April 13, 2007
Singing in a megachurch, Alan Green never dreamed he would end up on Broadway
“I’m telling you,” he says, “My story is a Lifetime movie in the making.” That’s Alan Green’s perspective on his journey of 34 years as a gay black man in America.
Green is currently starring in the touring production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show is coming to Columbus April 2429, and is now on a five-week jaunt through Florida, where the Gay People’s Chronicle spoke to Green by phone from Tampa.
Green never ever thought that he would end up a musical theater performer. Born in Pittsburgh, Green’s father moved the family to Baytown, outside Houston, Texas, when he was a young boy.
After high school, he had a choice to make. With an embarrassment of riches in offers from Stanford, Duke and Harvard, Green chose the equally prestigious Rice University in Texas. He said that he had issues with the other three colleges, but he won’t say what.
“I don’t want to offend anyone,” he says, “So I’ll keep it vague.”
He began as a pre-law major at Rice and as a football player. Eventually, a series of circumstances and self-exploration would lead Green to abandon both law and football in favor of a degree in vocal performance and a career as a professional singer.
Green was a singer at a Southern Baptist megachurch in Houston when he was invited to do a solo performance at a political function. “They ended up showing the whole thing on CNN and I began to get calls from all over the world to come and perform,” he says.
“I remember I was stretching during spring training,” he says, “And I thought that I couldn’t do these singing gigs because I will have football games.” He got up from his stretches, went to his coach and stepped right off the football team because the draw of performing was too strong.
He enrolled at the Shepard School of Music at Rice and trained in classical and operatic vocal performance.
But even then, he never dreamed that he would end up “a musical theater person.”
Green’s background as a religious singer and his sexuality began to come into conflict, not so much in his own being, but in the perception and attitudes of others.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t be openly gay and a successful contemporary Christian artist’,” he said. “I knew that the two worlds would collide.”
An Atlanta pastor called him one day because he had heard that Green might be gay. The pastor told Green that if this wasn’t true, he wanted the young man to know what his friends were saying about him. But, the pastor said, “If you are gay, then you can never come here and sing again.”
“That’s amazing if you think about it,” Green says. “I could have told them I was a drug addict, that my girlfriend was pregnant, that I hated my parents, and they would have said, ‘Brother, we’ll pray for you.’ But if I say I think your son is cute, then I am not worthy of coming there.”
Green had gone to Nashville at one point because that is where one pursues a career as a contemporary Christian artist. But fate would have it another way and he ended up auditioning for Dreamgirls on a cruise ship. He got the job on the spot.
For nine months he sailed the open seas, docking in Fort Lauderdale and New York each week. On those Saturdays in New York, he and his co-performers would often audition on Broadway. Green tried out for the national tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’ with the Pointer Sisters. When he got the gig he realized, “Maybe this is where I am supposed to be.”
In 1997 he moved to the Bronx where his cousin Helena lived. Within three months he had landed his first Broadway job in Play On.
I asked Green how he works towards reconciling his God-given gayness and his place within the spiritual and religious realms.
“I really feel that God has always given me an understanding of the religious reich,” he replied, laughing a bit at the pun.
Then he described his roommates and classmates at Rice arranging for him to go to a counselor to “get changed.” They gave him a choice: Go to this “conversion” therapy or they would tell his father and pastor that he is gay.
A parent of one of these students even paid for it. Green dropped a course to make time to go.
But it was during this counseling that he realized exactly who he is.
“At that center I was able to finally call myself a gay Christian,” he says. How ironic, he understands, that the place he was sent to alter his essence is where he found “God’s peace within.”
He has no animosity towards the counselor or the friends who blackmailed him.
“I was able to see that they did it out of love,” he says, misguided and misinformed as it might have been. “God gave me the ability to see that.”
As for his family, he says that they have been great and that dealing with his gayness has been “a journey of information” for them all.
His father passed away a few years ago and for the first couple of years he and his parents didn’t really talk about his sexuality. But then the conversations began.
“When people find out you’re gay, they’re very quick to tell you how they feel about it,” he says. “But my gayness is about me.”
“It’s tough enough being black in this country,” he says. “I’m not choosing between my family and the man I may fall in love with someday. Fear is based in ignorance and ignorance comes from a place of having no information.”
Green made it his life’s mission to give his family all the information they need to come to a place of peace with his sexuality.
I ask him to address the homophobia he sees within communities of color. “The black and Hispanic communities are similar in that they are more ready to accept the more flamboyant, more colorful cousins amongst us,” he replied. To laugh with and perhaps laugh at.”
“Yet when a brother who might be in the NFL comes out they say, ‘What a shame, what a waste,’ ” he adds. “I try to explain to them that someone like me being gay is not a waste, not a shame. I will make someone a great husband someday.”
However, Green understands where some of these attitudes originate. “It might have to do with the black community’s lack of strong men in their families.”
“I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about all that,” Green says. “I let people know that I am gay and I always do it in a casual way.”
He believes that living honestly and being open are small steps towards chipping away at homophobia and misinformation about the gay culture.
“I try to always be a positive example of a proud gay black man,” he says.
He returns to a spiritual message that makes him live in this way, his inner core on his sleeve.
“I remember being told that to him who much is given, much is expected in return.” By his own accounts, Green has truly been given a lot and he has met those expectations with courage and dignity.
He is thrilled with his roles in Spelling Bee. He plays three parts, including the father of one of the contestants who has two daddies.
“Spelling Bee is very different from anything I have done,” he explains. “I have mostly played the heroic men, the guy who gets the girl and beats up the bad guy.”
Green is thrilled to be doing comedy, especially one in which each night four volunteers are picked from the audience to participate. “It is so easy to keep it fresh when you have that,” he says.
Catch the fun of Spelling Bee in Columbus at the Palace Theater, April 24-29. Tickets are available at any Ticketmaster location. For more information, call 614-2247654 or see www.spellingbeethemusical.com/tour. To find out more about Alan Green visit www.alanhgreen.com.