Last year proved to be one of the toughest points in my life financially. I was literally on unemployment trying to survive off of $200/ week which is nearly impossible to do if you live in a city like New York. I still look back at that time and wonder, "how did I do it?" I think the average man would have thrown in the towel a LOOOOONG time ago. I am not rich. I am not famous. I live in a 3 bedroom apartment and like everyone else am trying to make ends meet. And I, like many actors wondered if this journey was worth it. I wondered if I should throw in the towel and figure something else out? It's hard to find motivation when others look at what your do as a hobby as opposed to your life. It's hard when there seems to be an increasing lack of appreciation for the arts in general.
Then 2014 hit. And something changed. Suddenly I was cast in a show called "The Death of Bessie Smith" by Edward Albee for the New Brooklyn Theatre. I played the Orderly, a character that Mr. Albee had written with no name but was an important figure in this play. It was also the first time this show had been done in New York in over 46 years. The production was performed at Interfaith Medical Center in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. There was an initial catch though. Albee agreed to let us do the production but only if we, the cast and crew did not get paid (other than travel reimbursement), the play could not get reviewed, it was open to the public free of charge, and we could not change any of the text. Everyone involved agreed to those conditions because we knew the power and significance of what we were doing. We were to run for two weekends to raise awareness over the serious healthcare crises that was occurring in this city and this nation.
The show was to close Jan 19th. Miraculously, we were extended not once, but twice! What was supposed to last for two weekends lasted until March 9th! And I realized something through all of this. I realized that theater is not dead. That what I do for a living is not a hobby though some may treat it as such, but I do has value. We helped to bring exposure to an issue that would have been otherwise swept under the rug. We played to audiences from not just every borough in New York but overseas as well. We played to audiences who had never come to the theater before. I realize that the reason why many people don't go to the theater is because it is too expensive and the stories are not reflective of the world that they live in. Theater can often lack diversity among its cast. So why would someone who lives off of less than $20,000/ year try to make his way down to a theater?? I understand why people view theater as dead.
But performing 'Bessie Smith' showed me why I was proud to be not just an actor, but a THEATRE actor. I'm still not rich. I'm still not famous. But what I do matters. What I do is important. Because what I do can help to inspire others to bring forth change in this world. What I do can be entertaining but it can also enlighten and put a spotlight on an issue that deserves to be heard. I can represent the disenfranchised. Art is important. When we lose art, we lose our sense of humanity. And when we lose our sense of humanity, the world becomes an alarmingly dangerous place. So it is our jobs as artists to make our art accessible and it is our jobs as people to support art.