Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Actor Michael Washington Brown Talks About Being Black! In One-Man Show At The Zephyr

Michael Washington Brown

By Darlene Donloe

Michael Washington Brown is unapologetically Black. So much so, that he has written and performs a 90-minute play called, what else, Black!, discussing and highlighting what it means to be black - through the voices of four distinct Black men from different cultures (England, Jamaica, Africa and the U.S.).

The show opens September 9 at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood.

A British actor, playwright, and storyteller, Brown’s one-man show has been called funny and deeply truthful as he attempts to shatter stereotypes by playing out the life stories of the four aforementioned men.

Brown, whose mother’s family is from Barbados and father’s side from Jamaica, is the first generation born in England. When he talks about being Black – the richness of his pride comes through in his cadence. He loves being Black and through this show, he wants everyone to know it.

I recently caught up with Brown to discuss being Black!.

DD: What does it mean to be black?

MWB:  I love that you asked that. I feel this incredible sense of responsibility now more than before I wrote the show. I think of my parents and grandparents. There is a common denominator of strength. You think of what we’ve been through and how we have clawed our way up. As an adult and playwright, it’s even deeper for me. To honor the sacrifices that have been made have allowed me to be in the position I am in today.

DD: What is your message?

MWB: Initially, the idea, the impetus came to me that it was a God message. I know the difference between my ego speaking to me and God speaking to me. As an artist, I come from a strong and prideful black family that lives in London. My family is from Jamaica and Barbados. I connect with black brothers and sisters here and in England. Over the years I’ve made jokes about our DNA and how we acknowledge each other and certain situations.

For me, the impact of the show and the message is that there is a tremendous amount of similarity among black people. There are also a tremendous amount of differences.  There are differences from one country to the next, in fact, one state to the next. There is more that bonds us than divides us. We should celebrate the things that bring us together. It breaks my heart to see blacks killing blacks. It hurts when we put each other down.

Michael Washington Brown

DD: Why were these four characters chosen to deliver your message?

MWB: They are from the U.S., England, Jamaica, and Africa — each of whom is black, but each of whom has a very different idea about what that means.  I’m not here to create a conclusion. I just want to give a different perspective. Everyone has to have their own, 'Ah, Ha' moment or their own, 'Oh, Wow' moment. Everyone has their own experiences in life.  I would love for us as black people to celebrate our differences.

DD: Do you believe in your lifetime there will ever be a time when racism is not an issue?

MWB: Sadly, no! I would love to say, yes. Not because there isn’t the potential for improvement. I just don’t think the conclusion will happen in my lifetime.  I’m not here to solve problems, just to give hope and create a conversation. Let's not focus on differences.  We are all the same. We are getting hung up on the exterior and not looking at the interior.  It seems we elevate by putting other people down. We need to take the time to understand each other.  

DD: What do these four men add to the conversation?

MWB: They are going to bring their individual experience of growing up black based on where they grew up. I hope the audiences get to assess where there are similarities and differences. Actually, all four of these men are woven into one.

DD: Why did you write this show?

MWB: Because nobody else had written it. This is my artistic expression. I’ve played a lot of different roles. I’m fed up and tired of only seeing certain representations of black people. There is a lot about us that is not and has not been revealed. I can’t complain and then not step up. This show is me stepping up. These are my thoughts and views and what I would like to see and say.
DD: Why are you the right person to write this?

MWB:  It is silly to think that a white executive could be inspired to do a story on the black perspective. It’s not their story to tell. We have to tell it. I have a voice. It’s not only about what I say on stage. It’s what's happening inside. I need to tell the story. I need to be a vessel.

DD: Is it more important for white people to see this show or for black people to see it?

MWB:  It’s important for anybody who is breathing to see this show. When you see Black – you think it’s only for Blacks to see the show. All shades have told me they connected with things the characters have said.  The audience has to be open to understanding it. It opens up dialogue. Certain things will be presented where individual audiences will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that. Oh, wow what can I do to be more conscious of what I say and do and step out of my comfort zone.’

DD: While writing this show, did you find something out about yourself that you didn't already know?

MWB: Yes, I found out that there is a reservoir of life experiences I’m able to pull from, some are my own. Some are a tapestry of those who have been in my life. They could have been there a year or a month. They have drip dropped life into me. When I go on stage I’m not alone. I feel the presence of my late grandmother. People in my life are showing up with me. That’s the one place I don’t mind being vulnerable – on stage. I’m very private. The show has given me the ability to understand the depths of my own voice.  I’m not responsible for how people respond to the show.

DD: You’ve done the show in New York, Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle and San Francisco.  Talk about the differences in audiences.  Do you switch up your act depending on the audience?

MWB: I can’t switch up. I have to be a clear vessel. I’m employed by these characters. I work for these characters. That’s my responsibility. Coming to Los Angeles – I don’t know the scene there. I can’t let the intimidation affect me. If there is evolution, it’s in the material – or some staging things. The messaging can’t change.

Michael Washington Brown

DD: Talk about your writing process.  How did this come to be?

MWB:  I write in solitude. No music. If an idea comes to me, I’ll send myself an email. It ’s incredibly like meditation. I switch off the phone. There is no outside interference. With Black! I’d start at 10 at night. It was a crystal time. It was quiet. I would open my computer and wait for the characters to show up. I would just write until I get to a point and then the characters would say this is it for the day. That’s my process. Some days I don’t feel it. I won’t put a word on the page. It feels like I’m carrying a burden of words. I have to get it out of me.  It lives inside me so I have to put it somewhere.

DD: You’re Black, but you’re not an African American. What do you think about African Americans?

MWB: My personal experience from England and parts of the West Indies is that the most visible Blacks throughout the world in terms of a voice is the African American. We have a really good representation.  Black Americans have the torch of what’s possible. Black Americans represent hope. They are a visualization of what hope looks like.

DD: This show sounds deep. I hope your audiences will be ready.

MWB: I just want them to come with a blank slate and an open mind. I just want them to embrace what these characters have to say and leave with a sense of being uplifted, informed, inspired, and educated.  That's the most I could ever ask for. Obviously, I hope they enjoy the show.

BLACK!, Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 7 p.m., Sundays; Sept. 9 – Oct. 14; $25; (800) 838-3006 or go to blackonemanshow.brownpapertickets.com

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