AT THE TOP of November last year, I sat in front of my computer screen, much like I am now, contemplating my relationship to Social Media and the digital world as a whole. Why am on it? Is it really adding anything to my life? What would happen if I... Yup, I deleted my accounts. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, all tossed in a can and lit with a proverbial match to watch it all burn to [electrons?]. Admittedly, a part of me wondered if it was the right move. But, even before the end of the 30-day "just in case you change your mind" holding period that each platform graced before "deleting" my profiles - we all know nothing really dies in the digital world - I was done. No remorse, no residual attachments to any of the posts, likes or followers. It was all now behind me. I was free! ...until a week and a half ago.
Just before the end of 2021, I acquired new Management here in L.A.; not bad for someone living here for seven, right? They were excited, I was excited, they were ready, I was ready, and then HAPPY NEW YEAR! A somewhat sobering entry into 2022, considering we had lost dear Betty White to the ancestral plane, but I digress. There I was, gearing up for my first full Pilot season as an L.A. resident, when a text with the big question came crashing into my world like an avalanche: "What are your Social Media handles?" *mouth. drops.* My Social Media handles?? I thought I was past that? I felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, when he asked for that Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, and Santa said, "you'll shoot your eye out, kid..." I leveled up, like Ciara sang. I didn't need Social Media, Social Media needed ME! Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I was thinking it. After I cooly replied "oh, that? I haven't been on the medias since November," like I were newly enlightened after some 12-year pilgrimage through the Amazon - in South America, not the digital store - I was met with a bit of (professional) discernment. Suffice it to say, my sabbatical had officially ended and it was "highly advised" that I rejoin the fold. And so, here I am. Sooo... Follow me! Thanks.
In a moment of stillness, my mind went back to my childhood. In mere moments it was as if twelve years of my life were spread across a large canvas, in a collage of images and moving memories. I conjured all of the ones that viscerally connects to my creativity. Since most, if not all, of my biggest influences come from what my parents and grandparents indulged in, it is no wonder why I grew up an "old man." Specifically, my maternal grandmother is the greatest reason I can sink into a black & white film without an ounce of hesitation. She is the reason I appreciate Black films the way I do. She is the reason I can wrap myself in Mahalia and Louis Armstrong like I were at every live performance. She is very much connected to my Legacy manifesting. Two of the films I absolutely loved to watch with her were Cabin in the Sky and A Raisin in the Sun. Those reading this who know me might say, "of course, because you're an [Actor]," but may it be known that I had no idea, nor interest, of any possibility of becoming an Actor, then. It simply was not a thought until later in my adult life.
Ah, the many times I watched those two films. Cabin in the Sky was a joy to watch and sing along with - yea, song after song, word for word - but it was A Raisin in the Sun that ignited something in me that I would not quite be able to articulate, until that later point in my adult life. It was visceral. It was passion-driven. It was cathartic. At the time, I knew nothing about what it meant to be a 35-year old black man navigating the streets of Chicago, holding tight to a crumbling dream - I had never even been to Chicago - but I remember thinking, "that man is going to pop a blood vessel if he don't achieve it." To say that I was moved by Sidney Poitier's performance would be a debilitating understatement. I was changed. His Walter Lee Younger was the first I had ever seen, a performance that affected me so much that every other film I saw Mr. Poitier in, I would hope he had not lost anymore money to a gamble - though he very much had - and that he eventually came around to appreciating eggs. Every time, he was even better than the previous time. Every time, my posture corrected, my head lifted a litter higher, I grew taller.
When I heard news of Mr. Poitier's transitioning, there was a hush in my spirit. A physical void had temporarily appeared, as if he were the favorite Uncle I got to see every year, who was now no more of this earthly plane. I was as speechless as I was when I first witnessed Walter Lee; only this time, I was hurting more than he was when he lost that money. I lost a mentor he didn't even know he was teaching all these years. Then, I pulled up an image of him and, in that very moment, my back straightened and I grew again. In that moment I was reminded of every lesson I did not know I learned from him - from child, to man, to Actor. He unknowingly contributed to why I became the Artist I am today. The Legacy he curated during his life taught me that no matter what came my way, I had the power to maintain my Self and my integrity, proving to rise above and be better than my circumstances. Only now am I able to fully articulate this, because his spirit filled the physical void with a knowing that can no longer be denied. Thank you, Sir Sidney Poitier, for Being and for paving a way for regular Black boys to be extraordinary Black men. I won't let you down.
(Written at 37,000ft altitude.)
It's cool being up here, above where the clouds usually settle on any given day. It feels like a version of Home that I know is only temporary; at least in my present physical capacity. Still, I very much enjoy the view. Here, I am more in touch with Gratitude. A [Gratitude] that is sometimes easy to forget when one is on the ground level, bombarded by matters and circumstances that would otherwise have far less meaning from this vantage point, on high. I will do well to keep this in mind when I rejoin the others. Somehow, I tend to find myself wrapped in the distractions of other energies, like a manufactured product you know isn't good for you, but has a certain immediate convenience, which excuses trading what's whole and pure for what's defective - truth for comforting lies. Maybe it's just me.
The window seat puts into perspective how small we really are; how minuscule our first world issues are, in the grand scheme of this massive planet, and the universe at large. I am reminded of just how perfectly and divinely aligned everything in existence is. And then there is us: the humans, going against the grain in every way imaginable, with the audacity to think that we can actually battle Earth. Ha! If only we really knew...
Okay...look... I know it's been awhile. I know that it's been a very long while, it's true. If you happen to stumble upon this particular blog, then allow me to explain, through this new release? I've been thinking, reshaping, recalibrating and clearing some things out, to make room for this very moment. Take a listen? Pass it on? Spread and the word and send me a word letting me know what you thought. I'll be better about checking in, okay? I have space and time now. Until soon again...
ONE month ago, today, I woke up to a number of emails letting me know that the show I was performing in had ended; that the night before was our last performance. The day before this news, my cast mates and I were talking about the fact that Broadway shut down all shows and operations, in New York. When The Bacchae closed, I recall being deeply concerned, worried and feeling like something was taken away from me. Here I was, at one of the most prestigious theaters in the country, working on a show I fell in love with and boom, done. Gone. Just like that.
Here I am now, currently watching the weather in Minneapolis dance between bright & sunny, and dark, cloudy & snowy, grateful to at least still be here, without the worry or concern. Thankfully, given the present circumstances of the country, housing has been extended and made available until July, which brings me immense joy. I admit I had wavering concerns about traveling [to be with family] and risk exposure while en route. I am safe, sane, centered and even more creatively inspired than before things began going awry. My days are spent as they would be if I were on an Artist Retreat: writing, singing, cooking, dancing, reading, etc. The occasional binge-watching, but all that to say that I am whole and happy, keeping my wits about me. At first, I questioned my eerily deeps sense of calm and increased energy, but then I decided to give humbly into the journey and let it guide me where I'm supposed to be. After all, how much does worrying really aid in a situation?
Everyone is waiting. For what, is the true question. For a solution, a vaccine, a return to stability. The floating "new normal" is a concept still so abstract because we have no idea what is to come, though we know what we want...sort of. We are already a changed society - world at large, really - and while the old normal has faded, and the current "normal" is still in mass negotiation, we are all, on some level, looking to the next knowledgable source for answers. Never mind the equal mix of facts and misinformation floating around, regarding COVID-19, which only exacerbates national concern. Every day is a new discovery, a new beam of hope, a new reason to stay in, or extend the waiting. We are all experiencing this for the first time. The best thing to be done in this game of waiting is to stay present, breathe through it, as marquee'd at The Guthrie: Promise This World Your Love.
Okay it seems that it will be a longer length of time before I get to see my family. I am fortunate to be able to see them at all. I am happy to know that we are all safe and surviving. And if waiting a little longer is the biggest sacrifice I have to make, for the sake of safety, then I honestly will accept that with eternal gratitude. Thanks to technology, there are a plethora of ways for us to check-in and converse with one another, so I truly cannot complain. A heartfelt thank you goes to Guthrie Theater and SITI Company for being so exceedingly gracious, generous and insightful with all that is going on. Deeper thanks go to the New Soldiers of this new era: healthcare employees, custodial employees, customer service employees (inclusive of grocery stores, pharmacies, shops), delivery employees, construction employees, technicians, and even those working from home, because you still are taking on a load that you wouldn't otherwise bring home. May you, the reader, and your family/loved ones remain safe, healthy and equipped to get through this. Until soon...
#OnMyMind #blogspot #PresentlyWaiting #SmithDonnellE #PromiseThisWorldYourLove #TheNewNormal
I'm sitting in my housing unit, in Minneapolis, sorting out the basket of events that have occurred, in just the last 48hrs. From Broadway officially shutting down in New York, to waking up to an official notice that remaining performances of The Bacchae - all production at the Guthrie Theater - have been cancelled, all due to the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, life has taken a surrealistic turn. Until very shortly ago, my mind has been aflutter, for lack of a better description. While I am still sad that our performances are no more, that is only a slither of the sadness I feel.
During this week, my mind has been mostly on the world, but especially our nation. With the lack of preparation and information on the part of our current administration, I think about:
What are we going to do differently? My take? Instead of spending time worrying, or pointing the finger - more especially wasting time stocking up on materialistic things, for what??? - this is where we rise to the occasion and step into the new. I don't mean to get all revolutionary, but this very pandemic is further revealing more of the systems that no longer serve or support us as a People, and we cannot not readily rely on "the powers the be," because they be people just like us. At the end of the day, we are all human beings who are, at the foundation, equally at risk. "Power," "Status," and "Money" truly have less significance than we like to believe, now. We are being called to be smarter than that, and to truly be a part of the conversation of harmonic solutions. But that's just me, and I'm only one of millions. Something needs to be done, though, before we cycle back into the same old lessons we should have learned generations ago. Until soon...
#SmithDonnellE #OnMyMind #blogspot #ExaminingPieces
At present, I am sitting in my dressing room, preparing for tonight's preview of THE BACCHAE - the second one of the run. As I reflect on last night's first preview, exuberance and gratitude fill my cup. Part of me keeps asking myself, how did I manage to get to this point? Not from a place of self-deprecation, no; it just amazes me how things happen in such a way, even when I think I'm procrastinating or not doing "enough." The other, bigger part of me affirms, and so it is.
I remember when I first moved to New York, I was all about getting on Broadway; Broadway, Broadway, Broooadwaaay. A couple of years in, I resolved that it will happen when it will and that my focus should be more on doing work I can be proud of. It has served me quite well, because here I am, loving the very project I am working on, along with a dynamic and highly supportive cast, at a prestigious theater. Knowing that my commitment to the quality of the work has brought me this far, I can only be ready to embrace what is next to come. Until soon...
#OnMyMind #SmithDonnellE #blogspot #evolution #SITICompany #TheBacchae #TheGuthrie
I may sit in my solitude, be it by choice or by circumstance, and wonder where my next step will be; what it may look like. Yet and still, I will make the step. I may consider my surroundings and analyze where the pockets of emptiness are and how they could or should be filled. Nonetheless, I will humble myself to gratitude and give thanks for even being where I am. I may question any perceived setbacks or want to challenge the old adage, "life isn't fair." However, I continue with the acknowledgment that what is for me will be for me; simply because it has always been so, before. Even if just for today.
I am prone to dramatize my state of being, at any given moment, simply because I am usually asking the question, "what else is there?" For better or for lesson - making it then, that much more profound in the long term - I dare to explore the answer to that question. I am prone to changing my mind, at a moment's notice, but not before wringing my mind of all of the many possibilities and responses that could come at me in reactionary retaliation. This is all before arriving at the point of realizing that I come first, which is where I should have started. A man of my word yes, but a man of humble transparency and honesty, first. I am prone to start all over again, with no particular order in mind, to correct any perceived missteps, and redeem my soul through physical action. Then, I will have realized that every day is that opportunity to start anew. "It could all be so simple..." Could it not?
We are not bound by our circumstances, no matter how much one or any of us would beg to differ. We really are more liberated than we give ourselves credit for. We tend to put excess pressure on ourselves to make the "right" decision, or be "good" at living life; isn't living life at all, "good?" We monetize our success and compare it to the exterior perceptions we have of others who are "successful." If only we knew the full story. We are not the sum total of our bank statements, closets or parking lots; we are so much for than we give ourselves credit for.
What if we knew just how free we really were? What if we broke free of societal shame and stepped into the true Light, the owness of Self? What if we did not allow others' perceptions steer our journeys or gravel our pathways. What if the dirt of the earth was enough? What if we emboldened our communities with spirit and monetary proportions? What if we said "yes" to ourselves, first? Even if only for today...
#SmithDonnellE #OnMyMind #blogspot #IfOnlyForToday #freedom #self
Be it that I've taken some time away from this section of my site, I almost beat myself up, in paranoia of missing out on potential connections. Quickly, I shifted my thought and nestled into the understanding that I cannot not be everywhere and make every connection at once; no matter how much society will have me to believe that it is the way of the era. I had to recalibrate and redefine what my Journey means to me.
In June of 2011, I moved to New York with the mission to cultivate my career and take things to the next level. It was a true leap of faith, in every sense of the word, and much to my gratification. I booked my first gig a month in, and it's proven fruitful since then. With that initial gratification came this "vow" (of sorts) to stay in New York, no matter what, until I got to where I wanted to be. At the time, that meant Equity-status and Broadway. I seriously would not even so much as visit home - which was an easy 3-hr bus ride away - simply because I feared missing out on some great opportunity that would lead me to my purpose for moving to the Big City. That's just ridiculous, right? But it was a real train of thought. I wanted to devote my full self to leveling up and getting the best experience possible. Thus, learning the hard way, how to navigate.
After burning myself out a number of times - saying yes to every offer, sometimes working overlapping projects and not resting properly - I had to realize that I wasn't about "booking" more than it was really about maintaining a work-life balance. That sounds like something more befitting for the Corporate realm, but it's very much necessary in our industry of Creativity and Entertainment. The more I was making my career a nine-to-five, the more I was resenting not being able to have fun auditioning, or taking a rejection with a grain of salt. It became the crux of my life and almost the bane of my existence. It wasn't until I learned that life experiences feed my Art experiences that I began to release this empty "need" to "make it." Now, for me, "making it" hold a completely different meaning, and one that I am thoroughly pleased to be living in.
May you be the balance you need in your path. Until soon-ish...
*Video Alert!* This is a quick one, but I just wanted to share the promo-trailer for Too Heavy for Your Pocket, for your viewing pleasure. Now that the show is underway, it's all about living in the fullness of the world that has been created. Hope to see you in the space!
A week and a half ago, I embarked on a journey through the world of a play that I fell in love with, at first read. Though the conversations leading up to the day rehearsals started were concerning - causing me to question the whole prospect - I still felt a deeply great sense of pride, honor and joy in being able to be a part of such a profoundly written story. Day one, there was instant chemistry with my cast mates - how often does that happen? I have never bonded so much, so fast with a cast I just met for the first time, before. Since then, we have been nearly inseparable. I couldn't be more grateful for that.
Experiences like this show me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. They are assurances that let me know that when I listen to my heart, follow my intuition and walk in Love, all that I desire aligns perfectly with all that I am meant to do. I am living in my Purpose. That and the help of the current mediation journey with Oprah and Deepak Chopra has immensely informed how I navigate my day-to-day and how to maintain a sense of peace and grounding in the work that I do as an Actor, in this particular process. More reasons to be grateful.
As we continue through the rehearsal process, the word "Preparation" keeps resounding within me. More than just going over my lines, or doing my historical research, Preparation embodies the mind, body and spirit. My mental, emotional and ethereal self has to be aligned with this physical body, in order for me to effectively carry out the work that is being asked of me. And more often than not, my prep-work begins the night before, not from the time I wake up. A partner to Preparation: Self-Care. Rest, meditation, exercise, vocal warm-ups, nourishment and openness all connect to each other and inform how I operate in the rehearsal room, and beyond. They are the very reasons I acknowledge that what I do is more than a career; it is a lifestyle. I look forward to what discoveries I will continue to make, over the course of this production.
Here. Doing the thing, this Actor thing. Patiently waiting my "turn" yet I don't stop moving. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes. I keep going, though. What alternative is there? Stop? Nah, that simply doesn't compute with who I Am.
I was made for this
Born and bathed for this
Even when I had no clue
That this was my lane,
The Universe aligned me for this
A continual batch of steps
Ordered fresh by the Divine Infinite
Doused in Grace and Inspiration
So there is no "quit"
Nah the pathways are too lit
Passion ablaze to light my way
Again, I was made for this
Prayed for this
Got frustrated and meditated
Fasted and then praised for this
No hot sauce in my backpack
But still swag
Slide a script my way
And I slay that shyt
Season gets light
So, I write
Still, I rise and grind
Self-made, I stay lit
Put in my heart, gave it my soul
Every existence of my being
Driving toward the goal
Not a destination, I'm the journeyman
The goal is to grow, absorb and evolve
Emit my best and even better than
So i'm not stoppin'
It's not an option
Times get hard, the tides get rough
But so what, that's Life
And in it there will always be sacrifice
So I don't silence my soul
For some corporate dough
I much rather this Artistic flow;
Even when it hurts
It's not just a job, it's my life's work
I won't shirk the responsibility passed down to me
It's rich history, the honor of storytelling
The tradition of the Griot...
How many of yall know? Do your research
Discover what its work was worth for society
Basically creative piety
See why this is the life for me?
I can go on and on and on and on
But for those who want to know more
Read more, learn more about me,
"What are you excited about?" That was my opening question, in a speech I gave today, at an annual luncheon. Having asked this question in my first encounters with individuals, it has always proven to lead to very authentic conversation. Usually, it shows up in the person's eyes what moves them. It is sometimes the most simple questions that will lead to some of the most impactful answers and discoveries.
In 2013, when I was performing at The Vital Theatre (Upper West Side, NY), I came in contact with an organization who brought a group of children, in foster care, to see the show - "Show Way," written by Melody Cooper. During the talk-back we had after the performance, I remember thinking to myself, "who are these kids? They're brilliant!" I was so moved and became so interested in learning more about the organization, that I would soon come in contact with Linn Tanzman, the Founder of said organization, Culture For One. Over the next four years, Linn and I would stay in touch and I would finally take the steps to become a volunteer.
I bring this up because it was the small move then that has created one of the biggest impacts I've experienced, thus far in Life. It has informed how I interact with people in general, and how I navigate the work I do as an Actor. It empowers me to realize that it's all come full circle in a way that reminds me that everything we do, know and learn is somehow connected to each other; lends themselves to each other.
During my work with The Playwrights Realm on Jonathan Payne's "The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll'd," this summer-to-fall, I made it a point to connect them to Culture For One, with the hope that they would be able to work out an opportunity for a group to see the show. Then it happened, and they came. It was such a powerful night! So much so that it compelled the Founder and Staff at Culture For One to ask me if I would be interested in being a featured speaker at their upcoming Annual Fall Luncheon. Thus, bringing me to today.
So many little events came together bring me to this big moment; one that I would not have believed was coming, back in 2013. And that is exactly what I spoke on, this afternoon, following my opening question. The thing(s) which excites us, then, motivates us to rise to our greater selves. From there, we find ourselves contributing to an extraordinary cause, or leading a monumental movement. I am immensely grateful that I took the steps toward Culture For One, am humbled by where it has brought me, and am excited to see what's on the horizon. Until soon...
#OnMyMind #blogspot #CultureForOne #LittleBigMatters
I remember when I was a kid, really young, growing up in Baltimore, my brothers and I would spend the day with my grandmother, while my parents worked. On this one particular day, during the summer, my grandmother took us to the downtown area of Baltimore. I recall going to Lexington Market to get a chicken box and twisty glazed donuts (my favorites, growing up). On the bus ride back to the house, there was a disagreement between this young man and woman, that turned into an argument. It was one of those situations where is was more annoying than threatening, but I was that nosey kid trying to see what they were arguing about. Eventually they got into a physical fight - I can't quite recall who started it. The woman ended up pepper spraying the man's face, which incidentally caused it to cloud an spread. Chaos broke out. Folks were coughing and shouting, scrambling to get out of the way of the fight and the mist of the pepper spray. The bus driver slammed on the brakes and pulled the bus over, opened the doors, yelling for everyone to evacuate the bus.
Getting off the bus, I remember being pushed and then pulled, the atmosphere vacillating between hectic and orderly, in rapid shifts. My brothers and I made it off the bus, but there was still a great number of people needing to come off. I remember crying, wondering where my grandmother was and if she was okay. Finally, I saw her appear in the threshold of the back door, crying, nose running, holding on to both sides of the frame, trying to step off the bus. A middle-aged man, came to her rescue, helping her off. Once were reunited, it was a matter of waiting for the police to arrive and the okay to get back on the bus - or on a new bus. I know it had to have been at least 45 minutes that passed before we were back on the bus. I cannot recall if one or both agitators were detained, but I do remember the man apologizing to my grandmother; being both ashamed to look her in the eyes, yet looking for some sense of forgiveness or acknowledgement. It was like he was a child again, apologizing to his own grandmother. I'll never forget that.
This memory struck my mind, out of thin ether, last weekend. At first, upon memory, I was like "where did that come from?," and brushed it off. Now, reflecting on the first full week of rehearsal of having been completed today, I can see how the memory might have been triggered from reading and re-reading the script. Ironically, during one of the rehearsals, we got into an in-depth conversation about trauma and PTSD: from the basic definition of both, to how each is diagnosed, treated and coped with. I brought up that story about the fight on the bus, to my peers. During that recanting of the story, I got teary-eyed and started reliving some of the fear I felt that day - mind you, it was over 20 years ago. This wasn't the only memory that has re-emerged in my psyche, but possibly one of the strongest since the start of rehearsals. I have no idea what other memories may be triggered in the process, between now and the run of the show, but I certainly hope that it will only serve as a platform for inner healing and a reclaiming of my peace with the past. I, too, hope that anyone who comes to see this show, who might experience a similar trigger of a past memory, will able to do the same. Until soon...
Donnell E. Smith