Welcome to Black Women of the American Theatre!
Ever get curious about how the Black women who are motivating you with their work and ideas are finding joy? What quotes and affirmations they live by? What their favorite book is or what they’re reading right now? Well I do, and each FRIDAY I’m releasing a new interview with a Black Woman active in the field right now. Read in to discover answers to these unique and intricate questions.
I hope this weekly virtual event creates a fluidity between those working/creating in the field and our larger community. This is for the ones who haven't picked up an AT magazine or been turned on to HowlRound yet. This series want to celebrate the wide breadth of humanity, the spirit of Black women and open us up to a fuller (and in no way complete) range of who these women are.
This blog series is a string of intimate interviews designed to be a cross-peer source of inspiration, a tool guide for up-and-coming generations of Black women and all artists who are drawn towards a career in theatre. When you're in a joy drought, searching for new ideas on how to focus, or struggling to figure out how to balance your care-taking responsibilities with your demanding work schedule - this is your place.
This week, I am in communion with Nicole Brewer. Nicole is a whole queen- an actor, director, and thought leader who is transforming the field with her "results focused" Anti-Racist pedagogy. Although Nicole is my peer and colleague, I can't even lie, I am a total fangirl constantly geeking out over her brilliance.
Here are a few links to that brightness, and if you haven't read them yet, STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING, YES, I KNOW THAT MEANS LOOKING AT MY BLOG AND GO READ THEM NOW.
If you’re reading this blog and this your first time learning about Nicole Brewer, you’re welcome. :-)
Her response when I approached her about being featured on my blog will stay with me forever and it is truly an honor to be in communion with her. In this interview Nicole talks about her struggle with seasonal depression, gives dibs on her favorite teas, and shares with us her dreams for the future.
I am empowered by her transparency and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
How you identify yourself as an artist/ (or/and) administrator:
Director/ Educator/ Anti-Racist Theatre Facilitator / Writer/ Actor
My friend, Monet Marshall, always asks me this: What is bringing you joy right now ?
The podcast How to Survive The End of the World by Autumn Brown and Adrienne Maree Brown. These two folx have these incredible guests on and challenge me to think about how I can show up whole in the work I do. They are helping me to unlearn some deeply rooted values, ideas and ways of being that impede upon my healing and liberation. I’m also in this moment working to be more intentional about the time I spend with my kids- making sure I hug them and engage in an activity we both enjoy.
From where/what are you drawing inspiration from these days?
BLACK WOMXN! They are filling these holes in my soul. Reminding me that I am no less than the wonder I see around me.
What are you passionate about? Can you share with us some of your dreams?
Liberation! I dream about what it would be like for me to show up and be without all the structures that were built to keep me doubting my imperfect perfection. I am dreaming of a home for me and my family with enough bathrooms and bedrooms for everyone to have their own space and a yard with a hammock for reading. A dream that I’ve held years now is writing a book about anti-racist theatre practice...this is my year for desire to move from my head and heart to ink on paper.
Are you practicing self-care? What are some of the ways? What are your goals around how you care for yourself?
My self care is drinking my favorite tea ( which is a treat because it is really expensive) Island Mango from Capital Teas* if anyone is interested in gifting me some. It is going to therapy and sending love letters to people I love but don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. My goals for self care are to change how I feel about the action of tending to myself-to be in community with others who are just as serious about taking care of themselves, and to allow my self-care to grow and manifest as community care.
Are there times when you feel like you are in a creative drought, or that it takes more muscle than usual to get to work on things, even when you care about them? What are some ways you work through to overcome that feeling?
I have seasonal depression that has in the past been excurabated during and after pregnancy. It’s as if the color and wonder of life has eroded to grey. I find myself binging on a lot of fantasy movies/ tv shows I feel lethargic and uninspired. I’m no longer in denial about my depression so when the symptoms start I talk about them with my therapist, my family, myself- I try to take stock of what I need to give attention to. I try to remember that my thoughts about myself and others are particularly harsh when my depression is active and the way back to tecnicolor is through connecting with others, reading a book, listening to music and podcasts, laughing and dancing. The way back is in action, becoming activated, and disrupting damaging thoughts with prayer, positive mantras, kisses from my kids, and aromatherapy.
What initially drew you to the theatre? Is there something/someone you remember being influenced or impacted by? How did you come to choose theatre as a form of artistic expression?
THE APPLAUSE! I saw the Phantom of the Opera when I was twelve and when the chandelier came swinging in from over the audience I was hooked. I wanted to be an actor. I loved the idea that I could transform into another person- wear different clothes, have incredibly gorgeous partners, travel all around, and be considered valuable. Theatre is the best blend of artistry- I love words and there is nothing like the thrill I get from getting to say a playwrights masterful line of text. My creativity impulses are at there best when I’m working with others so the collaborative nature of theatere is a perfect fit for me. I also love watching and learning from people who are just magic. They inspire me to do my best work.
Do you listen to music when you work? What helps to keep you focused?
Yes I absolutely do. The music changes depending on the project. About two months ago I was listening to Tank and Bangas Green Balloon on repeat. When I need to feel all up in my Blackness then Beyonce's Homecoming album which reminds me of my time as a student at Howard University is blasting from the speakers. If I’m writing I listen to music in languages I don’t speak so my concentration isn’t broken. If I’m directing a play I listen to all kinds of music to help drop me further into the world of the play.
Considering a history of marginalization, what does it mean to you to be a black woman in your position right now in the American Theatre?
I feel a responsibility to make this field better for the generations of Black Womxn who will come after me. I’m ready to make my contribution to the movement of liberation and equality just as millions of Black womxn have done before me. I have committed myself to speaking about racism and other oppressive constructs in the theatre. I’m also committed to living the anti-racist theatre theory I teach others. This means I’m in the trenches with everyone else unlearning patriarchy, white supremacy, meritocracy, ableism- I’m learning to be present with the wisdom to undo the harm and will spend the rest of my life working to uproot those ideas/values in me.
Kaja Dunn and I always talk about this: If you are a parent/ primary caretaker, can you expand on how you navigate/balance your responsibilities as a parent/caretaker and your life in theatre? (“I don’t know” is a valid answer) -Is there any advice you might give another parent/caretaker working on balancing it all?
I could not have the career I have today without my village. That includes my retired parents who step in for long stretches when I’m traveling but also family and friends who assist with child care for shorter trips. My village watches my children for free and that is huge. They encourage me to keep pursuing my career. They lift me up when I don’t get the full time positions I applied too. I try to include my kids in my work as much as I can so they can see me in other roles besides their “Mom” they can see me working on things I am passionate about. My advice to other folx with caretaker responsibilities is to ask for the help/ support/ assistance you need. People may say no but you asked and made clear what you need in order to the work being asked of you.
When you imagine the American theatre 5-10 years from now, what are you dreaming about? I dream the book I’m daring to write this year will be standard reading, that everyone will have an anti-racist theatre ethos and that many more folx will be committed to attending to the harm they have cause and working to become in right relationship with people and the environment. I hope we will have many more young BIPOC, queer, diabled theatremakers running theatres.
Can you share a notable moment in your career? Something you’re proud of? Are you excited about anything up now, or upcoming?
Right now I would have to say when I attend events and introduce myself and people recognize my name and share with me what it meant for them to read my articles or have attended a workshop that never gets old. Especially because it takes such a tremendous effort for me to produce anything so receiving affirmations about my work is for me always notable. It’s also cool to think my work is going all around the country and helping inspire conversations about racist policies.
Is there a quote/ affirmation you live you by?
This is hard for me because I absolutely LOVE quotes. I have them scribbled in journals, scrap pieces of paper. Quotes are in screenshots in my phone I LOVE QUOTES. They help guide me to a deeper understanding of my life, work, and relationships. I think the quotes I love the most are the ones that remind me that I have the power to be extraordinary everyday. Right now I’m ruminating on “do not disrespect your heart. by hearing what it needs. and giving it the opposite.” -Nayyirah.waheed