We are all unique and amazing. With this notion bouncing around inside me I offer to the world what I have to share. The words inside my head have reached to overflowing and in an attempt to keep from exploding I have taken to writing. What follows is the result of purging my mind. If you like what you see, SUBSCRIBE at the top of the page.
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Aug 9, 2019
In 1987 I was an eager energetic young man with dreams of performing on Broadway. In the spring of that year I was coming to the end of my first year at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy.From the beginning of our training at AMDA we were encouraged to strive for greatness. All of our instructors pushed up to learn technique to absorb choreography to find proper placement for the sounds we spoke and sang. Each of knew that we were going to take the musical theater world by storm, once we were allowed to audition. The spring of 1987 I did my first regional theater and summer stock auditions.
The audition was a cattle call audition, where hundreds of young singers, dancers and actors were gathered together herded into a room where they were given the chance to show their stuff. To one side of the room was a long table with many people sitting behind it. The people behind the table were the directors or choreographers of the different theaters represented. The audition process sorted out the singers from the dancers and the actors so that the people auditioning could be seen in the best way. I chose to go with the dancers who could sing group. In the room we were given choreography to learn. Each of us knew this was a crucial part of the audition. The folks behind the table were checking to see who was picking up the choreography and who wasn’t. They were checking to see who asked questions and who did not. They were looking to see who hung at the back of the room and who moved up front. After we had learned the dance combination the choreographer sat to the side of the room and let us show the dance to the folks behind the table. We were rearranged around the room and told to do the combination again. We were then asked to sit along the walls as groups of three and four dancers were called to show the combination. Some dancers were given a polite “Thank you” as they were ushered to the door. I got up a few different times with new combinations of dancers and each time allowed to sit back along the wall. The day went on and more and more dancers left the room. We were given a new combinations. Our groupings were changed. When there were about a quarter of the original dancers left a man sitting behind the table said “Congratulations” you made it through day one, We are going to need you to come back tomorrow 10am and we will do some vocal work and some more dance.” What and exhilarating sensation to make it through all those cuts and to be asked back. This was the first step to having someone hire me to perform in their theater. The following day I returned to the audition hall excited and ready to knock some socks off. We were called in individually. When it was my turn, I entered the room and greeted the folks behind the table. There were not as many people behind the table as there were the previous day. I was introduced to the guy sitting at the upright piano, whose name the decades have erased from my memory. We vocalized though some scales where the folks behind the table had a chance to hear my voice, my range and whatever else they needed to hear. I sang my uptempo audition song, then was asked if I could come back for the afternoon dancer call. I replied with a big smile and a resounding “Yes”.
At the afternoon dancer call there were only about half of the people who were asked back from the previous day. There may have been twenty of us in total. We were all called into the room where the people behind the table introduced themselves to us. They said their names and what theater they were from. I thought “wow!, I made it”. Why else would they be introducing themselves if these were not the folks I would be working with? We were given new choreography and I danced like I was on Broadway. After each time we did the combinations they would call one of us over or call out one of the dancers numbers and say “Thank you”.
When there were just three of us left one of the folks behind the table said “thank you so much, I think we have seen enough. You have all done an amazing job I wish we had spots for everyone.” This fella looked at the other people sitting behind the table and each gave wordless shake of their heads punctuating the negative. He then spoke to me directly “Next year we are planning to do Carousel and Huck Finn and I know we love to have you in the company. This year we just don’t have anything that would showcase you well.” The translation of that comment was “We don’t have any Black parts for you this year.”
I spent two days dancing my butt off and singing from my heart only to have no black roles this year. Many of my friend left that audition thrilled beyond belief. My friends had gotten gigs at theme parks, renaissance festivals, regional theaters, summer bus and truck tours. I had one Black friend who got a summer stock job performing in Dreamgirls and Little Shop of Horrors. I was pissed to say the least yet I was not going to let anyone know just how pissed I was. This is not how life is supposed to work. I worked hard to get the skills necessary to go to work. I did everything my teachers had told me to do to prepare for life in the theater and I was not prepared for this. I was prepared for rejection, I was not prepared for exclusion.
I hid the only way I knew how. I hopped onto my bicycle and rode far and fast. Every day I would hid my disappointment in my workout. Riding a bicycle through NYC traffic tends to narrow ones focus. If I was not riding my bicycle I was running or swimming or taking Afro-Brazilian dance classes. Essentially I was trying to run away from the theater with each workout and yet the theater was where I felt the most alive. That summer I did run away. I was hired by the National Park Service to be an ocean front lifeguard. I chose to be stationed at Great Kills National Recreation Area inStaten Island, NY. Technically I would still be in NYC, Staten Island is one of the boroughs, so not fully running away. I continued to take dance classes in the city when I could. I was working as a lifeguard because the US. Department of the Interior had an initiative to give minorities access into the National Park System and I was running from the theater where being a minority excluded me from the bulk of the work available. Getting the park service job took the same tact of preparation that the performing did. To prepare for the lifeguard job I ran, swam and worked out in the gym to make my body ready for what would be needed. I went to multiple tryouts over two years before I exceeded the requirements necessary to be hired.I applied the same logic to my theater training, I measured my training growth and progress off of me and did not compare my performance to anyone else. As I watched show after show on Broadway I began to see the shows differently. I did not look at the shows and think I wish I were in this show. I looked at the shows and noticed how many people of color were in the performance. I constantly looked at each performer and wondered if that character could be me? Rarely could I see me on the stage. I love musical theater and thoroughly enjoy great performances on the theatrical stage yet died a little with each performance seeing stereotypical performances by people of color….
Before you judge me, what do you know about me? (air)
Jun 17, 2019
As a child I feared that I would die by drowning. It is somewhat funny that I did not have a fear of water. Remnants of the fear continued into adulthood but the fear was not debilitating. As an adult the fear would come in snippets at the fringe of sleep. In those snippets I would flash to another existence and I was drowning. I could feel the water fill my lungs. I could feel my lungs leaden and starving for air they could not get because they were already full. Throughout childhood I was quite familiar with my lungs straining for air. I am an asthmatic. All too often my lungs would betray me and stop working fully. The asthmatic response seemed to be so random. I could run and play for hours and then bam I could not breathe. I could enter a house and become short of breath. I could eat or drink something and then be starving for air. I did not make sense. Sometimes the asthma attack would last a few minutes and sometimes it would last days. There were nights that I gently cried myself to sleep. I had to cry gently so that the crying would not take away any more of my air. My cries were not for how laborious it was to breathe, the cries were because I was not sure if I would continue to breathe once I fell asleep. When I was twelve years old I was playing a game of tag with my brother and some friends at the Hammonton Lake. The local town lake had a floating dock. Two sides of the dock had shallow water and two sides of the dock had deep water. While trying to avoid being tagged I ran and jumped off the dock into the deep water. I jumped as far as I could to evade the tagger and mid stride I realized I was jumping into deep water. I did not panic. I can remember telling myself “sink to the bottom then push off toward the dock”. I took a big gulp of air and hit the water and willed myself to sink fast so I could jump back to the dock. I was sinking but there was no bottom. And still no bottom. I could not feel the bottom so I started reaching for the top flailing. Maybe just maybe if I flailed my arms for the top of the water I would start swimming. But I did not start swimming, I did start running out of air. The more I flailed the more I wanted air. I was twelve and I did not have a strong conviction and I was about to give up my struggle for air by trying to breathe water. Someone grabbed me. Whoever grabbed me was shoving hard. I did not have enough time to wonder who it was because the next thing I know I was touching the dock. I grabbed ahold of the ladder and climbed atop of the dock followed almost immediately by my big brother. I was gasping for air and my brother flopped down beside me also gasping for air. Although he did have enough air to say “Don’t jump into the deep end again. Next time I’m not saving you”. The following year I taught myself how to swim. By the age of fifteen I was a lifeguard. At sixteen I became a Water Safety Instructor where I was teaching others to swim and training lifeguards. I became comfortable and confident in and around water. I now have my advanced Open Water SCUBA certification. I have taken deep dives on the Cayman Trench in Jamaica and on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. My comfort level in and around the water remains and yet deep within the recesses of my mind surfacing irregularly is the fear that I will die by drowning. My adult brain reasons that my struggle with air as a young asthmatic is why I fear dying by asphyxiation. Will it be drowning in water? Or will I drown on land as the asthmatic? Last year my mother died in a drowning accident at a spa. For a brief period after her death waves of panic would overtake me as I lingered on the edge of sleep. As I would fall asleep I would sink below the water and starve for air straining to breathe only to snatch awake chewing on fresh air. I am not sure these are premonitions of my own death. I do believe this is the fear of life being taken away before it has been fully lived.
At 19 years old I moved from rural South Jersey to NYC to pursue a dream of performing on Broadway. I only knew one person who had performed on Broadway and had no idea how I was going to manage the task of getting to the Great White Way. Some of the beauty of being young and clueless was I did not have to know the way I knew the beginning and I knew where I wanted to go the rest I would fill in by living. Not long after I arrived in NYC I heard a radio news report about the life expectancy of young Black men in urban areas. The news report stated that 3 in 10 Black men in urban areas would not live to see their 30th birthday. Although I had grown up in a rural area the life of the performer was lived in urban areas. I had a legitimate fear and the threat was the city itself. Every day I would hear on the radio or see on the news reports of young Black men killed in cities around the country. Many of these young men were killed because of mistaken identity. Some were killed for being Black in the wrong place. For unsuspectingly walking through gang territory wearing the wrong colors. For looking like the vague police sketch and fitting the vague police description. For appearing as a threat while wearing the hood up on a hoodie at night to keep a bald head warm. Some even for running down the street and making the police on the beat suspicious. With each incident my fears were pushed further. Each time a youngBlack man was gunned down I wondered if I would be next. Each night that fell while I lived in an urban area I did not know if I would return home alive. To coin a phrase “I kept my nose clean” I did not hang with the wrong crowd, I wore colorful bandanas with rainbow unicorns on my head so that no gang members would suspect me of being from a rival gang. After all who would have a beef with the rainbow unicorn gang? I truly hoped no one would have a beef with the rainbow unicorn gang. As I drew closer to my 30th birthday I felt that each time I stepped foot out of my apartment I was tempting fate. While living in San Francisco in the early nineties there was a murder of a well known activist one block from where I was living. Having such a horrific event happening so close to home is unnerving and this event had a compounding issue. The report of the suspect was for a Black man 6 foot 4 inches with a mustache and goatee between 200 and 220 lbs with an athletic build. That was me. Each day I would walk in the neighborhood I would slow as patrol cars passed me. I would make eye contact with the officers. I would smile. I would give the officer no reason to suspect me to be a murder. I would also brace myself for the arrest. Two full weeks of this occurred before the suspect was apprehended.I did not breathe a sigh of relief. I gave a silent prayer that they had gotten the right guy. My silent prayer was that they did not get another Black man like myself who was trying every day to survive being Black in the city. As I reflect a little smile comes to my face. The smile comes like a sigh because I would say I have lived a realatively stress free life and yet fearing for one’s life every day for a decade does not sound stress free to me now. One might asked “so why would you subject yourself to that kind of stress when you could easily resolve the issue by moving?” The only place I knew that I could ply my trade at the level I wanted was with urban areas, that is why. I am grateful that I survived. I am grateful that the career I sought materialized. I grateful that I could share my passion and my success and some of my struggle with other young Black men along the way. I hope those others received the hope for survival that I wished upon them. So before you judge me maybe this will give you a different perspective of who I am.
Each morning I write my poem for the day. Okay that is not completely true, some days I write two and three poems or a long poem with multiple stanzas. I have posted a poem a day on twitter and facebook since April 17, 2018 and will work to continue with that until April 17, 2019. I have learned much about the process of creating work on a daily basis. My work has previously been motivated by my desire to create work, it was not something I had to do or was expected of me. A poem a day must happen whether I feel the need to create or not. There have been many days where I had to motivate myself to write the words. I have had to give myself prompts such as a week of themes (i.e. for the next three days I will write about trees). I even made myself write haiku for a couple of days. I can actually feel growth in my work from the process. More importantly for me, I feel that I could share this process with anyone. And I feel that I have learned much about guiding someone else through this path a growth and development. A poem a day has already spawned a project to succeed it but I will wait until April to share it with the world.
Happy New Year! 2019 is here and with it new resolutions, new goals, new challenges. I have never ascribed to making resolutions for each new year, instead for the past for years I have set goals for the year. My goal setting is conservative, last year I set 5 goals and achieved them all. This year I will most likely do the same by setting 5 attainable goals. My goals last year included speaking engagements, publishing my writing and working as an actor. Each of my goals required a laying of a foundation, some research and lots of follow through. Each of my goals required help I could do most of the work but I needed someone else or others to attain successful completion. My goals for 2019 are not necessarily bigger and better than 2018 some are extensions of 2018 goals and some will be the next steps past 2018 goals. At least one will be nurturing a goal I had set years ago and let whither. With my goals in mind I look to you and with you more than just a Happy year, I wish you a Focused, Love filled, Healthy, Prosperous, Safe 2019.