Michael Stromar is on his way to Children’s Theater of Charlotte for the last day of an opera production. He’s a thespian with a resonating voice, and a propensity for rapid speech and clock watching, though he’s happy to slow down for a bit to speak with Qnotes.
A creative, warm and witty individual who willingly wears his heart on his sleeve, Stromar was born in Detroit, adopted by a loving couple and spent his younger years living in places like California and Ohio. Stromar’s family of four moved to the Charlotte area just as he was approaching the end of high school. On a quest to fuel his creative passions, Stromar didn’t stay long after graduating from Charlotte’s Myers Park High School. However, he returned to the area about seven years ago to care for his elderly parents. In this interview he shares some intimate thoughts on living a life of joy and moments that many might not have overcome.
L’Monique King: Where do you live in Charlotte?
Michael Stromar: Quail Hollow in a three-bedroom townhouse.
LMK: Having returned to Charlotte what would you say is your best memory so far about living in the area?
MS: I’ve always thought it was a great spot. I’d come back for Christmas before I moved here. But a great moment was my first season with Opera Carolina, I was the first person on stage and the first person to sing. It really enlivened me. Having performing opportunities really helps keep my sanity.
LMK: Is your greatest passion singing?
MS: I think performing is my favorite thing, singing. I’ve done all types of singing; opera, music theater and cabaret. I just did a Rock Opera, though they called it a rock musical.
LMK: Is singing how you make your livelihood? What do you do for a living?
MS: Nothing now. Since I care for my mom, I can’t take a regular job. So, I restore furniture and accessories when needed. Usually at night when my mom is sleeping. I’m also under contract with Opera Carolina and perform with them intermittently. This year I have one contract for La Traviata [an opera many theorize the movie “Pretty Woman” was based on]. I’m in the opera chorus.
LMK: Are you Partnered?
MS: No. It’s been a while and the last one I had was for eight years but I’m a cliché. Who wants to hang out with a gay dude that’s caring for his mom. I have no skills to meet people. I guess I have an inferiority complex – I was bullied a lot as a kid. I was psychedelic and I was a QIT “Queer In training” <raucous laughter> I didn’t find someone until college and then went back and forth for a while until I settled into my identity as a gay man. And it wasn’t a choice. Who would make a choice to have a life of dissension, bigotry, ridicule and all that stuff. We’re born who we are, but all that [judgement] left buttons, feelings of being judged. So, it’s tough sometimes to shed all that, emerge free from it and seek a partner.
LMK: Do you have any siblings?
MS: I have a sister Lisa who is seven years younger. She passed in 1999 of cervical cancer, before much was known about HPV (Human Papillomavirus) and she was also adopted. I was adopted in Michigan and she was adopted in New York. I remember I went with my parents to Manhattan to get Lisa and as she was put in the back seat of the car she winked at me. She had the biggest and most beautiful brown eyes. She was always kinda’ tom boyish, didn’t want to wear dresses. She rode motorcycles. She had a boyfriend once who she rode on the back of his bike, he never seemed too thrilled about that. <giggles>.
LMK: Any thoughts of finding or connecting with biological family?
MS: I’ve been an island all my life because I’m loaded with skills my parents don’t possess and for years I thought, who am I – who are my people? I didn’t even find out that I was adopted until college. I remember asking in elementary school, having noticed that I’d never seen pictures of my mom pregnant with me and that I didn’t look like them. I believe my dad may have become infertile as a result of serving in Korea. So, I can imagine how painful that would have been to discuss, especially if my mom was able to bear children.
A few years back I decided to use Ancestry.com where I found a close DNA match that listed a woman named Patty as a family member. There wasn’t a picture, but on the next level down was a male named Noah, her son. I’ve spoken with him a lot. He’s a lovely guy with a really nice wife and it’s interesting to have an actual blood connection.
LMK: How are your parents with your gayness?
MS: I never discussed it with my dad because my [lesbian] sister was very “in your face” and it was a lot for them to take. Since my dad has passed, I’ve shared my orientation with my mother, actually my aunt told her first but that’s been [recently] within the last seven years.
LMK: We’ve heard that art is a huge part of your life. Would you share a little about how your creativity shows up?
MS: I attended Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh on a vocal scholarship but wanted to be an actor. I’ve headlined two shows at the Monte Carlo Casino. It was really something. Having my name on a billboard in Monaco was an incredible feeling.
Locally, I’ve been with Opera Carolina for four years and just did the rock musical, ‘Water Inc.’ We recently did three productions in Morrisville about the water situation in our country. It’s kinda like a Greek tragedy. It was a great showcase for me. There were 42 numbers in the production and I was [featured] in 20 of them.
Years ago, I had my own line of menswear and worked in a friend’s couture salon where I constructed outfits that ended up on the television show ‘Dynasty.’ I often thought that I enjoyed fashion so much and if I’d only had the right backing, I might have taken that road. I was in Macy’s in New York once, wearing a pair of pants that I designed and a guy asked me where I got them. I told him that I made them and he said, ‘Come with me.’ He was a buyer for Macy’s. In the end nothing much came out of it because shortly after I followed my acting teacher to Los Angles. Designing takes a lot of time and money. You need stock, labels and distributors.
Today, I enjoy furniture restoration. When I was a kid, I took all of my toys apart to see how they worked. Everything interests me. I have ADHD, it’s a blessing and a curse.
LMK: How is having ADHD both a blessing and a curse for you?
MS: It’s a blessing because I’m proficient in many things. Having more than one plate spinning can be a good thing. A lot of people have a career in one particular thing. I feel like I can do a lot of things extremely well, and if I had the proper self-motivation, drive and business acumen, who knows.
It’s a curse because I haven’t had a career that started here and ended there. I’ve taken different paths and have worked and found success in many fields. Sometimes I have money and sometimes I don’t. It’s why I am not trying to create order in my life. I want to fulfill my power to the max.
LMK: What’s on the top of your “annoys me the most” list?
MS: Injustice, in general. Those poor people in the Ukraine, What the fuuuuck?! To what end Putin, to acquire some land? It’s beyond comprehension in this day and age that there’s war. <bursts into song singing the Classic Motown hit “War”> There’s so much of a lack of empathy that it just kills me. Especially [coming from] people who call themselves Christian.
LMK: When you need a smile, what’s guaranteed to bring you joy?
MS: Babies and children. The best thing in the world is when a baby holds your finger. The next best thing is children’s laughter.
LMK: In closing, if there was one thing you could share with our readers what would that be?
MS: <Thoughtful pause> I’m a diabetic and I’m HIV positive. I learned my status sometime in the late 90s. I thought I was an anomaly [for a while] because though I’d been with dudes – some of whom are no longer with us – I was lucky to not have lost many people back in the day. Today, I’m undetectable and have been for years. So I guess I would say, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t get it. Be sensible. Practice safe sex.’