Checking In With… Ain't Too Proud Star James Harkness | Playbill

Interview Checking In With… Ain't Too Proud Star James Harkness "The arts community should be just that—a full community just as colorful as the works that can and will be envisioned."
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James Harkness 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 James Harkness, who was playing Paul Williams in the Tony-nominated Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations when the pandemic closed theatres around the world. The actor's Broadway credits also include Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Guys and Dolls, The Color Purple, Aida, and Chicago, and he has performed in the national tours of Aida and Dreamgirls. Harkness has been seen on screen in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Moving On, and North.

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Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, James Harkness, and Derrick Baskin Matthew Murphy

What is your typical day like now?
Honestly, there is no typical day for me. Given that I am not on a regimented-type schedule, I can do what I please, which can be great and a few other times not so much. This time has allowed me to do things like acupuncture and physical therapy and have the time to let these positively affect me.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Tough question, as we all have different interests and needs. A solid answer is Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. Wholly written with the creative process in mind, I believe anyone who has the desire to attain something can benefit from the book. Otherwise, let google be your friend. Search out what moves you.

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC 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?
That we are part of everyday society and have been. We should not be afterthoughts or that "we have one, maybe two in the cast" to satisfy. We are not just the sassy receptionist or check-out person. Not just the friend. Not just the sing-the-house down in Act II person. We are all. Write and cast like the world around you, unless the world you live in and see only has people the same race as you everywhere you go. And, if you are unsure, ask. The arts community should be just that—a full community just as colorful as the works that can and will be envisioned. Representation of reality matters.

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Ephraim Sykes, Derrick Baskin, Otis Williams, Jawan M. Jackson, and James Harkness Marc J. Franklin

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Go outside. Seriously. Put a mask on, put two on. Bring your sanitizer, wipes, etc. You can go out, be around life, without being right next to it. Isolating yourself if you are ill and do not want to spread, of course, but if you are able go out. Find a loved one you trust and do a social distancing walk. It's good for the soul. Otherwise, video chat. See people's faces, hear their voices. Connect.

How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
I've been working on my original music a lot. I teach dance classes here and there. And, then many times I just dance and sing for my soul.

Has that been helpful to you?
Immensely. Creativity as an intrinsic part of me and it being allowed to flow on its own terms, not because I have shows to do, has been truly special.

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
BC/EFA always, but there are so many things out there to engage in that are relevant to now. I am not the best person to ask about all that. I have been asking too. :)

READ: Checking In With… N'Kenge, Star of Caroline, or Change, Motown the Musical, and More

Production Photos: Ain't Too Proud on Broadway

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