Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rock On

Photo by Michael Lamont

Similar to his alter ego on the stage, Elijah Rock traveled far away from home to pursue his love of classical music and the arts. The Cleveland native now living in Los Angeles portrays Roland Hayes, one of the first internationally acclaimed African-American classical singers, in Breath and Imagination showing at the Cleveland Play House from Feb. 14 to March 9. Rock talks to us about LA life and how Hayes’ story parallels his own.

Cleveland Magazine: While you are a Cleveland native, you've been living in LA for the last six years. What is acting in LA like?

Elijah Rock: Acting in LA has been good for me. It’s tough for a lot of people, but it’s been good for me. … I’ve always been performing, but I really took four or five years to just focus on filmmaking, and now I’m at a point in my career where I’m doing theater again. I’m making movies, and I’m signed with a lot of the top agencies just taking time to develop all these creative talents and endeavors, and now it’s all coming full circle. This Roland Hayes piece is a very full circle moment for me, because I’ve always continued to study classical voice.

CM: You recently starred in this show at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, Calif. How do you connect with this character?

ER: My life parallels Roland Hayes’ life in so so many ways. … Roland grew up singing in the church as did I. I identify with Roland from the perspective of not having a lot of examples of black male vocalists pursuing a career in the classical arts. When I was at Cleveland Institute of Music, there were no other black male vocalists. I of course had more examples of a few other singers along the way that had performing careers, like Paul Robeson, of course William Warfield. … [Hayes] had no examples so that’s kind of a lone and isolating feeling, but he carved out this incredible career and it came with many years of trial and error and a lot of people telling him that this would never work. So I still kind of feel that way ... but yet again a unique experience is being carved out of me playing him.

CM: Why should people come see this play?

ER: This is a story of a man who found his identity by way of his talent to do something that had never been done before. It’s like the quintessential American story of going on a journey of uncharted waters.  … We’re talking a black man born in 1896, who gets accepted by the Fisk Jubilee Singers with a fifth-grade education … [who] ends up singing for the king of England. Even today, that would be pretty astounding. So how could that story not inspire any human being?

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