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Rarefied Air

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.
The Truth Contributor

Every day of my life I walk with the idea I am black, no matter how successful I am.       

- Danny Glover

I have often wondered, what does it feel like when a person has successfully reached the top of one of the highest mountains? What does it look like? And, what does it take to actually conquer such lofty aspirations?

Anthony Cason

The Antoinette Perry Award, also known as the Tony Award is the highest honor for U.S. Theatre and recognizes excellence in live Broadway Theatre. This much-coveted award is situated at the summit of entertainment achievement and is equivalent to the Academy or Oscar (film), Emmy (television) and Grammy (music) awards.

When the Broadway musical Oklahoma! earned the honor of Best Revival of a Musical at the 2019 Tony Awards held June 9 in New York City, many Toledoans - including myself - were elated.

For, it meant that cast member Anthony Cason, one of our own, was now among select company and sitting on top of the world after the typically arduous, uncertain and benumbing journey through the entertainment industry.

I spoke with the young actor about his quest to reach the entertainment industryís rarefied air and the factors which made his journey survivable.

Perryman: Wow!  What an honor.

Cason:  Yeah, itís something else. Thank you!

Perryman: What does it feel like to have played a part in Oklahoma!, which won the 2019 Tony Award for the Best Revival of a Musical?

Cason:  There arenít many times that you get to do a job that you fully believe in and aligns with speaking to larger issues, speaking to the community, sparking conversation, bridging the gap between age groups and social classes and things like that, and this show somehow does all of those things.  I feel grateful to be a part of something that is really challenging people. 

Perryman: How does the current version differ from the original?

Cason:  The original is more of a musical.  I would say this revival is more of a play with music.  In the original staging and the way normal productions go, they speed through the scenes to get to the songs, they speed through the texts to get to the people that come hear people sing.  In this production, we really slow it down, so people can hear every word of the show and hear these people say these things that are so vile and so dark. I fully believe that the way weíre doing the show, is probably the way the show is supposed to be done, but 75 years ago when the original musical came out, people werenít ready for it. So, I think it was all supposed to lead up to this, I truly believe that. 

Perryman: The musical, according to the promotion, Ďtells a story of a community circling itsí wagons against an outsider and the violence of the frontier that shaped America.í  Can you please provide a synopsis of the musical through your own lens?

Cason: I would say most, if not all communities, operate on having someone that everybody looks upon as not belonging.  People are afraid of ďotherĒ people coming in and taking their jobs; people coming into their communities and gentrifying; and people coming to their communities and bringing danger. Only because they donít look like them or they donít sound like them or they havenít been here since the beginning or theyíre not ďAmerican.Ē  Thatís what it is, that driving on that Ďoutsiderí is what has always been at the core of America and we havenít yet got past it. 

Perryman: Please describe your character in the musical.

Cason:  I play a federal marshal who is a part of the community.  I have a relationship with everyone to an extent and itís not until the very end that my part really comes to the forefront. In the end, someone dies and in true fashion they want to gloss over it to get the person who committed the crime free and just get it over and done with, and everybody agrees except me.  The outsider who was there before is now gone, so they need a new person to put into that slot and in this production, I become that person. 

Perryman: So, talk about the journey to what I call ďthe rarefied airĒ of Broadway and the experiences that helped you to successfully arrive there.

Cason: I grew up in a normal household during my formative years and then as I matured into early teenage years it was more of a single mother household but my dad was still around and a large part of my life.

Perryman: In Toledo?

Cason: Yes. I was always positioned around a tight-knit community of people who really instilled the values of inner growth and aspiring to do whatever you wanted to do.  That came from my family, that came from my church, that came from my community.  Really instilling education and also following your dreams and really doing what you wanted to do in this life.

And so I took that to heart and I wanted to do what I wanted to do, so after early adulthood I went to the Toledo School for the Arts from seventh grade to 12th grade, studied acting there the entire time and had fantastic teachers who, again, instilled those same values.  I then auditioned for colleges and for theatre, ended up at Otterbein, a small liberal arts school just outside of Columbus. I moved to New York City in 2015, after graduating and Iíve been here ever since. 

So, itís a journey when you get here because no one knows who you are and you have to put in the work. You put in that work when no oneís looking.  Youíre the one who goes to the auditions and works the day jobs.  I canít tell you how many jobs Iíve had.  I canít tell you how many day jobs Iíve had.  Waking up at 3:30 in the morning to get to work at 5 to open the fitness studio, then get off work at 11, go to audition at 12 and then Iíve done so much in my day already, so much in my day, and then you wake up and you do it all over again. 

So it was about two and a half to three years of auditioning and getting work here and there.  My first job in the city was a small spot on a TV show on VH1 and then I did an episode of Law and Order and then I did Oklahoma! off Broadway in early 2018 and that was honestly my introduction to the theatre community here. 

It was the show that people came to see, people loved and it got me into the rooms of other top casting directors who Iíd never been in for, and ever since then itís been, I wouldnít say an easy journey at all, I just had more people on my team, more people who are like, Ďoh, he is good, he should come in all the time for this.  We like him, we love his work, he should always be seen.í And so, itís from those things that I have really been able to build from.

Perryman: Can you tell me when and how you found your voice, knowing strongly that you were not going to accept anything short of being an actor?

Anthony: Well, we had a Christmas production at Center of Hope Church and then I think yaíll gave me a speech to memorize, but gave it to Keshia, my sister, to give to me and she didnít give it to me until like a day before.  I donít remember the logistics of it, but I didnít have a lot of time, but I remember looking at it and memorizing it and knowing instinctively what to do with it before I even had an acting class. 

I also can remember reading A Raisin in the Sun for the first time and I actually finished reading the play at church on a Sunday and feeling so moved by it.  It was a play that talks about the struggle of our people, number one, but also it was just beautifully constructed and it just felt like beautiful storytelling, and I was like thatís the kind of work I want to do.  I want my work to speak for something, and I felt like that play really awakened maybe that feeling I have now or that desire I have now to only do work that I feel is driving something or has a narrative or is causing people to communicate in a way in which they werenít before.  Now I say that to say there probably will be times in which I have to pay the bills, then Iíll have to pay the bills, but the goal is to do work that I feel emotionally connected to. I felt so emotionally connected to A Raisin in the Sun that Iím sure thatís somehow in my subconscious helped shape where I am today.

And then, once I got to the Toledo School for the Arts and started taking acting classes it was like oh, I like this.  This thing brings me joy, even beyond people clapping for you, the putting an idea out into the room and talking about it, putting a theme in there and having people really grapple with it, thatís interesting to me. 

Perryman: So fittingly, then, Oklahoma!, The Revival, is the first musical to join the entertainment industryís gun neutral initiative.  Talk about that.

Cason:  We have an epidemic of violence in this country and so the production sends donations to a partnering organization that are trying to use our art to spark conversation. Gun violence is a problem that we have to talk about and in this show there is a gun and one dies from the gun so it seems like the perfect fit to have this conversation about gun control and to have all these guns on the set and have them all be representative of change.  If you walk into the show, we throw all these ideas at you, which cause you to look inward and tackle all those things that you probably may have neglected or that you choose not to talk about. 

Perryman: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and dancers, performers?

Cason:  I would say make sure you love it.  I would also say donít make being famous your goal.  Fame is fleeting, so I really think understanding why youíre doing it in the first place.  Your motivation may come from any place in the beginning, but I would hope that it would grow to something more deeply rooted in service or in transformation. 

I would also say, know that you have all the tools and youíre perfect just the way you are.  So, donít let anyone tell you that you have to change to be better because you are better, you are wonderful, you are beautiful.  I think thatís really what I would say.  Yes, learn your lines, do all that, but whatís important is loving and appreciating who you are because if you donít do that you canít inhabit a character believably and fully the way in which it should be done, so I think the work is on yourself. 

Perryman: Thank you and the best of luck in the future!

Cason:  Yes, thank yíall, Toledo.  I am really grateful to have had so many people along the way who have helped me in so many ways.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org   

Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/23/19 16:28:43 -0400.



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