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 Kyle Scatliffe, who was playing Tom Robinson in Broadway's To Kill a Mockingbird when the pandemic closed theatres worldwide. The actor's Broadway credits also include The Color Purple, Hamilton, and the 2014 revival of Les Misérables, and he was seen Off-Broadway in As You Like It and in the City Center Encores! production of Big River. Scatliffe, whose screen credits include Bull, The Yearbook, and Chicago P.D., is also one of the many artists featured in Scott Siegel's Nightclub New York, a virtual, on-demand nightclub. For more information, click here.
What is your typical day like now?
No day is really the same, yet they are all the same. I wake up with the same level of pandemic anxiousness that most of us are dealing with, and I try to accomplish anything that pertains to our business. So no day is the same because we are in the middle of having to innovate and learn new ways to express ourselves and our performances if we are lucky enough to have them at this moment. May that be through self tapes, if you get them, or Zoom readings, also if you get them, that leave me feeling a bit weary—not only because we are learning new ways to innovate but because you know that your own fellow actors aren’t getting that opportunity as well. So it leaves you with a bit of happiness to have work and be distracted but also yearning to find a way to help everyone else. It’s a bit of a conundrum. The fact that SAG-AFTRA and AEA finally agreed on filming is great, but that’s also a small fraction of a larger problem we face as actors right now. So that basically permeates through my day of walking my dogs, reading, playing games, trying to innovate myself as a person and actor or my thoughts and hopeful aspiration to write during the winter of this pandemic.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Moral Politics by George Lakoff has been my biggest focus at the moment book wise. I want to understand morally where both sides of America are and how they got there. The Haunting of Bly Manor was a great series to watch for anyone that likes something spooky but also well acted. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is at the top of my list of movies to watch as well as the series I May Destroy You on HBO.
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?
A large question with a simple answer but hard execution. Community, in a short answer. In a long answer, I would say that instead of trying to figure out what people want and need from the outside looking in, they need to go from the inside looking out. Most communities in our country want and need the same things. They just have different obstacles and different morals to get there. That’s what makes the best art. Showing how the “other” is the same. That’s the greatest strength of artists in general. We do the messy work to get there and then present our findings. So it might be on us as members of the community that understand it to create the work when we didn’t think we would have to. To those in power, I would say that having a more open mind about the kind of work you produce is a must. Not only the kind of work but the way that you cast that work. Have a more open mind to work that you know is great but scares you monetarily because you’re unsure of its value that way. For years, people would say people of color don’t go to the theatre. It’s not that they don’t go, it’s that you haven’t given them a reason to. People want to see their communities on stage. That’s what they want. There are actors walking around with such enormous talent that don’t get opportunities because they don’t fit a certain mold or are easily pigeonholed for an audience. I believe that audiences are smart and don’t need you to do that. There is a wealth of talent that they need to tap into that can carry this industry to the moon. And, if they are unwilling to innovate their way of thinking, then we are going to have to do it ourselves.
How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
I’ve been part of a lucky few who has had self tapes to submit and small readings or projects to do. But when those projects are over, I’m left in the same heavy feeling as everyone else. None of us are where we were or want to be. So what I would say to people struggling with the isolation is to be as grounded as you possibly can through not only meditation but through the strength of your friend groups, may that be through Zoom or FaceTime. Remember what gave you joy as a child and try to get as close to that as you can. It may even be things that you’ve forgotten about or leaned away from as you got older. I say go back to them and let that joy be yours again.
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
You’ve caught me at the end of the projects—so at this particular moment? No. I did have the opportunity to be a part a reading and also taped another project that’s a love letter to the city we miss.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Covenant House is the first organization I always think about because they are actively trying to save the youth from living on the street.