“Universality through specificity.” This is a phrase I learned as a freshman at Boston University that has stuck with me throughout my training. It refers to the notion that the artist, through the telling of stories that are specific to the experience of one or few, are given the ability to uncover truths that are inherently human and therefore universal. For me this idea illuminates the power of diversity. Diversity is an inherent part of humanity. Everyone is different in some way, that’s what makes us who we are. This was such an important discovery for me because, before this point, I saw my personal differences as a hindrance to my work. As a queer actor of color, it was hard to see where I fit into the larger scheme of the theatre world. I didn’t see people like me being represented very often and so I figured I would have to adapt, and refine myself to fit the model of what I thought an actor should be. I didn’t realize that people like me are everywhere, fighting for a place to fit in just like I was. Over the course of my training I have come to realize that my uniqueness is my strength. No matter how “other” I feel on any given day, there will always be people out there who feel just as I do. Those are the people I want to connect to through my work.
My passion for specificity has driven me to utilize the four years of my undergraduate training as a chance to really discover who I am, as a human and an artist alike. Having been raised primarily by my white mother, being half black has always been apart of my identity that I felt removed from in some sense. I decided to become an African American Studies minor so that I could strengthen my connection to my black identity and enrich my knowledge of what it truly means to be black in America. I see my privilege now. I see that my own success, whatever that may look like, is only made possible by those who came before me and fought to make the world a place where it is
ok for me to be who I am. My very existence (which would have been deemed unlawful just about 50 years ago) is homage to them, and therefore my art can’t help but be an extension of the legacy they set forth.
As an actor I want to embody perspectives that are different from my own. I don’t want to be limited to playing roles that are written specifically for my race and gender. By doing so I hope challenge notions of race, gender and sexual identity in our society. I want my work to show others that difference and diversity in art is important because art is, and always will be, a reflection of the world we live in. Those who fall outside of societal norms have a voice, they exist, and they matter. By breaking the conventions we see in theatre today I hope to be a representative for those who feel limited by the binaries society expects us to fit into. I want to be part of the lineage of artist and activist who have used their work to challenge injustice, bigotry and ignorance. I pull my strength and inspiration from those who dared to be themselves at any cost. People like Marsha P. Johnson and the children of the Harlem ball scene of the 1970’s and 80’s, who were able to find the beauty and fierceness within themselves amidst pain, struggle and adversity. Rupaul Charles taught me that the key to loving others is loving yourself first.
Right now our country is filled to the brim with hate and opposition. Our power is lost; diffused by separation. I believe it is the responsibility of artist to spread the message of unity. The love and acceptance of our own specific differences is the way in which we will find love and acceptance for the differences of others. As a citizen of a country who’s president wants nothing more than to oppress the members of our community who are not CIS, straight and white, I want to be an actor that empowers
those who feel othered with the knowledge that sometimes the best form of protest is simply daring to be yourself.