Through training as an actor, I’ve learned that characterization is improved when you can draw inspiration from past experiences. As I begin to discover the character of Coalhouse, I slowly begin to realize that he and I aren’t as different as I initially thought. Though Coalhouse is older, we have experienced similar situations throughout life.
Coalhouse was a musician from St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, Missouri was seen as the primordial soup for artists that would (along with a mass of other black southerners) eventually migrate to New York and take part in the Harlem Renaissance. Coalhouse, as an esteemed pianist of Ragtime music, was “respected and admired” in both St. Louis and Harlem. This did not come without several years of training and a passionate love for the music. When Coalhouse leaves Harlem, he realizes that not everyone respects what he’s worked to achieve and that some are more than happen to challenge his accomplishments in an effort to reiterate their views of African Americans at that time.
From these details, I drew my first connections to Coalhouse as a character. Like Coalhouse, I am also a musician (alto saxophone). I grew up in South Georgia, which has an emphatic love of great football and marching bands. I happened to attend a school that had both: Our football team won several state championships and our band contained more than 380+ kids. I began playing the sax in middle school and worked tirelessly to perfect my craft. I was obsessed with the thought of expressing myself musically. In high school, I became a Drum Major for our band as a junior (a feat respectable for anyone in the band, nonetheless an African American male). This news resonated strongly throughout the school and the town. In addition, my parents were strict about academics thus I was admitted to Duke. Like Coalhouse, I have worked hard and take great pride in both areas.
I’ve realized where a great deal of Coalhouse’s resulting anger. As a Duke student, I naturally feel entitled to a certain amount of respect wherever I go; an amount of respect you don’t always receive as an African American male walking around a small South Georgian town. Similar to Coalhouse, I become aggravated and upset when someone attempts to belittle me because they feel I’m the stereo-typical teenage African American male. I am enraged when someone assumes that I attend Duke because I play basketball, or when someone follows me around a store because they’re afraid I will steal something, or when people are afraid to sit next to me on a bus because I’m black and they’re afraid that I may do something detrimental to them.
These are all emotions that Coalhouse and many other African American males like me experience, so naturally, these are the experiences I pull from when I want to display those emotions on stage. I channel the hurt, the anger, and the pain that I feel and for that moment in time, I realize that I AM Coalhouse…
To an extent, everyone who has ever been ostracized because of a physical appearance is…
Here’s a video of my high school’s band. My Senior Year/My last competition:
And a video that echoes my sentiments about this post: