Ain’t Too Proud closes at Berkeley Rep this weekend after a successful 2-month run. A few weeks ago we had the chance to talk to AIC alum Kimille Howard, the assistant director on the show, about her experiences.
1. Tell me a little bit about your background (how did you get into theater, why you came to NYC, etc)
I started out as a dancer, beginning ballet at the age of 3 and increased to tap, jazz, flamenco, hip-hop, modern, and character at the Jordan College Academy of Dance as I got older. My parents always took me to see theater growing up, and my grandmother would take me to Broadway shows when I visited her in New York. When we performed a tap piece to West Side Story songs when I was 9, my parents got me the laser disc (yep) of the film and I fell in love.Plus, my fifth grade teacher would show us old movies like Calamity Jane, Anchors Away, On the Town, Singing in the Rain etc. during recess when it rained. Watching all of those major numbers in those films as a dancer, I thought, “I can do that!” So I performed in a few plays and musicals in high school, was a theater and film major in Chicago at Loyola University – where I fell in love with directing and fell out of love with auditioning for the limited amount of roles for actors of color, and I visited New York every summer and spring break to see family and shows. New York was always the goal for me, although I took a 2 year detour interning/working at Disney World. When I got to New York I started interning, assisting, volunteering, networking and working anywhere I could to gain experience, make connections and start developing my own projects.
2. How did you get hired for Ain’t Too Proud?
A friend of mine who had assisted Des [McAnuff, director of Ain’t Too Proud] for a while connected us. At our first meeting, we got on very well. Des was already sharing some of his amazing stories (he could fill many books with his incredible experiences), and by the end of that hour he asked me if I was available/interested in assisting him on the workshop of Ain’t Too Proud.
3. What was the hardest part of the production?
Things can change on the drop of a dime in rehearsal, especially when you get into tech. In the rehearsal hall, there were numbers along the floor that we used to write down the blocking in our scripts (i.e., so-and-so crossed stage right to 1 on the plexi on this line and landed on this line). I definitely took our brightly illuminated rehearsal hall for granted because once we moved into the theater for tech and previews, it became more of a challenge to track the number changes. There were numbers taped on the edge of the stage during tech for us to reference, but it was still tricky. A lot of adjustments were made when we moved to the theater because of lighting, moving set pieces, safety, script changes etc., but the actors were helpful in shouting out their new numbers when they could. It’s especially important to have the right numbers in case the actors forget or the swings need to be taught a track. We have things flying in and out, set pieces and people entering on the treadmill or turntable, and making sure everyone is safe on stage is important. Hence, accuracy in documenting the blocking is key.
4. What was the most rewarding part?
All of it was pretty rewarding, it’s difficult to choose just one thing. Learning from Des, collaborating with Dominique [Morisseau, playwright], witnessing the brilliance of Sergio [Trujillo, choreographer] and Edgar [Godineaux, assistant choreographer], being a part of the birth of this beautiful and inspiring production about an important time in black history, getting to walk in a room full of incredibly talented black artists everyday for 10 weeks, the relationships I’ve made, communicating with rock star designers, the knowledge I’ve gained about directing musicals (it’s a beautiful beast of a task), working on a musical filled with songs my mom had me listen to in the car on the way to school, being a part of something I am truly proud of and can’t wait to share with all of my friends, family, and the world.
5. What does it mean to you to be an artist of color?
It is an important part of who I am and why I do what I do. I was motivated to shift from acting to directing because I wanted to be at the helm of the narratives being told and the casting choices being made. Someday, who knows how long it will take, the presence of people of color on stage (with a variety of different experiences represented) will be consistent and, dare I say, equal to the current majority. That is my hope, at least, and I want to contribute to that evolution of theater. It needs to happen. Black, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander and Latinx people should be allowed to see reflections of themselves on stage, too. Our stories are just as good and worthy of being told (in more than just outlier theaters), and I strive towards bringing those to the stage.
6. What’s your next project?
I am a resident director at The Flea Theater where I will be directing the second episode of The Girl With No Hands by Charly Evon Simpson for our new serialized theater presentation for kids and adults called “Cereals.”
7. How can people follow you?
Instagram and twitter: @kokosurprise