In early 2006, still reeling from the loss of her father, groundbreaking comedian Richard Pryor, and the dissolution of her six-year marriage, actress-singer-writer Rain Pryor packed up her Prius and headed east for a new beginning in Baltimore. Baltimore had made its mark on Pryor, when she performed her one-woman show Fried Chicken and Latkes at Morgan State University in 2004.
“I was depleted after my father’s death,” recalls Pryor, who actually received the news of her dad’s death while visiting friends in Charm City. “I was getting a divorce, and I wanted to get away from it all. I literally packed up my car and moved to Baltimore. I really liked it here. I had friends here, and it was cheaper than New York.”
Her mother, former go-go dancer Shelley Bonus, was not exactly happy about her only child’s cross-country move. “My Mom thought I was nuts moving here,” says Pryor, who has spent most of her 39 years in California.
More than two years later, Pryor couldn’t be happier with her new ZIP code. In the two years since she has been in Baltimore, she’s given birth to a baby girl, Lotus Marie (delivered on, as luck would have it, April 1, 2008), and moved into a Charles Village apartment with her fiancé, Yale Partlow, a native Baltimorean and nursing student she met at Dougherty’s Pub on Chase Street. For the first time in her life, Pryor says she feels completely at ease with not only her surroundings but also herself. “I love the museums, the music, and the history of Baltimore,” says Pryor, whose great-uncle played trumpet at The Hippodrome in the ’20s and whose fraternal grandmother, Viola, was Baltimore-born. “I love the variety of people, too—it’s more black than L.A. ever was. Being a biracial woman, it’s the first time I feel like I don’t have to define what I am in either the Jewish or the black community. In L.A., it was like ‘Who are you?’ But every girl here has big hair, it’s not like in L.A. where everyone’s hair is straight.”
Pryor, best known for her role as spunky T.J. Jones on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class, is the ultimate jill-of-all-trades. These days, when she’s not peddling her organic baby food at Baltimore’s Yabba Pot vegan restaurant (the jar’s tongue-in-cheek label features a photo of her beloved fraternal great-grandmother, “Mama,” an infamous brothel madam in Peoria, IL) or writing a parenting blog for Celebrity Parents Magazine, she’s pursuing her latest love: teaching acting. Since last fall, Pryor has been teaching a weekly class in Parkville at ModelREHAB, a marketing agency for fledgling models and actors.
“When I heard she had a workshop, I did some research on her,” says Washington, D.C. resident Kevin Troy, who auditioned for Pryor’s April workshop. “I was impressed with her work. I was a fan of her father’s but I could see she was a person in her own right.”
Pryor’s teaching philosophy is to offer the hard truth about her profession and have her students learn from someone who knows the business. “I am not all about, ‘I’m going to make your dreams of becoming an actor come true,’” says Pryor, who has written a one-act play, Colorism, which will be read at Hampden’s Minás Gallery on May 10. “I’m more like, ‘Let me come teach you, and you decide whether or not this is something you want to do.’”
For Pryor, a career in acting was practically preordained. In kindergarten, she performed The Wizard of Oz as a one woman show, because, she says, smiling, “I thought the other kids weren’t doing their parts right. My grandfather was Danny Kaye’s manager. My mother was a performer. Acting was all I ever knew.”
It was also her catharsis. Pryor knew the profound pain of being a biracial child in a world that wasn’t ready for her. For the first few years of her life, her single mother was encouraged by her grandparents to put her up for adoption. Pryor didn’t meet her father until she was four, and though she was close to him, the relationship was complicated. While her father infamously battled his demons with drugs, prostitutes, and six marriages to five different women, young Rain cushioned the blows with trademark humor. “I thought all kids rode the Concorde, took limousines, and knew a hooker named Henrietta,” says Pryor, who attempted suicide at 16. But such thoughts are long behind her. “I don’t get not surviving,” she says. “I don’t know what it’s like not to walk through it. I have great angels all around me—that must be the explanation.”
Leaving the City of Angels has helped Pryor come to terms with both present and past. “You can have your baggage, and my baggage is still packed, but it used to be a trunk and now it’s just a suitcase,” she says with a laugh. “My past is no longer my story. It’s so over there,” she says, arms outstretched. “Moving here has helped me finally let it go.”