By Darlene Donloe
A Nigger will be on stage in Santa Monica Monday night.
The word, one of the most polarizing, damaging, confrontational and misunderstood words in the English language, is the subject of Kyle Bowser’s Trial By Jury: The Case of the N Word, a theater and social discussion slated for a one night engagement only, Mon., October 17, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
The show probes the multiplicity of perspectives surrounding the nation’s most provocative word. This production presents opposing perspectives and a constructive forum for articulation, consideration, and rebuttal.
Trial by Jury: The Case of The N-Word has been presented to audiences across the country and serves as an important forum. It’s a chance for community members to speak directly to each other – and lets the audience have a chance to find its own way.
Nigger! The word can sting. It can cut like a knife. It can cause psychological damage, ruin one’s self esteem and wound the soul. It’s considered one of the most polarizing words in the English language.
Nigger! The word is also a term of endearment. To some it can comfort and describe a kind of camaraderie amongst a group of black people. To some it signifies an intimate, social relationship. It’s about love, friendship and comfort.
How can one word have two contradictory meanings?
The N word will be dissected and examined in a presentation that is surely to raise not only eyebrows, but also consciousness.
The architect of this production is Kyle D. Bowser, a seasoned entertainment executive who has been honing his craft in Hollywood for decades.
A Philaldelphia native, his impressive and vast list of credits spans television, theater, radio, music, film and new media.
Bowser, a married (Yvette Lee Bowser) father of two, is most proud of his work as the executive producer of The Bible Experience, a fully dramatized audio Bible featuring an all-star cast of more than 400 actors, musicians, clergy, athletes and others.
I recently caught up with the handsome, personable exec to talk about his latest project.
DD: This show has a very interesting concept. Please describe this show.
KDB: There are two basic segments to the program. The first is a 30 minutes film 30. In the film we see a trial followed by a jury deliberation. The trial portion is scripted. The jury deliberation is not scripted. We sequester the jury. Their deliberation is real. They analyze and debate the issues. After the film is done, we turn up the lights and engage the audience and give them the opportunity to speak out. The audience votes to determine the trial.
DD: It’s interesting that you’re putting the word, Nigger, on trial. Are you going to put anything else on trial?
KDB: Trial by Jury is an ongoing series. Each one will feature a new topical issue. I want people to rethink their preconceived notions. I want to talk about how we interact with each other. This is just the first installment.
DD: In this installment you are using a 9-year-old girl.
KDB: Yes, she’s in private school. The teacher was talking about the civil rights movement. It’s February, which is Black History Month. The teacher invokes the N word. The parents are incensed. They have taken painstaking efforts to shield her from that word. The school has pierced that bubble. The parents think the teacher was negligent in making that decision. The parents thought they should have been able to give consent.
The school puts on an affirmative defense. We deliberately use the word. We have to authenticate black history. Tell the students how challenging the word has been throughout history. They think the education forum is the most appropriate place for that language to be shared. They think it can be put in its proper context.
DD: The show is interactive?
KB: Yes. I bring two other people on stage to help frame the conversation. The focus is not on us. It’s an opportunity for people to speak for themselves. Often we are spoken to. We sequester people from the audience. Then they come back and share what they discuss. We finally call the question for the live audience. We end up with three verdicts. The people on film, those escorted out and the audience.
DD: How did you come up with this idea?
KB: A long time ago I produced a TV special for UPN (United Paramount Network). It had a similar format. I scripted a trial and filmed an actual jury deliberation. I put two phone numbers and had the audience log a vote. At the end of the show we had the result of the phone deliberations. I hoped it would be an ongoing series, but it did not happen. I still believe in this idea. I decided to do it on my own.
DD: What is your definition of a Nigger?
KB: You have to imagine that after doing this show at The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, I’ve gone to some other places with it. I’m slated to go to The Apollo in February. I have heard a good number of perspectives on this issue. My answer today is different from what it would have been a couple of years ago. I hate to split hairs, but I have to say – it depends. Nigger is in the eye of the beholder.
There is no longer a single definition for the word.
DD: Do you personally use the word?
KB: I do, in multiple contexts. Bernie Mac was a very good friend of mine. He used to do this thing on the words Mother Fucker. The N word can be used similarly. I use it in every way conceivable. I’m more conscious of it now. I now have a greater awareness.
DD: Why do we condone others calling us Nigger when we call ourselves Nigger all the time?
KB: It’s a property rights issue. It’s an issue as a people – not our African-ness. It’s our African American-ness. It’s a unique culture that needs to be recognized as such. We need to start fresh. We are not a people who know where we’re from. We have no natural resource we can lay claim to. We can’t say that’s ours. We don’t’ have institutional wealth amongst us. So culture, I think, becomes our representation of self. It’s our dance, cooking, fashion and language. The ways we express our essence. To see other people lay claim to it – like Robin Thicke singing or Miley Cyrus twerking. The N word falls into that bucket. We are not the ones who started calling us that name. Our oppressors did. Somewhere along the line we started saying it.
DD: Why do people say N word instead of saying nigger as if it’s somehow politically correct?
KB: The use of the term N word is kind of silly. It’s a euphemism. It hasn’t removed the meaning of the word. If I say the N word you know what I’m talking about. It’s still present in our consciousness.
DD: Why do we hang on to a word that white people used to demean us? It’s passed down generation to generation like our family history.
KB: some say we defang it. We take the power out of it. We’ve taken ownership of it.
DD: Do you personally consider the word powerful?
KB: Depends on the context. If I walk up to one of my friends and say, ‘what’s up nigger,’ there is so much love in that. I can also use the word in the way where I draw a line in the sand. The question is – at what point does the outside world start to put their hand on the steering wheel. Is it ok for a school to decide it’s ok for a 9-year-old girl. Who gets to decide the threshold for introducing the word.
DD: Is it more important for whites to see this show, or black people?
KB: I’m glad you asked this question. I think this one at the Broad will have a unique mix in the audience. I’ve done Los Angeles, Cleveland and Philly where the audiences have been predominantly black. I think we will see more of a mix. I don’t’ know which audience needs to see it more. It will be interesting to see this process from a mixed audience. I think everyone will express their genuine thoughts. I want and will demand that everyone get respect.
DD: Are you for banning the word?
KB: The NAACP attempted that years ago staged a funeral to bury the N word. Some people say get over it, it’s just a word. There are many people who heard that word just before the noose tightened around their neck. On the streets when I was a kid I used various words, but when I went in my mother’s house I automatically didn’t use. If we have the ability do we have the will to not use the word.
DD: Have you ever been called a Nigger by a non- black person? What did you feel?
KB: Oh, yeah. The first time it happened I was a kid. I had reprimanded a little white girl at school. She spit in a water fountain. She told her brother. I was hanging out with my friends who were white. He said, ‘Nigger don’t talk to my sister.’ The third time he said it, I closed my eyes and I swung. He’s on the ground. I’m crying. My mother took me home. My parents had company. My mom told the group of them what happened. They all started high fiving me and patted me on the back. It was my first lesson in race relations. I did not get in trouble. As a grown man – I’m sure I’ve been called a nigger more than I’m aware. I don’t remember it happening as a grown man.
DD: What has been the reaction to your show?
KB: The thing I’m most proud of is each time I’ve done this when the show is over folks are not ready to go home. They still feel they have to vent and let it out. We’ve been giving people time to stick around longer. They tell the stories of what happened to them. It gives people time to express themselves.
DD: You’ve been in this business for a number of years. Where does this project fit in terms of projects you’re proud of?
KB: I’m very proud of Trial By Jury. It’s an idea that has been with me since I arrived. I came here out of law school. I knew I didn’t want to practice law. I wanted the education. My chosen profession was entertainment. I’m proud that I have stuck with it. We’re now talking about it being an ongoing series.
I’m proud of The Bible Experience I’m one of four producers on this project. It was an assignment I received. It’s 98 hours long. It’s the best selling audio bible. It’s an amazing piece of work.
DD: How did you come up with the idea to do that project?
KDB: One Christmas season I was shopping on Christmas Eve. I decided to get everybody books. I was in Barnes and Noble and came across an audio Bible. It was so bland. No production value. I thought I could do it better. What about celebrity voices? What about black celebrity voices? I wanted to do a biblical story with black people.
DD: Have any of the responses you’ve gotten from Trial By Jury shocked you?
KB: Yes, a lady stood up and said, as far as she’s concerned the parents need to be the ones getting sued. They did their daughter a disservice by not teaching her about the N word at 9-years-old. I’m always surprised at the number of young people who were opposed to the word. They felt the word should be banned.
Trial by Jury: The Case of The N-Word, The Broad Stage, Monday, Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m., $25-$55, 90 min., no intermission; 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; 310 434-3200.