Un-Block The Music has discovered “Conversations From Away,” a podcast that encourages a dialog about systemic racism, police brutality, Black Lives Matter and how these issues affect the Broadway industry. Since shutdown, I have talked a lot about women’s issues, and I am glad to say I have been getting great response. That being said, there are so many layers of discrimination and solving the problems can only start if people from all walks of life talk to each other!!! Aaron Michael Ray, a cast member of The North American Touring Company of Come From Away takes on the challenge of “conversation” in this podcast.
Each episode features at least one social justice organization that you can support financially or just become involved in yourself. Aaron just posted a new episode this week about “Tokenism” https://broadwaypodcastnetwork.com/podcast/conversations-from-away/. All of the previous episodes are still available. Topics of past episodes include: Voting, Pride and Gentrification.
Aaron spoke to me about these podcasts and what he hopes to accomplish. “We want to get into uncomfortable conversations. It is uncomfortable at first, but once you get through that…things can get better from there. Both sides learn. The more we have these conversations on and off camera, the more doors that open up. I want this to be a space where people of all backgrounds can come and have an honest conversation about what we go through in our industry.”
How did the idea for this podcast come about? Aaron explained. The Come From Away touring cast got together on ZOOM; every single company member including creatives. At first it was to talk about everything going on last summer and how racism and prejudice trickled down to their show specifically. “After that, we thought, what can we do? Steffi DiDomenicantonio and Lisa Humber from the Toronto cast of our show have been co-hosting what they refer to as a YouTube isolation talk show, meant to lift spirits during quarantine. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13233248/?ref_=ttep_ep1). She helped me out a lot on how to plan for ‘Conversations From Away’,” Aaron explained.
“In this post-Trump era, I believe America is desperate to move forward. I hope this podcast can help move it along,” Aaron said. Un-Block The Music really has faith in the younger generation. I can see acceptance in my own family. Aaron agreed. “I was at a summer camp in Cleveland and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. These high school age kids know exactly who they are. One girl stood up and said, ‘As a queer person in this industry, I have a question.’ Wow! I didn’t come out til I was 21…and people older than me probably came out even later.” Or in Un-Block The Music’s generation sadly, never came out at all.
As someone who loves theater, Aaron knew it was time to talk to all of those involved in theater, not just actors but those behind the curtain as well. “As a black person in this country, I have been aware of police brutality and involved in that movement, but I can only protest so much. I will always support protests…it is super important, but, there are other ways of protesting as well. For me, being a black queer man in this world is already a protest in most places!!”
He continued. “I am really tired of thoughts and prayers and people wishing the problems to disappear (“Un-Block The Music wholeheartedly agrees!!!). Nothing changes because up to now there has not been enough conversation about it.” Yes!!!!! Time to discuss and listen!!!
Before you sign on to this amazing podcast, Un-Block The Music recommends you get to know Aaron a bit. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, he started out as a jazz trumpet player. Although he thought that was his career path, Aaron’s first exposure to theater came in middle school when his band director would put on the soundtrack of Music Man. “For sentimental reasons, it is still one of my favorite shows,” Aaron says. “So, when the school decided to do that show in my sophomore year of high school, I auditioned despite the fact that I had no idea about acting. I just wanted to be in it. I was in the ensemble, and it was so much fun!”
Aaron’s first role out of the ensemble was Perchik in his high school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof!” I expect that’s the last time I will play Perchik,” he joked. That role really made Aaron realize how much he loved doing theater. He went to Berklee for college as a trumpet player, but immediately befriended all of the theater kids. They talked him into auditioning for a show, and he was cast! Ultimately, he went to Boston Conservatory for a Master’s Degree in theater. Aside from the shows Aaron did in school, he later auditioned for professional theater which thrives in Boston. His first show was The Color Purple at The SpeakEasy Stage Company. “Of course, it is a show important to me and my culture and I grew up loving the movie and the cast…I still have friends from that first production. I loved it.”e He
As a person new to covering topics of theater, Un-Block The Music is grateful for these kinds of podcasts and all kinds of amazing conversations I continue to have. Hopefully, through writing I can be part of change for the better! So..take a listen to this podcast, and keep reading and sharing this blog! And if you have any story ideas you want me to consider, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!