by Kevin Shaw | photo by Jon Sparks
As an openly gay, African-American theatrical director/choreographer born in Memphis, Tennessee, Tony Horne, now an Associate Professor at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, brings a unique, refreshing perspective to what it’s like being “out and proud” in 2016.
Focus Magazine was excited to catch up with Tony who frequently returns to Memphis to direct/choreograph at multiple theatrical venues (“The Color Purple at Playhouse on the Square and “Once on this Island” at Hattiloo Theatre) and see what role “race” has played in his artistic life.
What is the ‘official’ current term that you use to refer to your race? Is it ‘Black’ or ‘African-American’?
You know, that’s a very personal thing. I’m a southerner, so I grew up saying “Black.” I also prefer saying “Black” because “African-American” has too many syllables in it, but in all of my formal writing, I refer to myself as African-American. However, when I’m speaking to family or friends, I refer to myself as black.
Does it matter how a Caucasian individual refers to you?
It does matter. I think a white person needs to say “African-American” unless they are informed otherwise.
African-American most accurately reflects who we are. We are Africans and we are Americans. Black refers to a color and none of us are actually black any more than any of you are actually white. Black is a misnomer and not an accurate description. For me, the term black coming out of the wrong mouth could be perceived as being disrespectful. I think acknowledging our African and American roots is a more respectful portrayal of who I am. Ultimately though, it’s about familiarity. If someone I personally know refers to me as black, I’m more okay with that compared to someone I don’t know. Like if I hear someone on television or the news use the term black I’m offended by it.
From your perspective, what is it like to be an openly gay African-American artist in Memphis, Tennessee in 2016?
Ha! Well, that’s an interesting question because I’m an artist who has been exposed to a variety of things and my horizons are very broad. I left home when I was 16 and over the years have lived on both coasts. So, for me, it is comfortable, it is easy, and it is safe. I find Memphis theatre to be a welcoming community, as it has always been from the time I was a child actor with Memphis Children’s Theatre. I’ve never felt anything but love, support and joy. Other men in this city may feel differently because their experience was formed and shaped in the black church. That’s why I’m different. My identity was shaped outside of the church. I think I had it relatively easy compared to other men of my generation or men who came after me. I’m so fortunate to have had that experience because I know that’s not everyone else’s experience.
So, it sounds like the Memphis theatre scene is more diverse and accepting than some people might imagine?
Absolutely! It’s delightful now to see multi-cultural casts on the stages of Theatre Memphis to Playhouse on the Square! I think it says a lot about our community that artists are so welcomed today.