Checking In With… Kenita R. Miller, Star of Once On This Island, Come From Away, Bella: An American Tall Tale, More

Interview   Checking In With… Kenita R. Miller, Star of Once On This Island, Come From Away, Bella: An American Tall Tale, More
 
"Oppression doesn't care if you're on Broadway or in a movie. This is a movement in history where we all have the opportunity to evolve as human beings."
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Kenita R. Miller Joseph Marzullo/WENN

As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.

The series continues with Kenita R. Miller, who was last on Broadway in a Drama Desk-nominated performance as Mama Euralie in the Tony-winning revival of Once On This Island and has also been seen in Come From Away, Xanadu, and The Color Purple, while her Off-Broadway credits include Best of Both Worlds, Dessa Rose, I'll Be Damned, and Bella: An American Tall Tale. For her work in the latter, she received the Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Female Dancer in an Off-Broadway Show. Miller, whose screen credits include Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Shades of Blue, The Blacklist, Odd Mom Out, and Hostages, was most recently seen in the second volume of Scott Siegel’s virtual Great American Songbook Concert Series, which is able to pay its artists through an ongoing GoFundMe campaign.

READ: On the Shelf: 27 Theatre Artists Reveal What They've Been Reading Since the Theatre Shutdown

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Kenita R. Miller in the Broadway revival of Once On This Island Joan Marcus

What is your typical day like now?
Since the shutdown/pandemic, my days aren't that typical... My wake-up time has been varying, so some mornings I wake up at 6 AM, and some mornings I wake up at 10-11 AM. My husband and I have started riding our bikes together, so if we get up at 6 AM, we ride, which has been absolutely beautiful. Other mornings I'll ease into some in-home workouts, which don't really feel like workouts, but more like a solo dance party... Thank you, YouTube! Sometimes I can get my husband to join me.

Most consistently, my days have been filled with self-reflection, writing, learning... and naps! Writing has been a tremendous outlet. It's been a way to release the anxiety that may arise during this incredible time. My anxiety usually comes in the form of fast and chaotic thought, so instead of letting those thoughts run rampant, I've been trying to find creative and artistic outlets to use my voice—an outlet to voice what I'm experiencing, and as a way to stand up to oppression. My oppression. The oppression of people. And the oppression of artists. Oddly, as much stress as this pandemic has induced, I feel like I'm evolving. I feel stronger. I feel more present.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Right now I'm listening to Mary Trump's audio book Too Much and Never Enough. Other must reads are anything Octavia Butler! The Parable series is eerily relevant. Anything and all things Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

And as far as film goes... If you're tired of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, check out The Criterion Collection! They stream all kinds of cult classics and art films. They have a plethora of thought-provoking works. And, it's nice to see that they have recently started to share the work of more Black directors and writers.

TV: I May Destroy You. Michaela Coel is a master! Powerful writing and performance!

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding Black artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?

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Kenita R. Miller Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I think for one to re-educate themselves, they first have to care. Those in power, fellow actors, and audience members alike have to care enough about the actual history of systemic oppression and trauma that Black people have been experiencing. The Black artists whose artistry you admire and love, are still Black when we walk out of the stage door. Oppression doesn't care if you're on Broadway or in a movie. This is a movement in history where we all have the opportunity to evolve as human beings. It's an opportunity to activate and be present as human beings. Human beings who embrace difference. Human beings who don't react in fear to difference.

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
To anyone struggling with isolation and/or the current unrest I would say... "It's OK. You're not alone." I think it's safe to say a majority of us are experiencing extreme emotional shifts. Stop and cry when you need to. I do. Stop and just breathe and appreciate that you are still breathing. I do. Take naps when you need to. I do. Laugh heartily! Reach out to those you know love you. Love on someone else. Go through all of the feelings. Just remember, even if you're alone in your home... you are never truly alone. "Fall over backwards" to protect your mental wellness.

How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you? Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
My husband Justin Hicks, sister-in-law Jade Hicks, and myself have a family band called The HawtPlates. We have currently been working on a piece commissioned by The Public Theater for the past few months. We've been forced to expand the methods in which we create together due to the pandemic. It's been tricky, but most definitely rewarding. I feel my skill set as an artist expanding. I count it a blessing to be able to create with my family. It's only brought us even closer during this time. And I'm proud that I have a creative outlet to get me through. It's an artistic outlet to voice our thoughts and experiences in the time we're living in. It is our artivism. With that being said (shameless plug alert!), follow us on Instagram and Facebook @TheHawtPlates. We can't wait to share with you. And we would love your support!

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Broadway Advocacy Coalition. Broadway for Racial Justice. Black Theatre United... just to name a few.

READ: Checking In With… Hamilton Star Miguel Cervantes

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