LA: LA is a deep, deep, deep lover of people. LA is a son, and a very loving uncle. LA is a big brother, not only to the people born as my siblings in my family; LA is a caregiver in a lot of ways. And LA is just truly a nerd and a geek, like a complete geek. Also, LA is someone who is very passionate about learning. That is who I can say LA is right now. And LA is a very proud Black, gay man living in Harlem following his dreams. Today, right now.
TEOP: What are some of your passions?
LA: I would say right now, today my two biggest passions, well maybe even three, are people. I really do love people and it's a very complicated thing, it's a very complicated love. But I am very passionate about people, listening to people, talking to people, and understanding people and hearing people’s stories is important to me.
I’m realizing more and more how passionate I am about my family. It’s kinda like a no-brainer. But you know we’ve had our times where I’m like, ‘Y’all are too much, this is too much.’ And then I realize as I go home more and more as an adult, as a grown man, that I just love [them]. [They] are truly my center.
And I’m really passionate about storytelling. I think one of the things about having such a heavy upbringing, if you will, is that it forces you into your imagination. It forces you into being able to tell a story, to relive stories and in some cases to not relive stories. So I’m super passionate about telling stories. And it's actually how I teach when I’m in a classroom. It’s very much a storytelling based type style.
TEOP: What are some of your fears?
LA: I was actually just having this kind of conversation the other night with a friend. I think when it comes to career, I’ve been lucky enough to have always known I was going to be successful at whatever I chose to do. And I think a lot of that has to do with my parents. My mom and dad, though I wasn’t raised in a house with both of them, they always told me, ‘We don’t give a care what you do as long as you do something.’ But I worry a lot about the people I care about. I worry about their well-being and, to some extent, even their choices. How bad choices may affect their lives, or how good choices affect their lives. Those are things I worry about, I wouldn’t say fear. Another thing I know I worry about is the love in the future… I wonder where is the love going to come from. And there's this whole idea like, ‘Well, chile, just wait. Just wait and see. It’s gon’ come.’ I’ll wait. Might be a little worried, but I’ll wait. Anyway, those are the things I worry about. My family, are they okay? Are we all making the right choices? To be our best selves and to be around for all of it, right?
TEOP: Who are some of your biggest role models?
LA: As a director, for me, [Lloyd Richards] is the one person who I look at in his career and I’m like, in a lot of ways, it was very selfless. And that’s sorta how I want to be as a director and as an educator. Like I love that he was able to do the two things at once and they kinda worked in tandem. And I just think that Lloyd Richards is probably the best example of a director whose career I’m like, “Yes! And thank you!”
Everybody who knows me knows that Whitney Houston is my idol. And that’s just the bottom line, there’s really nothing else to it. And I think it's important to clear things like this up. Whitney Houston was really the first time I saw someone who was not only young and gorgeous and amazing, but just super super talented. And extremely successful, extremely successful. So for me Whitney Houston is, was, always will be my biggest inspiration. She’s actually the reason why I was able to lock into the idea of being an artist and not an obstetrician or gynecologist, cause that’s what I was gonna be.
And I would say my mom. I know that’s cliche, but I am my mother’s child. As I grow older and I go home and visit, I watch her and I’m like, ‘oh my god!’ Now I see what my dad meant when he says, ‘You act just like yo mama!’ My mom has left a lot of influence on the way I think and the way I care for people.
So I would say Lloyd, in terms of directing and teaching; Whitney, in terms of being an artist and saying what I want as an artist; and my mom because my mom taught me how to be a good person, and a good human being above all things.
TEOP: What are some of your pastimes?
LA: I’m very much like a lion; I’m lazy, lying under the tree all day. So my favorite pastime is like laying in bed, watching television. I LOVE the history channel; I am infatuated by all things National Geographic. I’ve been in love with Animal Planet since I was like 12. I was weeping when we lost the Crocodile Hunter. I have guilty pleasures, like I try to stay out of the pull of ratchet television cause y’all are just really bad. BUT, I’m still able to find something valuable there. I really am realizing more and more the value of watching movies, as far as being a storyteller, and TV shows. Even commercials.
TEOP: What is some of the best advice you’ve received?
LA: One friend of mine, who I respect a lot, told me to think of myself as a gardener and always plant seeds. That stayed with me. And that same person actually told me, and this might be the best advice I received so far, the best thing you can do right now for your career and for your longevity is connect with your peers. The people who are on the same wavelength, the same level, around the same age, know all of the same things in terms of cultural references. Those are the people you should connect with right now. Sometimes we’re like, ‘I wanna be in the room with such and such.’ Well the problem with that is ‘such and such’ has been in the world 30 years longer than you, and ‘such and such’ has got a lot of other promises made out to other people who are trying to get on their coattail.
The best thing we can do right now as emerging artists is to get on the coattail of people who are entering the scene and entering into the world around the same time as us. Because we are the future. And if you’re really about working in the future, meaning tomorrow, then you need to get a hold and be around the people who will be doing that tomorrow and not the people who have already done it. So I think the best piece of advice I received is to make a community with your peers, because these are the people making a difference. Like this moment, right now that’s happening, is great. It's exactly how it should be happening.
TEOP: What would you tell your younger self?
LA: Stop worrying so damn much! I would tell myself, ‘Boy, you are not grown! You will have more of your life, hopefully more of it will be spent as an adult than as a child, so be a child. Don’t take on people’s responsibility as much.’ If I could speak to my younger self I would say, ‘LA baby, chill out. Calm down. Let people be.’ I would also say to myself, ‘Live your life, and come out a little sooner, honey. Let’s try this now, there was no need in waiting.’ My life got enormously better when I was able to look in and accept self. And then when I got to the point of telling other people it was like, this is amazing!
TEOP: Where do you see future LA?
LA: Great question. I would like to see my future self as still really handsome. I don’t want to see me looking a mess. I want to see myself with somebody's chil’ren, like I would like to be a dad. And I want to see my future self giving a lot of opportunities to people. That’s one of the things I take a lot of pride in, like my work. The ability to give opportunities, so I want to see myself doing the projects that I care about; doing the work that I care about, doing the work that’s meaningful to me. But also shepherding and bringing and ushering in young people like me, who look like me, who talk like me, who feel like me. I know it sounds very much about me, but I know the struggles of a person like me: Southern, Black, Gay, terrible background or bad upbringing. I know what that can be like when they’re trying to enter into something. That’s what I want for my future self.
TEOP: Who’s your favorite director?
LA: Her name is Andrea Frye. I got to assist her on Blues For An Alabama Sky, at True Colors Theatre Company when I was right out of grad school. And that woman taught me detail...And I love so many of the younger directors in New York who are doing the thing. Who are really, like, making moves. Who are really putting out the work they care about. But I would say right now, today, Andrea Frye. That lady is amazing!
TEOP: What stories do you look for, what resonates with you that you need to direct?
LA: That’s a question I’m constantly asked and I’m always grappling with because I feel like, at one level, you have to have enough opportunity to see work and do work in order to know the answer. And I’m still at that point where I’m still fighting to do the thing, to work on plays and direct plays and do productions. And even do readings on productions, even that’s a struggle. But I do know that I’m always interested in work and voices that I feel like in some ways are the underdog. Like people who might be overlooked, or people might not take as serious because that’s sorta been my experience in this world - and then you come back and blow people away. So I look for voices that are speaking to some level of simplicity, but also speaking to something that probably would have or wouldn’t be getting a lot of attention. Like, what are you saying that wouldn’t be said if you weren’t it?