The first show I ever did at Norfolk State University was Fences, by August Wilson. That is where I met Lawrence Sharp. From the very beginning, I can remember becoming completely encapsulated by his tender approach. His style, in acting and character was vastly different, so much so that I’ve only seen it, or experienced it with a few people. At NSU it was Lawrence, and then later in Ricky Flowers. Lawrence had enormous intellect and imagination. He was overwhelmingly considerate in his love for developing character, what he needed (his character) to say and to achieve to become actualized.
I was cast as Uncle Gabe, thinking back I notice how green I was and so obsessive with ego. Lawrence was cast in the lead role of Troy. You know, one of the reasons Lawrence became so significant, instrumental even, to me, is because of his “type”. You see, our Director, Dr. Murray, God rest his soul, was the king of double casting. And, that’s the reason I know so much of my early experiences were based in ego, because I was super excited to be one of the only actors, I think me and Anthyla, cast singularly, without a counterpart. But, listen! So, Lawrence was cast opposite Delvin Young. They were so different. Delvin was tall and athletic, handsome and charming; while Lawrence was shorter. His body more stock-ish and his spirit quiet.
When it comes to being double casted it feels like there is so much to overcome, at least there was for us at Norfolk State, under the competition that Doc loved to create. This is a lesson I would learn later, but you are faced with considering the character, the world of the person you are longing to create as an artistic expressionist, then you have to juggle the weight of the character Doc wants you to create, which at times feels like an anchor harnessed and bolted to your chest, thrown into the ocean; and, on top of all of that, you have to deal with your own insecurity, the feelings that come with having to sit and watch someone else creating the same character, and everyone else’s reaction to it. It’s a lot.
Then, there is Lawrence. I never saw him waiver. He was bold in the choices he made and when challenged as Doc’s ubermarionette, (super puppet) Lawrence would stick to his guns. He knew the weight of his own talent, the vision that he carried, and his ability to be greater, against it all. Whether he would perform one night or seven because of it did not matter. Lawrence was an actor. And, bigger than that he was an artist and that boy could paint a picture. It was a privilege to see him on stage because he was transformative. I get chills thinking about an audition piece I saw him do.
Here we are, so many years later. It is almost hard to believe that this was back in 2006. I’ve kept in contact with Lawrence over the years, not nearly as much as I’d liked to or even as much as I should have, in many ways that’s always the lesson of death. Anytime we spoke, mostly through Facebook or email, he was always so encouraging and compassionate. He was a believer in dreams, and if you had a dream and shared it with Lawrence, you know that he would believe in you, and share just a small part of your dream, relentlessly. Finding out about his passing left me stunned. I didn’t expect it, and my immediate reaction was to almost just look past it. By no means was I the closest person in the world to Lawrence, but he was deserving of so much more than just that. I compelled myself to take a moment and to experience this grief, and because we were not “best friends” my human inclination was to question the grief that began to fall upon me. I texted a few NSU Players that day, but Khalid put it to me best. I said, “I’m starting to feel bothered by this and I don’t know why.” With which he replied, “You knew him and you respected him.”
That hit me hard. I feel like if you knew Lawrence then you respected him and as tough as it can be to grieve the loss of those we love, try to hold onto the small part, that little piece of your dream, a goal, or moment that you shared with him, and remember his response to it.
I’m holding onto all the encouragement, belief and wisdom you shared with me Lawrence and I will let that drive me forward and I can’t wait to share in that moment of success with you.