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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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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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Broadway Black Activism

Sarah Baartman to Kim Kardashian comparison reveals the need for more black critics

Broadway Black

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“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.

 

Zainab Jah in Venus | Image: Joan Marcus

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*

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