Monday, 12 October 2020

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Avid performer and makeup artist Khumar McHugh is living his dreams in the face of health challenges

DOING WHAT HE LOVES: “I’ve learned to accept myself,” declares McHugh.

WHEN Khumar McHugh speaks his voice doesn’t rise more than a few octaves above a whisper. Soft-spoken and quite reserved, he comes across to many as a shy guy. You’d never know it from a conversation with this young man, just 25 years old, that he’s already suffered two strokes and has survived to tell the tale. 

Today, seated in a corner office on the Ashé premises in Kingston, McHugh is a picture of good health and a joyful spirit, but you begin to see that there are deeper layers here as he delves ever deeper into his fascinating story. 

According to McHugh, the first stroke came on in 2018 (after he’d finished up a dance class). By doctor’s orders, he went on rest for about a month. In May of this year, approximately two years later, it happened again (starting with a tingling sensation in his hands). The singer-dancer-actor has just completed a three-month break from performance duties with Ashé, hoping to get back to what he loves fully. Meantime, his doctors are stumped as to what brought on the strokes, and McHugh can’t seem to pinpoint what exactly could have triggered it. 

How has he been coping emotionally with such serious health-related challenges? “There is always the fear of it happening again,” he admits. “I think on a deeper level it has a lot to do with how you cope with the stress and pressure in your life, because I do feel overwhelmed at times.” But, he’s learned that the little things are critical. “I talk long walks. I listen to music, and I try to keep myself stress-free,” he reflects, looking out the window. “I’m learning to take things easier. I try to stay on my medication and just take it easy for now.” 

But deep down McHugh is itching to get back to the way things were. His performing-arts journey started with the world-renowned Kingston College Chapel Choir. After leaving KC in 2012, he auditioned for Ashé and got in. Eight years on, he’s evolved into a well-rounded triple threat, who also gets to dabble in costume management, administrative duties like data entry and even community outreach. “When you’re here, it’s like family,” he readily says of the Ashé experience. “You never feel like you don’t belong.” 

“Khumar brings light and joy to Ashé,” says Artistic Director Michael Holgate. “He’s an excellent singer, a good performer and a good ensemble member. He’s one of the members who remembers the choreography easily.” Like so many of his peers, he’s been diversifying his skills. 

Dancing, acting and singing aside, McHugh’s biggest passion is makeup artistry. He’s even kick-started a little side business, Khai Beauty Extreme, and has already worked with such major stars as Alaine. Taking note of these skills, Ashé Executive Director Conroy Wilson has tasked McHugh (a D’Marie Institute alum) with taking charge of the troupe’s image for stage performances.

At the same time, much of this present chapter in Khumar McHugh’s life is really about learning to navigate the rocky road that is adulthood. Doing what he loves, keeping his health in check, staying on his medication. “He has a great future ahead,” says Holgate. “He just needs to choose to fully invest heart, soul and mind into himself as an artist.” 

A big step for him was moving out of his parents’ home on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston to renting his own place in Barbican. “I’ve learned to accept myself,” he says, looking forward to pursuing a Media & Communications degree at the University of Technology. “Being on my own has come with a lot of pressure. It’s not easy being independent. But you can’t take things for granted. You have to be grateful for every moment.”

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