By LaToya J. Henry
Yeagel T. Welch as Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Check out the production at the Music Hall at Fair Park through Sunday May 28.
Reading Classic Novels in Grade School
What do these books have in common; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzpatrick, Native Son by Richard Wright, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?
If you guessed classic novels from the 20th century, then you are correct. If you guessed novels that have since been banned across the country, then you are also correct. According to Banned and Challenged Books, these books have been removed from specific libraries, schools and universities across the globe.
I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in grade school. Now I can’t recall if it was in 7th grade (Mrs. McQuien), 9th grade (Mrs. Gates) or 10th grade (Mrs. Cunningham), but I do know, we read with intentionality and had deep conversations about racial injustices with a character analysis.
One character that always stood out to me was the role of Tom Robinson – a Black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. When I was younger, I always wanted Atticus (Tom’s lawyer) to do more for him during the trial. As I grew older, I quickly learned that it was the system that failed Tom, and not his white lawyer.
The Book, The Movie, and The Play
The book opened my eyes, the movie made me internalize feelings and the play made me uncomfortable – lots of emotions with layers to unpack and empathy for our good brother, Tom Robinson. And if you didn’t pick up what I was putting down, the play is a MUST SEE!
Before I read about the cast in this production, I knew I wanted to meet and interview the person playing Tom Robinson. Normally, I like to interview the actors before opening night or before I see the show. But this time was different. I actually wanted to see the production first. Oh, and I’m glad I did because there were so many questions for the man that graced the stage and literally killed the role of Tom Robinson.
Allow Me to Introduce You to…
His name is Yaegel T. Welch and he’s one of the most down-to-earth actors around. From our initial introduction to our final good-byes, I left our conversation feeling inspired. It was an honor to engage in rich dialogue with the depth of understanding for each other’s struggle as Black people navigating through life. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his origin story and how he pursued his dreams and never stopped working.
Welch graduated from Morehouse College with a BA, received an MFA from Brandis University, and the George Washington University for Classical Acting. When he moved to NYC, Welch worked in a record store and sold albums – how dope! He worked odd jobs here and there, but it took him about one year before he booked a real job without any connections.
Welch’s portfolio is massive and diverse: TV (Harlem, The Blacklist, Madame Secretary); Off-Broadway (Fly, Royale) and National Tour (The Play That Goes Wrong) – just to name a few.
Yaegel is very intentional about the roles he auditions for. “I enjoy being a voice of the unheard, the disenfranchised stories.” Yaegel explained.
Ritual Before Performances
While preparing for various roles, Welch has a ritual (at the top of show and during intermission) where he talks to his ancestors who have who unlawfully died – names like Trayvon Martin and Katherine Massey. He further explains, “I want permission to go out there every performance and I want to honor them nightly. I bring authenticity to every role, and it helps portray the story and bring the character to life.”
Advice to Younger Self
Welch’s advice to his younger self and aspiring actors. “Be bold, be free, don’t worry about what people think. Be different now, it will be easier later. And avoid procrastinating. Work hard, sleep less, but get enough sleep. Always keep looking for inspiration.”
Welch is an inspiration and hope the audience take away a few themes from the play: courage, dignity, thoughtfulness and empathy to understand.
Get Your Tickets Today
My interview with Yaegel was refreshing, down-to-earth and fed my soul on so many levels. At the end of our conversation, Yaegel told me to “to keep in touch” AND “let me know when you get my own talk show.”
Me? With a talk show? My day was made…LOL!
Thank you Yaegel Welch for being everything that you are. For showing up to every role with so much passion and grit. For never being afraid to portray roles that tell the unfortunate truth about Black people, the history and the struggle. Lastly, for being the voice of the unheard.
And thank you for bringing Tom Robinson’s character to life. You (and Tom) are unsung heroes.
There is still have time to purchase tickets and check out the amazing production of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird at the Music Hall at Fair Park now through Sunday May 28.
Follow Yaegel on IG: @yaegelwelchthegreatest