Johanna talks with Cassandra Freeman, Nikiya Mathis, and Cody Renard Richard about Black hair in theatre and film. Black actors' hair needs are continually neglected in the industry; producers are often woefully lacking in knowledge of the time, money, and work required to achieve various hairstyles. Companies often have no relationship with Black hair/wig stylists in their community, and leave Black actors to spend their own money and time on styling for their roles. In this episode, we discuss the ways theatre and film can end Black hair discrimination, and the effects such discrimination has had on Black artists.
Mentioned in This Episode:
Bridging The Gap
National Black Hair & Makeup Registry
The CCR Scholarship Program
Broadway Advocacy Coalition
More From Our Guests:
Interview with Cassandra
HAIRversations & HAIRstories
Interview with Cody
Black Hair Guide
The CROWN Act
Hair Love, A Short Film by Matthew A. Cherry
8 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Black Women's Hair
How Natural Black Hair at Work Became a Civil Rights Issue
12 Reasons Why Hair Is Important in Black History
Who Decided Black Hair Is So Offensive Anyway?
My Black Hair: A Tangled Story of Race and Politics in America
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Host: Johanna Pan
Producers: Shayna O'Neill & Johanna Pan
Music: Jay Ong
Audio Engineer: Justin Sabe
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Johanna: Hello and welcome to Dirty Laundry: Unpacking The Costume Closet. I’m Johanna Pan, and today we’ll be discussing some of the discrimination that Black actors face in theatre and film, especially when it comes to hair and make-up. For most of my undergrad, this was a topic that wasn’t acknowledged, and I didn’t realize just how woefully lacking my knowledge was. I have always had the privilege of assisting talented designers who know more than I did, and phenomenal hair and make-up designers who made it their mission, all the more so because most of them are white, to understand and take care of the Black actors that they worked with. But I know this wasn’t everybody’s experience. And I also know that when I designed my own shows and didn’t have a similar support team, I might’ve asked or said inappropriate questions, or didn’t understand, support, or advocate for the Black actors in my casts as well as I could have. And because of my privilege, it didn’t occur to me this was something I needed to actively learn.
So I spoke with Cassandra Freeman, a theatre and film actress who you may have seen on Atlanta, Luke Cage, and Inside Man, about her experiences with hair and make-up styling in the industry.
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J: Hi, Cassie. It’s so lovely to meet you. Thank you for coming on the show.
Cassandra: Yes, I’m so thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.
J: Of course. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your journey into acting?
C: I’m from Florida originally. And, uh, I ended up moving to New York to go to grad school. And I went to NYU for grad. Uh, after grad school I, uh, jumped right into TV and film. And, uh, most people know me, or I don’t know what people know me from. I think that’s such a funny thing. But anyway, my career started, my first film I ever did was like a few weeks out of school, was a, was a Spike Lee film called Inside Man where I played Denzel Washington’s love interest. And from there I worked with Chris Rock in a film called I Think I Love My Wife. I’ve worked with Queen Latifah a couple of times on a show she used to have called Single Ladies, to a Lifetime Movie of the Week I starred in called The Real MVP, which is about Kevin Durant’s mother and how she raised a superstar basketball player. I’ve worked with Donald Glover on Atlanta. I’ve, I’ve just, I’ve worked with so many, I worked, uh, Tracey Morgan on The Last O.G. I actually go back again this season. I just finished a great character on ABC called For Life, where I play this woman named Veronica Marshall, who takes on a controversial case where she defends the police who kill a Black man. There you go! Unarmed. There you go! So, uh, I’ve done everything from stand-up comedy, I’ve done film, I’ve worked onstage, Off-Broadway doing August Wilson stuff, I’ve worked at the Guthrie Theater, Signature Theatre. I’ve done a little bit of everything at this point.
J: That’s really exciting. Um, do you have any negative hair experiences working on shows or in film that you’d like to share?
C: Oh that’s, you’re like let’s just get right to it. Of course. I mean, uh, negative hair. I was on a show that I won’t say, but I showed up and it was a role that was offered to me. It’s like a primetime TV show on network. And I showed the woman, uh, what kind of hair I have. I was like, should I use my hair for this role? Uh, do you have any wigs? She was like, I don’t know. What do you want to do? And I was like, um, well I brought this wig. I guess I wanna know, do you think that this would be ok under the lights? She was like, uh, well that’s above my pay grade. And I’m like, um, well, uh, she’s like, and right now because it’s Covid, people are even more crazier, because uh, more crazy, people are even crazier because once they do your hair, no one comes on set to touch you up anymore and no one comes on set to touch up your make-up. So really they set you and then you have to constantly take care of yourself, which was a whirlwind. But that’s probably one of my worst experiences, and the woman didn’t really start to take care of my hair until she realized that I was a major character. Even though I saw her, I said I’m doing all these episodes. And somebody else had to go to her as a producer to be like, why is Cassie’s hair such a mess? And here’s the thing about, I mean, my top two worst experiences were with people of color. So there you go.
J: So it wasn’t actually a matter of, uh, the stylist not knowing how to take care of your hair, but rather the fact that they were also discriminating against you just based on who you were within all of that.
C: I guess so. I mean the other, sh- she, it’s so funny, just b- you’re a minority and you see other minorities and maybe just go oh, ok, she’s nobody. Like people kept thinking I was the judge or something. And then, then the episodes would roll back and they were like oh, she’s like, a major character. And I’m like, do these people not freaking read a script? But I was also cast so against things, but it doesn’t matter. I think it’s really interesting that I come to every show thinking everyone’s a creative and that they want to bring their best, and that’s not always true. Now sometimes, though, I’ve been on another show, uh, where this guy he really, he really did try to bring his best, but his execution wasn’t, uh, it wasn’t good. And the same thing. We did like six episodes before a producer was like, why does Cassie’s hair look the way it looks? Is there… And just imagine for a white man having to be like, is it just me, or Cassie’s hair… And it puts me in a bad situation because it’s the head of hair and you’re like, how do I tell the head of hair that they’re not executing well? And I guess the best thing to do is go talk to a producer so it comes to the producer. But still, skill. If someone doesn’t have the skill, how do you teach them? So recently I’ve come to this new idea which is, uh, my girlfriend Nikiya, who you guys talked to recently, I’ve decided that I’m just gonna go to Nikiya for every role I get and we just have a consultation. And she tells me exactly what to do, how to keep it up, and then I just want to be totally responsible for my hair.
J: Right, which is actually a double burden on you, because now you’re actually doing the work of two people.
C: Yeah, right, and you also don’t know what circumstance you’re walking in. I mean, I’ve had one amazing hair experience in the last 16 years being a professional actor, and that was with someone named Oscar James. And people say, like, he’s the wizard of hair. He’s done everyone from Tyra Banks to Iman. Like, he’s done everybody’s hair in-between. And so when I sat in his chair, I didn’t know who he was. And I sat there with my stomach hurt. This man matched my hair color in one second, put a track of weave- He’s like, your hair is perfect, let’s just make it a little bit thicker. It was like seamless. I’m like what? And then he showed me some of his past work and you couldn’t tell where the wig started or ended. And I’m like, why is this genie in the bottle here? It’s, you know you, I come onto a set awaiting to be disappointed, uh, at this point. So if someone’s brilliant I’m just like, how? How?
J: And also, here’s the other part, right, is that when you ask Nikiya to come in for a consultation, that’s actually also additional money out of your pocket for you to pay someone else to do something that you’re not actually being supported for when you go on set.
C: That’s right. You know they, supposedly there’s a clause and, I fight for this with everyone, that they pay a rental fee if I bring my own hair.
C: But it’s so nominal, like $19 a day. Uh, and it doesn’t come close to what I pay Nikiya for a consultation or like for something else I just did. I had her build a whole unit for me and color it. Uh, so yeah, it’s something that you put on your taxes, and actually, I don’t even think, can I even put that on my taxes? I don’t even know if I can put that on my taxes because if it’s anything that you can use outside of that character, it’s not a write-off really.
C: So, yeah, and then you compound that with that they don’t pay, uh, women of color as much money. So you’re like fighting for every dollar. So that on top of that is just- So you uh, you, yeah, you walk on set, I’ve walked on set many a time where my stomach hurts, because I’m just like where, it comes down to respect. You know what I feel like? One day, I’ll be like 80, and I’ll look back on these days and realize this was all racism. Even the Black people who were underprepared to take care of other Black people, it’s because they’re under oppression too and they’re the uh, under the, uh, they’re under this, like, milieu where they, it’s so normal to take other Black people for granted. I always think, this is so extreme, but I think about Dorothy Dandridge. There’s a great movie Halle Berry did in the ‘90s about Dorothy Dandridge. And she just put her toe in the pool just to kick the water and the next day they drained the entire pool. Now that’s extreme, but to me it’s extreme that 16 years of my career I have one positive hair experience. That’s racism. That’s what that is. Here’s, you wanna hear what’s really funny?
C: That non-Black people, uh, white people, anyone who calls themselves white, anyone who calls themselves not of diverse background, uh, if they’re in the hair industry, you probably already know how to do Black hair. I mean, Jewish hair is very similar. It’s coarse, it’s curly. Um, so, uh, yeah, I don’t, I mean it’s, but I do remember I was in London once and I went to a place to get my hair done, and this guy, as soon as I walked, I mean this happens here in New York. People are like oh no, we can’t, we don’t know how to do your hair. And I’m like is it really? Really? But these, like, you go to these schools and the schools legitimately do not teach Afro and Carribean hair.
J: They don’t.
C: Why don’t-
J: And it’s not actually a part of the cosmetology licensing, actually. Like they don’t, they don’t require that you have to learn it in order to be able to get a license in cosmetology.
C: Yeah, I, it’s like the unknown Jim Crow shit that still lives in the hair community. Because I don’t know just from looking outside if I’m allowed to go in there and get my hair done. I try to be very diplomatic about these things. I’m not angry about these things. It’s more like I’m just, uh, exhausted. But I’m not angry. But maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been angry for so long. But-
C: I also think the industry, uh, was so saturated with one demographic and now it’s growing so fast to include a whole demographic that was not ever at the front of the table or at the head of the table. So now people are literally being forced to have to learn.
C: And so that’s, you know, hopeful. Like I said, 16 years ago there was no Kerry Washington who was the lead of anything. And so it makes, uh, it gave people a lot of permission not to know how to do anything. And now, because we’ve got 300 stations and channels or whatever, people are being forced to learn things. But I also know when I went, I, I filmed a couple of times in Canada. And Canada is notorious for not having any supplies for people of color. So if you need a relaxer, you need a barber, I don’t understand, but the same thing. But that’s not Canada’s fault. These are American productions going there to get the tax write-offs, to get whatever. So they’re not flying in the people who have the correct expertise. I also just wonder that even for the shows who bring in people, like the, some of the shows I’ve been on where it was a person of color who was the lead hair person. What do their portfolios look like, A, and B, who is, it’s like you almost need a supervisor over that person to say, oh, good job. Like there’s no, that, because like I said, if it’s the head of hair and they’re not executing, then who do you go to? And you have to go to the producer. But now if you’re a guest star on the show, that means you might be only doing one episode, are you really gonna go and talk to the producer? You really don’t have time for that in TV and film. You’re just, I wish there was just one other person in charge of the person in charge.
J: Yeah, I think it might be a little more, uh, it’s a little different I think for like TV and film versus theatre. Because I feel like in theatre, like, that person would be the costume designer, um, that hopefully you would feel like if your hair and wig designer was not taking care of you, or whoever was styling your hair was not taking care of you, that your costume designer would also be there to help, to have that conversation.
C: Right, right. You know, in the world of fashion. I just worked with this incredible, uh, wardrobe stylist for For Life. Her name’s Molly Rogers. What she was able to do on that show. How, first of all I don’t even know if she knew my whole arc, but she cared like as if it was her own body going on set every day. She wanted to make sure every thread was in place. She wanted to make sure she got the exact right brand, the fit, the- And my character was sort of outside the fishbowl of that show anyway. So finally I was like, why are you this good? Like so collaborative, such an expert on everything. And she was like oh, you know, I’ve been doing this a long time. But then I find out she worked on Sex and the City movies. She also worked on, uh, Devil Wears Prada. She worked on Lee Daniels’ not Empire, but the other one that he did down at- Charm or Lucky, something like that. But anyway, shows that really care about fashion. And also, uh, I don’t know, she just, she’s worked with actors from all sorts of levels in their career and she just has an eye. Like she’s an actual creative. And I thought, that’s how it should be in every department. The hair department should be like that. The wardrobe department should be like that. And again, I was shocked she was that amazing. I’ve worked with a couple great wardrobe people in my life, but she’s the number one.
J: Do you have any words of advice for, uh, maybe h-, uh hair and make-up people that you’re working with who are approaching a Black actor about their hair?
C: Yeah, you know, pretend like it’s- you know do unto others. Pretend like it’s your hair. And also, the biggest thing is that you’re talking to someone who’s been very abused. And so if you’re not a person of color- even if you are at this point- you need to talk to that person as if you care like no one else has ever cared for that person. You’re like, you’re like working with someone with PTSD. So for instance, if I was working with someone, I wouldn’t be like, ok, oh yeah, Johanna, oh yeah, yeah, ok, I totally know how to do your hair. You don’t have to worry. Ok, bye. No. It needs to be like, so what products do you like to use? Can I tell you, I have certain products here. To me, looking at your hair, I would use this, this, and this. How do you feel about that? Ok, I just want you to know, any product that you love, let me know and I’ll also get that. My number one priority is that you are happy and that you have the look that you’re looking for. Something like that. I don’t know. Uh, but don’t do the whole, oh yeah I know how to do it, blah, blah, blah. If you do it like that, it’s just gonna be like, nope, just go home. Everyone’s busy, but I’ve heard that a million times and it’s never been true.
J: Um, do you have anything that you would like to plug with us today?
C: Uh, I just did For Life on ABC. So go back out and, uh, the season finale was just this past Wednesday. So go check it out, guys. It’s a very heavy show, but it’s one of the most important shows probably on network TV. Uh, and anything else? I’m coming on The Last O.G. this season, so watch for that this spring.
J: That’s amazing. Thank you so much, Cassie.
C: Thank you! Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
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J: I’m so grateful to Cassie for sharing her experiences with us, and it leads me to a conversation I had with her good friend and colleague, Nikiya Mathis. I met Nikiya also during Grad school at NYU when she came in to teach us about Black hair. Her class really pushed me to think a lot more about the conversations we have surrounding Black hair in the industry, and I can definitely recall situations when the needs of Black actors were met by other members of a production with skepticism or suspicion because they weren’t understood. And I’ve also met Black actors who had to be fierce advocates for themselves because they had worked with costume or hair designers in the past that harmed them, either physically, emotionally, or both, by discriminating against their hair. Nikiya is one such actor who has also forged a career as a Black hair stylist and educator.
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J: So Nikiya, um, I know that you went to NYU and the grad acting program. And now you’re both an actor and a hair designer.
J: How did you get started in hair design?
N: Oh my god. No, I remember being, um, uh, in grad acting and you know, I would be doing my own hair. And doing the hair of my classmate and castmates. And thinking, wait a minute, like, I think somebody, it would be great if somebody were doing this for us. I don’t, I don’t really mind doing my classmates’ hair. Uh, is this something that I could do? It just was like a, just like a seed in my mind. So I remember going down to the costume, uh, shop and talking to Maggie who was running the shop at that time, just asking her, hey, like, you, so like if I wanted to like do hair for theatre, like, what does that mean? Do people get, or how much do people get paid? Like how do you even start doing it? And she just gave me some thoughts but, it was, it, there, there was nothing concrete at all. Like I, it was just a conversation and I left like, ok, cool. So I know that’s a thing. I have no idea how to get started. So I got out of grad acting and my first professional show was at an amazing regional theatre. But they, uh, they were, there were, I think five Black actors in the cast and no one at the theatre knew how to do cornrows that this one Black actress needed. And they didn’t have any relationships with anyone in the community that did hair. Like which is, which was just like, surprising, you know, like huh? Um, somebody knows how to do cornrows in these streets. Um, so the, the actress was gonna have to travel back to Brooklyn on her day off, because it was right out of New York City. And it was just like no, it was too much. The play was already, uh, something that was emotionally taxing. So her day off needed to be her day off. So I said hey, I can do your braids. So then like, and, that was the end of that. She’s like, ok, great. I did her braids. I did some twists on another actress. I didn’t get paid for it and I wasn’t looking to get paid for it. I really actually was like yeah, I really wanna help you do this. It was something that I was excited about doing, um, and making her feel supported. So then after that, like, actress friends would just, just randomly ask me, hey, can you do my hair for this? Can you do my hair for this? And I remember one time I went to Atlanta and I did a wig for my grandma, and I just decided to just put it on Facebook, Instagram. And people were like, oh my god, Nikiya, you do wigs? I’m like uh, yeah, I guess. It was something that I had been nervous about putting out, because again, I have an MFA in acting. I don’t have an MFA in hair and wig design. So you know, you feel like, uh, an imposter, or like you don’t know what you’re doing. I felt like that, um, for so many reasons. You know, being a woman. Being a Black woman. Just all of these, uh, the, the messaging that says, tells you that you’re not enough and you need to go the extra, extra, extra, extra mile just to be good enough, right? So then I think people started to just, I started to get on more people’s radar, and more actresses started asking me to do their hair in shows. So you know, oftentimes if, if it’s not a big wig show, they won’t have a hair and wig designer. So there would be like the one Black actress who definitely needs her hair done, but that nobody planned for. So, like, it would always be like the week before tech, somebody calling me saying, Nikiya, can I give your name to the costume designer? Can I give, you know, your information. Can, or can, or could I not? Could I just pay for my own wig from you and just use it for the show? So ultimately, you know, these actors would be coming out of their own pockets because they had been feeling like, oh, I, I’m gonna have to take care of myself because nobody’s gonna take care of me. Well so I think as actors began to say hey, uh, there’s this girl named Nikiya. She could come in and do this one thing. And you know costume designers would say hey, well we don’t really have a budget so I’m not sure if it’s gonna work. And of course because I was just working on this one actor’s hair, or doing these contemporary styling techniques, it didn’t necessarily take thousands of dollars. You know, the way in which I think, uh, the, the mindset is we can’t afford hair and wigs because it’s gonna be, you know, thousands of dollars to do this. Well if you’re taking care of one actor, there are some things that you can do, depending on what the style is. If it’s a contemporary style, if it’s braids, if it’s a crochet, uh, style, you know, it, it may or may not take all of that. So, so I was doing things like that and then, slowly but surely, I began to meet more costume designers. Or people would actually have me come in to consult. Like I would consult at NYU, where I love to consult there. I love doing university shows because the actors really, especially actors of color, being seen, uh, is something that I think can be a struggle. You’re in a program where, you know, these are white institutions. These are usually run by white people. And I think recently we’ve seen, or I’ve noticed, that in, in schools the actors are now speaking up for themselves. But traditionally they have not felt seen. You know, they’re doing classical plays that are written by non-Black people, uh, and for non-Black people. And they then have to s- you know, they’re saying hey, you need to embody this. Sure, sure, but it’s not always easy to embody someone that, e- even if it’s just, you know, if it’s, uh, if it’s a period piece, if you, if your ancestors were not there, if your ancestors were not that socio-economic class, if your ancestors would’ve been the servants and not the masters, you know like, you, you’re asking me to step into a space, yet you are erasing my identity because you don’t even stop to have the conversation to say, hey, I just want to recognize that you as a Black person would not have been here, done this, had this level of access at this time. Let’s just acknowledge that, right? Now let’s imagine if you did. Right? But when you don’t, I think there’s something about not acknowledging that. And of course you know there’s this idea that as actors, we can do anything. Yes, sure, but there is also, there’s also this other level of being a person of color in this country, um, that often we have to erase our pain in order to fit into, uh, whatever spaces that other people have prepared for themselves. Like, you know we, we walk into spaces that are not built for us. Theatre is an institution that has, that has not been built for people of color. It’s been built for white people. You know that’s why, traditionally, pin curls are cer- you know, you wrap them around and pin them, but that doesn’t work for Black women with kinky hair. You can’t do pin curls, you need to do cornrows. But of course, you know, those traditional things. Or even just like, you know, in the, in the recent past where now it is mandatory that Black actors get undergarments that, that are their color, but for so long, you know, actors just dealt with getting undergarments that were made for, for people with skin that were lighter, was lighter than them. So, so ultimately I, I like to work with, um, uh, students of color at universities often because I understand that there’s just another level of wanting to feel seen and wanting to feel supported that when someone comes and focuses on your hair specifically that that can really, um, that really goes a long way. So, so yeah, like, that’s kind of how it started. And then people just, slowly but surely, theatres would reach out to me, costume designers would reach out to me, and that’s how I, how I just became a hair and wig designer. Like it was just, it just like kind of happened.
J: That’s amazing. I actually really love the fact that you talked about how, you know, actors particularly when they come into that first rehearsal, for a costume designer I feel like they’re always looking, they’re always searching for that information, right? I can always feel that from my Black act- Black actresses. Because they’re looking at my drawings and my research and already, like, the question is definitely on their mind. What are you going to do with my hair? And it’s always, like, a conversation that I know, like, when I walk into a, especially like a, a presentation with Black actors, that I have to know what some of those answers are, or like have some idea, like, where I’m going to head in that direction. Because it’s something that we have to be able to have a conversation about. And then again, of course I can have an idea, but it’s still a conversation and a collaboration of, like, what do they like? What do they want? What works with them in their other jobs? Cause they are not just doing this one show. They’re in a reading for something else. They’re going to shoot a TV show on their day off, you know. They have all of these other things that they have to do. And also, actually, this happened with Shayna, um, my, our, my co-producer on a show that we did where I was like, they can’t be doing those braids on their day off, like, that’s not fair.
N: Yeah, so, again, actors having to use their day off to get their hair braided or to get a sew-in weave, or whatever it is. The tricky thing is that a lot of natural hair styles can take a long time, specifically if it’s like braids or faux locks or something like that. So it’s kind of like well, when else are they going to get it done? Because after rehearsal, if that’s 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock, that’s not any time. So then, you know, usually they’re forced or made to feel like they need to get their hair done on their day off. But, but no, this is not, I didn’t decide that I wanted braids for my life. You decided you wanted braids for this show for your theatre. So like, you need to like, make sure that that’s carved in, like, because then you take my entire life away. Especially considering, like, that we only get one day off. Like that, that’s kind of like, that’s a, that’s problematic on its own, you know. Uh so, so yeah, like, you know, so like, but I think, hopefully, it feels like maybe now in the recent past, uh, after this year things may be changing. I know at, um, Baltimore Center Stage they are, uh, working to do a, a two-day weekend. You know, two days off which is, like, awesome, um, to try to like, uh, decolonize this system. And hopefully more, more spaces will do that as well.
J: Yeah, actually, I was gonna say when Shayna and I worked together too, like, the other thing that we also made sure of- and this was also once again in conversation with the actress- was that we made sure it happened the day off, before the day off. So that, like, she would have a day off after getting the braids put in so that she could recover. And then also making sure that we didn’t have any, like, heavy choreo scheduled, like fight choreo. Because there was a lot of fight choreo in the show, but that she didn’t have to do any, like, major fight choreo in the few days after we came back either.
N: Yeah, that’s so good. I mean that’s something that I, you know, I, I try to emphasize, like whenever I’m in a space or, or trying to, uh, provide some education. Having hair-versations. Like this, this level of communication, there is a lack of communication, there is, there is a level of, um, assumptions. Or I think again, like this, this, because you know spaces were not created for us, there’s not even a level of just even wanting to know or curiosity about us. It’s oh, you know, you should be happy to be here in the first place. Never mind, like, how do we cater to you and how do we, uh, make you feel special and make sure that all your personal needs were met. So that’s amazing that that actor felt, um, had the agency, or felt like she had the agency to come and talk to you, which also shows, you know, how open you must have been and how much of a space you must have created for that. Because often, actors don’t feel like they can say anything. And I, and I felt this way as an actor, and I know friends have, just that if you say anything, if you make waves, if you ask for too much, even if the too much is the bare minimum, that you’re going to be perceived as a diva. That you are gonna be perceived as problematic. That the theatre won’t want to work with you. That, you know, because things can feel so scarce that as actors we feel like, oh there’s not evenough and I need to work. On top of, you know, like money in theatre is not the most amazing, you know, so like, like, I’m happy to have this job. I don’t want to make too many waves. I want them to like me. And I, I do feel like we have to get past that and have an equal level of respect. Like we need to, as the American theatre, we need to be, and as America, as Americans, we need to be who we say we are, um, and not this, you know, and not this fraudulent version, version of ourselves. And I think, like, there is a level of, like, oh we are fighting battles not just to, um, make our designs look good, but we’re, we’re fighting battles on another level. Like this is a level of activism, um, that we’re doing on, like, smaller levels that I think, you know, sometimes we don’t realize. Um and it’s important. It, it, but I think in theatre or entertainment or just in, in life, there is a, uh, there is a feeling that oh no, I just need to get mine. I just need to make sure I get to work at this theatre again, again. I need to make sure these images look good so that people see my portfolio. You know, versus, like, no, like, what um, what am I leaving behind or what am I able to give? What’s my purpose, real purpose in this space? It could be, my purpose may be beyond just being the costume/hair/wig designer. It might be to leave something deeper with an actor in this space, um, something that, you know, they can take with them. This, this feeling of being seen is gonna last beyond this show. Like it’s gonna last, um, for years to come. It’ll be like the beginning of someone saying oh wow, I was seen in that production. Now I realize I get to be seen in these other spaces where they’re making me feel small. So, so yeah, yeah, that’s what it makes me think of.
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Shayna: Hey listeners, producer Shayna here, just popping in with a little bit more information about the show Johanna and I worked on that she was talking about. One of the things we wanted to emphasize was the role of the producer in making the show such a positive experience. From the beginning of the process, he was able to establish an open and collaborative environment. And he did that by making it clear that he truly wanted to hear from everyone on the team, even if what they had to say was potentially difficult or costly. And that yes, as always in theatre we were going to be limited by things like time and budget and staffing, but he didn’t want decisions being made to stay within those limits that prioritize the art over the humanity of the artists. We would need to make other decisions to stay within those limits. Um, one of the things that I think is often overlooked is that most of the people who are working on a particular show don’t work fulltime, year-round for the theatre or company that’s producing that show. Uh, most of the show-specific staff, uh, definitely you know the cast and the design team, and oftentimes the stage managers and the technical team as well, at least some of them, are brought on as contractors. Um, and they never get a full staff orientation, or time to sit back and observe the company culture and settle in and take the temperature of a place. Uh, and they don’t have the guarantee of any further employment. They’re just relying on this one impression that they make over a very short period of time and hoping that they’ll be asked to return to this company for more sho- shows in the future. So the show-specific staff members are always going to come in with a certain level of caution and hestitation about what they can and cannot push for on production. Uh, which means that something that’s really needed to improve so many situations including discrimination against and improper planning for Black hair is producers and other full-time staff of a company being proactive in their messaging about the theatre’s ethos and culture. You know, you may be, uh, the box office manager, you may be the company manager, uh, you may be the line producer and you may think, I, I have nothing directly to do with costumes or with hair or make-up. But even so, the way that you contribute to the overall tone of your organization is going to trickle down and ultimately influence every single area of production, including things like the individual experience that each Black actor is going to have with the care of their hair. Um, and probably a lot of times you won’t be able to anticipate or even directly see how you have influenced these things, but they ultimately will affect the success of your show and the success of your company as a whole. So anyway, back to Johanna and Nikiya.
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J: Because I think that now at least costume designers have, are starting to educate themselves. And thanks to you and thanks to the work of, like, other hair and wig designers, like Jerrilyn Duckworth for, like, Bridging The Gap on Facebook, and all these other people have started doing some classes and have started sharing your knowledge. And thank you for your emotional labor and educating us, honestly. Um but, outside of the costume designers who interact with hair designers and actors on a more day-to-day basis, I want to touch on some of the things that non-costume designers can do to help, uh, everything, make the process smoother in creating this open and collaborative environment. And you mentioned it earlier, it’s actually something that has always weighed on my mind, the fact that so many theatres have no relationships with people in the community who can do these hairstyles. Because I always find that, like, it’s so frustrating, for example, that like in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts- and I’m thinking of a specific theatre- um that I remember there was an instance where there was a Black actor who was sent out to do her hair at a local hair salon and I think they botched it, or they, I can’t remember if they botched it or, like, she came back and they had said something very discriminatory to her. And she felt absolutely terrible after that experience. And it just wasn’t a good experience for her. And I just remember feeling that that shouldn’t be the case. And it also wasn’t that there weren’t any other African-American people or like any other African-American salons in the area. There had to have- I, I just remember leaving, like, hearing about those stories from that summer and, like, feeling very upset for them, but also trying to figure out, like, there has to be a different way to do that.
N: Yeah, absolutely. Well first of all, you know, it makes me think like, you know, it’s, again, there’s the history of theatre where if you’re a person of color, you get to sing and dance and shuck and jive for us, but you must go out the back door. And I think that’s what it feels, what it feels like when you are not preparing for us, when you are not making us comfortable, nor caring, nor caring about it. Because, you know, the- in the last couple years can’t be the first time producers have heard that hey, we need, what about the, the Black woman’s hair? Hey, we need some money or whatever. And they have said no, we don’t have it. So it, it makes me feel like oh, you don’t care. You talk a good game. You put Black people on the stage for white subscribers to come see. And I say white subscribers because oftentimes you’ll see, you know, there’s not necessarily, um, marketing to Black communities unless it’s a Black show. You know, whatever. Um, but like yeah, it, it feels like, it feels like there’s a lack of care. But there are always, there are Black people everywhere. So there’s no, there’s no way that you can’t go on Google and look for a Black hair, Google Black hair salon, natural hair salon, and just reach out to say hey, uh, you know, do you do natural hair? We’d love for you to, we’d love to just have a phone call with you, or for you to come, um, in for a consultation. Or for you to just be on our radar. There are theatres who, you know, have a list, of course, as we know, of, uh, stylists in their area. But then for those who don’t, it’s really, it’s really cur- I’m really curious as to why.
J: Yeah, and it is really, I think, it’s difficult for, as a costume designer because I feel like I’m also always coming into a new town every month or so, right. And so like I don’t always know the resources in that town or what it actually means there. And to actually able to, like, come into a theatre with a resource for, like, all the places locally where you can do stuff and find stuff and, like, get help for what you need would be amazing. But it’s some, for some reason it’s not something that theatres do.
N: Yeah well, you know, a lot of theatres are run by white men. Um, but I mean or, but I, uh, I don’t know, I don’t know what the, what the solution is other than people to start being bolder, for actors even in spaces to start simply saying this what I need. For, um, costume designers to be able to say this is what I need, or hair/wig designers to say this is what I need. Or if you have a Black actor, again you cannot make an assumption that they are going to use their own hair or even know how to style their own hair. It’s not fair! You’re making them do too many jobs. Like even if they do know how to do their hair, then they have to go home after a long day of rehearsal or a long day of, uh, any long day, whatever and, you know, twist, wet, dry. Like for, for uh, natural hair textures, it just takes so much longer to dry. So it’s not just about doing the style, it’s the styling process. It’s the wetting, the drying, the waiting, and then turning around the next day, because nine times out of 10 you’re gonna have to wait til the morning or the afternoon to see now what my twists look like. Because it- because it takes time. Like even when you hear actors talk about a wash day. Wash day is a real thing. Like you need a day. Like oftentimes you’re not going anywhere, because you’re sitting there saying ok, I’m gonna take my twists out. I’m gonna wash it. I’m gonna deep condition it. I’m gonna, you know, pre-poo. I’m gonna put some aloe vera in it to make sure it’s moisturized. There are just several different, uh, steps to make sure that, uh, natural hair because it tends to be a little more fragile, it tends to need more moisture. And then even after you get all the conditioner in, then it has to dry again for, for whatever style. Or the style takes hours to do, and then you’re drying it. So it, it, it legitimately is a day and sometimes that day turns into the next day. So again, like, we have, we have done multiple people’s jobs and have gotten paid for one. And you know other people have gotten the credit for it. And it’s just not, it’s just not fair because the, this one job is hard enough. Um, you know the, the emotional, uh, the emotional toll that a role can take on you. You know, the memorization, the, the research. And then to have to, you know, go home and, and be my own stylist. It’s hard. It’s hard. You know, even when actors have auditions, it’s like oh my god, what am I gonna do with my hair for this audition? And that’s just a one day thing, you know. It, it’s not necessarily fair to say oh I have box braids that took me, let’s say, eight hours to do. Now I’m supposed to take these out for this audition that I may or may not get? Like, no, it doesn’t make any sense. So, so now, like, Black actors have released the need to look exactly like their headshot. And it’s actually more important to show up the way you feel like the character would in your body. Your interpretation of this character. And, and specifically if it’s a, if it’s a Black role, a Black doctor can wear locks, can wear a short fro, can wear, you know, a long straight bob. All of those are a Black doctor. Like this idea of whatever the white midwestern idea of a doctor is, it’s just not the truth anymore. So you know, hopefully we, we continue to embrace who we really are and we show up in a variety of ways.
J: Is there anything that you want other non-designers to know about w- about understanding Black hair or like what you need, what, what we need from them when it comes to Black hair?
N: Yeah, I would say, uh, communication. I would say when a Black actor, uh, enters the space, uh, enters the rehearsal process, that you understand that our needs are different. That our hair is different. That our hair, um, needs actually, actually, actually needs extra care, um, because it can be prone to breakage if it’s dry. Um, that manipulation, constant manip- manipulation can break it. Um, but just that you allow the space to ask the questions of the actors, because they actually know their hair best. That does not mean that the actor is, should be designing their own hair. Even if they decide that, to do their own hair and that they can do their hair, we’re gonna have product, um, and materials for them to help them. We’re gonna talk to them about, well how much time does it take for you to achieve this style? What do you need to, to feel supported in doing this so that you’re not feeling spent and extra tired because, you know, of course a rehearsal process and a tech process is tiring anyway. Um, I think, I think, my desire would be for us to put our money where our mouths are. Y- I think, um, the theatre, theatrical community claims to be inclusive, and I think that hair is one of those things that, uh, is a really important, um, point in being inclusive and understanding and, um, showing empathy and, and providing support. So yeah, that’s my initial thought on that.
J: I find another challenging part for me is also wishing that directors would also educate themselves and learn more about how to have these conversations. Because that’s where so many of these conversations come from, and that’s where the pressure starts, right? Is that a director will come and they’ll have a conversation where they’re not using accurate vocabulary-
J: Or, uh, s- saying racist or discriminatory things without realizing or knowing it.
J: Um, and how do we start to change that too? Because it’s not, I think the thing that we keep coming back to is that it’s not just a conversation between you and me-
J: -it’s a conversation with the broader scope of everyone that works here, but starting with the director.
N: I know for me, as the hair and wig designer, sometime- mostly I’m in conversation with the costume designer, and sometimes in conversation with the, with the director as well. I haven’t worked with, um, any directors where, uh, that have, uh, said anything, um, uh, discriminatory, you know, to me. But I think maybe it’s up to us to whether it’s a director, whether it’s a producer to kindly correct, um, people in those, in those moments. To actually, um, well let me give you a little bit of education so that that doesn’t continue to spread. And of course I think we all have to, like, be nuanced in the way that we do that, especially for someone who is at the helm of something. We feel like oh the director is the, uh, is the boss and you know we want to, um, what is the, what is the word I’m looking for? Um, just, just do whatever-
N: I’m sorry?
J: The hierarchy of it?
N: Yeah the hierarchy of it. And you know, and, and making waves. So how do you still give someone an education in a level of love? But still making sure that they don’t go off to the next person repeating the same garbage that they just said to you. Um, yeah, yeah.
J: Or, or pulling an actor aside and telling them to their face.
N: Uhhhhhhhhhhh! Please!
J: Because that happens too.
N: That, that’s shenanigans! It’s constant work, especially because if we’re going into these theatrical spaces, every time we walk into a theatre, I know, you know, after this past year I have decided not to show up in the same way in a theatre space as I did pre-2020 civil rights movement. But we’ve been doing it for so long that, you know, on a certain level it can get easy to get back into the groove of colonization, into the groove of the same way that we’ve been doing it as we slowly start to, um, start to get back to work. So I think it’s just important to remind ourselves oh, wait a minute. Am I, am I showing up? Am I, am I playing small? Am I, uh, just like going with the flow so that, you know, a, a, so that a white man can feel com- continue to feel comfortable about himself while I still feel, um, while I don’t feel good about myself?
J: Um, would you like to say anything about the National Black Hair and Make-Up Specialist Registry today?
N: It’s just a bit of a venture to try to, to see how to get support into these spaces. So like, so that we, you, you don’t go to west nowhere, Massachusetts and, you know, and be wondering, like ok, I just need one person to do one set of braids and I can’t find anybody. That we, that there are people, um, that have been vetted and, um, on a list. You know, to say, oh, we can go to them. Or even in New York, you know, so, I mean, even in New York, like, it can be a challenge sometimes to, or it feels like theatres find themselves challenged in finding people for whatever reason. But let me say something about that. Um, I think it’s a, a big problem of access. You know, again, if I think about this house that hasn’t been built for us, um, they won’t let us come into the doors, you know, unless they open the doors for us. And then they’re vetting the people who come through the doors. So we are in this privileged space of theatre, which ultimately has been this white space. And there are so many qualified Black stylists, um, or wig designers. Like it just feels like, oh we will let one or two in the door and, and that’s it. And it shouldn’t be like that. Like we, I think there needs to be a level of, um, grooming and, um, allowing more apprenticeship programs for, uh, people of color who are really talented. And you don’t have to have, you don’t have to be a theatre nerd, like, to do the job. Like sometimes it’s, it’s really helpful to just get a stylist who just knows how to do this, this uh, hairstyle or how to support this, um, actor. And you can train them in theatre. It doesn’t have to be someone who’s gone through all of these specialized, uh, programs and apprenticeships since they were in high school. Let’s give them an apprenticeship now and give some access to people. Because I think, I think that’s a big problem, just the, the doors are closed and people are only letting in who they want to let in. And oftentimes it’s not brown people.
J: Thank you so much for talking to us today, Nikiya!
N: Yes! I’m so glad that you had me. I’m so glad you’re doing this and I appreciate you giving me the space for this. Thank you so much.
J: Thank you.
(transition music plays)
J: Next up, we’ll talk with Cody Renard Richard, a Broadway stage manager in New York City.
(transition music plays)
J: Hi Cody.
Cody Renard Richard: Hello.
J: Hi. So everyone, Cody and I worked together at, in St. Louis, on Jesus Christ Superstar at The MUNY, a few years ago now. Um, but Cody is an amazing stage manager. He’s worked on Hamilton, Freestyle Love Supreme, uh, Jesus Christ Superstar Live!, The Wiz Live!, Hairspray Live!. What else? Porgy and Bess at The Met. That was pretty cool.
CRR: Yeah, that was cool. It was crazy.
J: Yeah. Cody can you tell us just a little bit more about yourself?
CRR: Yeah, absolutely, um, I’m originally from Houston, Texas and, um, I studied stage management at Webster Conservatory in St. Louis, where I graduated many moons ago. Um, which is my connection to the MUNY, um, where we, where we met. And from there, you know, I moved to New York. New York was always a dream. Um, and I’ve been very fortunate to, uh, to forge a career on Broadway. Uh, I’ve assisted a lot and I just recently started PSM-ing, which is the production stage manager on Broadway. Um, and you know, I’ve done some of these live TV musicals. I worked on the Tonys, which was really cool. Um, I just started teaching, um, which is something that I never thought I’d say. Uh, but uh, so I’ve been at NYU and I was at Fordham last year. Um, yeah, so that’s a little bit- I just started a scholarship program, um, for BIPOC students studying non-performance-related degrees. I’ve recently been doing a lot of public speaking. I’m all over the place. But, um, but it’s exciting and I’m enjoying it. Um, so in a nutshell that’s kind of, you know, my background, as far as my work, I guess. Other than that, you know, I am a queer Black male who loves to find joy in anything that I do. Um, so that’s a little bit about me.
J: I know. I think I’ve actually also really been enjoying just, like, your work for change and equity in, especially in like the recent past two years. It’s been really exciting to see.
CRR: Thank you, thank you. It’s a lot, especially in this pandemic. Because, you know, when we’re not in this, I feel like we have moments to do other things or to, like, not breathe it all the time. Um, but it’s been a lot lately just because I, I also live alone, so it, it’s, you take your work home with you because you’re working from home. You know there’s really no separation, or I haven’t been able to find that separation as much as I would like to. Um, but it’s rewarding. It’s stuff that I’m passionate about, so it’s been really good. But it’s a lot. (laughs)
J: Yeah. Ok, so today we’re actually specifically trying to talk a lot more about some of the discrimination Black actors face, especially when it comes to hair and make-up. And how as a stage manager and as a production stage manager how, what your role is, in, is in some of these conversations, how you facilitate some of these conversations. And so I’d love to start with maybe some of the discrimination that you’ve actually seen Black actors face in your career, anything that you’ve witnessed as a stage manager where a company hasn’t been properly prepared or, uh, I don’t know. Like I’d just love to hear from you about that.
CRR: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a, uh, not a weird question, but it’s such a question that I can answer in so many ways, because I, I think as a society and as, um, a theatre we don’t empower people enough to show up as they are. So a lot of Black actresses and actors and even, uh, artists within the theatre feel that they have to look a certain way in order to be seen as professional or in order to be respected. You know, people come in buzz cuts, or people, or, or females feel like their hair has to be longer so they’re not- especially Black females so they don’t feel as intimidating or as, you know, there’s this thing that sometimes Black women with short hair looks intimidating. Or if they have braids they look a little, whatever. So I think that, um, we haven’t really empowered people to bring their culture and for them to show up. So there’s already this preconceived notion of them having to change the way they look by straightening their natural hair or not wearing their natural hair, just to show up and come to work. Um so that’s the first thing that I, that, that always strikes me. You know, I do these workshops and, you know, there are sometimes when women come in and their hair, it’s their natural hair, and sometimes it’s their big fro or it’s like tight curls. And people feel the need to respond on it, you know, and they respond to it sometimes in negative ways, just insensitive, inconsiderate uh, uh comments that they don’t understand, um, what they’re talking about. So I think that is the first thing that comes to mind. You know I’ve done, uh, there was this one particular moment when, um, I was working on a show and I, I as the stage manager. At the time he was the PSM and I was the assistant. He went to an actress and basically told her that her hair looked wild and that she needed to do something for it before our workshop.
CRR: Before our workshop presentation. And she just had, she was wearing her natural hair. You know it was out, it was different from the way she normally wears it, but that comment, um, was inappropriate and it made her feel terrible, and she had to deal with that for the rest of our time there. And she actually approached him and they had a, a dialogue about it, you know. Another time, I was doing another workshop and this, uh, one of our actresses, she wore a different wig to rehearsal every day. And our director found it upon themselves to say to this person, oh I can never tell who you are, you always change your hair, it’s like a new Black girl walks in every day. You know.
CRR: And like, I understand what they were trying to say, but also, that ain’t your place to comment on this person and tell them that you don’t know who they are because they’re changing their hair. A lot of people, their hair is their identity. So her changing her wig every day is something that she’s doing for herself. And you are drawing unnecessary, uh, negative attention to it, which is gonna make her, you know, think twice about showing up that way. So I don’t think that we empower people to show up to work, um, in their natural way, you know, which has been, um, really interesting to see the shift in this conversation that a lot of people have been having.
J: Actually that’s something that’s really interesting to think about and talk about as well, right? That we don’t, like we talk a lot I think as costume designers about, like, what the end result is, or like what the performance aspect of it is. But there is so much of this that happens in the rehearsal room too. That people don’t understand that Black hair is a process that, you know, it takes time. That every, sometimes you wake up on a day and you’re not actually ready to do it, you can’t do it sustainably the same way every day and that it can look different. Um, and that’s not something we actually address very much about what it looks like in rehearsal, and how that can also shift and change based on the other projects that person is working on.
J: Outside of that project.
CRR: Yeah, and I’ve seen some people, you know, um, where they are hired when they have long braids. And then they get into the thing and they’re like, oh can you just come to work tomorrow with x, y, and z? And like, that’s not how this works. You know, this is a process to take these out-
CRR: -to put these in, and then to make my hair do what you’re wanting it to do. That’s just not, that’s not realistic. So I think that people don’t, if you don’t understand Black hair, if you don’t understand hair, then you know, they make these requests and then people feel like they have to jump through hoops to do it in order to keep their job. You know, um, that’s another thing that I think is an issue.
J: Was that conversation with that director, did they, did they have a conversation about it? Was it resolved or was it something that just happened and then kept going for the rest of the rehearsal?
CRR: Um, well, that conversation with that director, um, the, the actress didn’t say anything to the director because I, for re- a lot of reasons, I’m sure. Um, but I went to the actress and I was like, do you want me to say something? How do you feel? Like, I, if this, if you, if this makes you feel a type, a type of way I’ll absolutely, you know, step in. But I don’t, you know, I want this to be in your court. If you’re fine with it, I’ll move on, you know what I mean. But I don’t want to put you in an awkward position.
CRR: So this person, um, at this time decided that it wasn’t worth bringing it up and that they were ok. Um, whether they were, uh, it was a truthful, you know, um, uh, if she was being true or not, I don’t know, but in that moment she said she was ok and that’s all I could do. Um, I think, you know what I mean, because I never want to put anybody in an awkward position by me stepping up for them. I never want to step up for anybody who doesn’t feel like they needed the help either. Um, but it was icky and I could tell that in that moment they felt not happy about it, you know. Um, so I think those are weird situations too. I think until we can empower people to, um, to really a- address things as they come up. You know, you really only can, you know, advocate for them as much as they want, you know. Um, so in that situation we did not talk to the director. Of course, interesting, someone else in the cast made a similar comment and that person addressed them in front of the room, so I think the director heard it, but it was like, um, not directly to them. Um, so, I don’t know.
J: There is something about that uneven, because it is an uneven power dynamic and we see that happening so often across, like, casting directors and directors as well in the room, right. Like how does an actor or a designer or a stage manager, um, who’s un- theoretically or technically, like, under a director, how do we say things to them when they have either crossed boundaries or, um, you know made a faux pas that, like, they maybe don’t understand? But like how, how does that happen for you, like if you had to talk to a director about something like that?
CRR: Yeah, I’m at the point in my life now to where it is my responsibility to say something whenever I feel uncomfortable or whenever I feel something is not, um, right a- according to, um, whatever my morals are. Or something I see that I feel is inappropriate. Like I just feel like that is my responsibility, no matter who the director is, who the producer is. And, um, and, and knowing that, I just feel that there are nuanced ways to have these conversations. I think a lot of times, anytime you approach someone about race or about money or about something, um, that they, that they are, um, cautious about, they get defensive. So I just think there are, um, tools and tactics in how to approach it so you save their ego but also make your point across, you know. Um, so I think that’s really important. And I also think that, you know, we have to call things out when they happen or around the time that it happens. Uh, because the longer we let it slide, you know you come back to it a week later and they’ve moved on. And now you’re making a big, you’re not making a big deal, but now you’re bringing back something that we have moved on from. So I think it’s really important that, you know, if you don’t attack it in the moment, or tackle it in the moment, um you know, do it on a break, do it after rehearsal. But I think it’s really important to address it. And they’re, like I said, there are ways to address it that makes the other person, um, feel like it’s conversation or feel like, you know, this is what I perceived, this is what I think we should do moving forward. You know, um, instead of being like, you said this and that ain’t right. You know and I, so people will, will not be as defensive. And you know, as you know, there will still be people that’s not gonna hear it or don’t wanna hear it. And that’s on them. But I think the only thing that I can do is make sure that they’re aware of whatever they’re saying and whatever they’re doing. And, and if they take it personal on me, I know it’s not about me so, you know, I can’t, can’t hold onto that. But I really think it’s my responsibility to, um, make sure that these people aren’t, you know, doing the same shit! (laughs)
J: Absolutely. Do you have any advice for, like, other actors, designers, stage managers, directors, producers, like, well maybe not designers but like, for people outside the design team actually, like, when encountering these situations. Or like if they felt that, like, they wanted to say something but didn’t know how or what to say or how to articulate that.
CRR: Yeah, I mean, always find a friend. You know, you know find someone who you can clearly speak to and know that they’ll listen. And then get their advice or get their support. Because I, I honestly believe that, you know, safety in numbers. There’s power in numbers. The more people that, or even if it’s just one person, if you have someone else with you, you know, you’re able to just have that support in, in order to speak up or in order to formulate your words. Um, I don’t think that anyone should ever have to, uh, tackle anything alone, especially when it’s something that may be sensitive to them, you know. Emotions sometimes get in the way, or whatever it is. So I really think it’s important to find somebody within the production or, or even outside the production if there’s no one around that you feel like you can talk to about it. But find someone. Hopefully your stage manager’s that person you can go to, and if it’s not, find someone else and say this happened to me. I need to talk this through, I need to figure out what my next step is, and I want you to support me in this. And if they say great, let’s do it, this is your person. If they say I, this is uncomfortable, find somebody else. But don’t stop and don’t feel like y- you can’t approach it because that one person you talked to was not willing to, to have your back. You know, find someone. Always, you know, without making it a big deal and going oh my god, did you hear what they said to me? You know and, and they’re, sure if that’s your tactic, go ahead, but I, you know, I think it’s important to really, you know, figure this out in a way that’s going to be helpful for everybody.
J: Is there something that you wish costume designers specifically, like, did or, like, knew about any of this in order to have a better conversation with you or with an actor?
CRR: Um, I think it’s really all about an open line of communication. Um, uh, I think that, you know, especially with an actor when they come in, it, especially I think if a designer is designing a show about a culture that they are not from, I don’t care how much research you have done or how much knowledge you feel like you may know of that culture, I think that it only makes you seem like a better collaborator and a better leader if you look at this person while you’re in this fitting and say this is what I’ve researched. This is my vision for you. How do you feel about putting this on? Or like, what do you think? You know what I mean, like, involving them. You know, it’s still your design and your vision, but I think it, just empowering them to feel like they are, you know, providing something within, um, your, your world. I think that that’s really important, just an open line of communication. Being like are you comfortable wearing this? This, this, and then backing it up. And this is why I wanted you to wear this, because I read this here, I saw this here, and I feel like this character should move- You know what I mean? I think that that’s the part that’s exciting to, to artists and to actors and to collaborators, to feel like they are a part of this journey. As opposed to being like, here’s your wig. Wear this wig that we have no idea, or like, or here’s your checkered dress to wear in this show because, you know, this is what they wore. You know what I mean? I think it’s really, if, if there’s, if, if there, there should always be time for that dialogue. So I think that that’s important to just really open that up in these fittings and, and in those moments.
J: How do you as a stage manager advocate for the Black actors in your cast?
CRR: Um, I, you know, I try to lead by example, honestly. I try to show up, um, as myself. I try to, um, put my best foot forward. I try to let them know that I’m not gonna ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do. You know I try to, you know, um, if, I try to talk to people, uh, the director, choreographers just as I would talk to anyone else. So they know that I am that person that will handle whatever is happening I guess. Um, you know, I, I make myself available. You know, I’m very open and transparent so I, I go to people, I get to know them, I, I am there. You know I think that’s the, the first step in trying to advocate is letting know, letting people know that you’re there for them. So that’s the biggest thing for me. And then, you know, if something happens they know they can come to me or they know that they don’t even have to because I am already, you know, working for them to have, um, whatever it is that they need. Um, you know, sometimes it’s an unspoken thing. You know, it’s a look, it’s a, it’s a you know, got it. You know what I mean? But I think it’s really important for people to, to know that you care and that you are there for them as much as you are there for the production. You know, a lot of times I say that, you know, it’s, it’s about the people, it’s not about the production. Yes we want the production to succeed. Yes we want to, you know, carry out the vision. Yes we all wanna do this thing that’s bigger than us. But if you don’t have the people, you don’t have the show. So I really try to make the people know that they c- that they matter. Um, so that’s the, I guess that’s the, the biggest step or first step that I try to, you know, impart when I start working on shows. If, you know, e- if I say it in my first day spiel or if I just pull people aside or just show up, hopefully they know. Um, but that’s my thing is just letting people know that I’m there for them and that they can come to me and I will listen, um, and try to, you know, work out whatever we need to work out.
J: Because there’s a false fallacy I think, like this idea that the show must go on. And I think we’ve realized in the pandemic that the show doesn’t have to go on, or sometimes it can’t go on. But I think as there’s, there’s this like, I think, feeling that’s been drilled into us, like when we’re learning in theatre, especially in college or whatever, that no matter what you do, the show has to go on. But that’s not true, right? Like it, it, the people in the show matter, and if the people in the show are at risk or at stake, then the show sometimes can’t happen and that’s ok.
CRR: Yeah, I think that, you know, that term has been so ingrained in us. And like, in moments that term feels very positive and uplifting, like yeah, we can do this. Let’s rally behind each other. The show must go on! And there are other times when we’re like, are you kidding me, what do you mean the show must go on? I, you know, so I think that that term is, is, there’s so much in that. And I, and I agree with you that sometimes the show can’t go on. Or, you know, sometimes the show can go on, but very differently, and we all have to understand that we are going on in a very different way and that, you know, that it won’t be what you think it’s gonna be today because this is the capacity that we have. But I, but yeah, I agree with you. Sometimes I feel like, you know, that mentality of the show must go on is, is um, is hurtful and not necessarily helpful to every process and to certain things that people might be experiencing. Um, and you know, we don’t really talk about that enough. But yeah, I agree with you.
J: Yeah. Ok, Cody, would you like to plug your scholarship foundation and maybe any other upcoming projects you have?
CRR: Sure. Um, so back in September I officially launched, um, my scholarship program, which is the CRR Scholarship Program, uh, through the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. Um, I’ve done a lot of work with them and they’re a great foundation. And um, so I partnered with them to essentially give out, um, grants to students and also provide them with mentorship and other, um, other tools that will help them along their journey. We just had our first work sesh- work session, um, the other week, which was so inspiring. Uh, these students are incredible. Um, so yeah, we’re doing, we’re, we’re having a couple work sessions. And that’s essentially the program. It’s meant for BIPOC students who aren’t actors who are interested in designing, stage managing, directing, producing, you name it. Um, and it’s really, I’m really just trying to usher them into our industry, whether they want to work in New York, whether it’s regionally, you know, whatever. Trying to provide them with the tools to exist in these white spaces, to have certain conversations with people, to empower them to use their voice, to, to make them more self-aware of their culture and who they are and just, you know, help them along their journey. And, and to build a community of people who can have that support system. Um, and, I’ve gotten a lot of, um, uh, support throughout the community for this, which has been very exciting. So I’m excited to see how it, you know, moves forward. And this year has been really, really, really great. So yeah, that’s really the scholarship. And if anyone’s listening and they want to donate, we are accepting donations year-round. You can go to my website, which is codyrenard.com/scholarship and you can donate through that link. Um, if you know people who should apply, um, we’re going to open up, um, the application process for the next round, uh, sometime this summer. So, um, be on the lookout for that. But yeah, that’s my program.
J: Yeah, and all of the links to that will be available in our resources and our bios.
CRR: Oh great.
J: Are there any other upcoming projects you’re like to talk about, or-
CRR: Um, I don’t know. I, you know I, I’m busy over here in this little one-bedroom apartment-
J: What are you doing?
CRR: -my office and my bedroom. I’m just, you know I, I’ve been doing a lot of, uh, panels and stuff like that. But I’m actually about to start this, um, it’s not a, I don’t know what to call it. It’s like a video series. And I’m-
CRR: I’m gonna interview a bunch of my friends really. Because I’ve been thinking about a, a, you know the first time that people felt seen, especially Black artists, um, and, and I tried to think about the first time that I felt seen and I couldn’t remember. Um, but then I thought about other moments where, you know, in a production process or, like, walking the street, or wherever where I was like, oh, you know, I felt seen positively. So yeah I’m just gonna sit down with people, you know, some famous people, some regular people, some fierce people, some fun people, and just have a conversation and, and explore that moment where they felt seen, or sort of moments where they felt seen, and kind of, um, what that impact meant for them. And hopefully, you know, whoever watches it, hopefully they’re inspired or they’re felt seen through that. But um, so I’m hoping to launch that, um, sometime in March. So that’s, the other thing that I’m working on, so.
J: Well thank you so much, Cody.
CRR: Of course, of course. Thanks for having me.
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J: That’s all for this month’s Dirty Laundry! We hope this episode showed that the discrimination that Black actors face when it comes to hair and makeup is not confined to the conversations between a hair designer, costume designer, and actor, but reverberates outward to all areas of production. And this is a discussion we all should be having. Before we go, I’d also really like to say thanks again to our invaluable guests, Nikiya Mathis, Cassandra Freeman, and Cody Renard Richard for their time and emotional labor. Links to their social media and all the resources they mentioned here tonight are available in our episode description and at our website, dirtylaundrythepodcast.com. Dirty Laundry is committed to compensating our guests for their time and emotional labor. To support us, please visit our website and donate. You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook @dirtylaundry.thepodcast, or Twitter @dirtylaundry_pc, or via email at [email protected] Dirty Laundry: Unpacking The Costume Closet is produced by Shayna O’Neill and Johanna Pan, with music by Jay Ong, and audio engineering by Justin Sabe.
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