SANFORD, Florida No one drives Miss Daisy like Michael Morman. He reprized the role of Hoke Colburn in Driving Miss Daisy seven times, most recently in the Theater West End production, which just wrapped up its tour in Sanford.
The Orlando-based actor has racked up plenty of credits over the years, in Evita, Annie and Little Women, to name a few, but he grew up with the 60-year-old Daisys pilot afterwards. first playing the part when he was in his thirties.
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For Morman, the creative wheels were turning, almost as fast as the one driving Miss Daisys’ car. With each subsequent production, he evolved his performance, understanding the meaning of Colburn’s words and actions more fully with age.
The similarities between Morman and the character he played prompted him to return to the role.
I’m a loner, I speak relatively quietly, my moral and my pride in who I am is something that Hoke is, he says. Of all the roles in my entire professional career, most of the time I’ve been the only one. So in this room, I’m the only image of black or African American. So, that’s another thing I can relate to.
Morman has said he wants to do his best for all audiences, but also feels the weight that comes with being the only black artist on stage. Through his performances, he represents the black community.
When I have African Americans in the audience, I try to make sure they hear what I’m saying and not see it as demeaning, because again, that was (postponed) at the start of the 1960s. So I don’t want (Hoke) to sound like a very submissive person because he’s a man who just does his job. So there is this pressure to make sure they get this message. And when it’s an all-white audience, he does the same, Morman said.
With the onslaught of the global coronavirus pandemic, Morman noticed that the doors were opening a little wider.
He has seen people experience this universal soul-searching, a soul-searching that brought racial and sanity stigma to the forefront of conversations. It was a mass calculation that inspired movements in the streets and in the arts.
We’ve changed a lot of things because of what’s going on right now, Morman said.
In Driving Miss Daisy, one scene stands out.
Colburn drives and chats with Daisy Werthan, the titular character. She says, things are changing.
Colburns’ answer is the same, but Morman’s way of delivering her is not.
It used to be a disposable thing. Now we’ve made a point in the room, said Morman. I stand outside the car and leave, things change. Okay, things haven’t changed that much. Because they haven’t. And that’s about today.
Messages like Colburns transcend the stage. As with Morman, when he found life-mimicking art in a forum for racial equity in the entertainment industry of Central Floridas.
The Central Florida Entertainment Advocacy group, founded and led by Meka King as a result of the last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement, hosted the discussion for black industry professionals as well as allies wishing to deepen their understanding of the issues and concerns. concrete steps. it takes to solve them.
We exposed our stories and people were shocked. I was not shocked, King said. We know these things happen. I know firsthand being a black woman in the entertainment industry, a lot of things that people find horrible.
Morman said he felt lucky to have taken on non-traditional roles over the years, a privilege that other BIPOC artists attending the forum were not granted. A few years ago, Morman played James Laurence in Little Women, a role usually reserved for white actors.
When I went to the first reading I thought I must have a black grandson. No, I had a white grandson. No one paid attention because we were telling a story, Morman said. Isn’t it true today that someone could be white and have a black grandfather? No one would think about it.
King, whose CFEA organization officially launched in November 2020, agreed that what we see on stages and screens should reflect the demographics of the community.
We have to start somewhere and we have to have some kind of benchmark, King said. What does equity look like? I think that sounds like a good representation of what our community really is.
The CFEA is made up of 28 team members who work towards realizing their vision of racial equity, diversity and inclusion within the Central Floridas entertainment community. King said the organization has continued to grow since Morman and other Central Florida artists attended its forum last July, and that she has no plans to stop any time soon.
We’ve had meetings with visual arts executives, theater leaders, and entertainment business leaders. We have ongoing conservations and because we maintain open communication with them they are making changes within their organizations, King said. It’s a kind of snowball effect. Some things will take a long time to unfold, but things will definitely happen.
Gradual change is a concept that Morman and the people he inhabits are familiar with.
After her closing call in Driving Miss Daisy, Morman achieved something. He knew what he wanted the audience to take away from his performances.
We should be judging less (and) recognizing and respecting our differences, he said. Compassion and compassion will be automatic.
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