Darius Stubbs: from 'Going Stealth' to 'Passing Strange'
It's not often that an actor gets to meet the person he or she portrays onstage.
But in the case of Darius Stubbs, he had the pleasure of getting to know indie-rocker Mark 'Stew' Stewart, the Tony-winning creator of the hit musical from 2008 - 'Passing Strange.'
Years later, Stubbs now portrays Stew in the Karamu House staging of that show based on the musician's coming-of-age story as a young African-American discovering himself in Europe.
Stew was in Northeast Ohio in 2011 when 'Passing Strange' was onstage in Playhouse Square and Stubbs got to talk to him one-on-one.
"He was a really thoughtful and down to earth person," Stubbs said. "He'd get deep really quickly. I sort of ate that up being able to pick his brain and hear how he feels about the world and art."
The term 'passing strange' comes from Shakespeare's 'Othello' where it's meant as a point of emphasis, translating as 'very strange.'
However, the modern meaning of 'passing' gives the term a different relevance in the play.
"Those of us who are of color and who do not fit whatever stereotypical idea exists of who we are have to find a way to either pass as a quote-unquote normal black person or we have to find our own way," Stubbs said.
Portraying Stew's coming of age on stage is a world apart from Stubbs' own coming-of-age story.
Growing up in Youngstown, Stubbs struggled with his own identity.
"I'm a transgender man," he said. "When I was beginning my transition in college there was an anonymity. I was able to get to a certain point in my physical transition and my transition from [college] to Cleveland where I could enter a space and no one would question my gender."
As he began to establish himself in Cleveland's theater community however, Stubbs realized he could no longer hide his true self from his newfound friends.
"[Hiding your transgender history] is known as 'going stealth' in the trans community. That was working for a while until it wasn't," Stubbs said.
The local theater community supported him once he came out as a trans man.
"Artists communing with artists create space for people regardless of how different they are," said Stubbs. "My artistic family in Cleveland has definitely helped create a soft place to land."
Meanwhile, Stubbs is relishing his debut onstage at the historic Karamu House.
"Karamu has a certain type of audience," he said. "Within the first 20 minutes of the show we might blow some wigs back, but because of the honesty of the piece and the universality of the trials that the youth is going through, audiences have been going along for the ride."