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    Posted February 10, 2015

African American Actors on Broadway: Life, Work and Inspiration

AEA Celebrated Black History Month with an Exclusive Panel 

Panelists (L to R) Montego Glover, Michael Potts, Marva Hicks and Alton Fitzgerald White, along with AEA Councillor and moderator of the evening Allyson Tucker, discussed working on Broadway.

When asked how she keeps moving forward through the hard times this industry undoubtedly possesses, Montego Glover remembered how she got through her Broadway debut.

While understudying Celie in The Color Purple, Glover was given a 15-minute notice that she was about to perform the role onstage for the first time. Because ushers didn’t have the time to stuff the programs, the PSM delivered a verbal announcement to the audience —and was met with instantaneous “boos.”

“The curtain billowed from the booing,” she remembered. She said that she was fortunate to have the support of her cast. “Thank God for an acting company. In that moment I thought, ‘No matter what is coming at you — boos or otherwise — you’re going to make it.’”

Glover, who has gone on to be Tony-nominated in Memphis and will be in this spring’s upcoming It Shoulda Been You, imparted her experience along with theatre vets Marva Hicks (Motown), Michael Potts (The Book of Mormon) and Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King) at Actors’ Equity Association’s annual Black History Month celebration event in New York City, “African American Actors on Broadway: Life, Work and Inspiration” on Feb. 9, 2015 in Equity’s Council Room.

At the panel discussion, which was sponsored by AEA’s National Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, the discussion encouraged the Equity member panelists to discuss their careers, what inspires them and how working on Broadway has changed their lives. Moderated by AEA Councillor Allyson Tucker (who described the panelists as an “embarrassment of riches” sitting next to her), the group discussed in front of a packed house everything from getting started in the business to discussing some of the issues faced by working actors of color.

When dealing with a casting director who might not hire you, Potts simply said “call them on it.” The actor remembered when auditioning for the role of Molière  — and he was the best fit — the director asked him to do it again, and possible even once more, only to be met with, “I haven’t decided on the cultural casting of the play yet.” While laughing, Potts said to the director, “Yes. You have. I know when I’m being apologized to.”

“So, call them on it,” he said. “I make sure that they really want to see me. I’m not there to make them feel good about themselves.”

The panel also agreed that an African American performer, along with any race, must go into the audition room prepared to convince any director that he or she is the best for the role. More than that, they agreed that once you’ve landed a job, you must deliver, both on stage and off.

Adding to the idea of delivering on stage and off, Hicks said, “I just did the last episode of a series, and I know that character is coming back.”

Tucker asked the guests how recent racially-charged events, such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, have affected their professional life.

“You have to work to be better,” said Hicks. With her background in the era and area where racial tensions were at a boil, Hicks tries to guide her fellow younger cast members with which she works, by reiterating, “Have your personal character together so that when these instances come, you can say ‘This is who I am. We’ve got to be more.”

The group agreed that the recent events also reminded them that this union is like a home and the members are family. And part of their responsibility to their union, and family, is sharing their experiences, helping others learn, which led Tucker her last question: “What do you want your legacy to be?”

For all of the guests, it was being remembered as someone who brought integrity to their work. White summed it up: “I’d like to be known as someone who showed up on time and did his work consistently well.”

For White, it should be no problem. Twelve years and 4,000 performances later, the actor is still performing as Mufasa to sold-out houses in Disney’s The Lion King.

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