HOUSTON IN 2020: SELF-EMPLOYED BLACK ARTISTS
Photo © Amy C. Evans, 2020
I think the new alternative is self-creation, just throw away whatever we thought was going to work or is trying to work and just start from scratch and create something brand new that we all can have access to and that we all can use, and THAT will be our new theater...It's just—how can we get back to producing art and enriching the lives of people and challenging people to turn the mirror towards themselves? How do we get back to that?
BRANDON MORGAN is a native Houstonian. He attended Eisenhower High School, where he swam, competed in track, and managed to get into some trouble from time to time. It was during one of Brandon’s in-school suspensions that he met the theater teacher, Mr. Freddy Buckner, who offered him a reprieve by inviting him to work as a stagehand for a school production. Brandon was glad to have the distraction and to repay Mr. Buckner’s kindness, he enrolled in one of his classes. When Brandon was a senior, he performed a final monologue. It just so happened that renowned theater professor Dr. C. Lee Turner was in the audience and later approached Brandon with an invitation to study at Prairie View A & M University. He accepted the offer, as well as a partial scholarship, but decided
decided that college wasn’t for him and withdrew after just two years. Brandon returned to Houston, had a son, and carried on with life. That is, until theater pulled him back.
Brandon was a reluctant actor, initially, not seeing theater as a career path, but he was meant to perform. After friends and fellow thespians recruited him for roles in various local productions, Brandon found his confidence and commanded the stage. He committed to acting full time in 2014, joining the Actors’ Equity Association and keeping a schedule of performing in at least four or five productions per year with celebrated local companies such as The Alley Theater, Houston Grand Opera, and Rec Room to name a few. Then, just as Brandon was gaining recognition for his powerful performances, Covid-19 shut down the entire city on March 13, 2020, and all of his contracts evaporated. Not knowing what to do next, Brandon and two of his friends and fellow actors, Kendrick Brown and Joe Palmore, built a stage of their own.
Actors Quarantine Corner (AQC) premiered live from a friend’s garage on April 27, 2020. Some of their earliest shows explored the state of theater during the pandemic: “Women in Theatre,” “Latino Theatre,” “State of Black Theatre,” and “Behind the Curtain: The Unsung Heroes of Theatre.” On May 25, less than one month after their first broadcast, Houston native George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On June 1, the three Black men behind AQC livestreamed a show entitled “More Than Artists,” during which they shared their frustrations, expressed their anger, and called for justice. Two days after that, they performed a powerful monologue written by Joe, “I Am A Black Man,” formally encapsulating their rage. “We’re tired of being f*cking tired! “ they scream together. “Then what are we?” Joe asks the group. “Black,” says Brandon.
Even though times were rough socially, politically, and financially, Actors Quarantine Corner gave Brandon and his collaborators a satisfying creative outlet where they called all the shots. It also put a little bit of money in their pockets. Brandon, Kay B, and Joe saw AQC as a kind of virtual busking and, each week, they asked viewers to drop a little something in their virtual tip jars, otherwise known as their personal Cash App accounts. They eventually branched out into creating AQC merchandise to promote their new brand. Their most poignant pandemic design is a t-shirt that proclaims, “My art is pandemic proof.”
One year and two months after Brandon’s original interview, Covid-19 is still here, AQC has a permanent Monday-night home at Rec Room, and Brandon is scheduled to be back on stage in early 2022. “I just want us to come back and make somebody's life change,” he said in October 2021. “That's it. So I can change mine a little bit, too.