The Mixing of Heart and Mind as Haamid in Will Sniders' Strange Men
In my entire career as an actor, one association that has remained consistent with my work is that it is transformative. It seemed as if my work was adored best when it was without myself. While I always took this as a compliment, as the art itself is defined as telling a story truthfully under imaginary circumstances, there was always a part of me that felt like my acting was making me feel erased. When you always must transform simply to be included, and you are at your best when you are in no way present, the value of your own characteristics come into question. As I made my way through UCSD’s graduate acting program, I found myself suddenly with new skills, a new sense of voice, speech, and movement, that allowed me to express myself in a much clearer and stronger way. The stories I was asked to tell, the parts I was asked to play, continued to require me to transform. But, since I was collecting tools that allowed me to alter my physical and vocal shape, the creative part of my brain was becoming transfixed with the complicated notion of transformation. If I were leave myself behind in the next room and build a character, how specifically, how fully could I do it? Although I was not always in love with the stories I was asked to tell ( what actor of color is, truly), I was in love with the way I was able to tell it. But then, my training took a sharp turn when I was given the opportunity to play Haamid in “Strange Men” by Will Snider, a part that asked me to use all of myself, as I am, in this moment in time. For the first time, maybe ever in my career as an actor, so much of my own thoughts, desires, and struggles were of value to me for this production. To be a person of color, to be African, to be queer, these markers that have left scars of shame have now become the very foundation of my work. I was finally able tell a story that was close to my heart and my sleeve, and I had the tools I needed to express this story with simplicity and clarity. Ah, if only I could feel this way all the time! It was during this process that I realized something. It is important to be able to tell stories that are close to who you are, stories of marginalized people, of struggle and adversity, of love and triumph, that reflect a life that you understand. It is also important that no matter what stories we tell, the technique in which we tell them, the specificity, the clarity, the sharpness of mind, voice and body, must be immaculate. But it is the intersection of the two that makes it art.