My name is Gerald Taylor II, and I am Black. This is obvious to anyone who sees me (though I often surprise people who only speak to me over the phone). I was acutely aware of my race by the age of 6. It took quite a few years, however, before I accepted the fact artistically.
I was in my first play in the 8th grade. While I was the only non-white actor on the stage, my race wasn’t a plot point. This trend continued all through high school. I was blessed to have a director who utilized me to push the metaphorical envelope in many ways, but my race was never considered. In rural Commerce, TX I was the uncle, lover, and one time grandmother to entire White casts. But my race was never even mentioned. That is what I loved about the theatre. I was able to escape all of the particulars of being me for a few hours. Until college…
My wake up call was immediate and severe. I started undergrad at one of the larger universities in the area; to protect the guilty I won’t specify which. It was clear from day one that White actors had their particular roles, and the Black actors were relegated to servant and gangster roles. If that wasn’t bad enough, as a freshman, it was apparent that I had to wait my turn. The department already had their token Black and I would just have to be patient. I am not known for my patience. One professor went as far as to offer me a little advice, “There really isn’t a place for Black actors here, maybe you should look elsewhere.” Defeated, I transferred back home after my sophomore year and enrolled in A&M- Commerce. It felt like a major backwards step but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Commerce had a tiny department where hard work spoke louder than the color of your skin. I thrived there. But without the diversity of a larger school, I again was usually cast without regard to my race.
I was 30 years old when I was cast in my first all Black production. I had the pleasure of touring the country for Dallas Children’s Theatre in an African folktale Cinderella titled Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. I was unapologetically Black onstage and I wasn’t a servant or a side character. I can hardly describe how that show transformed me. I saw a nobility not only in my people, but in myself that I never knew before.