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Navigating an Either/Or World
It’s funny. We live in an either/or world. We live in a world that will only make a place for you as long as it can categorize you and therefore limit you. If placed in a box, you’re deemed safe and appropriate. Your box ultimately determines your life’s value.
This is something I have rejected all my life.
You're a black boy in America. You must play basketball. No? Then you must play football. No? We don't know what to do with you then.
You’re a vocalist? You can't be an instrumentalist. You’re a singer? You can’t learn sightreading, or music theory, or compose, or arrange. We don't know what to do with you then.
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Interesting side note: When I was hired out of high school to become an anchor/reporter for Channel One News, every single person I told this to said some variation of the following statement to me: You’ll be the next Bryant Gumbel. Bryant Gumbel is a sports reporter. Why would they all unanimously compare me to Bryant Gumbel but not ever Connie Chung or Peter Jennings? Why always sports reporter Bryant Gumbel? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count. Another attempt to put me in a category of their understanding. If you're not the next Bryant Gumbel then we don't know what to do with you.
It continued in college. If you study music classically then you must pursue opera. What do you mean you want to turn down a lead role in The Magic Flute to play Snoopy in a musical? If you study classical music and choose to pursue musical theater then we don't know what to do with you.
And don't even get me started about the theater wing of my college. At that time, musical theater didn't exist. You either study drama or you studied classical music. They DEFINITELY didn't know what to do with me.
Now that I've arrived at this place in my career, I'm still dealing with very much the same dissensions.
On the acting side, the two camps I've had to battle were the belief that singers can never act and the belief that a singer’s performance has no dramatic value. I have had to come up against acting teachers preaching that, unless you are actually speaking words, you're basically glorified background if you are singing in television and film. There is no acting involved if you were contracted to a set as a singer.
On the singing side, it's been very similar but different at the same time. Before I started getting traction as an actor, there was the typical doubt that I had it in me and that I was suffering from delusions of grandeur to even try to develop my acting craft. Now that I'm starting to achieve a modicum of acting opportunities, I have colleagues claiming to have my best intentions in mind as they advise me to forsake being a singer because they see all of the energy I am investing into my acting career. Clearly, I was never a singer but actually an actor, right? As if a man singing before he could even speak could ever not be a singer.
I recognize all of that as being toxic and I abjectly reject it.
It gets old.
It's why I named my first one-man show “Living A Why Not Life”. Why not be an instrumentalist and a vocalist? Why not be an actor and singer? Why not be a filmmaker and a musician? Why not be a performer and a writer? Why not pursue each and everything that gives my heart joy and fills it with excitement and wonder? What is it to you that I choose to follow my muse wherever she decides to lead me in the moment? Why is that such a provocative and challenging prospect for so many?
What are you all afraid of?
Well, I don't really care because, if I’d have listened to all of you all of this time, I wouldn't have received my very first review as an actor today, I wouldn't be a lead in a show opening in the Hollywood Fringe Festival on Saturday, I wouldn't be in a show headed to Scotland for the month of August. Hell, I would've never moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school in the first place.
So maybe I shouldn't get annoyed when people come around with that same old jive. I should make a note of it. Because my life has shown that when they start playing that same old song, that means that I'm doing something right and that I'm about to discover that I'm capable of so much more than even I could ever have imagined.
Shared with gratitude. Thank you, Universe, for believing in me even when everyone else around me didn't.