I know, you're like "what the f--- did Angie say?", and I'll get to that, but for now we're going to Tarantino this thing to a few years before. Again with the "hmm, where to begin."
We sat in a dank make-up room. I was auditioning the final female for a play I had written, Embarrassed in Rarig. As we were just finishing up, a white kid burst through the door like a jacked-up Kramer entering Jerry's apartment for the 17th time for the day. "Hey, there's a theatre company looking for- uhh, black males your age, wanna audition?". Uhh, excuse me lost white-boy wanna-be actor, I'm in the middle of an audition about something actually important in this building, for once. Why don't you run along and not bother me with your old-dead-white men play auditions, shiiiiiiiit I got an activist theatre group to push!
None of which I said, because the next words out of this white-boy's mouth were the magic words to get my attention in any conversation, argument, or chat chit over heard in a coffeeshop... But, before I unveil the magic words, understand that they are the most powerful words that will attract the ears, hearts, and potential deepest fury in a person's heart. WARNING: USE THESE WORDS SPARINGLY, FOR THE SECRET POLICE OF ALL-THINGS-WHITE MAY RAIN DOWN UPON YOU, AND IF YOU ARE CAUGHT SAYING THESE WORDS IN A ROOM FULL OF WHITE PEOPLE, OR BACKWARDS PEOPLE OF COLOR, YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN AND POSSIBLY WIND UP ON THE BACK OF A MILK CARTON, IN WHICH I WILL SEE AT CUB FOODS AND SAY "DAMN, COULDA SWORE I TOLD THAT M$^&$%#$F&$#@ER."
Take a deep breath and say it with me... "White Privilege". Yes, this kid hollered, the theatre company's covering sociological subject matter, sexuality, gender.. white privilege- "Excuse me... did you say..?". I think a light bulb may have cracked, an old white man may have started having an anxiety attack in the next room, and an alarm went off somewhere in Minneapolis alerting a group of passive aggressives to keep a radius of several miles from this discussion. No clue what I was in the middle of, but I had haulted it and approached the kid. "Chase Korte", "Toussaint, my name's Toussaint". We greeted each other. "Hey, call this guy, his name's Michael Agnew. He'll set up an audition for you". "Cool, sounds good, I'll do that."
Chase waved to the female auditioning and stepped out. Strange, how'd he know where to find me? How'd he know I was interested in this kind of subject matter?... How'd he know the magic words? Of course, I flashed back to all the arguments in Theatre History class, an amalgam of all the theatre majors shuffled into one room to sit down and talk about how white people were responsible for the invention of story-telling and theatre, run by none other than the infamous Mihal Kobialka. Now I've most likely misspelled his name, but at this point I fully give no ---- for spelling this man's name correctly. Him & I would duel constantly each lecture, I showed to, and challenge his theories on the Greeks and Romans being fully responsible for my artistic endeavors. Na cuz, I'd like to credit the Griots, the Harlem Renaissance, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and many others before me that had lineage or connections to the Greeks, and found a means to story-tell on their own. Theatre, story-telling is organic as the heart, and at the ripe age of 21, I wasn't about to practice any tact in letting this man know that I thought his theories were bullshit, and that we could possibly dedicate one week to not studying someone non-white to let myself and the other brown kid in room of 70+ that we weren't alone.
Clearly Chase had over heard the face-offs between Mihal and I. At this point, it was hard for me to hide in the theatre building without catching a glare or look from a white student somewhere from the corner of the building. Fast forward, I make the audition, I get paired with Chase on a touring theatre company that travels the country performing short scenes on race, class, privilege, sex, drug abuse, gender, and sexuality. Which then, after performing each scene, we, the actors stay on stage in character and discuss with the audience. These discussion brought tears, yelling, reconciliation, the worst, the best, the apathy, out of people. The theatre company was called the Gestic Theatre Company back then, but now goes by GTC.
On the road for weeks at a time, flying, hotel crashing, driving rental cars, and sharing stories, Chase and I began to become akin to each other. He'd jump into random song from a musical, I'd sing along. I'd strike up a random voluminous Samuel L. Jackson quote, he'd strike up a random voluminous Al Pacino quote. We played off each other well, so well, I had him take the lead for the first play I produced, wrote, and directed, Embarrassed in Rarig. More than a friend, Chase became my counterpart in art activism. Ask any artist that has a background in sociology or hand in activism, and not only will they tell you it's tough to organize, but it's damn near painful to find other artist/activists that they see eye to eye with. The several tours that Chase and I worked on, definitely brought us to realize we were in the same book as well as the same page.
After the first tour ended, Chase went to scrapping for small theatres getting paid 50 bucks per gig, performing Shakespeare to handfulls of folks that frequented the intimate theatre spaces. I bumped into him that next school year in Rarig, I said something off the cuff about white people (with a grin), whereas Chase quickly turned to me, back pedaling with arms stretched out in the air to prove his innocence saying, "Being white is only thing about me, man. There's a lot of things to me, and white's only one of'em." I think I laughed so hard I nearly missed the staircase in front of me to topple to an embarrassing injury. As a person of color, there's white people that crack race jokes where you can clearly tell they have no clue of what the f--- they're talking about, and then there's white people that crack race jokes that go so tongue-in-cheek it's almost like you give'em a wink and a smile just because they get it. Race aside, anyone knee-deep in sociology studies can crack those jokes and give the wink and smile, or any affirmation, that says "we all know the history prologued to now, and I'm not even going to begin to pretend we're all born on the same starting line in this marathon." Chase and a few other people at this time in my life understood that, and it was hard to imagine putting in the work to graduate without them. It was hard to imagine caring about college without these people along side, pacing the momentum and direction.
The plan was always to move to la la land, and score a made career in film acting. It's always been the dream, and Chase was first to take a shot. More than take a shot, he landed commercials, films, documentaries, the whole 9. The kid was a beast when it came to ambition, application, and audition. Just before he left for LA he came to see The Blend's first show at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Afterwards, he flagged me down, put his hand on my shoulder and gave me one of those looks. The kinda look that says "Damn good show ol' boy", from one performer to another there's those compliments that only take a gesture. With that said/unsaid, I thanked him for finally making it out to one of our shows, and he was off into the night... and off to LA.
One of the strangest moments I can recall flashing to the past was the 2nd tour Chase and I made to Iowa State University in Ames, IA. We were always happy to perform at ISU because they booked 3 to 5 shows in a row, so within 2 days of acting, we'd make what we would've made in 2 months of 9 to 5 summer job bs. I was exiting the restroom when I heard Chase entering the room, singin' some song at random he had been humming sparsely throughout the entire ride.
Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die
He got all in my face with it as I was washing my hands, a bit of a dare the two of us would pull sometimes. We'd get in each others face close enough to freak the other out. The loser would either hault pushing his face into the others, or back away at the others advance. I wasn't backing down this time, so he went on singin' his song. "What the hell are you singing?", I asked. "Flaming Lips, man. It's good shit". I finished sanitizing my mits, smiled, gave him one of those gestures without words as to say "Well done asshole. You got me." I lost the dare, and pulled my face out of the challenge. He smiled in victory and slow danced to the bathroom stall. I laughed, "You're crazy, man.", as he kept on with his hummin' and singin'.
It's funny, I look back on those moments with Chase, and am in aww of how we played off each other so easily, so well, so frequently.
On my way to the performance, my dress shoes knocking against the well varnished floors of the ISU Memorial Union, I grinned.
"Love that kid", I thought to myself. "Love that kid."