How James T. Lane is Keeping it Kind and Too Darn Hot
One Role that keeps coming around for you is the Tinman in the Wiz. How would you describe taking on the legacy and mythology of the Tin Man?
James: I think of the Tin Man as an uncle who knows right from wrong. But I developed a mythology based on the parable of the Wiz about why the Tin Man doesn’t have heart. The mythology isn’t based on the book of the play but what I thought of when wondering why doesn’t this black Tin Man have a heart?
How I see it is, Over time the African American man had just slowly put away his feelings. When we came over on slave ships and saw our mothers, wives, and children get taken away, raped, and tortured we had to hold our emotions in check so we could live. And we’ve slowly gotten further and further away from our emotions. So when we meet the Tin Man, there he is yearning to feel again. Because he’s heard it said what feeling is like, but he doesn’t quite remember. But if he could just get that feeling back, he’d be a whole man again. That’s how I see the Tin Man.
Here’s the big question! How are you keeping your 10 minute number, Too Darn Hot consistent? The world needs to know!
(If you haven’t seen the number, here’s a clip from Kiss Me, Kate’s tony performance)
James: Baby, it ain’t easy! It’s multi-layered. The wonderful thing about what Scott Ellis and Warren Carlyle have done is that the cast is astounding. They’re bright, beautiful, connected, committed, and spiritual human beings on that stage. So when I look to my right, left, front, and my back, I am receiving the love, the care, and the truth of where we are in that present moment. That alone could carry you through, if you didn’t have anything else but that, you could do it. But eight shows a week is no joke. Ten minutes and forty-five seconds is also no joke. I’m at the Theater and warming up by 6:30, Half-hour is at 7:30, I’ll warm up till about 7:45. Then because I don’t dance until the opening of the second act, I have to warm up again in the middle of the first act.
So I’m up in my dressing room having dance parties to Smokie Norful or someone else but always gospel music. Come thou almighty king! In that, I am giving myself the tools and spiritual energy to persevere. But I did not start where I am now! When I was in King Kong and I knew I was going into Kiss Me, Kate I started to run the steps of the Broadway Theatre. I would run twelve minutes because I knew it was going to be ten minutes. And I still run the steps of the Roundabout theatre especially when we were starting but it’s about that warmup and staying conditioned baby.
Also I still go to dance class and voice lessons every week.
I’ve got my own dance class that I do on a weekly basis and I still teach masterclasses so I’m staying as well as I can. I get massages twice a week at the least. Warming up, cooling down, and being kind! Here’s the thing and this is for me, if it touches your spirit, it touches your spirit. You’ve got to be kind and generous. It’s harder to carry negative energy and burdens and complaints, it weighs you down. So being kind and supportive is key, and it’s okay to change your mind. You can be irked at somebody but change that energy, it’s energy, it can always be changed. It doesn’t have to be negative, keep it positive!
What’s your advice to performers during auditions?
James: Be prepared. If you’ve got music to learn, learn your music. If there’s a video of the choreography, and you know it’s original choreography, look at the video! Be prepared as much as you can so you can be comfortable in the room. We want you present, we don’t want you anxiety ridden and scared. We are celebrating dance, we’re celebrating singing, we’re celebrating your acting, that’s what we’re doing up there.
We’re celebrating the life we live each day by taking a little slice of it and performing it for you for two and a half hours.
We’re just showing you, you. So we want to see you, but if there’s material that needs to be prepared, be prepared and be authentic! Don’t try to be Billy Porter. Billy Porter is Billy Porter, there’s nobody like Billy Porter, and we don’t want to see anybody be like Billy Porter! We want to see Billy Porter be Billy Porter and we want to see you, be you!
What’s one quote you carry with you every day that you think other performers should carry with them?
“To thine own self be true.”
James: It’s a Shakespearean quote but my mother used to say it when I was younger. I didn’t know what she was talking about, I was seven or eight years old going “To thine own self be true? What does that even mean mom?” and it’s changed for me over the years. I think in the beginning it was “you’re a young black man” know that. Then it became “you’re a young black gay man” know that. In my professional career, it’s been “Be Yourself.” Like we said you’re not Billy Porter. I’m not Chuck Cooper, I’m not Andre De Shields. I’m James T. Lane, and that’s good enough for me.
“If no one has told you yet today, let me be the first to say I love you.”- James T. Lane
Click here for the other parts of MWMIV Speaks’ interview with James T. Lane. They cover how he’s made it from Philly to Broadway and what it was like creating the Scottsboro Boys with Kander and Ebb. You can follow James on instagram and twitter here! For more Beyond the Stage Door, click here!