National Black Theatre is now premiering the surrealist drama “Kill Move Paradise”, written by James Ijames.
This play imagines the lives of police brutality victims stuck in purgatory. The drama follows Isa (Ryan Jamaal Swain), Daz (Clinton Lowe), Grif (Donnell E. Smith) and Tiny (Sidiki Fofana) as they explore their new paradise while they wrestle with memories of the world they violently departed.
According to Ijames the title, “Kill Move Paradise“, reflects the quickness of these deaths. He says “their quick succession and the lack of consequences felt like a video game to me. Like these men and women had some how found themselves inside of a game they didn’t agree to play. I wanted the title of the play to bring to mind video game titles.”
The Philadelphia based writer also states that the work is ‘hyper-theatrical’ yet anchors itself in real events. Ijames wrote “Kill Move Paradise” in the emotional weeks after the Charleston church massacre. This event coupled with the murders of Black people nationwide at the hand of state sanctioned violence heavily influenced the work, yet Ijames wants audiences to understand that in 2017 this play still resonates and is responding to the epidemic.
For Ijames, the goal is to leave audiences “reminded that we are witnesses to this phenomenon. I hope they are stirred to action and out of complacency. Saheem Ali, the director of the production, put the audience on both sides of the play and I think that teases out something really true about the play. We can passively watch what’s happening or we can speak back to and interact with what’s happening.”
Saheem Ali aesthetically couples the Elysium of Greek antiquity with Afro Futurism. The work illustrates the present-day lives of Black people, while interrogating and re-examining the past. The National Black Theatre describes the play as an “expressionistic buzz saw through the contemporary myth that ‘all lives matter.’ It is a portrait of the slain, not as degenerates who deserve death but as heroes who demand that we see them for the splendid beings they are.”
The “Kill Move Paradise” award-winning creative team includes, Maruti Evans (scenic design), Alan Edwards (lighting design), Palmer Hefferan (sound design) and Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene (costume design). Choreographer Darrell Moultrie serves as the theatrical movement coach. Christina Franklin is the stage manager.
“Kill Move Paradise”, runs now through June 25, 2017 at the National Black Theatre in Harlem.
Sarah Baartman to Kim Kardashian comparison reveals the need for more black critics
“A Kim Kardashian of another era returns in Suzan-Lori Park’s ‘Venus,'” – New York Times
On Tuesday, The New York Times received serious criticism for their choice to run an article about the play Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, comparing the life of Saartjie Baartman, a 19th century enslaved woman known for her exaggerated body features to that of Kim Kardashian. The play opened on May 15th at the Signature Theatre, and stars Obie Award winner Zainab Jah (Eclipsed) as Baartman, chronicling her life journey on the London Freak Show circuit.
In a review written by Ben Brantley, he drew several comparisons between Baartman and Kim K. stating “Attention, please, those of you whose greatest ambition is to acquire the traffic-stopping body of Kim Kardashian, there is a less drastic alternative to costly and dangerous buttocks implants.” However, this delusional comparison between the very privileged, wealthy life of Kim K to that of Baartman, who lived in inhumane conditions and died in poverty, speaks volumes to need for black critics in a very oversaturated white theater world.
Kim Kardashian has grown up living a life comparable to “lifestyles of the rich and famous”, nothing of which Baartman ever experienced. Kim has played up her body features as part of her imaging and branding, making it a profitable part of her career. Baartman, also known as the “Hottentot Venus”, was forced to travel as a part of a European freak show, where her body was ridiculed by onlookers.
According to South African History online, her owner “began exhibiting her in a cage alongside a baby rhinoceros. Her “trainer” would order her to sit or stand in a similar way that circus animals are ordered. At times Baartman was displayed almost completely naked, wearing little more than a tan loincloth, and she was only allowed that due to her insistence that she cover what was culturally sacred. Baartman died in poverty at the age of 26 in 1816. Her body was then dissected and placed on display at the Musée de l’Homme until 1974. Baartman’s life
Twitter erupted immediately following the article, with several speaking to the very problem that occurs when you have white critics that lack historical context, critiquing black narratives.
Rebecca Theodore, a black film critic, tweeted to the issue of surface level reporting and the need for Black women critics.
The New York Times has since deleted the tweet and issued an apology for the poor “headline” but not the article itself. Unfortunately, this will continue to happen unless “The Great White Way” opens it’s doors to some people of color reviewing that which they know best. The hiring of critics, writers, editors who are people of color could be the first step in ensuring that this problem occurs with less frequency.
Across the board, media has an issue with the amount of black and brown people on staff doing the work on black and brown topics. This same problem often occurs when white editors, writers, and critics are asked to review cultures outside of their own. Their lack of first-hand knowledge often lends to the problem of assessing bodies of work through a white gaze, rather than the population that is most impacted by the work. The continued comparison of Baartman to Kim Kardashian shows a refusal of white writers to comprehend the black experience. When black centered movies, stories, and experiences are created Black and Brown writers are necessary to give proper critique of the shared narrative and experience from the lens of first person. However, this story speaks to another problem that occurs when you don’t use google to research what has been spoken on the topic already.
As simple as this sounds, there is no reason that google was not used prior to making the decision to run this piece. Anyone who is writing a piece should do at the bare minimum research into the topic they are discussing to inquire if it had been written about before. Had the New York Times simply googled the words “Kim Kardashian Saartjie Baartman”, they would’ve realized that this controversy had already been discussed in full length almost 3 years ago when the same horrible comparison was made. The disregard for research around the play Venus shows the gross nature in which plays centered in blackness are reviewed and the effort one puts into getting that correct.
Going forward, things like this will continue to happen unless media publications and outlets realize the importance of having employees that are reflective of the stories and events they are going to be covering. The New York Times apology follows a long history of retractions and misstatements made by publications who continue to operate using a white lens. If they are going to continue to use white writers to discuss black narratives, I urge you to save yourself sometime a leave it to those who know best.
*Saartjie Baartman is often referred to as “Sarah” Baartman to make her name more pronounceable*
Exclusive: Denée Benton and Okieriete Onaodowan Talk Great Comet, Diversity & Artivism
Two Black actors leading a show that encourages inclusive casting and ignores gender norms set in Moscow in 1812. How “non-traditional.” But is it really?
Benton, who plays Natasha with whimsical naïveté, has the role of her dreams in her Broadway debut further inspired by her never having to deny her Blackness to do it.
“I remember having my hair texture was very important to [the creative team] and important to me. I was like, ‘I couldn’t let this moment pass by for a Black woman in all of her Blackness being Natasha.’ I thought it was just very important but the fact that there’s a creative team that shares the consciousness and none of them are people of color, it’s just… it was incredible to me.”
This same consciousness of the creative team was also very key throughout her audition process. Having auditioned previously for director Rachel Chavin and writer Dave Malloy, any initial hesitations about going out for Great Comet dissipated once she got her hands on the material and fell in love with the music and her character, adding “there was synergy and everything was right and that’s when I knew it was mine.”
On the other hand, Onaodowan was quite busy playing the tailor-turned-spy Hercules Mulligan and soft-spoken James Madison in Broadway’s hit Hamilton when he received the call. “Rachel called on my second to last show of Hamilton. We were talking about the Ghostlight Project and she told me, ‘Actually I want you to be Pierre.’
“I learned ‘Dust and Ashes’ and I played some for the producers and then I worked with a piano teacher. The main thing was to make sure I could play the piano.” Now in early stages of preparations, Onaodowan commits to getting the technicalities and nuances of Pierre out of the way before deep-diving into his story. We look forward to seeing “Oak” on stage again, but this time on 45th street, the same street declared “Broadway Black Street” during the 2015-2016 season where The Great Comet plays nightly.
“It’s just understanding. Broadway is in a weird spot because there’s only so many seats you can sell, and it’s a risk taking on something that may be culturally relevant or moving the needle along; but again, it’s business. It’s financially making your money back and making a profit.”
He adds the best part of the success from Hamilton isn’t its diversity, per say, but that Hamilton is “terribly profitable.” That “these people and this music, this style/genre of music is profitable so, hopefully, producers say ‘Hey I can make a dollar.’”
Similarly, Denée chimes in: “What I found is you have a lot of well-meaning creative teams who are liberal people, who have good hearts but haven’t necessarily done the research in what it means to break a system that was based on systematic racism.” That said, it will take creative teams like those of The Great Comet to step outside of the box, for there to ever be any true progress for actors of color.
Onaodowan is also aware it doesn’t solely fall on those who make the shows, but those who see the shows. “[Ticket-holders] buy tickets. If you see a show that is diverse, even if you’re not crazy about it, go out and support it because you’re saying ‘I support diverse theatre and there’s an avenue for this,’ it can be profitable.”
Still, both actors maintain hope for the future; hopefully, one that shines as bright as the light fixture in the finale of The Great Comet.
With the way social media has taken off, it allows some of our favorite stars to interact with fans about upcoming projects or simply enlighten them about issues that affect society, helping them stay optimistic and outspoken. It’s “artivism,” as the BAC calls it. Something both Benton and Onaodowan haven’t taken lightly. Benton, this past Black History Month, launched what she calls the “Black Princess Project” to highlight Black royalty that we otherwise wouldn’t have learned.
“That’s the only reason fame matters, because you have such a wide platform and, nowadays, if they won’t teach it in our history books, you can just post it and I like that. For me, it’s important. This would all start to feel meaningless if I couldn’t use [my platform] to change something or say something.”
As the son of Nigerian immigrants, Onaodowan has remained outspoken about immigration rights, giving the keynote address to a crowd of new citizens naturalized in New York City last September.
He also stresses the importance of artists using their voices to uplift communities and speak out about what matters. “I think artists do have a [civic] responsibility at some point. I always say as artists, you are responsible. If you have that platform you are responsible for what you put out there, and as much as you would love to just do your art, when you reach a certain level there’s [sic] certain things that come with your job.
“I don’t know how to write grants or run a non-for-profit or anything like that. But, in my lane, what I can do is use this platform of how many thousand people listen to me to try to put something positive out in my own personal way. It’s important to use your platform to say something because people listen.”
Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan joins Denée Benton in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on July 3rd.
For tickets, follow the Great Comet.
Darnell Lamont Walker: After Fences.
Our fathers, when they’ve seen all they care to see of this world, find solace in their doing better for their children than their fathers did for them, and the children are running laps inside a fence, figuring out how to hold them accountable for their wrongdoings and simultaneously forgive them because we know they’ve given their best.
My father told me another man, a man he respected, was my grandfather because, at 16, his father stopped being his dad. I was 16 when my grandmother corrected the narrative. Before my father was my father he was a kid who’d cry at the simplest things, my aunt says. My father says he became a man when he caught his father beating the woman who’d become my grandmother, and my father beat him. That man no longer had a son, according to my father.
So much of my dad pours out of me when I’m talking to my son and I’ve given up fighting those parts of him; those parts I hated when I was a kid but able to recognize emotional stunting and an inability to be vulnerable. I want to be a good father. I don’t want to be a good father just in relation to my mine. Just good for goodness sake.
The better parts of my father I’m mixing with the better parts of me. I’ve planted the broken parts of him in my empty spaces and giving him a second chance at growing with me. I feel whole, and maybe my wholeness makes him better.
You save the few things that didn’t burn in the fire, that didn’t get crushed under the force, that didn’t drown when he held them under, and you bring the rest to the ground. You always build it better the second time around.
-Darnell Lamont Walker
Is This Real Life or Is It Fantasy? ‘The Soul Of Richard Rodgers’
Minding my business, scrolling through Instagram and I stumble across a picture Princess Amber Iman put up of Billy Porter directing something. Cool, I think. As we know Billy is not only a talented actor/singer, but he’s also established himself to be quite the director. I keep scrolling, theres a picture of Leslie Odom Jr., Mykal Kilgore, Capathia Jenkins, and Jesse Nager. Again, I think REALLY COOL, a few of my favorites. THEN, I scroll and theres a picture of Nicolette Robinson, Rema Webb, Adrienne Warren and Amber Iman and I think, OKAY WHAT IS ACTUALLY GOING ON!
A photo posted by Amber Iman (@amberskyez) on
Each posted needed with the the hashtag #thesoulofrogers , which reminded me of something back when I saw Leslie Odom Jr. at the McKittrick Hotel. When he casually called up Ledisi (when you wanna come back to Broadway, sis?) to the stage and she sang a Billy Porter arranged “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” from Richard Rodgers’ Pal Joey. Billy had arranged it as apart of a revue called The Soul of Richard Rodgers which was presented at Reprise Theater Company in LA in 2009.
In the lab with the great @ledisi X @theebillyporter X @lofeymvzik X @doctorsoundmix on the boards 🔊 #MvxxleMvzik™💪🏽🎶 #6DegreesOfLoferelli #MusicLife #ItsInTheDNA #YouHaveNoChoiceButToListen #FxckYouWeDoWhatWeWant #TheSoulOfRichardRodgers #ThatWork #Ledisi #BillyPorter #NewShxt
A video posted by ℒᎾℱℰᎽ (New Page) MvxxleMvzik (@lofeymvzik) on
So, is it possible that Billy Porter and Co. are bringing it back, this time to the east coast? One can only hope and pray that this turns out to be true and if indeed it is, I will be first in line to buy a ticket, CD, MP3 link, DVD, cassette tape, whatever is possible to hear that talented group of Broadway Black artists singing songs from one of the most brilliant composers.
Don’t worry, over here at Broadway Black we’re keeping our eyes peeled to keep YOU all in the loop. Stay Tuned.
Taye Diggs Gives Poetic Insight Into Effects of Police Brutality On The Black Family
Late last night Broadway actor and heartthrob, Taye Diggs, took to the internet to post a poem on the effects of police brutality on the Black family. The poem is from a young black boy’s point of view and gives incredibly heartbreaking insight into a serious matter currently taking place within our country. In the poem, the young child is confused and can’t quite understand what is happening as his parents seem to be upset and angered by what is taking place on the television in their living room. The boy asks, “what is this tv show.”
Im finished brushing my teeth I’m coming down the stairs I’m ready for my bedtime story Does anybody care —————————————— I’m standing in my P. J.s My bunny slippers on But Ma and Pa are watching tv I think something’s wrong ——————————————- Why is mommy crying Pa She’s pointing at the screen It’s like she knows them people People I never seen ——————————————– And why does daddy look so mad Mommy do you know He keeps on rubbing the side of his head And walking to and fro ——————————————- What is this tv show —————————————– And now I start to feel real weird My insides getting heavy I yell at mommy one more time Daddy Are you forgetting —————————————- Mama slowly turns to me Her face fighting the tear She cut the tv off right quick She kneels and pulls me near Why is daddy leaving the room Why did he slam the door Mommy searches for her words In the matted carpeted floor —————————————- Honey something very bad happened We didn’t want you to see But we just saw a man get shot Right on our colored tv ————————————- Why would someone shoot that man You both said guns were not good Did the man steal or rob someone Was he not doing what he should ————————————— Then I feel my mama’s anger The straight stiff of her back No she hissed through her teeth Police shot him cuz he was black —————————————- I tilt my head with question As Daddy enters still blue But my skins dark just like the Man’s Does that mean I’ll die too? —————————————– Ma and pa stare at each other Blank scared looks on the front of their heads Neither of them could say a word As I imagine myself……. Dead.
What makes this poem so gut-wrenching is the reality of the situation. This poem is currently taking place in thousands of Black homes across America. This isn’t some imagined scenario. Turning on the television and seeing ourselves murdered by people who swore to protect us is scary enough as adults, but we have children and those children have questions. It becomes incredibly challenging trying to explain why a person was killed when your child asks, “Why would someone shoot the man? You both said guns were not good. Did the man steal or rob someone? Was he not doing what he should?” Children don’t understand words like “profiling” or terms like “systematic racism.” All they understand is good or bad, right or wrong. Their innocence does not allow their impressionable minds to see behind whatever farce is presented.
Diggs’ poem also captures the frustration Black parents feel when searching for the right words to use when answering these questions. “Why is daddy leaving the room, why did he slam the door? Mommy searches for her words in the matted carpeted floor. Honey something very bad happened. We didn’t want you to see, but we just saw a man get shot on tv.” There is a certain anger that forms within a Black parent when we are forced to introduce these types of things to our children’s psyche. Having to ruin what is supposed to be a stressless, carefree time in a person’s life with cruel realities inspire bitterness, resentment, pain, sorrow and ultimately hurt. At the risk of sounding elementary- It just isn’t fair.
We applaud Taye for being able to capture what so many of us are feeling as parents and for bringing that innocent pain of our children to the forefront to be confronted and discussed.
(If your comments mention Diggs having been previously married to a white woman or being the father of a bi-racial son, you will have proven you’ve missed the point and are as simple as you are making this issue. So…don’t.)
Bay Street Cancels Prince of Egypt Concert Following Diversity Concerns
ICYM this week’s episode of “White People Need to Stop,” the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor raised eyebrows when they announced their casting for its staged reading of Dreamworks Theatrical’s The Prince of Egypt, based on the animated musical film.
The cast would feature Casey Cott (CW’s “Riverdale”) as ‘Moses,’ Stark Sands (Kinky Boots, American Idiot) as ‘Ramses,’ Solea Pfeiffer (Hollywood Bowl’s West Side Story) as ‘Tzipporah,’ Marin Mazzie (The King and I, Ragtime) as ‘Queen Tuya,’ Shuler Hensley (Young Frankenstein) as ‘Pharaoh Seti,’ J.C. Montgomery (Shuffle Along, The Scottsboro Boys) as ‘Jethro,’ John Cariani (Something Rotten) as ‘Aaron,’ with Ryan Knowles as ‘High Priest Hotep,’ Julia Motyka as ‘Miriam,’ Joanna Howard as ‘Nefertari,’ Desi Oakley as ‘Yocheved,’ and Dakota Quackenbush as ‘Young Miriam.’ Ensemble members included Alysha Deslorieux, Brian Flores, and Destan Owens.
Which once again begs the question: were there no more Black or Middle-Eastern actors available? Even for a one-night only concert reading? Clearly, Stewart/Whitley has been taking Hollywood’s ‘Whitewashing the Middle East 101’ course; isn’t that right, “Exodus?” “Gods of Egypt?” “Noah?” “Prince of Persia?” “The Passion of the Christ?” Or perhaps they’re just following the source material:
Naturally, most sane people on social media weren’t having it, and responded accordingly:
It saddens me that after such a wonderful multicultural season on Broadway a piece set in AFRICA has not one POC. #PrinceOfEgypt 😔
— Cynthia Erivo (@CynthiaEriVo) July 23, 2016
— Denée Benton (@DeneeBenton) July 24, 2016
After a year of Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Eclipsed, Waitress, Spring Awakening, The Color Purple, Allegiance — a season so rich in diversity, it’s disheartening that we’re back at it again with the whitewash. Hell, another theater in Chicago landed themselves in hot water after casting a white actor in the Dominican role of Usnavi in their production of In the Heights.
Earlier this week, director Scott Schwartz (son of composer Stephen Schwartz) released a statement on Bay Street’s website:
I know a conversation has been happening about the casting of the upcoming concert of the new stage adaptation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT. It is a conversation that is both timely and of great importance. I want to take a moment to join this dialogue, and to respond to the issues that have been raised.
Let me first say that I hear you, and I take the concerns raised about racial authenticity and diversity in casting very seriously. I always have, and am known for directing and producing shows with highly diverse casts. The other creators of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, from composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Philip LaZebnik to the producers and team at DreamWorks Theatricals, all have a long history of diversity in casting. We all care deeply about making theater and art that is reflective of the multicultural society in which we live. Bay Street Theater as well is committed to hiring artists of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The upcoming presentation of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT is a one night, free concert reading. It will have an extremely limited rehearsal period and it is NOT a full production. There will be no costuming, makeup, or design of any sort, and the music will be performed on just one piano. This show is early in its development, and the focus of the team has been on the script and score, working to make this new musical the best it can be in its writing. We have done a couple of non-public readings of the show, and the cast has been different at each. I am proud to say that we have had diverse casts in all of our developmental steps so far.
Some have written that the cast for this upcoming concert is “all white,” but that is simply not the case. In fact, we have an Equity cast of fifteen actors and five of them are people of color. So while some may not agree with specific choices we may have made for specific roles, I want to assure everyone that having a diverse cast was and is a priority for us.
All of that being said, please rest assured that your concern about the need for diversity and authenticity in this project is something we hear and take seriously. All of us on the creative and producing team hope to continue this conversation, not just about THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, but about diversity and authenticity in casting in all the art we create.
But if having a diverse cast is such a “priority,” then why are only four of the 15 cast members Black, with two of them as part of the ensemble? Add in Flores, who’s Latino, and only 1/3 of the cast includes performers of color. In a story that takes place in Egypt.
That’s not diversity, it’s lazy, whether or not it’s a workshop, or a concert, or a full-fledged stage production.
And I still haven’t forgiven him for Hunchback.
In the age of Hamilton, #BlackLivesMatter, and presidential nominee Donald Trump, race and representation in the media for nonwhite actors is obviously still a major, complex subject.
After a long, dark history of white actors taking and playing cultures and characters that aren’t their own, excluding nonwhite actors from roles they should be playing, and being cast in a role where the character’s race is unspecified 99% of the time, it feels like another slap in the face for performers of color still struggling to find work.
God forbid award-winning actress Norma Dumezweni gets cast as Hermione Granger. God forbid Hamilton casting directors only seek actors of color to portray the roles created for them. And rarely, especially for a show featuring non-Black people of color, is there any authenticity in casting. Just look at Aladdin. It all reeks of hypocrisy.
The entire debacle didn’t go unscathed, however, as Bay Street decided to cancel the August 13th performance all-together, issuing a non-apology on Facebook.
As if this couldn’t get any more bizarre, Schwartz penned another lengthy novel on Bay Street’s Facebook page, detailing how and why they made the decision to cancel the performance. He essentially boiled it down to online harassment of the performers.
Online bullying, especially toward actors much more accessible through social media, is unacceptable, and I commend Schwartz and Bay Street for wanting to protect them. But for him to once again deflect responsibility instead of apologizing for the casting in the first place and acknowledge why people had a problem with it, it seems to contradict any earlier statements he made regarding diversity and reveals his disinterest in racial authenticity.
Finally, the creative team and producers at DreamWorks Theatricals all believe that the story of Moses is one that is embraced and owned by millions and millions of people from every country, race and culture – and we hope that the project we are developing will honor the passion of those who love it. It has always been our aim to create the piece in a way that people of all races and cultures can one day tell the story.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that only white people have been given the opportunity to tell this, or any Biblical story, taking place in the Middle East, which is what people have a problem with. The mainstream can still relate to this or any story with a predominately Middle-Eastern or Black cast.
So, miss me with the excuses. Admit you screwed up, actually listen to what people are saying, take what you learned and apply it into the show’s development.
In the same letter, he announced that Bay Street will now offer a free concert of its production of My Fair Lady, August 13th.