I’m late. Let’s really not forget that: I’m late.
Back in February 2017, an email popped up addressed to my booking manager on a random day on a random week. I’d just taken up a role at an elementary school as a para, and I’d received word that Hattiloo Theater in Memphis, TN was holding a National Black Box Performing Arts Festival to be chalk full of massively important figures throughout the journey of black theatres and black actors in the U.S. Low and behold it was just that.
Unbeknownst, I ran into Antonio Lyons, Woodie King Jr., Paul Carter Harrison, and many more folks that have seismically impacted black theatre and on-stage performance. The experience was one of a kind, in that I was hired to perform a solid hour of music and spoken word in a black box theater, at a black theater I’d never heard of. Roaming the building and speaking with Hattiloo’s Outreach Coordinator, Ann Mulhearn, I was privy to the history of Hattiloo, it’s trials and tribulations, and the backstory on its new location and building expansion.
In Minnesota, I can remember being called into Penumbra, a nationally renowned black theatre in the Twin Cities, only once for something… in 2003. I’d been called into the Jungle Theatre once as well, and the Guthrie, a nationally renowned white theatre in the Twin Cities, approximately no times at all. To every theatre’s abatement, the actors and artists are the ones that audition for the theatres, not the other way around, however being called into a theatre a prestigious as Hattiloo damn near knocked me on my shoulder blades. Although I hadn’t heard of them before they booked me, I also had never heard of Paul Carter Harris, who mentored Phylicia Rashad and many other black actors, and Woody King Jr., founder of the New Federal Theatre that has housed Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Debbie Allen, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. My knowledge of black theatre be thin. My hustle be thick. They have nothing to do with one another, but I figured that sounded cool for the moment.
In short, Ann Mulhearn, Lawrence Blackwell (Director of Programs, Hattiloo), and the rest of the staff gave me hospitality beyond expectation, and I can’t thank them enough. So, with that, thank you for showing me Memphis, and even more so, thank you for opening your doors to my music and spoken word. Y’all keep me going!
PS- Lawrence Blackwell declared, due to my place of birth, that I am an official New Orleanian. Although I was raised in Minnesota, he’s somewhat officially branded me as New Orleans’ own. I’ll take it.