While theatre has been on pause and auditions have been on Zoom, Danielle Pinnock and LaNisa Renee Frederick have taken their comedy-activism to new heights.
Launched in 2018, Hashtag Booked is Pinnock and Frederick’s improvised sketch Instagram series that shares “a raw slice of the #actorslife,” diving into their experiences of being Black actors in show business.
At its core, Hashtag Booked is a space for Pinnock and Frederick to play and improvise, but the series has quickly built a large following because of the relatability of the sketches. The pair expertly articulates the situations that Black actors and actors of color often experience in the entertainment industry, and as a result the comment section of each post is filled with affirmations from fellow actors. Whether the focus is being typecast or navigating auditions during the time of COVID-19, the two examine the frustrations but also the hilarity of being an actor. With specificity and heart, they cover topics that have been long-discussed via group chats and favorite booths at the go-to neighborhood bar.
Pinnock and Frederick bring warmth, wisdom, and humor, stemming from their years of first-hand experience working both on stage and screen. The pair have roots in the theatre and met by way of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre’s production of Lynn Nottage’s By The Way, Meet Vera Stark in 2013. It was in the Windy City they honed their acting craft as well as improv skills at Second City. Since then, they both have moved to Los Angeles for television work.
Pinnock has made appearances in in This Is Us, Scandal, Workaholics, and currently stars in Young Sheldon. Her award-winning solo show Body/Courage explores body image based on over 300 interviews she conducted internationally, which is currently being adapted into a half-our biographical comedy set. Frederick can been seen in Young Sheldon, Teachers, The Goldbergs, Brooklyn 99, and the upcoming series Angelyne on NBC’s Peacock.
2020 has not stopped the duo from creating, as they have been busy translating Hashtag Booked into a television show and hosting Intermission With Hashtag Booked as a part of Pasadena Playhouse’s digital programming. They also teamed up with Alicia Keys for “Happy Birthday, Breonna,” recording birthday wishes from 30 Black women in the entertainment for Breonna Taylor.
Get to know Pinnock and Frederick in the Q&A below.
What project(s) are you working on currently?
Danielle Pinnock: We are trying to get Hashtag Booked turned into a television series. We are developing the pilot right now. Fingers and toes crossed, we'll be pitching to networks soon. We'd like to do a podcast series, or live interview series called Intermission With Hashtag Booked that we started in the quarantine where we get to interview celebrities and learn about their beginnings as a journeyman actor. We got a lot of things in the mix.
LaNisa Renee Frederick: As well as ensuring that Hashtag Booked is a brand. It's not just the name of our show, but it's become a brand. So enhancing that in terms of maybe producing merchandise or doing things that will help us produce works that we feel passionate about.
Where are you finding inspiration?
Pinnock: Life. I mean, life is hitting us fast.
Frederick: We are constantly inspired by our surroundings. As trained theatre actors, we have been taught from the get-go to observe what's around you. We are constantly finding inspiration from our surroundings.
Pinnock: Absolutely. Now that a lot of auditions are on Zoom, that's a comedy show in itself—there's so much to pull from now during the global pandemic. Like, self-taping, what that's like? It's dark comedy, but we're able to we're able to pull from it for our sketches.
How has your artistic credo evolved in the past year?
Frederick: It has focused me in a way that I either wasn't able to do in the past or I didn't know that I could. Before [COVID-19], you're running out and doing so many things, so this past year, you realize what's important, what you want to bring to your art, what type of creativity and artistic imprint you want to leave in the world. This past year has taught me to focus more on who I am specifically, and be specific about who I am as an artist.
Pinnock: The biggest lesson I've learned this year is that the rat race doesn't matter. It was not nourishing me as an artist. Saying "no" is a sentence—a full sentence on its own. Roles that I probably would have taken in the past because I was just so eager to be on stage or get the TV job, I'm saying “no” to because it's not serving me as an artist. We're in a global pandemic. As LaNisa was saying earlier, this pandemic has made us realize that we need to create our legacy work. So listen, if it's not fulfilling us or nourishing us...
What perspective do you bring to the artistic landscape?
Pinnock: Well, being Black and woman. I'm a woman of size. We have our very, very specific viewpoint and perspective on how we deal with things in the industry. I always say this, but for many years, a lot of our secrets were like Underground Railroad secrets, where it's like, “Sis, bring your own makeup, because they're not gonna have your shade,” or “Bring your own hair products, because they're not gonna know how to do your hair.” Thinking about theatre, we were just doing that stuff on our own anyway. We already had those skills when it was time to be on TV. So, being a Black woman that started off in the theatre. I think a lot of times when people get on set, it's like this glamorous experience. For me, there was a little bit of a mind shift, because when I first started on TV, I was just grateful to get paid. Because I think a lot of times in theatre, even when I was doing stuff Off-Broadway, it was just like, "You're getting paid in pizza!" You're getting $200 a week, so then when I'm seeing a larger check, for $1,000 or $2,000, I was just like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the best thing ever.” Then you start to realize that the pay gap is real, and that our white counterparts are actually getting paid more, especially white men. Then you start being like, “Oh, this is how much I'm supposed to make. What's going on here?”
Frederick: Coming from that theatre background, where you're almost guilted in to working, not even twice, but thrice as hard, and being grateful. That is something hard to break away from when you when you do go into another zone like TV, because it's been instilled in you that you're just supposed to be so grateful for everything. In Hashtag Booked we break that wall down, being honest and truthful about what the experiences are. Instead of keeping it “Hush, hush, don't tell those dirty little secrets.” No, let's talk about this. Because this is the only way that things are going to evolve and change.
Pinnock: Comedy is our form of activism. Hands down. LaNisa and I started off as understudies—that's how we became friends. We were understudies at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. When normal people hear it, they're like, “What?”, but we literally were in a basement just waiting in the wings for our cues and waiting to get seen and be on stage. We come from decades of theatre—theatre was our training ground, that's where we're able to fail and make mistakes, which I think is why we have such great careers now in TV. We're both M.F.A-trained overseas in England, we both have our B.A. in theatre from Loyola and Temple University. So, we know what's good, right?
Frederick: We know how to improvise in all aspects. We have built sets, we have stage managed, we have house managed. We have been casting directors, coordinators, we've done it all. I think that also builds on our experience and perspective. I even did lighting for a second. They had me on the lighting board. They should not have had me on the lighting board. But it brings a perspective, because then you get out here and you're like, “Oh, hold on. Some things might be unequal. We need to speak on this because we come from the experience of that.” I hate this perspective of, “Well, certain actors get this because they've had different training or certain actors get this because they are a more well-rounded.” You can't tell us we aren’t well-rounded. We've done it all.
How do you navigate working in a field where you are constantly subject to critique?
Frederick: Our bodies hold emotions. We're not robots. Our bodies hold things that we don't even realize. As an actor, you're so trained to deflect, like Teflon, “Let it slide off, let it slide off.” I think when it does hit, you must recognize it. For your mental health and your mental well-being, you must recognize where you are. We do 150 auditions and maybe get a callback, maybe get cast in one thing, so you have to be good at that or you wouldn't survive. It's also recognizing when you have to say, “I need a break. This is enough. My body needs to heal, because I've been Teflon for so long.” You have to recognize and be very well aware of where you are mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually at any given moment.
Pinnock: Honestly, therapy is lit. I think every actor needs to have a therapist. So many people say, “I can't afford it.” Google "sliding scale." I know when I didn't have insurance, and I didn't have my little Actors Equity Cigna yet, I was doing sliding scale. Normal people don't hear “no” the amount that actors hear “no.” We are denied our jobs every day. Every day if we're lucky. If it's not every day, we're going without the “no” because we don't have an audition. Then it's like, "Okay, great, to get to this dream, how do I now do these odd jobs and side hustles so that maybe one day I can do the 'yes'?" It's like everything is towards this amazing dream that we don't know if it's really gonna happen or not. That's a level of insanity. It's a level of faith, but it's also a level of true insanity. That therapist has to be on the line, especially now in this global pandemic, where we're not driving on the 405 to go to auditions and we're not outside at the gym to let off that steam. We're inside now. How do we navigate the world with getting told "no" all the time? You go from one Zoom audition to a Zoom funeral to a Zoom callback where you then have to play a couch to a Blue Jeans audition where you're seeing all these other people and friends in a waiting room. You're seeing somebody dealing with their child in the waiting room that can't be quiet or a dog is going off in somebody else's personal home. You're just like, how do I even get these lines together?
Frederick: How am I supposed to focus?
Pinnock: It's wild. This is the wildest time that we've all been in. When people say self-care, people always think it's like pizzas and things like that like that. Self-care could be taking a nap, turning off the phone, getting that eight to 10 hours of sleep, taking your multivitamin, making your bed, taking a shower, moving your body. That's real self-care, especially during this time. Yeah, you can have your little pizza and things like that, but making sure that everything is okay and together and so you can breathe because we are the instrument. We don't have little piano that we can put away in the closet and call it quits. This is it. Our central nervous system has to be able to cry on cue, be angry, be chipper.
Frederick: Our bodies don't know "She's in an audition, so that's why she's crying hysterically now." America has that “Go, go, go hustle, hustle, hustle” mentality, it sometimes does take that outside person to be like, “Yo, sis, sit down.”
Pinnock: Make sure your community is on point because the community will be like, “Chill out.”
Frederick: That's especially hard now in a pandemic, when I can't go and run and be like, “Danielle, I'm coming over. I need to vent and just be for a second.” We can't do that now so you have to find other ways to ensure that you are staying right in this insanity.
How do you cultivate joy in your life when you're not creating?
Frederick: My job is intertwined with who I am. Whether or not I am consciously creating, I think I'm always observant. I'm always trying to be present. I use experiences. Everything is interconnected in some in some way. I can turn off, I enjoy things like going to work out or taking a walk or listening to murder podcasts, but in some ways, a lot of what we do as artists is all interconnected to who we are anyway, and that brings us joy. That's how we cultivate that joy, finding that community, being observant, being present in the moment.
Pinnock: I 100% agree. The only thing I can add is taking long drives, which has been a really nice thing for me in the pandemic. That’s the great thing about being in California, it's always warm, so even night drives to Malibu, since it's right around the corner. That brings me a lot of joy to just hear the sounds and the waves. I actually went to college for painting—not a lot of people know that. I actually stopped for a very long time, so picking painting back up has been really great to getaway from like, “Oh, I got to do this audition. I got to do this.” Just sitting down listening some records and painting.
Frederick: Yes, records. I'm gonna throw on top of that, since you mentioned records. I got COVID in July, and one thing that I was able to cultivate joy with and find joy in was my record collection. I took all my records from my mother's house, bought a record player and organized them. I listened to The Isley Brothers, listened to Donny Hathaway on repeat, listened to Whitney. That really brought me joy, and it helped to stir up creativity as well. It brought joy and had a purpose.
What do you want to bring to theatre and film when they return?
Pinnock: Honestly, theatre is not gone, there's so many live theater options. My friend Sheila Carrasco is doing her one-woman show at IAMA Theatre Company. She's doing her solo show called Anyone But Me but it's in rep with another solo show called The Oxy Complex. I think one of the coolest things that's happening right now, especially for solo performers, is that we're shining now, because it's just us. We can just go on the stage and we can have a record of performance and subscribers can come in and buy whatever they need to buy in terms of tickets. I've been seeing so much amazing live theatre—pre-recorded theatre experiences or even live recording experiences via Zoom. There was a production at the Geffen where you can cook the food called Bollywood Kitchen. He talks about his coming-of-age story in the one-person show, but you also get to cook a meal at the same time with the actor. By the end of the show, you have a full-on South Asian infused meal. I was like, “This is this is amazing. This is this wouldn't be something that we could do on Broadway.” I'm actually thinking like, when theatre comes back, how can we do things like that?
Frederick: Or is it going to come back in the same way? I think we're evolving in a different way. When people say, “When it returns,” do we want to go back to 12-hour tech days, 15-hour tech days? Do we want to go back to that?
Pinnock: There needs to now be Zoom options for people who want to see the show but may not have the means. Like most of my grandparents, who are just maybe a little too elderly, can't get out there to see the show, or people in my family who are differently abled. I even think about lower income communities. We always do the thing for the school, but what about their parents? Can their parents come? What if they want to see the show? Is there an opportunity for this to be done virtually? Remember back in the day when they would do the understudy performances? Is there a Zoom performance?
Frederick: That would also allow other creatives to be seen. I feel like in this period of whatever we're in, there is an opportunity. I hope to God that we grasp on this to really take it in a new direction and evolve and build on it and not do the same old, same old. Because let's be real, in some ways, theatre had been this elitist sport, essentially, that catered to a certain type of people. How else can we cater to others? Who else are we bringing in? Like, Danielle said, are we bringing in other folks that are differently abled who might not know theatre in this traditional sense?
Pinnock: I would even say, as a solo performer—that's the world that I come from, Anna Deavere Smith, Sarah Jones—who has done many, many years of documentary theatre, I want the opportunity to do my show live on Zoom. Because I don't know when I'm going to be able to do theatre again. My Equity card is gone but not forgotten. It's like, “When are we going to get used, sis?” It'd be great to have that opportunity to just do Body/Courage again and to have a bunch of people see it who weren't in Chicago. These virtual performances can be worldwide. Back in the day, I had this old bootleg DVD of Body/Courage and I would be handing it out on the subway, so to think about back then to where we are now. Anybody can see your show now.
Frederick: Danielle and I know people around the world, having roots and trained in England. Now we can say, “Let me throw you a link to my one-woman show,” or “Hey, actually, I'm doing a show at the Geffen and anybody can watch it.” We're opening up those possibilities. I think it would be really selfish if we try to really go back to this strict traditional way of how we've seen theatre, TV, and film. We've even seen this with content creators now. Everybody's getting exposed, and yes, sometimes it feels like, “Whoa, everyone's out there,” but you really do see the art in it and see all of these people who didn't have maybe a traditional training or path. They're able to shine now and are able to get the information they need. Getting in this industry has always been this very elite, "If you know how, you know how," kind of game. Now I see people who maybe didn't have the opportunity to understand how, now use a medium like social media to create content.
Pinnock: Is there a world where streaming and some of these theatres and the non-union houses, too, team up? Like it's "Theatre Saturdays" on Facebook Watch. There are so many plays and people that are just ready to work. At its basis, theatre is just bringing people together to witness art, so it doesn't have to be on a stage. Is there a world where Romeo and Juliet is created between two roommates? There's gonna be so many more options after this.
Frederick: So many opportunities that I hope that we learn from and evolve theatre into something different and new.