Checking In With… Ain't Too Proud Star Nik Walker

Interview   Checking In With… Ain't Too Proud Star Nik Walker
 
"I hope that we continue to educate ourselves and our potential audiences about the system in which we have been living for the past 400 years."
Nik Walker
Nik Walker Courtesy of Nik Walker

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 Nik Walker, who stepped into the role of Otis Williams in the Tony-nominated Ain't Too Proud just a few weeks before the pandemic closed theatres around the country. The actor has also been seen on Broadway in Hamilton and Motown the Musical as well as the national tours of both of those hit musicals. Walker's screen credits include This Is Family, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Borderland.

READ: Checking In With… Memphis Tony Nominee Montego Glover

Nik Walker in <i>Hamilton</i>
Nik Walker in Hamilton

What is your typical day like now?
My typical day is, thankfully, quite busy. NYU has made the great (mistake) of bringing me on as a professor; on top of teaching, I’m directing two productions, so it’s pretty much a 9 to 5. I’m also knee deep in writing projects—two screenplays, one commissioned musical, and a series I’m developing with my buddy Jon Braylock, from Astronomy Club on Netflix. So, yeah, my day is a lot of classes and Zoom meetings and then dinner with my wife and cat, followed by some sort of horror movie.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
You can’t ask me for quarantine content and expect me not to plug my own stuff. LOL. Check out my BroadwayWorld arts activism talk show, The Chaos Twins, which I co-host with my sister Sasha Hutchings, or my movie podcast, Little Justice, running through the Broadway Podcast Network.

Outside of those, I’m going with the classics, The Wire or The West Wing for TV. Movie wise, Hereditary, Doctor Sleep, or Us, if you’re up for a scare—seriously, horror is so cathartic y’all.

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?
In general, I hope that we continue to educate ourselves and our potential audiences about the system in which we have been living for the past 400 years. People say that “the American system is failing us right now.”… No, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do, protect the wealth and stability of privileged white men. We are operating under rules that haven’t been sufficiently updated in two-and-a-half centuries, and there can be no true reckoning until we acknowledge that.

Beyond that, the understanding that, as we look forward to Broadway’s reopening, there are many forms of live theatre, beyond just the Broadway musical. Yes, we need to fight for Broadway to be an inclusive space; we also need to push for more artists and consumers to understand that Broadway is not the be-all-end-all of theatre.

Broadway shows are incredible, skillful art. Broadway itself is also commerce, and many BIPOC stories are, by necessity, not what you’d call the most “commercial.” Does that mean they deserve less attention? Why is Slave Play on Broadway the exception to the rule? How can we lift up BIPOC artists where they are, instead of waiting for them to reach some asinine standard of excellence?

Nik Walker
Nik Walker

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
My advice to anyone struggling—first of all, know that everything you’re feeling is valid. This is an incredibly stressful time, you are living through active trauma. True freedom is freedom of expression, honest emotion: Do not feel the need to “stiff upper lip” this one. Treat yourself gently, be patient. There is no need to achieve anything; as we’ve seen now, the fact that we’re breathing is, in itself, an achievement. Get outside if you can. Talk to friends and family as often as possible. Journal. Talk to a therapist. Apply for unemployment if you need to, take that menial job if you must, there is zero shame in putting food on the table. Self-care is a buzz word, it’s also a practice. You are worth that practice.

How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you?
Said it before, but yeah, the bulk of my creativity is going into my writing. I love script swaps—[Alex] Brightman and I were doing this thing a couple months back, where we’d throw each other scripts we were working on and talk them down over a virtual happy hour. Aside from being a beautiful human, that dude is a ridiculously talented writer, and it brings me such joy to read his and others’ words, see what worlds people are creating in this time.

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
There are so many good organizations out there. One of my personal faves is Give Kids The World, which provides week-long, cost-free theme park vacations to children living with critical illnesses (I’m a huge theme park nerd, so their work means a ton to me). In terms of BIPOC struggles, Color of Change, Fair Fight. I’d also tell New Yorkers to look at Dianne Morales, current mayoral candidate for NYC, really bold freedom fighter throwing her hat in the ring, with some courageous ideas.

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