Finding My Acting Tribe on Clubhouse
Many people would describe me as powerful, stoic, and stable. Honestly? The last adjective I would disagree with wholeheartedly. It is in my instability that my artistic center shines. It is my need to locate emotional stability that led me to one of the most financially finicky professions; acting . I’ve had the desire to be an actor since my first experience in a leading role on stage. Even as a young child in fifth grade, I was riddled with emotional imbalances and had succeeded at hiding my anxiety, sadness, and deep emotions from every adult that surrounded me. Acting gave me the safety and encouragement that has been in my life for over a decade now. For the first time, I was applauded for my emotions. Better yet, I was told I stood out. What many people didn’t realize was I always wanted to be that emotionally available version of myself I brought to the stage, I simply did not have access to mental health vocabulary or resources that could’ve aided my progress on a different timeline. At that time, I believed acting was a solo profession, one where the only person who mattered was #1; you. I’m lucky enough to have learned through my short life thus far how wrong that sentiment truly is.
In Junior year of high school, we did a rendition of the off Broadway show Weird Romance. I played P. Burke, an unattractive, crippled, homeless woman who inevitably turns into a stunning blue eyed, blonde haired “superstar”. Despite the tone-deaf casting choice, I connected with the character in a way that I hid from my cast mates, crew, and friends who saw the show. A year prior, my mom and I had been sharing a room together in my uncle’s basement and I slept on the floor for quite some time, happily watching Doctor Who while avoiding homework so all was well. This role was the second instance of healing through art that I needed to transcend into the next portion of my life. College.
I decided acting was the only thing I wanted to do professionally, I sought out training in the arts. I attended Chapman University for the Screen Acting program and fell in love with the techniques and deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. I was certain I was to learn how to act, but I had no idea I was to learn how to live as well. Despite the incredible hours a week dedicated to mastering my craft, the political climate of the University for a Black, queer person was terribly isolating. At Chapman, there were less than 2% of Black students in the entire University. Within my cohort I was lucky to have another Black student in my class, however the others were scattered through the grades and scattered even further between the Screen Acting and the Theater Program.
I became active politically because of this
experience. Which pulled me away from the other acting students who could live their lives unscathed by the systemic issues of the institution and the blatantly racist students with whom I had plenty of altercations with. In my final semester of college, I organized and led a protest to remove the Birth of a Nation poster from the film school hallway (yes, that racist as hell film was glorified with zero context to passerbys). I had ensured that anyone (in my acting class) who wanted to attend our protest would not receive penalty for missing part of their lecture. In the middle of the class our professor gave us permission to leave for the protest. Myself, and only one other student, Jackie Palacios, joined me.
At that point I thought: “Fuck 'em.”
And I have felt that same sentiment for a great deal of artists, with whom I knew, that never helped me organize, that never cared, but dared to post a black square during protests in the Summer of 2020. Well, my feelings transformed in October of 2020.
One of my closest friends out of college is Tommie Russell. He was one of the other Black actors in the Screen Acting program, graduating a year before I. He reached out to me describing the Clubhouse platform and what he envisioned for us. “What if we create a space for Black actors to teach, learn, and discuss with one another about the Black acting experience?” I was hooked. We had been reading the textbook “Black Acting Methods” and discussing weekly up until that point. I needed no strung out explanation, although when Tommie and I get to talking, we really get to talking. He brought me onto the platform and we started to plan conversations.
“What if we create a space for Black actors to teach, learn, and discuss with one another about the Black acting experience ?” I was hooked.
For those of you who do not know, Clubhouse is an iOS App still in beta development so you currently need an invite to be brought on. I would describe it as a live podcast where an audience can interact with anyone on the “stage” or simply stay in the audience to listen in on the convo. There are a multitude of hosted rooms ranging from the film industry, to psychedelics, to Love Island reactions. All in real time. All with the sound of your voice.
Since then, Tommie and I have curated some of the most fulfilling discussions I’ve participated in. This last week we celebrated over 1500 members in The Black Actors Tribe, our club on the platform that houses these conversations. We’ve hosted panelists of Black alum from HBCUs, and prominent MFA programs. We’ve discussed careers with actors such as Mel Roberson (Chicago PD), Rafael Castillo (Black Lightning), and Crystal Lee Brown (Emmy nominated actress so many things to put here, we love her). Additionally, we’ve mingled with other parts of the industry to learn more about their process and preferred ways of communication.
Ultimately, my favorite talks are the ones where we get real with one another. Where we talk about the ability for Black actors to be in Shakespeare, and whether or not that changes the landscape of the story. We discuss August Wilson. We give each other plays and monologues to read and try out. The Black Actors Tribe has supplemented my education of the arts that America could only dream to catch up with. It is a sacred, open and inclusive space. It is the space I longed for during my undergraduate years. I am able to dive deeper into my artistry because I have a tribe of thousands of people I can tap in with who just… get it.
This is a love letter to my Black Actors Tribe. Thank you all for being a part of it, and I’m excited to see how we can grow in the future.