Creating a More Colorful Cast

'I know I can make it, I know you can make it.'

Rowan Murray, Staff Reporter

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With his tall stature, kind demeanor, and tight, black, curly hair, senior Canaan Mellard is a familiar face around Shorewood. Possibly the place most students would recognize him from is the theater, where he has been an active member since sophomore year. Drama has o en been praised as a community where anyone can get involved, but it may be harder for some than others.

The interview began with Mellard in the theater. “I’ve been acting since I was about 7,” he said with a smile. “My mom noticed I was pretty well-spoken and wasn’t afraid to speak up, so she signed me up for some acting classes. My teacher suggested I try out for ‘Peter Pan’ and my first role was Captain Hook.”

“But after that, drama kinda faded for me,” Mellard said. At times he felt alienated and alone, being the only black kid. “I remember my freshman year I decided to try out for the Winter Play Festival. I remember walking onto stage for auditions and hearing someone say, ‘Oh my god, a black dude’ under their breath.” Mellard said, “I remember thinking ‘Oh that’s weird’, then I looked around and realized I wasn’t only the only black guy there, I was the only black person auditioning.”

“And to be honest it kind of shook me. Like I’ve felt different, I’ve felt like an outcast, I’ve felt like it has affected my casting before,” he said. “Not saying the directors are racist but like there’s the underlying… ” “Implicit bias?” I supply. He nods. “Yeah, black actors get typecast into roles of black stereotypes, when black actors can do just as good, if not better, in other roles too.”

And in a world where there are precious few lead roles for people of color it can be tough for black actors. “So many typical male leads are robust, white males and I haven’t really seen many plays, especially in schools where we see black leads,” he said shaking his head.

This lack of black actors isn’t just true of Shorewood, it’s been an issue in “Every single show I’ve ever done.” “Why do you think that is?” Canaan shrugged, then sighed. “I don’t know, it just seems like a lot of African-Americans don’t want to try (out for plays). I remember a point early in my acting when I realized I want to do this for a career, but do I really think as a black man this is a smart option?

Everyone says, ‘ ere are black actors on TV,’ but it’s one in a hundred.” Mellard had some valuable advice for people of color looking to enter the world of theater. “You’re gonna struggle a lot. You’re gonna feel hopeless. You’re gonna feel alone. But, it’s gonna be all worth it. Because I know.”

He sniffs and his eyes turn red. “Sorry, I know you can make it, I know I can make it. I know anyone can make it. It doesn’t ma er your race, color, gender, height, weight, we think these things limit us to so much, and constrict so many opportunities ,” he said. A tear rolls down his cheek.

“I don’t care, because I believe in myself, even in tough times and I believe in you, I really do, and there are others who believe in you too.

I have a wonderful, wonderful group of friends who are always there to keep me going and if you don’t feel like you have that, never be afraid to ask for help, never stop believing in yourself because that’s when your dream dies.”

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Creating a More Colorful Cast