Rene Thornton Jr. & Malina Moye
Today we sit down with two individuals that are no short on talent, onstage actor Rene Thornton Jr. and singer-songwriter Maline Moye. Thornton Jr. speaks with us about the importance of diversity on stage, and what it’s like to be a unicorn in the theatre world. Moye chats about her impenetrable will to fuse pop and funk with the guitar, while reflecting on her time as #1 on the Billboard charts.
Amazing Grace Conservatory--
announcer: and by Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce,
the Mental Bar, Jones, Del Cerro Tax,
the Westgate Hotel, La Jolla Playhouse,
and viewers like you.
Michael Taylor: Hi, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
I'm your host, Michael Taylor.
As a lifelong theater enthusiast and a board member for one of
the top theaters in the country, I've seen firsthand the positive
effects that diversity and inclusion can have on the stage
and the theater seats.
This interview series was created to share my passion for
theater and promote diverse voices throughout the national
We sit down with some of the top professionals in the
entertainment industry to discuss training, careers,
advice for young actors, and how to make theater matter to more
Michael: Today I have a conversation with Rene Thornton
Jr., an expert in performing Shakespearean classics on stage.
He talks about why he loves theater, his rare schedule of 9
to 11 plays a year, and why we are drawn to themes of jealousy
and loss that are so often found in the Shakespeare
plays he performs.
So silence your cell phones, folks.
You're entering "Theatre Corner."
Rene Thornton Jr.: Do you understand me?
male: Thinks I do.
Rene: And how does your content tender your own good
male: I remember you did supplant your sister, Prospera.
Rene: True, and look how well my garments sit upon me.
Much fitter than before.
My sister's servants were then my fellows.
Now they are my men.
male: But for your conscience?
Rene: Aye sir, where lies that?
Twenty consciences that stand twixt me and--
candy be they and melt.
Are they molest?
Michael: Welcome to "Theatre Corner," brother.
Rene: Hello. Thank you.
Michael: You're very welcome to be here.
Rene: Thank you very much.
Michael: You're coming to San Diego from performing at the
American Shakespeare Center for 13 1/2 years, and you're--well,
I say you're a endlessly talented Shakespearean actor.
You've performed in more than 137 roles while you were there
at ASC, and that's done in 118 productions.
Brother, that's a lot of acting.
Rene: Yeah, it was a pretty amazing schedule.
I do 9 to 11 plays a year, usually have a big part in maybe
three or four of those, middle-sized roles in a couple
of those, and some smaller roles.
But working 10 to 11 months out of the year, it's a very unique
situation for an actor to find themself in and one of the
reasons why I stayed there for as long as I did because work
like that does not come along every day.
Michael: Right. I get that.
And so having done so many Shakespearean plays--you've
done the entire folio, correct?
Rene: I have.
I have done all of the established experts canon.
Michael: That's amazing, and it's got to be pretty unique.
I mean, you're a unicorn.
How many actors can actually say that?
Rene: You know, it's funny I get asked that a lot, and I wish
we had a club that we all joined or I got a badge
or something like that.
But I don't know that there's any way to know that; but I have
to imagine there are not a lot of actors who have done that,
there are certainly not a lot of actors of color
who have done that.
And so to have accomplished a dream that I had since I was 20
years old by the age of 41 was pretty special for me.
And if there was a club of actors like that, you'd be the
I'm certain of it.
And so having performed in so many Shakespearean plays, do you
have a particular favorite role or--and
a particular favorite play?
Rene: I have both of those.
My favorite role that I got to play weirdly was Timon in "Timon
of Athens," which is a Shakespeare play that no one
hardly ever does.
And it gets a pretty bad wrap, but I actually after having
played the role I think it's one of Shakespeare's best, and it's
super weird to me that it doesn't get performed as much as
And my favorite Shakespeare play is "The Winter's Tale," which
isn't--which is also not a like top ten play.
You know, people are just like, "What about 'Hamlet?' What
about--" And those are good too, you know, but there's something
that's so beautiful to me about "Winter's Tale" and I feel it's
so accessible to who we are as people.
Jealousy is something I think everyone can relate to.
You know, maybe not the level of Shakespeare jealousy that it
gets to, but I think everybody knows what it's like to feel
like someone's coming after your love or your job or something
that you have and someone else wants.
I think we all know what that feels like.
So I find it very accessible.
And then the forgiveness that happens at the end of that play
I think is extraordinary, and I think we could all stand to
learn some lessons in that too.
Michael: When did you actually figure out in your
mind, "I want to be an actor?"
What age did you--did that come to mind?
Rene: I was about 7.
I saw my friend Russell in a production of "Oliver!"
and I just thought, "Well, that looks like fun.
I want to do that."
And my mom thought it was absurd because the first performance
that I had ever actually did I played one of the three kings in
a like nativity show, and I wouldn't go on stage.
I stood off stage crying and screaming,
"Don't make me do it."
And they had to push me on stage.
So my mother used to love to tell that story 'cause she
couldn't believe I became an actor after all of that to do.
But I saw this friend in a show and I was like, "That looks like
a good time."
And so a couple of years later the opportunity came up to be in
a school show.
It was in the fourth grade.
And I played the White Rabbit in the "Trial of Alice in
Wonderland," and that was the bug.
That was the bug for me.
I just had never had fun like that.
I had never had an experience like that to be able to connect
not only with the other actors on the stage, but with the
audience as well as we all work together to create something.
I mean, there's nothing in the world like it.
There's nothing in the world like it.
Michael: One of my questions I like to ask is, why theater?
I mean, you just touched on it a little bit for yourself.
Rene: I think it's a complete--one of the most
extraordinary things that people can do is to get a group of
people together from all different walks of life, all
different education levels and experiences and all agree that
we're going to come together and create something night after
night after night.
I mean, I get goose bumps talking about it.
Like, why--that's extraordinary.
And especially at a time in the world when there are so many
things dividing us, theater brings us together.
Michael: A very good point.
You received a BFA in theater at the University of Utah; MFA in
theater, professional theater training program,
the University of Delaware.
Is there a particular trainer or teacher that you've encountered
along the way that really stands out?
I mean, I wouldn't be where I am today without my teachers.
They helped form me into the actor that I am today, or at
least gave me the building blocks to then--for me to go out
in the world and become the actor that I am today, and Ken
Washington was the first of those.
Ken Washington, may he rest in peace.
He just passed away a couple of years ago.
He ran the acting program that I went to at the University of
Utah, and then I was in the last class he worked with there and
then he went to the Guthrie Theater, and that's where he
spent the rest of his career.
He's had an incredible reach throughout the theater community
all across America.
So many actors know who he is and have worked with him.
And more personally, he was also the very first gay black man
that I'd ever met.
And when I was sort of a young kid coming out of Utah still
trying to figure out who I was in the world, to meet a man like
that who also then ran this theater program was
life-changing for me, life-changing for me.
And he was my first mentor.
Michael: How important would you say diversity on the stage,
even behind the scenes staff, how important you would say that
is in theater?
Rene: It's essential.
I mean, I think, you know, one--as I was talking earlier
about bringing community together to create something;
the more diverse that community is, the more interesting the
thing is that you're going to create.
You're just going to be having more viewpoints.
You're going to be telling a more multi-faceted story than
you would be if you're just telling it from a single point
Michael: You're coming from Virginia, I think.
So how is San Diego mixing in with yourself?
Rene: One of the things I love about San Diego is that
it's a big city that doesn't feel like one.
And so if I'm living in a small town for as long as I have--you
know, I'm from New York City originally.
So like I'm a city kid theoretically, but I definitely
turned into a country mouse living in Virginia.
And so San Diego fits that feeling for me more.
You know, like I just feel com--I feel super comfortable
here from the very first time I arrived, which isn't always my
experience when I get to cities.
But San Diego just from day one I was like, "Oh, I could easily
call this place home."
And the fact that it's beautiful here 95% of the time also helps.
Michael: Even the cloudy days in San Diego.
Rene: Yeah, today was a bit gray
and I was like, "It's still gorgeous."
Michael: You're in driving distance to LA.
You're a skilled, skilled actor.
So I know folks are wanting to know what are your plans or
ideas or--about perhaps scooting up the street
and doing a little film.
Rene: I mean, it's not out of the realm of possibility,
but it's not the thing I'm hunting for.
You know, I always sort of describe it like, nobody ever
asks the foot doctor, "Are you interested in being an eye
doctor as well?"
To me, they're separate jobs with separate skill sets.
Being on stage with a live audience, having to project
diction, connection is a different set of skills than
acting for a camera that's 4 inches away from your face.
I just think they require--and there are some--a handful of
extraordinary actors who are great at both, but then I think
there are a bunch of actors that are better at one or the other.
Michael: So actors like yourself who's been doing this
for a minute, I like to ask the question--because we have
up-and-coming actors that watch this show, if you would have
advice for up-and-coming actors.
Rene: Know what you're passionate about.
For me my career has really been driven by what I'm passionate
about, and that sustains me through the times when it's not
going the way that you want it to go.
It is not an easy business, which people will tell you all
Though it used to--you know, when I was in school, people
would always show up and they'd say, "If you could do anything
else, go do it," which always used to upset me because I
thought, "How limiting of you as a human being."
But that's the only thing you can do?
No, I could do other things, but this is the thing I want to do
and this is the thing I love to do.
Just know what you want.
I--you know, so many actors get distracted by offers of fortune
and fame and celebrity.
And if you're into that, then do that.
You know, then organize your life accordingly, but that--if
that's not what you're into, then don't let it get--distract
you, don't let it distract you.
Michael: Labels, we use them to identify our food,
belongings, or even our self-worth; but this musician
will not be labeled or put in a box.
Her artistry is created with soul, and it's the kind of music
you have to experience in order to feel.
Join us in a conversation with Malina Moye that explores
everything from what is afro-punk and what it means to
trust yourself in the industry.
♪ Yeah yeah yeah ♪
♪ My heart's chaotic ♪
Michael: Malina Moye, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
It's so fantastic to have you here.
We've been waiting a long time to do this interview.
Malina Moye: I am so excited to be here, Michael.
Thank you so much for having me and allowing me to come in
and to share my story.
Michael: You know, I think there's like a tagline of
describing you as a left-handed, upside-down guitarist.
What is that?
Malina: You know what?
So basically when I first started playing guitar--let me
just say this.
I'm actually left-handed, right?
So my dad gave me a guitar when I was like 9, and he gave it to
me like a right-handed person.
I tried to play it like that. I wasn't feeling it.
So when he left the room, I took the guitar, I flipped it upside
down, and I started playing it that way.
And then when he came back, he was like, "Malina,
what are you doing?
That's backwards. Nobody plays like that."
And I was like, "But, daddy, this feels good."
So he was like, "Man, the only person I know was
like Jimi Hendrix.
But Jimi, I don't know if he's even playing upside down."
But then I guess he invested in me to play that way.
So then he would form the chords and then I would just look at
what he's doing and mirror it that way and then, you know--
Michael: You go in hard.
That's--you know, it's incredible energy.
You know, industry likes to try to put performers in a certain
box, but it's hard to kind of narrow down--you can't put
your style in a--but how would you characterize it?
Malina: No, that's a great question.
You know what?
Generally, when someone ask me that, I always say, "Let me ask
you a question.
Did you like the music?"
And if they say, "Well, yeah," I say, "Well, then I trust you to
write what you feel."
Because see, I'm the person who totally believes that the seven
notes in a scale, they don't know that they're supposed to
stay in certain boxes.
Everything that you do when you play these notes, I feel it is
the effects, how you use it, and of course the story that you
want to tell.
So it all is the same.
I think country is playing the same notes as hip hop, as rock.
It's just the story that you're putting with those notes.
And if you have to pick a lane, then--yeah.
I mean, again, I would say for me it's rock, but then I'm also
bringing the genres of soul, funk, and obviously pop.
But because of that, that was one of the reasons why I started
my own label.
One of the things that people don't understand, to me, is that
when it's about getting a major record deal, that is a certain
formula that they are absolutely looking for that you can
absolutely fall into.
So once you are starting to color outside those particular
boxes, that makes things a little difficult because we
don't know how to sell you.
If we can't figure out where you're supposed to be, then how
would we sell you?
Yeah, I just knew early on that, "Hey, we're going to have to
come up with something for Malina Moye because, a, I'm a
woman; b, I'm a black woman who plays guitar."
And I can't tell you how many times so many people would say,
"Malina, man, you're a pretty girl, you could dance.
You should put the guitar down."
I mean, 'cause the thing is in hip hop ain't nobody doing that,
in RnB--"You got to just sing."
And I said, "But the thing is I really like to play guitar, and
this is who I am.
And if I'm going to fail, then I'll fail on my own terms."
And unfortunately when you are a visionist, you will need--as
people would say, you're going to have to find someone to
really see that vision.
And I was very fortunate that the right people came into my
life and we put together a PPM, and I was able to raise capital
to fund my label and to pull it through one of the major
distributors here in America as well as to a distributor
abroad as well.
Michael: So you played the national anthem electric guitar
at Cowboys versus the Vikings game.
Tell me about this.
I mean, that's huge.
Malina: Thank you.
I tell you what's funny, but it is--when I got that opportunity,
I was so like, "Man, you know what?
I don't want to mess this up.
I've seen people do this national anthem and at one note
they can mess the whole thing up, and that's some stuff
they're going to be airing over and over.
I just could never live when that went down."
I got to tell you, I was so focused--we had what, 80,000
I was so focused, and we had--you know, you obviously
have your in-ears.
You have--I remember for you to hear yourself and then of course
someone's talking to--talking you through it.
So I just remember going--I had no idea that there were
fireworks, like, you know, with the--I had no idea all this was
And then when it was finally over, I just remember going,
"Oh, man, I think they hated me."
And then I took out my in-ear 'cause, you know, you're still
And then I heard...
And I said, "Oh, okay."
It was so cool.
And then when it was finished I realized that it was a
historical moment, and then I was like, "Wow."
And I saw people were really crying.
And then suddenly someone--a writer said,
"Hey, you know what?
This is a historical first.
We've never seen a black woman--it might have been a
woman, but," he's like, "a black woman and you're left-handed
and--to go out and play the national anthem for a major
sporting event because I guess we just--" I hate to always say
that, to be the first to do something.
But I think that there are other people who probably wanted to do
this, but maybe the odds or the favors just didn't go in
there--go their way.
But I had no idea that from that I would make history and then I
would get a case at the Hard Rock and, you know, they would
do replica guitars.
And then I remember going, "Man--" 'Cause this particular
Fender guitar--again, being that I'm left-handed, I specifically
wanted a guitar that would help me to voice how I hear my music.
We did a left-handed body with a right-handed headstock and I put
DiMarzio pickups in it, and they wanted to make a replica of it.
So there's one there, and then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
just did one as well too.
I'm always about--like I said, it's important for us to be in
spaces that other people wouldn't ordinarily see us in
and no matter what, to me, you must represent yourself in the
best capacity so that the next person that comes through it
will be a lot easier for them.
Michael: I love, love Bootsy Collins, and to know that--you
know, you guys have somewhat of a relationship,
the same love of music.
Describe that relationship to me.
Malina: I mean, for me when I think about Mr. Bootsy,
obviously you think about funk.
You think about the creation of just the backbeat of--again, any
music that is happening in the world today, to me this comes
from funk music, this, again, comes from--we're thinking about
So to have Bootsy say, "Hey, Malina, I really love what
you're doing, and to--I want to champion the music--" And then
it's a beautiful feeling like when you play and then when your
heroes hear what you're doing and then they're like, "Man, I
get--I feel it.
Let me--I know I can add this and this to this record."
And I was like, "This is perfect."
So like Bootsy and Patti, and then Frankie Kash Waddy was on
the drums for the song "Chaotic."
So my thing was I wanted to pay homage to just the heroes that
just made me want to groove and--I mean, yeah.
So it just always feels so good to be accepted by people that
Michael: And so your album "Bad as I Wanna Be," you know,
you spent some weeks number one on the billboard charts.
Tell me about--tell me the texture, the substance of this
Malina: Thank you. You know what?
The crazy thing is with this particular record, there comes a
point in your life, I should say, where I--like all the stuff
that you said, when you go off and you--you know, you make
history playing the national anthem, you honor the Queen of
England, you start to get in all these different magazines, you
do all these things that have never been done before and, like
I said, you start to realize that certain things were set up
and are set up for you not to win, right?
And the moment you realize how this has actually played in even
with certain media outlets, you start to go, "Wait a minute.
Something's not right here because I'm doing this and this
and this like you, but for some reason you seem to be getting a
little bit more."
And I'm always going to be that person that's going to question
you and ask you, "What is it that I'm doing wrong that I need
to do to make something better?"
So I wanted to do an album that I wanted to write a letter to
anybody that would listen so--and I thought,
"You know what?
I'm celebrating myself because for some reason these people
missing a hallmark, and for me--" And I said, "I'm bad as I
want to be, so I'm doing this for Malina Moye.
And if anybody else feels like they're part of that,
Then we're going to do it," which in turn
is that whole record.
When you listen to the songs like "Betta>u," I put an homage
to our ancestors, and people didn't catch that.
At the breakdown, I was doing "Wade in the Water" because
I was saying there is a change that is going to happen.
I don't know when this change is going to come, but I feel
And as everyone knows, "Wade in the Waters" were a lot of the
ancestors would stay in the water to throw
the sense of the dogs off.
So I was saying to people, "Listen, as women, as people of
color, I'm telling you something is going to happen where it's
going to bust something open."
But little did I know that in 2020 Mr. George Floyd
would be murdered.
And since that particular moment, I have to tell you that
it feels like I have been in the dark and then suddenly someone
took a light switch and turned it on.
That's where that album came from.
It was a celebration of self, and then that's when I started
with the song, "Enough."
I sat down, and I remember going--I remember I had to look
this 10-year-old girl in the face and I remember thinking,
"This girl is so talented, but how can I look her in the face
and make her believe that everything is absolutely
possible when I don't believe it myself?"
And she got all the talent in the world.
Unfortunately, it have nothing to do with talent, and then--I
mean, it just bought me to tear.
Like, I--and then I just started writing, and then that's when I
said, "Man, when I was young, I thought the world owed me
Boy, so much has changed.
It seems to me I can't be what I need to be.
The scar is too deep.
Oh--" What I was talking about was the scars of America.
And so I thought, "You know what?
Once again, I'm reclaiming my power."
And I asked everybody to take a picture and put it up on social
media and to hashtag it: "I am enough."
And that's where that came from.
And I didn't think anybody was going to do it.
And when I tell you I woke up the next morning, it brings
tears to my eyes, I remember looking
and I thought, "Oh my God."
And Yolanda Adams, she had said, "Oh my God, I just saw this song
and heard this song from Malina Moye."
And I was like, "Oh my God, you know who I am?"
And she said, "You know, you are so right.
The power of I am."
And then I just thought, "Wow."
And then from there Anita Baker, and then I saw Boys II Men,
and then all these other people.
Michael: The most moving video I saw were the kids in the
classroom that were singing "Enough"
and the teacher filmed that.
Malina: I couldn't believe it.
So once again, it's like when you write a song, you never know
who or what or how something will be received.
And so when I saw that those guys--they were first graders
and I thought, "Wow."
And I remember my dad said, "I know how bad you wanted to
get that Grammy."
But he said, "Malina, you know, sometimes it's not about the
He said, "People will remember how you made them feel."
And he said, "That song has changed so many lives."
And I said--I remember going--and when I saw those kids
singing, I thought, "Wow, that--" It tears me up 'cause I
said, "Man, I hope they believe every word of it."
Because so often you question yourself, and that's what they
want you to do.
So just know you are enough.
You--everything you want, everything that you need,
everything you have, you already have it in you.
You just got to figure out how to get it out.
But everything you want is already there, I promise you.
And I think that part of our purpose in life is to find that
and do that thing that makes you you.
I'm the person that says it's like your handprint.
You're the only one with it.
There's no one else like you.
That is your superpower.
That is what makes you incredible.
Michael: "Have a belief in yourself that's bigger than
anyone's disbelief," said the great August Wilson who knew
what it meant to remain steadfast and true to his craft,
a sentiment that was truly underscored in the conversations
I had today.
Until next time I'm Michael Taylor, and you just watched
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