THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Thank you for your time Eric! Our traditional first question; where in the States are you from?
I was born and raised in Washington D.C.
You're particularly well known for your hugely successful career in ballet, how did you get started in dance?
Dance was always present in my family. We danced in our living room on almost every weekend, just as a family, but I started formal training at the age of fourteen at our local performing arts school and showed promise, so before I knew it, I was shipped off to ballet boarding school in NYC to begin training to become a professional dancer at the School of American Ballet.
After stints at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the American Ballet Theatre, you moved to the London Royal Ballet in 2006 for a very memorable run - what prompted the Transatlantic move?
I came to the UK on tour with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and after my performance at Sadler’s Well, I was invited to be a guest performer with the Royal Ballet the following season. By the time the following season arrived I had joined American Ballet Theatre and my schedule didn’t allow me in to return to the UK, but I had always admired the Royal Ballet and my curiosity had been sparked, so a few years later I arranged a formal audition to be a permanent member of the company which went well, so I packed my bags and moved to London.
How have you found living/working in the UK?
I absolutely love living and working in London! It’s a city that’s full of opportunity, vibrant and incredibly multicultural, it’s FANTASTIC!
What do you most miss about living in the States, and what you most love about living in the UK?
It’s difficult for me to say I miss something in particular about living in the States or love one thing in particular about living in London, I’m lucky that I travel often with work back and forth to both places and I truly feel at home on both sides of the Atlantic.
You're performing in the upcoming Park Theatre revival of the American play Clybourne Park - how did you get involved?
My agent sent me the script to the play and said I had been invited to audition which was exciting and when I read it, I found it very entertaining, funny, yet informative and so relevant to our current political climate. I had a meeting with the director and we had great chemistry, I thought what an amazing opportunity, I’d love to play the role of Albert/Kevin, gosh I hope I get it!
How does it feel to be taking on an acting role given your long success in dance?
It’s thrilling to take on an acting role after having a successful career as a dancer, I’m honoured to have an opportunity to show myself in a different light and I’ve fallen in love with acting, much like I fell in love with dancing years ago. I’m obviously experienced at being in the theater but now I have a chance to learn and develop my craft and relationship with my new love... ACTING! I’m absolutely buzzing about this!
Can you tell us about the play and your role?
The play addresses issues of race, housing and political correctness in Chicago in both 1959 and 2009. It was written by Bruce Norris in 2010 in response to Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun. I play the role of Albert/Kevin, both married black men in their thirties with three children. In Act 1 Albert is the husband of Francine who works as a housekeeper for Russ and Bev. Albert is a cordial peacekeeper who’s a hard worker but has a sharp sense of humor. In Act 2 Kevin is the protective husband of Lena, he’s friendly and humorous but also tries to create a rapport with opposing characters unlike his wife Lena who criticises him for his affability.
Ethnicity is a big subject in the play - what lessons can modern audiences learn from the play's story?
Ethnicity is a major subject in this play. Set in two different periods of American history, it’s apparent that time hasn’t resolved issues surrounding racial relations. I hope modern audiences question what conversations need to take place to get a better understanding of one another and how to communicate effectively.
What do you hope visitors to the play take away from the experience?
I hope audiences will walk away from the play, open to having potentially uncomfortable yet positive and necessary discussions about race, gentrification and stereotypes.
What's next on the horizon for you?
Well, I’ve falling in love with acting and have every intention to continue pursuing my career in theater and film, so hopefully there’s lots more to come!
Finally, what's the best thing about being Eric Underwood?
I’m really lucky to have a family and fans who have followed me during my transition away from dance and into other fields of work, I appreciate their belief in me and support! I feel like they support Eric wholeheartedly as an artist, that’s EVERYTHING to me!
Eric performs in the revival of Clybourne Park at the Park Theatre, London, from March 25 to May 2. For details and tickets, go to www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/clybourne-park