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James Ijames Talks “Kill Move Paradise” & How We’re All A Witness To A Brutal Phenomenon

Jamara Wakefield

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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.

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A Superhero On & Off The Stage, Camille A. Brown Brings ink

Drew Shade

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Camille A. Brown Photo by Whitney Browne

Camille A. Brown Photo by Whitney Browne

Camille A. Brown‘s dance company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, tours nationally and internationally and will be presenting six performances featuring the debut of ink at The Joyce Theater NYC Feb 5-10th 2019.

Propelled by the live rhythms and sounds of traditional African and handmade instruments, Camille A. Brown’s ink celebrates the rituals, gestures, and traditions of the African diaspora. Highlighting themes of brotherhood, community, and resilience, the work seeks to reclaim African American narratives and is the final installment of Brown’s dance theater trilogy about identity.

In addition to her company works, Ms. Brown brings her passion for storytelling to her award-winning choreography for Broadway, Television, and Off-Broadway. Productions include Tony Award Winning Once On This Island, (Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Chita Rivera award nominations), Emmy Award Winning Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC, A Streetcar Named DesireChoir Boy, the upcoming Magic Mike The Musical, PAL JOEY. 

We had the chance to probe a little bit into the world of Camille A. Brown, and we’re grateful for the insight and wisdom with which she was able to bless us. Check out the interview below along with an excerpt from ink.

Broadway Black (BB): After forming the idea, what was the process of building ink?

Camille A. Brown (CAB): After the creative process for BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, I held a desire to dig even deeper and tell more stories of ritual, gestural vocabulary, and traditions of the African Diaspora. I was immediately drawn to two albums that had a significant impact on me when I was growing up. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, and Like Water for Chocolate by Common. I tasked myself with creating a movement language that embodied the same raw authenticity, and vulnerability that fuels those lyrics and music.

As I began to develop the concept for ink, I wanted the dancers to represent superheroes. I couldn’t figure out why I had the urge to play with this idea until I read Question Bridge: Black Males in America. One of the men interviewed said, “I see Black people as comic book heroes because they always keep rising.” That was it! It is about showing that in our basic survival, and natural attributes we have superhuman powers. Powers to shift, overcome, transform, and persevere even within an often hostile environment. The seven sections of ink represent super powers of spirituality, history and heritage, the celebration of the Black female body, Black love, brotherhood, exhaustion, and community.
The process involves a deep collaboration with the dancers and my direction is guided by their choice making.

The space is very organic and fueled by research. My dancers, musicians, dramaturgs, and I are in constant dialogue throughout the process about the work and how it’s progressing. We don’t move forward unless we’re all on the same page.

We are building the work together. As a disclaimer, I let everyone know the process will be exceptionally tedious. Like a fine comb, I go through each beat, gage the temperature of storylines, and make sure the movement and music are always in conversation (whether aligned or in contrast).

BB: What made you want to start your own dance company and how have you sustained?

CAB: I found my love of choreography in college because I struggled with body image, and found that creating my own voice was a safe and empowering space. After graduating, I danced with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence for 5 seasons and during my second year with The Company, a friend from college (Amy Page) sent me a flyer for the Hubbard Street 2 competition which picks 3 choreographers to create work on the Company. I was chosen! That gave me the encouragement to pursue choreography. My first idea was to take an alias like female writers used to do because even at 22, I knew the playing field was not leveled and women (particularly black women) did not get as much exposure as male choreographers. Dance is revealing and vulnerable so taking an alias wasn’t a realistic option. People would have to see me as I am, but I also needed the confidence to withstand the obstacles. Not only that, having a company seemed daunting.
Ron wore so many hats. He was the director, choreographer, teacher, and also took on administrative duties. He never got a break. I wasn’t confident I could handle all of the duties.

I set work on other companies, but soon realized it wasn’t for me. 1-4 weeks working with a Company wasn’t enough time for me to really hone my skills, find my voice, and discover my personal creative process. I desired a more intimate relationship and space with my dancers and collaborators. I had my first show at Joyce SoHo in 2006, and committed to having a company in 2010.

What sustains CABD is my team. I have a company agent (Pamela Green), Managing Director (Indira Goodwine), Company Manager (Michelle Fletcher), and a production team who holds things down.

In the beginning, I was doing ALL the jobs! As time went on, my team slowly formed. It’s really about patience and perseverance. Nothing happened over night and everything is a progression.

BB: How have you had to be a superhero in your own life personally and professionally?

CAB:

Personally
Last year, I had a life-threatening experience. My appendix ruptured on tour. Appendicitis is when they remove your appendix before it ruptures, but mine actually did and the fluid was in my system for at least a week. I survived the “fatal” stage- which the doctors told me isn’t common. This started a very long year and a half which included 4 hospital stints and two surgeries (my second one was in April). This all happened during Once on This Island (I was in the hospital the first week of rehearsal and had my first surgery during tech), Jesus Christ Superstar Live, and my Company touring. I had to access my “superpowers” and push through, but thankfully I had my team and community to help me.
I’m going to be writing about the entire ordeal because it was such an integral part of my life. People see the “success”, but if they only knew the hardships I had to overcome to get to the other side.

Professionally

Being a Black female Choreographer and Director is hard. People ask me to do I feel like I’ve arrived. Absolutely not. I’m still Black and a woman- two underrepresented groups- particularly in theater. The playing field is still not leveled and I’m clear I have to work twice as hard.
I’ve had to build up strength and confidence. It is an ongoing process of gathering those superpowers. In many spaces, I’m sometimes the only woman (I was the only woman on the creative team for Jesus Christ Superstar Live), and the only black person in some rooms.
Recently two black girls at different events asked me the same exact question: How do you navigate spaces where you’re the only one.

It’s quite easy to feel intimated and shrink yourself. I know I have done that in the past. Now, I’ve found if I think about the black women before me in similar spaces, black women who are currently in similar spaces, and the next generation of black women coming after me, it makes me more confident. When it’s not just about you, it becomes a responsibility.

And even when I don’t feel like I have any superpowers, this happens…

and it refuels and encourages me to keep going. Someone is always watching.

“Turf” (Excerpt from “ink”) – Camille A. Brown & Dancers – Grace Farms (2018) from Camille A. Brown & Dancers on Vimeo

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Q&A: Kyle Beltran & Kristolyn Lloyd Talk Blue Ridge, Actor Growth, What Makes Them Smile & More!

Drew Shade

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Kyle Beltran & Krystloyn Lloyd Photo by Drew Shade

Kristolyn Lloyd (Dear Evan Hanson, Paradise Blue) and Kyle Beltran (In The Heights, Head of Passes, The Cherry Orchard)  are currently starring in Blue Ridge through Sunday, January 27th, 2019 Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company in the Linda Gross Theater .

Kristolyn Lloyd & Kyle Beltran Photo by Drew Shade

A progressive high-school teacher with a rage problem retaliates against her unscrupulous boss and is sentenced to six months at a church-sponsored halfway house, where she attends to everyone’s recovery but her own. Set in Southern Appalachia, Blue Ridge is a pitch-dark comedy about heartbreak, hell-raising and healing.

Get into the gems dropped by the pair in this Q&A below!

When did you first know you wanted to become an actor?
Kristolyn Lloyd: I was 17 playing Hamlet in a high school production that would compete all around the state and I was sitting with my director mapping out Hamlets arc in the show. It was like a bolt of lighting, “I wanna do this for the rest of my life.”I had always been obsessed with performing for family, at my church, and in school shows. The kind of bubbly nervous I got before going on stage was so different from the gut-wrenching nerves I felt before a track or swim meet. I knew what I was doing when I went out on stage. I felt powerful and I felt like I finally belonged somewhere.
Kyle Beltran (KB): I knew from an early age. I was an only child with a very vivid imagination and I loved playing pretend to occupy myself and to entertain others. I performed constantly for my family–skits, magic shows, song and dance. I was obsessed with movies, music and musicals. Someone suggested to my parents that they should seek out representation for me and I signed with my first agent at age four. I grew up auditioning for and, sometimes, shooting commercials.
 
I was in my first school play in fifth grade, which really ignited my love for the theater and I performed in countless shows over the years, in school and at summer camp.
A big turning point for me, though, was when I transferred from the University of Pennsylvania to the drama school at Carnegie Mellon, after my freshman year. I’d always been very serious about academics, but once I got to college, the pull in my gut towards the arts was almost painful. I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in the business, I needed to be the best craftsman I could possibly be. Making that the decision felt like the first real, adult step towards following my dreams.
 
What about Blue Ridge made you say “Yes! I want to do that.” …?
KL: The overall attempt at articulating the current conversation regarding race and privilege and the complexity of love. I felt like “Cherie” was someone I could identify with and I wanted to tell HER story. She felt so familiar. I wanted her to win. I wanted to spend time on her story and in her skin and her emotions.
 
KB: I was so excited when I read Blue Ridge because the writing is so layered, so hilarious and heartbreaking, so nuanced and subtle in its exploration of these huge socio-political and socio-psychological ideas. The play is richly and specifically drawn with no “good” or “bad guys.” The character I play, Wade, is recovering from a life-derailing addiction and quietly working very hard through past traumas and anger issues to become the best version of himself. I feel very lucky to get to bring him to life.

 

How have you grown as an actor in the last year? How have you grown since starting Blue Ridge?
KL: I think I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for directors. Every director I’ve worked with in the last year has trusted me and allowed me to have a voice and take risks. I made a decision this year to trust my director more and honor their third eye. I think as actors we make decisions about characters and get nervous or insecure when those choices are challenged. I want to direct one day so I want to be the kind of collaborative actor I would want to work with when I’m on the other side of the table. Taibi was so easy to trust. She is open and vulnerable and humble and it only made me want to hear her vision and thoughts more.
 
KB: I’ve been fortunate enough to be in four completely different plays in the last year–all new works, by talented writers. I’ve been stretched to work in different styles, playing characters with wildly varied personalities, ages, and arcs. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. I’ve also lived through substantial show business heartbreak, which sometimes provides even more personal growth than the work does. I’ve learned so much this year about patience, grace, and resilience.
(more questions after the photo gallery)
What have you learned from doing this particular show? What have the themes of the play taught you?
KL: I have grown a deeper empathy for people. We are all just people walking around doing our best with all our baggage and trauma from childhood. No one is safe from their triggers and insecurities. So like, be kind and mind your business lol!
 
KB: Working on Blue Ridge has been such a gift. The creative team, cast, and crew are full of smart, kind, passionate people. In rehearsal, we had so many amazing conversations about race, gender, addiction, politics, religion, education, etc. It’s been an experience that has reminded me again of the power of empathy. We’re all doing the best with can with our unique set of life circumstances and traumas. Everyone is in a different place on the path toward healing, but everyone deserves compassion. Although, it can be hard to locate sometimes for people who are lashing out, or behaving in ways that harm others.
 
What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor?
KL: Trust your instincts and the skills you possess and be constantly working to improve them.
KB: I wish I would’ve started practicing more self-compassion earlier. Letting go of perfectionism, self-flagellation, comparison to others. My advice to my younger self and to young actors is to keep returning your attention to the work over and over, like a meditation. There are a lot of distractions in the business. Be kind to yourself and others. Be patient. Hold on to your passion and joy. If you’re in the business long enough, you are guaranteed to see great successes and failures. It’s all opportunity for growth. Truly.
 
Do you think you really understood what you were in for when you decided you wanted to become an actor?
KL: Nope. Not. At. All.
KB: I don’t think anything can prepare you for life as an actor. It’s more painful AND magical that I could ever articulate. It’s good to listen to and borrow from the wisdom of people who are ahead of you in the journey. At the same time, everyone’s path is so different. Only experience can teach you.
 
What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet?
KL: Anything opposite Kyle Beltran
KB: I would love to do more Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince Hal, Romeo, Mercutio, Ariel, Puck, to name a few.
 
What makes you smile?
KL: Kyle Beltran
KB: So many things… Good books, movies, music, plays, television. Meditation. Friends and family. My Blue Ridge castmates. Kristolyn Lloyd! People fighting for democracy.

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