Rommell Sermons Interview by Jen Bush
Rommell Sermons is an enthusiastic artist about to take to the stage at The American Theatre of Actors in Resurrection. When other teens were running around sports fields or reading comic books, Mr. Sermons was developing his craft in a theatrical youth ensemble. Mr. Sermons was gracious enough to give us some time to discuss this current project and his art.
“My name is Rommell Sermons. I am from the Bronx USA, where I was first introduced to acting, performing in the teenage ensemble: The Temple of Youth, at Lehman college. As the saying goes, I was bitten by the bug. Years later I completed my BA in performing arts at SUNY NEW PALTZ University. I’ve been performing for over three decades, and I’m still amazed and in awe every time I step on the stage, I become that kid all over again. Theatre is my true passion. I love the interaction between the actor and the audience.”
Mr. Sermon’s creative process entails building a character starting with a blank canvas as well as making the character a part of himself. “I like to approach each character with a clean slate. Which is not easy, but I try to ignore any preconceived notions or prejudices I might have. I try to walk in the character’s shoes and try to understand and justify their actions. It’s a type of symbiosis where there are two people in one. I’m at the wheel you can say, but the character is giving me directions, I listen and get out of the way as much as possible, but I can’t let us both drive off a cliff.”
Mr. Sermons would like to audience to take away the knowledge that the tragic events of this play really happened and the repercussions that they had on history. “First off, we want them to understand the historical significance of Black Wall Street. This is not an isolated incident it’s part of American history and culture that was pretty much buried and is now being dug up. If you would have asked someone 10 years ago about Black Wall Street, you might have received a lot of blank stares. But now people are becoming more aware. I feel like this play not only informs but it can also help their audience empathize and understand the impact of this tragedy.”
This play is dark and tragic. One can’t help but feel the emotional impact in some negative ways. “I think for me this experience has been very somber. I mean I love working with my fellow actors and director. But reliving this tragedy night in and night out is very taxing. The idea that these people really fought for and feared for their lives and were killed, many in a horrific fashion. Really brings on a sense of melancholy not only for the character but for me Rommell the actor. The only solace I have is that once I walk off that stage I can return to my normal life but the actual victims of Black Wall Street never had that chance.”
Being a part of this theatrical experience had a positive effect on Mr. Sermons. “It refocused my dedication and enthusiasm as an artist not only as an actor but to the arts as a whole. This is an independent production so we don’t have all the resources that major theaters and companies have. As a member of this production, I can’t just focus on strictly acting, saying my lines and going home. Sometimes other things need to be done or someone needs a helping hand. If that means putting up a set or help making flyers and postcards and really trying to get the word out and advertising the show. It’s a matter of getting in where you fit in, whatever needs to be done. You do it. I never participated that fully in any productions I worked on prior.”
Mr. Sermons feels a strong sense of responsibility to rise above stereotypes in the characters that he plays. “As an African American actor I feel a certain responsibility in portraying characters that are not considered stereotypical. I try to stray away from playing drug dealers or criminals let’s say because I always felt like that is what is expected of me from the larger society. One of the reasons why I became an actor was because as a child I rarely saw my reflection on TV or in the movies. They were very few opportunities back then for black actors to portray characters that were treated humanely and with dignity.”
“I remember one night watching TV with my grandmother and a Sidney Poitier movie came on and whatever she was doing she stopped dead in her tracks. I believe it might have been lilies of the field. And I just remember her being enthralled by this dark skin man on the black and white screen. I never saw her have a reaction like that to anything or anyone so I was determined to figure out who this Sidney Poitier guy was. But yet and still he was somewhat of a lone figure. It was truly an event for my family growing whenever a movie or TV show with a predominantly black cast or a black protagonist or even sidekick appeared on the screen.
And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories around the fire. That will make people who look like me proud of their culture and heritage.”
Mr. Sermons is hoping that Resurrection has a long theatrical journey. What’s next for this talented artist? “Hopefully the return of the Resurrection.”
You can enjoy the talents of Mr. Sermons and the rest of the brilliant cast from February 8-12 at The American Theatre of Actors in Resurrection.