What is your name and where are you from?
Keith Randolph Smith. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio but I am a resident of New York. I live in Manhattan up in Harlem by City College on 141st.
What project are you working on here at SPACE this summer?
My son, lives in Cleveland where I’m from, where he was born and where I was born. And he got incarcerated and I am working on a piece about that. While he was incarcerated we wrote letters to each other. You know we had phone calls and I had visits. But the letters were where we engaged fully. Because you can go on and on, but a phone call is limited. There’s a certain amount of minutes and then it just cuts off. So you can have a ten page letter or a one page letter or a twenty page letter. So we wrote these really deep letters to each other and there were things in them that I kept reading and wanting to tell somebody. I don’t know whether it's selfish because it's my son and I’m proud of what he wrote but I thought it might be of service to someone else if I wrote it. To help, father and sons, black men and black boys, artists and their family who are civilians. Because to do the art that we practice, you and I and others, sometimes you have to make sacrifices, and one of my sacrifices was leaving Cleveland. Leaving his raising up to my family her family and his mother. I wasn’t there every day, I would come up a couple times a year to visit and we would write and then talk on the phone but it wasn’t like I was there everyday. I could see, that by not having a dad there, by not having someone who could be an everyday role model, I had inflicted some damage on him whether he knew it or not. I’m sure he does now, he’s a grown man.
I also think it's important for people to know that when you have people who have been incarcerated you don’t have to throw them away. You can still love them, in fact they might even need more love while they are in a whole different culture, a whole other society. There was something in that letter writing and in our history that I thought could be helpful to somebody else. I don’t know in what way. But I know that theatre has helped me a lot. I mean my favorite playwrights are August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill, especially Chekhov, Shakespeare. They write about experiences I’ve had or have seen somebody I care about have and help give me a different perspective and way to look at something that I hadn’t thought of before. So maybe I have something to offer. But if not that’s okay. What the play is doing for me is healing my heart. And letting me love myself in spite of being away from my son, because I feel a lot of guilt and shame behind it. But it’s helped me let that go. And let me help him heal.
Does your son know you’re writing this play?
Yes! He does know. I’m a little nervous about showing it to to him because I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna say “yeah…you can’t tell that. I don’t want people to know that about me.” Or maybe he won’t. But I’m trying to be honest.
Where have you been spending most of your time while here at SPACE?
Probably in my room. I’m in my room writing. Yesterday I went out, because I’m in Kay Hall, I was at the kitchen counter. I spread out some research that I had, inspiration, writing prompts. And I brought my laptop out, and wrote some there. But I realize I like the room better than the kitchen counter. I get more writing done when I’m in the room with the door closed. It’s getting nice out, maybe Friday or Saturday I’ll write outside.
What’s coming up next for you and this project? Where do you see it going next?
Well I got a fellowship to do the project. I used it as part of a proposal for a grant that’s a part of the TCG (Theatre Communications Group) and the Fox Foundation. I applied for it. And I got it! It’s a two year fellowship and it's over now but that’s where I proposed the writing and that’s where it started. Two years I’ve been doing research and I’ve bought so many books, read so many things about the justice system- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy. So I will continue to write it, I’ve done the research. I don’t know when it will be ready, hopefully very soon. I’ve done a lot of writing but I don’t have a draft, so I want to take the writing I have done and the writing I’m doing and turn that into a draft. We’ll see what happens.
What concerns you in the world right now? And how is your work responding to that concern?
I live in America…My president…I don’t even know where to begin. Just really? You have daughters and you said that shit? There’s a group in New York who’s mad because they aren’t allowed to walk in the pride parade. They’re called “Gays for Trump.” And I’m like really? Gay’s for Trump? That doesn’t make sense to me. So you’re gonna get rid of the NEA and spend 100 million dollars on defense funding. How do we respond to it? We’ve just gotta keep doing our art. Even if the NEA gets defunded. But even more important now that we keep doing our art. Just think about it. If you didn’t have any movies, any plays, music, paintings, museums, dance companies, any books. I’m like really?! It’s the way we make sense out of being human beings, through the arts. It’s like I can’t articulate what I feel or what I think but that dance company, what she did, that’s how I feel. And I don’t know shit about dance. And that’s how we make sense of the world, of life, of what it means to be a human being. We have to tell stories now more than ever.
If you were reincarnated as an animal on this farm who would you be and why?
I don’t know yet. I’m going to work on replanting this afternoon and I heard there’s a bunny. So I wanna see the bunny before I answer. I almost want to say the bunny. The cows, I guess they’re sacred in some lands but they don’t really pay me any attention when I go over there. So I’m gonna go with the bunny just because I haven’t met the bunny yet but I hope the bunny is cool.