcement came through that would be heard around the world. In the staff room, a colleague exclaimed with slight disbelief and aloofness, “Ohmigod, Amy Winehouse is dead.”

Talk about an exit. My figurative death definitely had nothing on her literal one. However, I (being who I am) instantly began to search a lesson in her life from which I might learn.

To be honest, Amy’s death is partially responsible for the clarity I gained over that weekend. She’d caused me to do go back to my old methods of “removing and assessing” to start planning my future. So when I left work that evening for the last time, I decided that the next stop after my graveyard shift would be to pull myself up out of the grave I dug and into a new life.

I was about to experience a personal renaissance.

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 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