Bold is honored to spotlight a beautiful example of artists making change while their traditional platforms are closed. We recently caught up with Drawing Cats Productions to discuss “Our People, Our Voices”, a Zoom series that will premiere Friday July 10 at 8 ET on YouTube. 

Producer Sarah Wagner and Associate Producer Dalton Gordon founded Drawing Cats Productions in March 2020, with the mission to: “…create a safe space, and opportunity for performers, directors, and playwrights who have been impacted by Covid-19 to perform, network and resume build. We seek to provide opportunities to play freely and make bold choices. After the murder of George Floyd and other innocent Black individuals as well as the various stories outlining racism on Broadway, it became clear that the focus has expanded to include not only giving performers a platform, but giving performers of color a platform. We felt like staying silent would not be productive in this time of protest, but didn’t want to be another two white people telling black people what to do or feel. We created a panel of black performers we knew and out stemmed this project, an amalgamation of all their ideas. 

“Our People, Our Voices” combines the need for a virtual protest that people can attend from their homes with the need for more opportunities for artists of color. Each “Our People, Our Voices” production will center around a specific theme, the first being “Unsung History” or history that isn’t taught in the education system. Our goal of the first performance is to educate and inspire change in the education system. Drawing Cats Productions is honored to stand aside and give this platform to these incredibly talented artists of color.”

Our interview included insight and reflections from:

Sarah Wagner, Producer

Dalton Gorden, Assistant Producer 

Kohlman Thompson, Performer

Jade Litaker, Performer

Bold: This project is dedicated to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. What are your feelings about how the arts community has responded to the movement, in general?

SW/DG: We think the response of the artistic community at large to the BLM can be characterized as slow steps in the right direction. But we feel like more concrete action is needed than simply pulling racist episodes of old TV shows or other token gestures. Many professional theatres have given full-throated support to the movement (which is great), but our current understanding is that few (if any) Broadway theatres have done so. Furthermore, rather than simply putting up a “BLM” sticker in the window or on their website or Facebook page, we would like to challenge other production groups to examine ways to empower black storytellers and artists as producers, directors, and writers, so that black experiences can remain a present and vital part of our public consciousness.

KT: Artists have done a terrific job of responding to this by simply raising awareness for what’s happening. We’re aware of the platforms that we have and are constantly using it not only to create art in protest, but using social media and public protests to advocate for victims of police brutality and Black-related social causes.

JL: I have a lot of mixed feelings. My relationship I’ve always felt with the arts has been, “I love acting and singing, and the roles I adore, don’t love me back.”  This is because of how casting directors have put all of us into boxes regardless if we actually fit into them and can sustain them 8x a week. In addition to that, there are plenty of theatres that love and capitalize on using Black talent but haven’t said anything. There have been little to almost half responses from these theatres and it’s frustrating to see a show you could see yourself in some day and it fails you. They dropped the ball for many people.

Bold: What have you seen done well and not-so-well throughout your education/career, in terms of inclusivity and recognition of privilege?

SW/DG: In terms of what’s been done poorly, we recently learned that one of our alma maters intended to produce an anthology play of “African Folktales” featuring an all-white cast. Covid-19 forced them to scrap this plan; however the idea remains absurd and tragically on-the-nose for how racial themes are often discussed in white academia. Teaching rich white kids about Africa is one thing, but failing to involve anyone with any connection to African or African-American culture is pretty damnable.

In terms of what’s been done well, we regret to say we haven’t heard much. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but stories are fueled by conflict and the news is no different. So there’s been a lot of horror stories from our friends and on our feeds lately. But that’s part of why we wanted to do this project, so that we could network with people who would take these issues seriously, and support them with our patronage; and hopefully so that we could hopefully contribute positively to the conversation in our own right

JL: As a light skin Black person, I try to remain out of rooms that dark skin people should be getting in. That leaves room and options for them that they deserve. I’m pretty proud of that choice.

Bold: We’re seeing strong support for change within the theatre world- more representation; calling out racist behavior; more telling of diverse stories. How do you think we can keep the momentum going? 

SW/DG: Clarence C. Williams, one of our collaborators on this piece, suggested that each of our cabaret productions be centered around an educational issue or a call to action. That way, rather than simply “raising awareness” our work could be geared towards provoking and inspiring lasting cultural change.

KT: We have to keep speaking out in the world of arts whenever we see things that don’t look right. If the events of the last month have proven anything, is that when we make noise and make people uncomfortable, things all of a sudden get done. We also need people of color and of diverse backgrounds placed in positions of power; people who are personally invested in putting their communities’ stories out there and addressing racial, gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination when it happens. It’s much easier to have our own people taking action for us rather than begging privileged people to do so for us. Yes, it’s affirmative action, but it’s necessary.

JL: I think we have to keep showing up and more importantly, white actors need to show up for us. Denying stories and roles designed for BIPOC is a huge start. Allowing BIPoC a chance to enter the same rooms they get to enter is a start. Giving us a chance. There is only space for everyone is white actors help create that space. They need to show up way way more for us.

Bold: What has been the most empowering/inspiring experience you’ve had in your performance career?

JL: Having a manager and a team that support me. They know my voice, and push for me. They believe that any role can be for me if the race of a character isn’t impacting the story. Meaning, they encourage me to go after both Black roles, and roles that have been, traditionally whitewashed. They don’t want to leave me feeling like I can’t be versatile. Whenever I’m approaching a traditionally white role and I end up getting a callback, I feel like it’s helping not only me as an individual be seen, but helping Black femmes and womxn a chance to be seen as well. BIPOC can tell all and every kind of story, we just need to be given the chance to enter the room.

KT: In 2017, my final year of school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, I directed and performed in an abbreviated version of Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman.” It was my very first time directing anything, and it was my first time tackling a race-related topic. I never trusted myself with racial material up until that point because I felt I didn’t have enough negative experiences as a Black man to really talk about those things. What I discovered during the rehearsal process is that I had an anger inside of me not on my own behalf, but on behalf of the people of color who have been put through pain, physically, emotionally, psychologically, via the structures of our society. Realizing that just because I haven’t been truly affected by things yet, doesn’t mean that I can’t, or won’t be; or that somebody close to me won’t be. This performance reminded me that no matter what, I’m still a Black man, and to never forget it.

Bold: And finally, our standard question: what makes you Bold?

SW/DG:  We,  at Drawing Cats Productions, use our privilege to be bold allies in the Black Lives Matter Movement. We may be a small company, but we are proud to lend our company to these incredible BIPOC voices and this cause. If every white theatrical company gave their mic to people of color and gave them an opportunity to speak freely, our world would be better for it. We hope to inspire this bold new standard. 

KT: What makes me bold is that I am often not afraid to attack serious topics through a comedic lens. I know that certain events and the manner in which they are discussed can be emotionally draining; my goal is to address those topics in a way that shows concern and puts a smile on your face at the same time. I want people to laugh, not at the pain, but through it!

JL: In the last three years or so, I’ve struggled with defining myself or my “type” in musical theatre. As my career has grown stronger, I grow prouder and more confident in my abilities. My goal is to show that Black people are capable of anything. That I am capable of anything. Any type of theatre, to me, is just…being a human, and sharing human experiences through acting, and sometimes, singing. I am Bold, because I am not afraid to be me. I am not afraid to be human.

Tune in Friday July 10 at 8 ET on YouTube to watch the beginning of a  fantastic series! Link:

https://youtu.be/98m9LsjDVc0

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