Recently, I have spent a lot of time questioning what my role is as an actor who cares about equality. How can I be a blank slate that propels a casting director or manager to look at me and see a world of possible roles to play? Can I do that while refusing to be silent about the systematic oppression that people of color, women, LGBTQIA folks, and disabled individuals face in this country? Should I change my name on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profiles? These questions have, and I’m not exaggerating, kept me up at night.
About a week ago, however, my professor brought up a quote of Suzan-Lori Parks’ that got me thinking: “Why does everyone think that white artists make art and black artists make statements?”
I decided to be an actor after watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights on Broadway in 2008. It was the first time I ever saw a show with people that looked like me and stories similar to those I grew up around onstage. That alone birthed an innate desire to tell stories in me, at the time, a 13-year old boy. All of that said, In The Heights also birthed a desire to fight for representation in the entertainment industry regardless of discipline or genre. Once I decided to become an actor, I quickly recognized that even being cast in a show as “pointless” as Legally Blonde—which, by the way, I think is actually very political but that’s for another blog post—would automatically make a statement about representation and that there was no way around that.
As a person, I strongly believe that in the world of the theatre, there is space for everything. Highly commercial musicals deserve to exist just as much as experimental contemporary plays that tackle societal injustices. As an actor, I want to be in both and everything in between! Yet, as of right now, I am having a hard time shaking off the feeling that because of what I look like, I will not be able to rid myself of the responsibility to represent a political idea, or, as Suzan-Lori Parks put it, make a statement. We’ll see what happens.