“What are you going to do with this moment?” –EbonyJanice
On Day 1, I stepped into the Shiva Theater at The Public Theater. The same theater that Lin-Manuel Miranda and the beginnings of Hamilton and other great productions were workshopped and developed from the ground up. And I was coming with others expecting me to be as brilliant and smart and talented as I said I was on that application I submitted 11 minutes before the deadline. No pressure.
I walked in, and I immediately felt the room shift. 11 other artists spread across the theater. It was like the first day of school. Or like the first episode of Making the Band. You know, when they get off the plane after their bags have been delayed, hop into the cab, roll up to the house, and for the first time they see the other people who “made it”. That feeling. I could feel them before I really saw them. Brilliant artists. Bold artists. Some who I had recognized and shared similar circles with. Others who I had always been a fan of and secretly wanted to work with for a while. The rest, a gang of strangers who I didn’t know but would grow to learn about very soon. The kinds of artists that are dripping with talent and wisdom and poise and grace, without even uttering a word.
And as if those first 23 seconds weren’t overwhelming enough… Daveed Diggs walks in. More like glides in. Because If you’ve ever seen Daveed enter a room, it’s like he’s got roller-skates glued to the bottom of his kicks. He floats on air with a sense of humility and power that is unparalleled. But, I digress. THIS IS NOT ABOUT DAVEED, DAMMIT!
Except Daveed enters. And he places his right hand over his heart. His eyes, wide with amazement, expand. And he says “wooooooowww…… you all are super heroes.” And all I could think to myself was did Daveed-Hamilton-Blackish-Blindspotting-Motherfucking-Diggs just call me a superhero?!
He continues: “I’ve been watching your videos and reading your applications. I know how amazingly talented you all are… but you have no idea. You’ll find out. Soon.”
And find out… he was right.
If I’m going to be real, when I applied for the #BARS Workshop, I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was signing up for. I knew it was theater-in-verse, but… I mean, what does that even really mean in 2019?! I knew we were going to be creating material because there were three shows on the Public Theater’s website scheduled before we even arrived. WHAT we’d be creating and HOW’d we get to that point was the mystery to me. The only thing I was certain about was that I loved language. That I have been itching for a space to blend my poetry and music and movement. That all I wanted to do was have multiple disciplines converse with one another to tell a fully complex story. That I’m always forced to choose one identity: educator or poet or performer. And that I needed a space that honored and acknowledged me as a multi-hyphenate. A space that wasn’t intimidated by the range of my artistry. That, instead, embraced it. And that this experience would be life-changing. How did I know this? No one sent a raven. No one from a previous cohort dropped me a tip. I just felt it. And I was right. #BARS really changed my life.
The remaining month was full of obstacles and challenges that stretched me as an artist. Free style battles, free style story telling team builders, ice-breaker challenges, deep breathing exercises, warm-ups that honored the instrument by realigning with the body and warming the voice, insanely difficult writing prompts, individual writing activities, group writing activities, role reversals as writers, performers, editors, directors… WE DID IT ALL. What most don’t know is that while this was happening I was in the middle of moving, running a Social Media & Marketing Internship through Spark House, filming for the Litefeet Documentary, in rehearsals for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and stealing time to visit my grandmother who was rushed to the hospital a week before opening. July was insanity!
I wish I could say it was easy. And it was all fun and giggles. But it was the farthest thing from that. Every day, I would go back to EbonyJanice’s question. “what are you going to do with this moment?” And I remember struggling to find words suitable enough for an eloquent response. When EbonyJanice speaks… she rattles your soul. So when she presented me with this soul-shifting question… I had to come correct. I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I tried my best. I told her that I would SHOW UP. That I would ILLUMINATE. And that I would SOAR.
Every day, since answering this question, I set that intention. I walked into that space with my “blacks” – my blank canvas – and I challenged myself to be present in ways that I’ve never been present before. I made a commitment to myself, my ensemble, and the space, that I would write the hardest I’ve ever written. That I would try out new poetic and theatrical devices. That I would listen to feedback and actually apply it to my notes. That I would be off-book. That I would show up. That I would show up. That I would show up.
See, #BARS demands this level of intensity. It demands extreme focus and dedication. It demands connection to one another and the earth. It requires an in-depth look inside in order to conjure the worlds of stories buried within us all. And so I pulled from the depths of my soul. I talked about my mom and my mom’s passing and my grieving process and my desire to share and explore healing with audiences. I talked about the Dreamville Documentary and the genius that is J.I.D and Buddy and the fight they possess in the agility of their word-play. I talked about the brilliance of Kendrick Lamar, August Wilson, and the GAWD-MOTHER that is Octavia Butler. I talked about black people and black things and black dreams and black wings. I talked about Nostrand and Gates and Anansi the Spider and Beyoncé… lots of talk about Beyoncé. And for the first time, in a very long time, in the company of strangers, in an insanely difficult creative intensive, I was home.
My cohort taught me what it means to embrace all that you bring to the table. I was surrounded by ridiculous story-tellers that have you hanging on the edge of every word like Moses and Natalie, musicians who manipulate melody and hear harmony effortlessly like Adam and Sara, folks whose voices have the power to literally crack open the sky like Alexis and Ayvee, ill writers that possess the agility and magic of griots like Tim and EbonyJanice and Jaylene, artists who lift you off your feet and make you suspend in air with each sound released from their body like SAS and Massiel, I was in the company of magicians. Who created stories from words and tales. And worlds from sightings and happenings and heartbreak and release. Who created songs from pain and pleasure and boyhood and triumph. Who created magic. Together, we created magic.
AIIIIIIGHT SO BOOM.
The thing happened. And my life was changed. And I walked out of the space and could never be the same. I walked away with a new community of artists that I have and will continue to learn and grow from. I walked away shedding my imposture syndrome and reminding myself that every room I step in “I deserve to be (t)here”. I walked away tired as fuck, but energized. Stretched. I walked away bolder. Stronger. Louder. Taking up MORE SPACE. I walked away shouting. I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I AM HERE…to disrupt. I am here to engage. I am here to listen. I am here to fight. And I am here to bring stories to the world.
Thank you #BARS. For giving me the space to remember my calling, my purpose, my passion, my voice — myself. Thank you for giving me the space to remember myself. From this moment on, I will never forget.
Photo credit: Sarah Lou Kiernan and Bars Workshop NYC