LGBTQ&A: Terrell Green
Terrell Green is local performing artist and educator. We chat with the out creator about his current artistic aspirations and his upcoming one-man show, which debuts on MLK Day in the Gayborhood.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a Philly Jawn, born and raised in South Philly! I am a fan of public schools, attending McCall Elementary and Central High School (267!). I’ve been an actor since my adolescence, and it has been theater that has taken me around the world: to Marymount Manhattan College in NYC, Oxford University in England to study Shakespeare performance, to doing puppetry on the streets of Ireland. And now, back home to Philly to teach literacy and sexual health education to youth, using theater. Theater and God have been good to me. I’ve gone from that confused little boy walking the halls of Philly’s public schools to now walking those same halls as a contractor, there to teach art. I’ve turned my passion into a giving and full career! Last year was good, and this year is starting off great. I am teaching and doing great work in the community with PHMC, Attic Youth Center, Arden Theatre; writing and performing my one-man show, nabbed a two-year teaching artist fellowship with the Philadelphia Theatre Company. My life’s chant: “No one can deny your hard work!”
You are an educator by day and an artist by night. How do you incorporate those professions into your queer identity?
I never forget my responsibility. As a black gay man, I have a huge responsibility to be exemplary; I have to be exemplary not only to disprove the Kim Burrells of the world but to disprove the Trump voters of the world. In Philly’s classrooms, most of my students are black and brown, living at or below the poverty line; most of them have never heard “It’s OK to be you, because you are a qualified, unique and a beautiful person.” It took me 26 years to learn half of that lesson. I use my classroom to help people find weird and unique things about themselves that others, due to their lack of understanding, may reject; I aid them in realizing those weird and unique features make them standout. On stage as an actor, I use the stage to heal. In every character and play I do, I accept a little piece more of myself. My gayness, my blackness, my maleness, my Terrellness, hehe!
Moonlight, a film exploring black queer masculinity, just won the Golden Globe for Best Drama. As a black gay male artist in Philly, what do you think has led to this newfound embrace of such artistic themes?
I think black people/artists have led to this embrace; we’ve reached the point, especially in the artistic community, where we are tired of being at the mercy of others. Tired of playing the help, the thug, or the first person to die in the horror film. Black artists realized that the whitewashed (both behind the scenes and in front) entertainment industry was complacent with telling the same ol’ stories. So over the last few years we’ve been seeing black artists use mediums such as YouTube and Instagram to create content and followers that inevitably the money-making mainstream media couldn’t deny — not only the creativity but the commercial value. Black artists are stepping up and realizing we have to create our own narrative, because for so long our narratives have been inaccurately written and portrayed. It’s amazing and inspiring to see Issa Rae and Donald Glover creating, writing, producing, and performing in creative and award-winning material.
Must Go On: A Rite of Passage is your new one-man show premiering on MLK Day. What inspired you to take on this self-reflective project?
One of my life’s goal(s) has become working to recreate a positive narrative for black men, specifically black GBTQ men, using theater and film. I teach in a program that teaches sexual health, skill-building, and goal-setting using role-play theater. This program is specifically for black male youth. Working with these young men, I am constantly reminded of my own youth and all things the world tried to deny me because I am black or gay; but I never stopped, I told myself must go on. So I wanted to not only help others see that black men are brilliant because we navigate in a very complicated space in the world and definitely in America. But more importantly, I wanted to leave a message to my brothers: Just go ON! The world is ours, too!
You’ve experienced quite a lot personally in the past year — a new career, projects, and a divorce. What is one piece of advise you would give yourself now to others?
In the words of Dr. King, “Don’t wallow in despair.” Use every knockdown as a way to train and prepare for the next go around and become stronger. Life is always throwing us opportunities to heal, but it takes strength from within to take it! #BeYeReady #BYR #MustGoOn #MGO
Must Go On: A Rite of Passage will be premiering on Monday, January 16th, at 5 p.m. at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street. Tickets can be purchased online.