Checking In With… Frozen Star Jelani Alladin

Interview   Checking In With… Frozen Star Jelani Alladin
"Actions must be taken at institutions and corporations to ensure equity and inclusion."
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Jelani Alladin 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 Jelani Alladin, who made his Broadway debut as Kristoff in Disney's Frozen and has been seen Off-Broadway in Hercules, Nassim, and The Lightning Thief. The actor, part of the cast of AMC's forthcoming The Walking Dead: World Beyond, also recently launched the new multimedia production company Dumont Millennial Productions, which aims to amplify the unheard voices of first-generation Americans while exploring new technologies and innovative forms of storytelling.

READ: Checking In With… Girl From the North Country and Hamilton Star Austin Scott

Jelani Alladin and Andrew Pirozzi
Jelani Alladin and Andrew Pirozzi Deen van Meer

What is your typical day like now?
Honestly, I’m not really doing much or nearly as much as I used to. A typical day would be waking up around 9 AM, treating myself to a good breakfast, doing a workout (glad to have the gym back), maybe write some depending on inspiration. Throughout the day I FaceTime with friends and family members. I am now a part of many anti-racist groups, so way too much time on Zoom, but with great purpose. I try to spend a little time each day working on a project I’m wanting to develop, which often means research time or more Zoom calls with collaborators. There’s usually some video requests I may have to complete for charities (trying to give back as much as I can while still saving some for me). My favorite part of the day is taking a walk and catching the sunset on the West Side pier. Each day almost always wraps up with dinner and some Netflix or HBO Max. In between all of this I take mental breaks to breathe.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Lovecraft Country is it for me right now. I have finally watched some great series from the past year, shout outs to David Makes Man, Euphoria, and I May Destroy You. All fantastic with some very compelling acting, go watch! I’ve been going back and re-reading August Wilson plays after I did a Zoom reading of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone early on in quarantine. So excited for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix. I would kill to be in The Piano Lesson. I’m not a huge podcast listener, but a friend recently introduced me to Still Processing, and I love how deep they go in! I, of course, have to give a plug for my TV show The Walking Dead: World Beyond, which premieres October 4! May be a while before you see me, but you have to watch from the beginning to understand who I am when you do.

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding Black 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?
I think I want people in power to be more aware of what their actions say. After the enormous outcry from the Black community over the past three months, change must happen. Actions must be taken at institutions and corporations to ensure equity and inclusion. Sadly, there are those who still, after all the efforts, refuse to create the spaces being demanded, and that non-action speaks loud and clear. To be honest with you, I’m quite tired of the conversation. It shouldn’t be this difficult. Racism is more prevalent in those who continue to show acts of complacency and negligence than in those that are loudly racist, and that’s the saddest part of it all. I just want my Black and POC communities to stay encouraged, to continue to stand together and continue to find ways of expressing joy, because it seems there is still quite the distance to go. A huge lifestyle change and genuine commitment to anti-racism must be made by white actors, directors, producers, and audiences for us to all be prosperous. Period.

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Jelani Alladin in Hercules Joan Marcus

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Please know, your struggle is not individual. Because we are all forced into isolation, it feels, and I’m speaking from experience, that the situation is only happening to you. It’s not. This is really, really hard for everyone. Be kind to yourself. Social media time should be measured. It can be both helpful and harmful. Don’t create extra pressure on yourself. If you need to lay on the couch all day, do it. Cook your favorite meal over and over. Call a friend and laugh about memories. Wear a mask and take a walk. Remember the world is still rotating, and you still have life. So many do not. I am currently finding ways to understand how to live with this new normal, rather than resisting it or creating a fairy tale that it’s going away, it’s not. Vote vote vote.

How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you?
Well, I have fully taken my creativity into my own hands. I started a production company, Dumont Millennial Productions, which has been on my spirit for quite some time. I want to bring to life the stories I feel are missing from the canon; stories of first-generation Americans that I find particularly compelling. I am writing and developing scripts, which had kept my imagination flowing. I know by now we are all sick of Zoom, but I’ve found doing readings with friends or professionally to be great outlets. Singing in the shower has become full-on performance in the shower—sorry, neighbors. Of course, nothing will be quite the same thrill as having an audience or being on set, but these substitutions have kept me sane.

Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
There is a new children’s musical based on the video game “Pajama Sam” that I am currently developing, and I’m very excited about it. I am a producer on the project and looking to gather other collaborators. This version of the show may be virtual, but I hope that it can be theatrical some day. I think I’m very aware of what terrible news young minds are constantly being fed right now and wanting to give them something full of hope that is also fun and freaking good.

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I personally think that we can all get involved with more organizations such as A Better Chance, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Jumpstart, or The New Teacher Project, that are creating educational resources for students of color. I always come back to education because without it we are powerless against the systems that were built to shut us out.

READ: Checking In With… Rebecca Naomi Jones, Star of Oklahoma!, Significant Other, American Idiot, More

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