In Voice

I really needed the money.

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After copious amounts of artistic work in a variety of genres amongst a motley array of circumstances, I have finally secured a 6 paged curricula vitae and the right to refuse work that does not fit into the parameters of my artist’s statement. But this is Berlin.

With my more east coast American sensibilities, I have been privy to the fact that this city’s “poor but sexy” accolades can seduce artists into leaving their more or less stable lives behind to become imbedded in the destitution scabbed beauty of reckless abandon which throughout the history of time has provided the world’s most creative geniuses with the foundation for inspiration; we never want to miss the opportunity to have our place in a modern day Renaissance. 

This comes of course with the burden of that stigmatic moniker “Starving Artist” that has never been so readily profound in my life as it has been in Berlin where they welcome artists all of media with sturdy Aryan arms with the promise of adoration and appreciation for us heeding to the necessity of enriching this precious city’s cultural landscape, but restricting us to the confines of a visa that does not permit us to engage in activities that would allow us to supplement our income in the sometimes menial ways that artists are used to enduring. 

It was the un-United States that inspired me to make this pilgrimage to this unholy blank canvass where my proverbial paintbrush could run wild without the circumstances of being pigeonholed or having the competition of being unique just like everyone else. Though jaded by the unfortunate commonality of commerce leading the intent of art (and the entire un-USA as a whole), I could go back to The States for 3 months, scrub toilets, file paperwork and sling trays, and make enough money to live extravagantly in Europe for a year. 

It is a wicked dichotomy – the vast appeal and resent of Capitalism vs. Socialism. 

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View from the stage, pre-show at the historic HAU theater in Kreuzberg.

When I first read the script, I only got through the first two pages and I had to put it down. And then I remembered: I really needed the money.

It wasn’t poorly written or altogether not meeting the demands of the intent of my artistic expression that I wear so proudly on my sleeve, it was the bane of my desire to continue on as an actor. It was that double-edged sword that has provided me with so much tumult throughout my time here in Berlin. It was that dreaded and inscrutable thing that has been haunting me since before I was born. It was there again, in my face. THE N WORD.

Many have heard my darkly comic witticisms about how the word “NIGGER” has been the bröt und butter of my existence in Berlin while sipping foamy lattes that I can’t afford in dimly taper candle lit smoky cafés in those artsy neighborhoods (but who can afford anything in Berlin and what neighborhood isn’t artsy?). My highest paid jobs in this city have relied on acting gigs in which I played characters who were racially discriminated against or stereotyped in some way or blatantly used or received the slap of the word NIGGER. 

This is why I left my dreams of becoming a reputable actor in the un-United States of America. I was tired of playing beggars and thieves and killers and such and especially NIGGERS. Funny then how I came to a place to escape this wary nightmare only to be subjected to my dependency upon it. Did I mention that they still do blackface in Germany? 

I really needed the money. 

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A seamless tech rehearsal just hours before “The Narcissist”.

I was late. Per usual. I wanted to enter the theater, winded and confused, and spat out one of my usual inappropriate jokes about Colored People Time but I noticed immediately that it wouldn’t be inappropriate in the comedic way – the director was also black.

My co-star, Carrie, gave me a welcoming smile albeit also of suspecting nature; I could tell she really needed the money too. 

The HAU theater was charming in that decrepit and vastly stoic way, like most old German theaters. It was organically pretty but not so much successful in the way of being ornate, but surely a strong building that could resist many bouts of attacks from the elements or other sources of destruction. Anyway, I’m getting off the topic.

We read through the script several times and I realized that this was going to be a powerful and profound experience in my wishy-washy acting career. 

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The surprising hospitality in our dressing room at The HAU theater.

We took a break and I went outside for a cigarette with Carrie. We both talked about how worried we were that this show was going to be one of those thrown together, crazy Berlin experiences where nothing would be organized and payment would be one of those chores that takes months to achieve. We were proven wrong. The director, Dean Blunt, (whose name titillated us and also led us to other dubious thoughts regarding the production) was far from disorganized and crazy. He was very laid back and helpful and allowed us to experiment with the conditions of our roles. 

The whole piece was derivative of his own personal experience with a relationship he had that ended due to (let’s say) artistic differences. A spotlight of the CTM – Festival for Adventurous Music and Related Arts – that took place from January 28 – February 3, 2013, the main feature of this production entitled “The Narcissist” was the music component. The festival highlighted several genres of music and musicians from deejays to orchestra ensembles that performed in some of Berlin’s most historic venues.

“The Narcissist” used the theater element (Me along with my co-star Carrie) as the background for the music composed by Dean Blunt, instead of vice versa. His style is an innovative mix of trance and hip hop, utilizing haunting and skillful beats, sound effects and manipulation of human sounds along with some witty and poignant singing. Along with the poetically charged dialog of the two characters on stage, sitting idly on a couch, seemingly presenting feelings rather than having a conversation, provided this piece with a deft attempt to make something deep and subversive highly relatable. 

We were fortunate enough to have the script in-hand for the production deemed a read-through and both Carrie and I were invited to ad lib as necessary to add depth and drama to the piece for the full house audience. Both of us played around with our roles until we decided to take a bit of time to consider the meanings behind the words and eventually the burden of the word NIGGER was far from an issue for me because the pith of “The Narcissist” was to engage in a exposition in a earthy, natural way, though presented in an almost dream-like context.

The whole experience in itself was a dream come true. After going through so many theater and film jobs being neglected and disrespected, both Carrie and I were shocked by how hospitable and organized the whole process was. We were constantly being asked by the crew if we needed anything, we were alloted vouchers for dinner (and a drink) at a local restaurant, we had a comparably lavish set up in our own dressing room, and were were actually paid our salary before we went on stage, without having to wait months upon months after submitting an invoice. 

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Tools of the trade backstage at The Hau.

What is one of the best parts of Berlin is when you have one of these out-of-the-box experiences and you meet someone that can empathize with the alluring quicksand that this city provides. Carrie and I talked long and hard about all that Berlin has to offer and take away and we had a lengthily discussion about the tribulations of melding lasting friendships in this transient town. So many times you see artists coming here and then disappearing into one of those long hours of darkness that the city is known for and then all of a sudden they have to leave – devoid of money and ambition. 

We toasted to our survival and to our perseverance and to the opportunity to finally be treated how we deserved to be treated. We made so many jokes throughout the day about how we were treated like royalty, having so desperately missed those precious and common gifts like food and money that we both missed from our time in theater/film on the east coast of USA.

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My new friend and colleague Carrie takes a moment to pose for the camera a few weeks after the production on our big night out around the town.

There are talks of continuing the development process of “The Narcissist” for a tour – and nothing would make me happier than to have a working holiday, not only to get out of poor but sexy Berlin for awhile, but also to envelope myself in seeing how the rest of the world lives. 

Though I was and I am always amiss in regards to my emotions regarding how many times I’ve had to become a NIGGER to rescue myself from adversity, the constant reminder of the possibilities regarding giving a new voice to old words will always intrigue me in some way.