By Ajmal Millar
As I walk towards Sale Hall at Morehouse College to experience my first reading of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, hosted by the Counter Narrative Project in partnership with Morehouse College Safe Space and the Alliance Theatre I began recollecting my own experiences as a student there years prior. My walk down memory lane took a detour and I REALIZED this production marked a new day for the queer students and faculty of Morehouse. I can still remember Safe Space having to meet off campus, which meant the group had no visible identity or presence on campus. There is a paradigm shift happening - made evident as productions like Choir Boy shows how things do evolve.
Upon my arrival, I notice how much love and attention had gone into making this event possible. You could feel the deliberate intention and direct evidence of brothers helping other brothers. Due to arriving surprisingly early, I was able to feel the anticipation rise as the organizers prepped the microphones, and energized actors appeared with the enthusiasm to commit to their roles. In that moment, I knew this reading would impact everyone who came to witness it.
I deliberately did not research Choir Boy because I wanted to view and experience the piece with an open mind, with no preconception of who the protagonist was, how they would overcome the obstacles placed before them, or the overall message. I made the best decision not to, because the cast of seven men did a phenomenal job of connecting the words and songs being projected to the audience.
The play is set at the Charles Drew Academy, a prep school for African-American boys. The school choir is preparing for the school’s 50th anniversary. With this being such an important celebration, the past is inextricably linked to the present.
I laughed throughout the entire reading. The actors were so engaging and I could tell they enjoyed being in front of a captive audience. I felt so many things from the scenes; ranging from the importance of self love, the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and the importance of integrity. I enjoyed hearing them sing the Gospel songs in between scenes. I couldn’t help but recall the times I would be heading to class and witness the Morehouse Glee Club heading to the floor above. This production was a slice of what it must be like to be in the Morehouse Glee Club. There were several times the character Pharus was met with opposition due to his difference, and yet he managed to skillfully navigate his circumstances.
I really appreciate the way Morehouse College Safe Space provided a platform for their classmates to discuss the topics relevant to changing how the school deals with gender and sexual diversity In this instance, the art is the agent for change and the actors created the opportunity for us all to be inspired by, motivated by, while thoroughly entertained.
About Ajmal: Never look down on a man unless you're trying to pick them up. –Freeze
Working visual artist and Mas Man in Atlanta