So no. I’ve not gone Hollywood. But yes, I do see a future here. I am 90% certain that I will transition to Los Angeles. The other 10% is open to whatever random opportunity that may arise. Such an opportunity that I’d be crazy to turn down.
So I was on a bus departing Downtown LA heading to San Francisco and I just sat in my thoughts. I received a text from a friend of mine saying that she made it as a semi-finalist in a TED Talks contest that would allow her to travel the world and take part in conferences organized by the organization. I felt proud of her large vision. I mean she’s young, beautiful and doing it. I got to thinking about this idea of big visions. It was the first time life felt large to me. I was in a large land. I met some large people, both literally and theoretically. And people were not afraid to consider the idea of large money. I saw opportunity that presented itself in a different way from NYC. Yes, in some aspects the life is more difficult than NYC as far as traffic and parking and accessibility. The nightlife is not as happening as NYC. Relationships aren’t maintained as well in LA as they are in NYC. Those were the negatives that made LA this place of anxiety for me. When I thought about it, I was already halfway there. I grew up in Chicago. I grew up in a driving culture. When the winter hits, no I don’t want to hang out. No, I don’t want to travel. Yes, parking really sucks. I understood those anxieties. I get angry. I curse. I rip the steering wheel apart. I get over it.
I have been seduced by the large vision. This city is not about the independent filmmaker. NYC is. Yet, the city does not define what an independent filmmaker is. I am a filmmaker of color, so chances are I will begin my feature career on an independent level. What LA does is attract this sense of something larger. The independent film is complete, now how much leverage does this product get me? How far can I take this story? How can I monopolize this opportunity to the most profitable and highest degree. There is no independent market. I mean, there is, but LA is like no, theoretically there is not. What exists is your small movie in the entertainment business. How do you bring home the trophy? How do you get the girl? I never asked myself these questions in NYC. When I was there, the questions I asked myself was how do I get this project off of the ground. I rarely concerned myself with striking gold by digging with a toothpick. I was an artist living as an artist. LA wants to know if I’m Basquiat. My job is to figure out whether I am Basquiat or not, and if I’m not, how do I place just the right amount of light in my corner to shine? In other words, how does everyone’s children get fed?
I enjoyed my years in NYC. The city gave me a back bone. NYC made me a bonafide bullshit detective. I can sniff and point it out. There’s no other place on Earth like it. There’s no point in hoping that I have a comparable experience in LA. That would be setting myself up for failure. You can’t get NYC anywhere except NYC and that’s the risk of leaving. That’s why NYC has this desperate hold onto people’s hearts. She whispers in the ears of her admirers, “You know you’re going to miss me. You know there’s no one on this green Earth that can ride you like I ride you.” And we get sucked in because no one fucks us like NYC. No one says, “You can’t afford to be here but I’ll give you dollar pizzas and two dollar dumplings and dollar PBR’s and drumming in the park and 24 hour trains and 48 hour energy.” So once one can accept the fact that LA is like most other large American cities where you land in the middle of it and there’s no party going on, then decisions are clearer. And one can begin to appreciate the fact that there is a city that offers the beach and the mountains in the same day. A city that offers little change in climate but multiple close cities of actual interest that offer a change in environment. A city that actually offers peace if you so desire it. I am not in love with LA. But LA is practical. The industry is set up here and for the most part, the industry has little interest in changing. That seems bad except for understanding that we at least know the game. People are here and working. On the ground. Not on the 54th floor. People want to talk film here. They want the next best thing. They want successful material. They want to continue overlooking the ocean. Most of the time, that means avoiding color. But LA has a community of successful people of color. And even that is inspiring. I look forward to adding one more to the batch.
All of it isn’t pretty. Actually, most of it isn’t pretty. Not during the day. The city of Los Angeles. I’ve been here for two weeks now. I flew out to participate in the Drama UK Showcase which was a conglomeration of scenes and monologues performed by American students that studied drama in the UK during the 2013-2014 school year. The entire week of workshops and rehearsals were absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more, unless asking for more actually meant getting representation and immediately booking the next best thing. Amir Korangy and Alex Feldman, both faculty members at the Theatre of Arts College, put on a damn good show. Not only did I refresh my knowledge of the industry and gain invaluable insight as to the specifics of pursuing a career in Los Angeles, but a tiny light illuminated itself over my handling contemporary text. The second after I performed my monologue, the thoughts behind the words became crystal clear. Funny that it happened after I delivered the monologue and I’m hoping that some semblance of ease and familiarity were exhibited. But I was made aware of imperative truths that will be essential to me down the line. I was one of 27 performers and very lucky to have been a part of so much talent. God bless the rest of the cast and I do wish them the very best in this industry.
I am now making the rounds in Los Angeles, reconnecting with old contacts and meeting new ones. I am also taking this city in for what it is. A networking magnet and a structural cluster fuck. I told my boy Tahir Jetter that I’d give him the scoop on how this city operates and if the transition from NYC is worth the trouble. This is really my personal and not so expert evaluation of course. I’m here for another week. Next week will be full of networking and reaching out for as many coffee hangouts as I can possibly get. After that, I will be able to speak on whether or not Los Angeles is the move to make when one is at a certain level in his or her career and looking for something that he or she feels is lacking in current circumstances. We shall see. I’ll say this for now, I am slowly becoming impressed. Not with the city itself. But with the opportunity. I had a great conversation with Nardeep Khurmi, a beautiful director and great friend of mine. Nardeep, a man that can sell winter to the devil, gave LA the pitch that I believe I needed to hear. The pitch began with, “Look, if you’re looking to love this city, you can stop looking right now.” He asked me to consider whether I love NYC for the city itself, or if I’m in love with the past. Meaning, could I live without the city or am I holding on to times shared with the people I love. Then we talked about what a city could possibly offer. His main pitch…”Have you ever sat on a train in NYC or sat in a restaurant or sat in a park and met anyone of influence that showed interest in my endeavors?” I thought about that for while. Well, no. I’m silent on trains. I read at parks. And I have never met the executive producer of who, what, when and where at any restaurant in NYC.
So, as I take this next week on, I will only look at LA from the viewpoint of how the conversations surrounding my art are evolving. I will tell myself that lifestyle is secondary because if I don’t do that, then the never ending list of positives and negatives will only get longer. Here’s to you, Tahir, and to anyone else who is struggling with the decision to leave the hustle and bustle of NYC for the sun tanned boulevards of Los Angeles. You shall get my answer in a week’s time.
Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me feat. Kendrick Lamar
Why I love this? The camera work is ingenious. It is truly remarkable. And the story of these two kids whose lives were taken far too early rising from the dead and ascending through dance is so beautifully poignant that for me, it is inhuman to not be affected. Or maybe it is my knowing this story all too well. But whatever it is, I’ve been inspired. Directed by Hiro Murai.
So my dissertation was about the academic benefits of teaching Shakespeare with the use of Hip Hop music. The focus resided more on embracing the musicality of Shakespeare’s language in order to nurture an organic response to his text. Similar to the way drama students respond to Shakespeare in training. Currently, high school students in the States approach Shakespeare through literary analysis, even though many teachers may screen contemporary productions or teach through drama based methods. The means to an end always result in a text based analytical session that is tested and graded for accuracy. In my research, I discovered that the students are allowed momentary freedom but retreat in fear of the work because of the pressures of having to be correct. Also, most high school students tend to feel that Shakespeare has absolutely nothing to do with their daily lives.
The use of Hip Hop music is just one technique that assists in bridging the gap between Shakespeare’s text and the modern world as seen through the eyes of teenagers. Post Hip Hop Generation teens are people that have no knowledge of life without Hip Hop music. Hip Hop is intrinsic to their culture. The same is true for other genres of music as well. The difference between Hip Hop and let’s say Rhythm and Blues is that Hip Hop as a literary genre will succeed without the music. It is poetry with a standard rhythm that is filtered through the natural rhythm of the speaker then married to the rhythm of a 4/4 time signature, creating a dual relationship between the vocalist and the music rather than a relationship that is defined by the structure of the music. In Shakespeare’s terms, iambic pentameter is his standard rhythm but will be taken on in a slightly different manner depending on the speaker of his words. Also, Shakespeare breaks away from the iambic almost as much as he sticks to it. That’s the freedom that is missing in the classroom. The freedom to explore these shifts as if Shakespeare were music rather than it being literature from some dead British guy.
I was inspired to talk about my experience teaching high schoolers through this method after reading a post from a peer of mine, Jonathan Sims. Sims decided to bring Hip Hop music into his sessions to see how his students would respond to reciting Shakespearean text over music. He wrote me and said with much exhilaration that the teaching method actually worked! I shared his sentiments. I worked with students for two days, wishing that I had scheduled a third. Many new discoveries were occurring. The first thing the students worked on was a speech from A Midsummer’s Night Dream spoken by Puck. We delivered the speech over Will Smith’s Yo! Homes to Bel Air, also known as the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The students discovered two things. The first being that Shakespeare actually needed an energetic drive to be spoken. His language is not to be sat on and drawn out. Shakespeare has an electric energy that demands stamina. They were almost exhausted after the first trial. All students voiced how difficult it was to keep up with the music. For some, the words were new. For others, the music had a heightened pace. A few thought some lines were longer than others because that’s the way the words looked on paper. I was happy to get those comments because they led into a discussion about iambic pentameter. I had the students count the syllables of each line. They discovered that each of Puck’s lines had ten syllables. I referred to them as beats because syllables are phonetically driven, meaning some words in American English may have a different syllabic count than British English. We were speaking Shakespeare so we must adhere to Shakespeare’s English. The ten syllables for each line was a game changer for the students because it allowed them to understand what iambic pentameter naturally does for the voice. We tried the speech to music again and the students discovered that the speech worked perfectly with a standard Hip Hop beat. Brilliant!
Our next exercise was a speech from Macbeth. I did not tell the students that this particular speech was not in iambic pentameter. Most of the lines were irregular. I played Glory Box by Portishead. It has a slower tempo which fit the mood perfectly for Macbeth’s soliloquy concerning which action to take upon King Duncan. Again, two things became apparent to the students. The first being that the speech worked with the music in a way where the lines were not always on beat but the rhythm flowed. The speech did not fit perfectly within the beat but the music was still able to inform the speech. It didn’t fully clash but something was different. I asked the students why the Puck speech fit perfectly to the beat. They responded by saying each line had ten syllables. Then I asked why Macbeth’s speech did not fit perfectly. They got it! Not every line had ten syllables. I said, absolutely! There were many irregular lines. Let me state here that rhyming to a Hip Hop beat doesn’t necessarily mean that ten syllables to each line is what the vocalists needs to accomplish. But the reason Hip Hop music resonates so much, outside of the genres’ content, is the main musical element driving the music. The drum. The drumbeat mimics the heartbeat which is our life line. The human body is a walking instrument. The reason iambic pentameter resonates is because the ten syllable meter is the natural rhythm of the English language. The stressed and unstressed manner of speech is the natural cadence of the English language and it so happens that it also matches the beat of the human heart. Di dum, di dum, di dum. Once we got past that, I asked them how that made them feel. They all described the tension in the room. A couple of students noted how things had gotten real crazy toward the middle of the speech. One student described how the music made him feel like he was going back and forth between feeling calm and disturbed. I said, brilliant! That’s exactly what Macbeth is talking about in the speech. What happens if he kills Duncan? Should he remain loyal? But shouldn’t he entertain his aspirations for the sake of his family? The students were able to key in to their emotional understanding of Shakespeare’s text without having to analyze exactly what Macbeth was talking about. They enjoyed the mood that they had created in the room by speaking Shakespeare to the Hip Hop music. And Hip Hop worked because of its standard time. That allowed for the students to gage whether they were on beat or not, and they were able to assess why either may have happened. Lovely.
We continued on with more work to improve their emotional intelligence. This experience was groundbreaking to me. I received their questionnaires and the responses were on the whole, positive. I was completely floored. They experienced Shakespeare like they had never experienced before. And it wasn’t about testing. It wasn’t about being correct. It was about connecting to themselves through his work. The lessons made them feel like they were central to the learning rather than being imposed upon. Those two days were some of the most inspiring experiences of my entire life. Hit my comments to chat more about Shakespeare and Hip Hop if you so decide to. It is truly interesting work.
It’s over. I have completed my dissertation. After one full year of intensive acting training in England. I can’t believe time pushed ahead in the manner by which it did, but I now find myself back in Chicago. Jobless again…yes. But jobless with a brand new vigor. My summer was complete with trips to London, Berlin and Paris. I will discuss these trips in separate posts but I wanted to wipe off the Meekley cobwebs. I hadn’t made a post in a year and I feel so bad about that. But life became a monster of constant activity, leaving little room to be a charismatic blogger.
But Donnie’s back. I will continue on to give my impressions on my journey to building my creative portfolio. I am off to LA next month for a showcase organized by the conference of drama schools in the UK. The showcase is October 28th. Wish me luck as I attempt to charm the pants off of agents and managers. And that’s only the left back pocket. The right side says that Evolution of a Criminal will be making regional theatrical runs through the rest of the year. I was proud to be a part of this cinematic experience led by director, Darius Clark Monroe. And I am still proud to play a role in bringing this brilliant and poignant piece of filmmaking to metropolitan centers across the country. Amen. Please check out the trailer below.
Meekley is back in effect baby. Cue that Welcome Back Kotter!
Sunny Birmingham decided not to be so sunny after all. I had a British phone number. I managed to knock somewhere around thirty boxes of sneakers onto an elderly woman as I attempted to pull one box from a large stack. I became invested in a hostile exchange of words with a native Brummie, in which the only word we exchanged was a series of “Whats.” I may have traveled to HSBC four times before becoming a new customer. That’s week two. Apparently HSBC requires a two step process in setting up a bank account with the organization. I walked in to speak with a personal banker and they claimed to have been filled to the brim with appointments and walk-in’s and requested I come the next morning. I did. Packed all of the documents I assumed I’d need to open an account as an international student and traveled to City Centre at nine in the morning. HSBC sat me down and I spoke with a beautiful young lady about my options. I was told that I would need my passport, student visa, official sealed letter from the university, proof of address, a pint of blood, three strands of perfectly coiled hair, a semen sample, and three riddles from the Troll under the bridge. And even if I had all of that at the point of me sitting down, I’d still have to reserve another time to come back and finish the process. I was a bit outraged that without being informed about the first process only being a sit down, I decided to awake at eight in the morning simply to open a bank account. I was given an appointment for four days past. I dropped in the next day while in the area just in case they would have some time and…nope! Come back Friday.
I spent the duration of that week getting further settled and setting myself up for a trip to London. I have two wonderful friends in London that I had met several years ago in New York City. My best friend, Quinn, called me up one day and asked for what seemed like an outlandish favor. He said that he had two female friends that were traveling to NYC from London and they had no accommodations for the first few days of their trip. I didn’t know them from a grain of salt. But once Chioma got on the phone and I heard her British accent, I thought to myself, “Well what the Hell. She’s probably a cutie pie.” The normal man response to such a request. I gave my blessing and finally met the two sisters, Chioma and Chinelo. They turned out to be great company and real chill women so we kept in touch. I told them that although London was on my bucket list, I’d probably get to Paris first. Lo and behold, I ended up in the UK instead. I was pleased to reach out and inform them that God must’ve been looney to allow ‘ole Conley a trip abroad. Travel is pretty cheap in the UK, as so many people have heard. I never fully understood it until I became physically aware that taking a flight from Birmingham to Florence, Italy is practically the same as flying from Chicago to New York, but cheaper. So hop skipping a train from Birmingham to London was a breeze. The thought of it anyway. I purchased a separate return ticket since I was unaware of when I’d actually come back. I found out the hard way that I could’ve purchased an open two way ticket in which the return price would only be a few pence more. Oh well. Onward march.
I got my banking squared away on Friday morning and hit the train immediately after. I took Virgin Railways from the New Street location. Obviously the Virgin Group is a major player in the UK. God bless Richard Branson. I bought an advance ticket for the trip that was clocked at two hours and twenty minutes. There were faster trains but this one was the right price. After leaving Birmingham, the trip is pretty much two hours of rural landscapes. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen. At one point, the train passed a field where a large group of sheep stood grazing on the vegetation. I had to blink twice as I came to the realization that it had been the first time in my life that I saw sheep in their natural habitat. I’d seen sheep in petting farms before. And zoos especially. But for a guy that grew up in Chicago and lived years in NYC, there was pretty much a dearth of sheep herds. When the sheep became an instant memory, I finished the ride by reading Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares and catching up on some much needed sleep. In the UK, the train tickets are used for entry into the terminal as well as departure. I failed to realize that and left my stamped ticket nestled tight in the holder on the headrest in front of me. I followed the crowd out toward the exit gates and quickly learned that I was blocked from getting out. Everyone would insert their tickets in a slot and the bulky barriers would rise up for passage. I caught on quick and ran back to my train to search for the ticket I left behind. It was no longer there. Either the conductor grabbed it as trash or some random passenger, for some random reason, decided that it would be beneficial for them to take my orphaned ticket. As I walked back to the gate sunken in my own shame, I saw a guard standing by the handicap gate. I approached him and told him that my ticket had been taken by the conductor. I don’t know why I said that but that’s what came out. He told me that the conductor would never do that. Never in a million years. I had to inform him that a million years must have passed because the conductor has my ticket. He looked at me like him opening the gate was equivalent to him giving up a kidney and he decided to let me out. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I was there. I had arrived. And I’d obviously spent money to get there. So let me the Hell out!
I’m in London.
London truly felt like home the moment I landed. Birmingham is awesome. It’s spectacular but it doesn’t have the panache. The bustle I’m used to is in London. People were walking like they were all on cocaine. Signs were plastered here and there for the tourists. This side for that street. That street for this landmark. It had taken me about five steps to get my rhythm back. I actually had to stop myself and silently say, “Bro, you’ve lived in the greatest city on Earth. Get that old thing back.” And I got it. I slung my duffel bag across my shoulder and ran the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever through my mind. I hit the streets and was already a master of the traffic direction, thanks to my two weeks in Birmingham. I saw other tourists struggle with crossing the street and I scoffed at the amateurs. My first stop was the British Museum. Chioma was still at work and Chinelo was traveling down from Cambridge. I had a few hours to myself. The museum was grandiose. Iron gates opened to the marble entrances. It seemed like a million people were either entering or exiting. There was no fee to visit. My bag was killing me by this point. It had been a slight drizzle since I’d been there and my clothes were moist. I didn’t see a bag check but was absolutely sure they had one somewhere. Didn’t matter. Everything was gorgeous. The ceilings were high like synagogues. The first room I entered was King George’s Library. There were old anthologies and antique statues that were originally collected by King George III. Overhead were shelves upon shelves of texts. Entirely too much material for one man to have read in a lifetime. The colors were of warm bronze and ivory. I spent the next three hours looking at artifacts from ancient Africa, India, Rome, Greece, Egypt, England, etc. There were mummies and stone busks. Information overload. You could live there for a year and not have learned everything. The visit was quite enchanting. I became famished and needed nourishment.
I decided to grab a falafel wrap and wait on Chioma. Once she got off, she had me ride the Tube to St. Paul. The stop was pretty much outside of the St. Paul Cathedral. At night, the monument is lit and resembles the US Capitol Building. By this time, the rains were heavy. The UK seemed to have rained for two weeks straight after that. I had no umbrella and a light duffel, which by that point, felt like a bag of bricks. Chioma and I gathered at a burger spot with famous milkshakes. I was too soaked to try one but I had a succulent lamb burger with a beer. We also met a friend of hers and began a dialogue that ventured from television to Nigerian women in the UK desiring relationships with American men. I let them in a little secret; the men in the States are a mess as well. The night had grown old and I departed with Chioma to her childhood home in Balham. Her neighborhood is a quiet residential district with trendy food shops and small homes. The roads are so narrow in London that I could spread in the middle and touch both curbs. I’m 5’6. That’s an exaggeration of course, but pretty damn narrow. Chinelo picked us up from the Tube station and I saw their home. I met their father that night and he seemed to be very hip. I expected something a bit different in a Nigerian household but he was loose and comical. The next day was devoted to tourism. Chinelo was on business and Chioma and I headed out to Parliament for our first stop. We took the Tube toward Westminster and viewed the Prime Minister grounds. That road led us toward Parliament and Big Ben. Chinelo met us there. Being in that exact spot was a wash of history. That city is so damn old and historic. I almost felt embarrassed for the US. On the flip side, I’m so proud that for such a young country, we have managed to be at the forefront of innovation and industry. I don’t know how the world allowed that to happen because it instantly hits you how dated England is. You see some of the architecture and feel the impact of World War II. Some buildings are Victorian. Others are post modern. This is a city that was actually bombed to shit. There are civilians that have actually seen the war in their youth. That feeling became so powerful. Of course I took that with me as we saw the Queen’s garden, Buckingham Palace, and Picadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is like a conservative Times Square. I actually enjoyed it much better. Not as cluttered. Not as facetious. And all of the shops actually matter. I tend to avoid Times Square with great will. The ladies and I got back to Balham, and at the suggestion of a good friend of mine, Chanel Carroll, I suggested we get some Nando’s for supper. Outrageously good. It was a party in my belly and chicken was the main guest.
Chioma and Chinelo promised me a night of Afro Beats. Chioma had to study for her French test so Chinelo and their brother, Kelechi, took me to a club in the financial district of London with their friend, Nneka. I threw on my sexy for the night. Chinelo was looking quite ravishing, though she drove like a bat out of Dante’s Inferno. We made it safely. I thanked the Lord that Joanie Conley didn’t have to fly nearly two thousand miles to identity her son’s body. Security wasn’t as aggressive as they are in NYC. There was a pat down but no one went for my groin. No one took five minutes to inspect the authenticity of my I.D. by rotating it multiple times. We go inside and it is beyond me what that music was. Afro beats sounds like a group of Reggae and West African percussionists found themselves together in one room, arguing about who’s music will get played. It wasn’t bad but I couldn’t find the bassline to save my life. I surveyed the room to pick out the dancing rhythm and everyone was doing their own thing. I was lost. It would’ve taken Angela Lansbury to find me. Especially after Kelechi filled me with champagne. Once the southern Hip-Hop had taken over the sound system, I was king of the dance floor. The fellas there were familiar with the music but for the first time, I felt like I owned the place. I was drunk by the night’s end but still a man of my composure. I passed out and was awakened in the middle of the night by a nudge. I looked in the darkness and swore I saw an image of a man disappear. I spoke, thinking I was looking at Mr. Oganya. The shadow disappeared. Could’ve been a hyper-active imagination. Could’ve been the Brandy. I don’t know. Sunday was pretty chill. After everyone recovered by 2pm, we all headed to a famous carne spot called Bosphorus. Located in West London, Bosphorus is every bit of satiating and gluttonous. I had the large mix which consists of this: pork chunks, chicken breast meat, mini chicken wings, gyro meat, cabbage, condiments and pita bread. It didn’t make sense to me until I had it. The type of meal you give to a man to curb the taste for sex. Who can get nude after a meal like that? I wanted to lay out on the sidewalk with a sign that read ‘Paint me the color of gravel and leave me the Hell alone.‘ But no. The Oganya kids did not do that for me. Instead, they brought me to a Catholic church service with full on itis. The priest could’ve slandered my own Mother without my acknowledgement. I struggled to hear, doubted if I’d even known what was being said had I been able to hear, and used every muscle in my abdomen to curtail my bowels. Service finished quicker than a Midwestern school boy. Later that evening, Chioma, Kelechi and I went to a jazz set in Brixton. That part of town has had its infamy but today it is a bustling epicenter for young adults fresh out of college. The streets looked a bit like Gotham. Some roads were dark and moist, but full of life. Others were bright and popping with markets, shops and entertainment centers. It was a great time.
Monday was the wind down of my trip. Chinelo and Kelechi had left the evening before. Chioma had work. I said my salutations to her in the morning. I stuck around for a couple more hours before heading out to see Coleman Domingo’s one man show, A Boy and His Soul. Domingo is a very talented and charming actor that created a memoir about his experience growing up in West Philadelphia and coming to terms with his sexuality. The story was rooted in the soul music of the time. Domingo played several characters, danced, sang and brought the place down with a standing applause. He was the essence of love and generosity by baring something so personal with a group of a hundred plus strangers. I became familiar with Coleman Domingo when Shaka King began production on his debut feature film, Newlyweeds. I knew Shaka, his Director of Photography, Daniel Patterson, and his main actress, Trae Harris. I learned more about the cast and Domingo played a large supporting role. That capped my London experience and I prepared myself to escape from the big city. Chioma made sure I arrived at the Euston station safely and I boarded my train back to Birmingham. The rest of the week played pretty even. Me reading and writing and feeling like my life belongs in London. My roommate, Laura, sympathized with the feeling. There was a knock on my door late Thursday night. Not too late but night had well begun. I opened to find a good portion of my course mates outside. Before that, I had only met Leah, my classmate who happens to be my roommate as well. I invited them all in for a good hour or so of getting to know one another. Everyone from my acting course is American, so we bonded over our cultural familiarity and all of our episodes with getting acclimated to the UK. That visit lifted me back to full positivity. A good part of the group went to BSA the following morning to get some last minute business wrapped up and had dinner together. Week three ended with me feeling fully confident in myself and the program.
Until the next episode…
I had just left what had to have been the longest layover in my life. Ten hours. No human being should ever have to experience it. Had I been traveling in the States, that would’ve been a perfect timeframe to leave the airport and check out the surrounding scenery. No. I was switching planes in Stockholm, Sweden. To leave the airport would’ve mean’t a trip to customs with no reason to be there. I spent another two hours in the air and arrived at Birmingham International Airport. It was quiet. Probably close to 8pm when I stepped off of the plane. My prospective landlord, Colin Sims, was kind enough to pick me up so that I wouldn’t have to suffer being lost on a train or haggled by a cab. Immigration was a breeze in Birmingham. I showed them my passport and student visa and they asked maybe three questions. After that, I was declared a temporary Brit. I smiled joyously, and took a long breath of relief as I walked past the Asian man who was detained for further questioning.
To my astonishment, Colin looked exactly like the Dutch Businessman from Hostel. Anyone who has not seen the movie should know that, that observation was not a good thing. Anyhoo, Colin looked just like that guy but with long, stringy grey hair. Very creepy. I imagine he was a hippie back in his day. He was standing amongst a pool of multi-cultural peoples waiting for family members to embrace. In Colin’s hands was a paper sign with his name on it, rather than mine. He offered to carry one of my bags to his car and we were on our way. Our opening dialogue was about my studies and about the differences in the UK culture. Colin drives this mini station wagon and the wheel being on the opposite side of the car completely threw off my balance. I was prepared to crash the entire ride home since riding in the opposing lane and the roundabouts were totally new experiences for me. The streets made no sense to me, and they still don’t. One of my roommates was already home by the time I landed. Her name is Leah and she is a sweetheart. After I got settled in my room, Leah began to explain some difficulties she had with transitioning so that I may fare a little better. She also described what I should do with the next couple of days to get myself acclimated with the Birmingham lifestyle.
My room has green carpeting and antique looking wooden furniture. Desk, armoire, dresser. A mattress on a flatbed was provided. All I needed to come with were clothes and bedding. The house is three levels: ground, 1st level, and 2nd. There is a beautiful garden past the kitchen that looks very Victorian with the low hanging vines, wooden ornate benches and brick passageways to the neighboring gardens. An iron gate provides the security into the house. The place is old, having been around nearly two hundred years now. The city government refurbished the old flooring and electric wiring back in the 1980′s. Colin purchased four homes on the same road. There are two bathrooms. The shower does not have a full enclosure and I came to learn that open baths are normal in the UK. It became like a sport to learn how to scrub myself without flooding the entire bathroom floor. Very delicate movements. I mastered it. Within the first four days, I hooked up a pair of my clippers to a UK power adaptor and blew one of the sockets. The doorbell rang immediately afterwards and I looked through the peephole. I saw Colin standing at my doorstep and thought to myself, Well damn. I blew out the entire street. It wasn’t the case. Colin had come by at the same moment by coincidence. He needed to check a bulb in one of the rooms. Luckily, the fuse box was located and reset so that an electrician was unnecessary. I settled in to the idea that I’d needed to locate a barber that was worthy enough to trim the crown of Conley. There is this small shop two blocks from the house with a Ghanian barber. His building looked more like a cinder block hut. I went in there and told him to simply trim the loose hairs on my face. He gave me an entire lining, which was pretty solid. He then became my barber. Mostly because I left a bar of soap in there by accident and came back the next day to find that the barber had placed it to the side for my return.
I caught the number 16 National Express bus to City Centre. Brummies call what we in the States would call our downtown, their city centre. That is where the acting school is located. I was to take the National Express bus and to not confuse it with the Black Diamond bus or another private bus company. All of which travel the same routes. All of which have the same route numbers. The National Express bus is a double decker. The ones London is so famous for. A MA Acting student from last year’s class had been helping me throughout the summer with any questions I may have had. His name is Kevin and I met him toward the end of my week. His classmates were doing their final performances based on their thesis ideas. I was lucky enough to be in the city during the first week of September and was the only one in my course to see what lies ahead. The work that was performed was simply outstanding. Very professional in every way. I began to get excited because their work showed me that I was in good hands. Let’s face it, I’m not at RADA. If I could be half as good as what I had seen, I’d be more than happy. There were two days of performances and when the work had wrapped, everyone caught a few drinks at a local pub. It’s funny to say “pub.” The students were very generous and accommodating of my inquiries. One student named Jai donated his top comforter, computer speakers, and books to my need. We ended up talking for hours inside a nearby Starbucks about the program, what it means to be a person of color in study, the politics of the States and India, and romance.
I had to get a new cell number and couldn’t get a contract since I had no bank account at the time. I had spoken with two other students about the possibility of unlocking my iPhone instead of purchasing a new phone in Europe. Pay as You Go plans are super standard here. I had gotten one that would suit my needs. I decided to go with a company called o2 that has two locations inside this huge mall. There were literally two o2 stores in the same exact spot on two adjacent floors. They were not connected. I found it odd but maybe the company is that popular. There was also another location outside of the mall, in an area called the Market. The market is very similar to SoHo, only much more massive. The streets branch off into different side roads and alleys, all with varying shops. It is the main shopping center of the city. That is where I visited a HSBC branch to establish my bank account. HSBC happens to be the largest banking company in Europe. I did all of this before finally deciding to go grocery shopping. I spent much of the first week eating take out from various places. Quite interestingly enough, there is a Soho here in Birmingham. It happens to be an Indian community and where I grabbed my first take out meal. I ordered the china saag, spinach and chick peas. It was very delicious. There are no taxes when taking food to go. Whatever the price was quoted, that is exactly what I paid. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t understand for the life of me why the U.S. doesn’t do the same. Add the tax in the price and put that on the tag. There was something about actually seeing the final result that made me want to spend just a little bit more. Not that I did, but I recognized the psychology of it. A handsome idea indeed. I’ve also eaten a garlic spinach pizza from a vegetarian pizza spot just a ways walk from my door. To my surprise, the pizza industry seems to be ran mostly by Indian entrepreneurs. Some Pakistani even. It was decent tasting pizza but not like New York, and definitely not to the standards of Chicago.
My other roommates have arrived. One from Atlanta, one from Los Angeles, and two from small towns in England. It’s awesome to have such a wide range from the States, as well as two natives. We spend a lot of time breaking down the differences in our culture. From language to actual ways of life. In discussing politics, I’ve discovered ways in which they are much more progressive than the States, as well as the other way around. Their dearth of ammunitions is actually quite okay and lends to a very low violent crime rate. Yet, their sense of innovation is framed under the technological advances of the U.S. They consume American music and media. Where on the other hand, Americans know very little about what the BBC is producing. It’s beautiful to see so many cultural identities still intact, regardless of being in such a Westernized country. There is very little confusion. They are all British, yet the English know who they are, and the Irish know who they are, as well as the Scots and Nigerians, Ghanians, Indians, Chinese, Italians, etc. Birmingham itself looks industrial for the most part. City Centre appears very modern but the scenery shifts outside of that boundary. The city has seen better economic days. It is still the second largest in the UK as far as density is concerned. I have been told that the party scene is absolutely bananas. I haven’t experienced that yet, although I have walked through the district and seen the made up women walking on heels the height of stilts under neon lights, amid blaring pop music escaping into the city night. Until my next post…