Artist Liv'n : Tokenism (aka) the Hamilton post
i had this in the back of my mind to talk about, but with the recent news around one very popular show and a casting notice... it seems like there is no time like the present.
any (and i do mean any) performer of color will tell you they've been a token. they've gone to an ethnic call ( i've been to several).. they've been the one bit of color in the cast.. they've been the sassy friend, the person who can belt and riff... the person with swag.. the one brown swan or snowflake... and on and on and on.
i spent the majority of 2015 working outside of NY and a somewhat funny, common conversation that consistently came up among new actor friends was always how i could possibly know this person or that person, usually someone of color. besides meeting people through shows i've done or similar social circles or at auditions (you meet a lot of people at auditions), I always say:
"well, there are about 5 of us working... so we all know each other."
it's always said jokingly, but it's a sad truth. i know this person, because if i didn't get the job, i'm pretty certain he got it. and he will be the "one."
i've been the one for years now. in high school, i came to ny via a well-known ballet boarding school institution. not only is ballet a niche market in general, it's especially not even an inkling of a thought in many inner city communities like the one i grew up in, in baltimore. nevertheless here i was training for a career in ballet... my 1st year, i was just the one.
wait... there was also a girl in one of the advanced levels. she lived locally and didn't live, eat & breathe the boarding school surroundings, 24/7.
so there were two of us.
i remember once, when i was in the ballet company, leaving the theater after a performance and an older black patron came up to me and told me: "i'm rooting for you" "you're the newest and i noticed you right away... we're all in your corner and i can't wait to see what comes of your career." i was so taken aback... i genuinely didn't know how to respond. so i sort of said thank you and went on my way home. the weight of his words seemed like a lot. i hadn't ever really thought past my personal goals and wants. i'd never thought someone else would go out of their way to tell me they were rooting for me, definitely not someone who was a complete stranger.
i danced in another company. again i was the one...
after a performance, a woman came up to me, introduced me to her son and said: "my son dances and he's never seen a black male dancer. i'd love to stay in contact"
( ..to this day, we still talk.)
when i made my transition into musical theater, along came a whole new experience... casting calls where: boys like me, in different heights and different hues-only people of color, all sing and dance and act... for one track in a show, the ethnic track. (there were plenty of auditions not at all like this.. for some reason, these are the ones that stand out.)
we're all honest with each other now. we all laugh and joke. "hey blacks" is what i usually say to the very talented pool of men of color i’m used to seeing at these events. if i'm cut, i always say, "well i'll see you at the next one of these."
i recently did a show with an all black cast and that audition was bananas!! i used the hashtag #MightAsWellBeACookout because if you've ever been to a black family cookout.. it was the exact same energy. folks running and jumping on each other like play cousins, just excited to be around each other, because we rarely ever work together.
which leads me to back to my reason for writing...
the buzz around the "Hamilton" casting post is hysterical... genuinely funny...
i'm pretty bummed that they changed the wording of the casting notice because i know all too well what it feels like to be the one: the spec of color or the quota. myself and countless others know what it means to be the one or two that MUST represent. And... i really don't have a problem with it. it's reality, especially in this business of show. i've had such phenomenal experiences in theater and dance, that i wouldn't have wanted them it to happen any other way.
but what i'd love.. we'd love..
is for art to actually imitate life... all of the lives, for that matter.
we'd love to not be the one or two. (which is usually one guy and one girl, so really you're still the one). it's what's happening on that hit broadway stage every night. it's also why that hit broadway show is such a phenomenon. so the next time you're going through casting calls or at auditions or at a show... just notice if it looks like the world you just walked in from. if not, there is no need to make uproar at all... especially if you don't care to.
..but there need be no uproar for anything else either.