Actor Keith Hamilton Cobb website

Category Archives: Notes From An Actor

The things I just gotta say…



Talking Shakespeare, Race, and the Practical Humanities

The Thing is The Thing:  Acting – and not acting – Shakespeare while black.

This is a recording of a talk I was asked to deliver to open a two-day symposium entitled “Shakespeare, Race, and the Practical Humanities” on the campus of Lafayette College in Easton, PA on April 19th and 20th, 2017.

It will speak for itself…

 

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Integrity in the Time of Post-Truth

An Actor Wonders How to Be in a Culture Devoid of Honest Self-Assessment

It’s Tuesday, November 15th, so how long is that after the presidential election?  And that’s how long it’s taken for me to realize this most absurd of things has actually occurred.  In fact, the level of absurdity is such that it cannot bear rational commentary.  The only truth to be gleaned from the morass of sound that generated it, and that it is generating, is that it HAS occurred.  We can try to put our brains around that fact if we like—it’s taken me a week—and take action from there.  But I can leave the talking to the pundits of the entertainment news networks, who are wholly culpable in helping to bring this absurdity about.  While I haven’t watched any television news since election night, I’m quite sure they are readily embarked upon the lucrative endeavors of talking about the absurdity that their talking about promulgated in the first place.  They got you comin’ and goin’…  It’s a helluva business…  But I don’t have to invest.  I don’t think any of it was my fault, and know that I wouldn’t be able to fix it if I tried.   That doesn’t mean I won’t try.  There’s much to do, but I don’t think there’s much to say at this point unless you’re selling something.  It’s fucked in numberless ways, but there it is.  And here we are…

If I’m going to talk, I want to talk about theatre.  This is something I know.  I’m an actor.  I can impact this, a little bit with my talent, but that’s the cheapest of commodities.  I can impact it more, much more, with something far more scarce, integrity, and the simple, but not easy act of showing up with all 110% of the artist in me ready to play, or fight, however you wanna bring it.  Discussions of American theatre are important to me.  We must have them because Read More →

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Just A Whole Lot to Talk About…

I decided I’d leave this here because it really doesn’t fit in any other category.  This was a gab session done in LA for a podcast with Hilliard Guess and his co-host, Lisa Bolekaja.  Hill is a screenwriter and producer.  His company is Hilldog Productions, and his podcast heard in several countries, is called The Screenwriters Rant Room.  So…  When we talk about things that one has just got to say…  Ranting is cathartic.  I must have left the rant room a couple of pounds lighter at least.

 

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The Ignorance is Astounding, but Far From Surprising Anymore

It’s not always Brits…  Sometimes, in fact quite often, it’s Americans who have a boner for Britannia that just won’t die.  Back in July, The Guardian magazine printed a piece wherein Michael Douglas was speaking on the hiring of British and Australian actors over American ones to people American films, citing American actors’ image-consciousness, lack of machismo, and asexuality.  In his defense, I believe he was more concerned for what he called the “crisis” of the American industry, than expressing the fascination with English talent that the rest of the industry seems to be obsessed with to the point of fetish.  Still, what seems to be missing in his musings is the fact that he, like many in the successful Hollywood acting class, is the product of nepotism.  He is a celebrity who is, to my mind, while an absolutely serviceable actor whose work I have enjoyed, not particularly diverse, nor exceptionally compelling.  And I contend that no one would know his name if he were not the son of an iconic movie star who did, in fact, achieve prominence all on his own along with the likes of Lancaster and Mitchum, macho-men of the first order, who held the camera’s gaze in a way that he never could.  While he, in his tabloid exploits, has been sure to make it quite clear that he is anything but asexual, I contend further that he is not now, nor ever has been a macho-man himself, that Hollywood makes heroes out of those it chooses, and it has, of late, been choosing Englishmen, because of America’s age-old sense of arousal induced by all things British.

What Douglas has in common with successful British actors is the oblivious notion that they are who they are and what they are by naturally occurring selective processes that have nothing to do with the unevenness of the playing field, and everything to do with their own superior talent.  You can hear it in the ignorant, dismissive comments of Charlotte Rampling and Michael Caine concerning the lack of African American representation at this past year’s Academy Awards.  And you can hear it in the comments of British stage actor, Simon Callow, in the article below from the periodical, The Stage.  The Stage is a British entertainment industry magazine, thus the views expressed therein, depending of course upon who’s reading them, will naturally tend to bend, not towards highlighting the problem of diversity and bias in the business – where inclusion cognizance is concerned, the English, for the most part, seem to regard themselves as lightyears ahead of their American cousins – but rather towards illustrating the staggering lack of awareness among white, and in this case British, successful industry professionals that the problem actually exists at all.  Like Michael Douglas, they will generally speak from their position on third base where they stand self-assuredly thinking they hit a triple.  I may be conflating a couple of different issues here, but I only seek to illustrate that life on the inside is pretty fucking good, and it’s extremely difficult for one encased therein to see accurately what’s beyond it.  If you are incapable of conceiving of the very idea of white privilege because you have been blinded your entire life by its benefits, as far as you are concerned, there will never be a problem to address.  This situation creates a dire circumstance, because only those outside the circle of privilege will ever understand that it is there.  Perhaps, tragically, it is, in that case, insurmountable…

A group called British Black and Asian Shakespeare @BBAShakespeare works to raise awareness regarding the conditions of and around diversity and inclusion in the UK industry, and pushes back at some of the uninformed ideas expressed by Simon Callow below.  I can only hope there are others.  Meanwhile, the italics superimposed upon the article are mine, as if there were any confusion…

@KeithHamCobb

#MoorToThisStory

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Selma, The Movie

or
The Invisible Man
or
Anything But a Black American Male

Thoughts on a Hollywood Film

SelmaFilm

 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

                                                          Martin Luther King, Jr.

RM306a                                                         Craig Alan Edwards, American Writer/Performer,                                                                                    The Man in Room 306

 

I went to see the film, Selma.

Not because of the hype it’s been riding.  There are innumerable films that do that each year that are not worth the price of admission, and certainly not worth two hours of my time.

I didn’t go because I needed to have the story retold to me.  Having lived, a black American for over half a century, the cinema of this piece of my history continues to play in my consciousness, enhanced to high definition by events occurring presently and regularly.  I need no movie to re-illustrate for me the highlights, and only the highlights, of the bad old days without the depth of exploration required to offer me any truly new perspective.

I did not go because the story of the struggle of the black American for civil rights, or, for that matter, the story of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, or the story of Rosewood, or of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails were stories more worthy to be told when measured against all of the stories of black people that there are to tell.  I find a troubling irony in all of the reaching back we do for the purpose of immortalizing some piece of black American history, when what those historical figures were all most intent upon was creating an even playing field for us in the present day, a goal which, despite the endless efforts of ancestors remains widely unachieved, and, in glaring instances, would seem now to be in a process of complete regression.

I would be pleased to sacrifice all the films about all the black icons of the past—now so very safe to speak of in laudatory terms—for a high-budgeted Hollywood film or two about contemporary black men and women as, if we care to look, we can observe them today.  Not sophomoric comedians, or urban malcontents, but leading men and women, self-governing, sexy, proactive, effectual, whose present day lives, and on-camera focus-holding abilities are every bit as compelling and cinema worthy as DiCaprio, Affleck, Damon, Pitt, and all this entire last generation of white movie star, and certainly this newest one.    Read More →

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The Great City

On both sides of the crime and punishment equation there reside imposters in the great city.

choke18n-12-webThey are not difficult to identify, for they can be found seeking not to benefit the city, but to benefit themselves.  Criminals do this.  It is the very definition of their enterprise.  Seeking to benefit one’s self at the expense of the greater good is also a human failing, however.  Another is the tendency to cloak the criminal enterprise in rationale that either excuses it, or worse, dresses it up to look as though it is in support of the great city that one goes about one’s selfish business.

The great city strives to be just.  It does not strive for justice after the fact, for any mediocre society will show a semblance of making that effort.  There is no greatness in that.  The great city is just before the fact, always and only…  The great city defines itself by what is just, and the pursuit of justice presupposes that what is just has already been undone; that what is just has fled, and justice seeks but vainly to retrieve it.  But it cannot be gotten again.  We of the great city cannot, in our hearts, ask an eye for an eye.  If we know the difference between “just” and “justice” we cannot.  If we derive our solace and comfort from the punitive, we do not belongsiegel22e-1-web here, in the great, just city.  We of the great city know that restoring what is just can only mean doing the impossible; that we un-injure the injured, un-wrong the wronged, and return the dead to life.  We know that, in the just city, injustice cannot thrive, but once it has entered in, we cannot undue the damage it does.  If it is here, then the just city has become unjust, and ungreat, and we can only start again, from the beginning, as a people, in the great city, to be just.

Because, in the great city, we are just, we must forgive cop and criminal alike.  We must admit, if we are just, and not seeking justice, that we cannot often tell them apart, and hope that they come to realize that they are both engaged in service to themselves, no matter what they would like to claim.  And we hope that they will forgive us, seeing that we are people, and not great, like them, in the great city.

MomentPanoramaWeb

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Arrogance, Ignorance, and a little innocence, and Reports of a Fella’s Homosexuality can end up being GREATLY Exaggerated

KeithActorLobbyOrlando

Lobby, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando, Florida, 2012

When I was an acting student at NYU’s Tisch School back in the mid 80’s they did not teach a class for this…  There was nothing that taught us how to deal with the public, odd and so often irresponsible child that it is, in the unlikely event of popular “success,” whatever that really means.  My perception of most of my classmates was that they had stars in their eyes; visions of media stardom, wealth, and prestige.  I suspect that they assumed that they would deal with the vicissitudes of fame as they arose.  For most, they never did.  Me, I had always considered myself first and foremost a stage actor.  My media aspirations were always, for me, a means to that end.

But how, in the world of television and film, to remain just an actor?…  How to be not Cruise nor Costner nor Clooney, but yet to have shown up visibly in places and in ways that generate interest, that make a splash, that foster a healthy, or unhealthy curiosity, but then to return to being just an actor again, not nearly as present on the popular radar, leaving those who rose to celebrate my presence in wonderment over where I disappeared to, and why?

One must be flattered by the attention of others, even if those bestowing it are unwholesome in what’s prompting their focus.  For an actor, for just an actor, attention from others suggests that you are doing something right.  We must remember that the term, “celebrity,” originally pertained to an individual who was being celebrated; one who was honored with the attention of the public because they were worthy of it.  But it is simply sensation that we honor today; the sensation of being arrested blind drunk with a half a pound of cocaine in the trunk, or for being taped having sex in a hotel room.  The culture that has arisen of people who have found a living in making of their own lives a sideshow, putting all of their business, whether real or made-up on public view for a dividend, is worlds removed from that of being just an actor.  And these “celebrities” are not wholly to blame.  We, the audience, are a culture as well.  We are a culture of watchers, looking for escape from frightening lives of our own, with puerile interests and morbid curiosities.  “Why?” is a question that we hardly have the time to ask of ourselves anymore for fear we might miss the start of the next episode of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”  We can barely step away long enough to look all around, and at ourselves, and observe how very ugly, and empty, it has made us.

Who is this petty, pathetic, and ignorant beast that gathers around the TV to watch the “reality” of the latest train wreck?  It is all of us together, unhappy and afraid, who just acquiesce, setting our standards so low, accepting these sordid trivialities as entertainment.  Individually we know better.  Individually, we love better.  Individually, the better angels of our nature say to us, “There is a better way for you to be.”  Individually, sometimes, we listen.  Read More →

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