What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Kristen Adele Calhoun, and I am originally from Dallas, Texas.
What have you been working on this week?
I’ve been working on a lot of things this week! But I guess the two main things I’ve been working on are Arts in a Changing America which is the project Roberta and I run together. It’s a national arts organization that focuses on how changing demographics affect arts and culture as well as what equity means in terms of social justice and the arts. So we’ve been working on that, and planning for our next big convening in Detroit in the fall. I was also commissioned by the St. Louis Black Rep and 651 Arts in Brooklyn to write a play about Ferguson and Michael Brown. I got that commission a while ago and have been so busy with Arts in a Changing America that I really haven’t had time to devote time to it. So this week has been good. I’ve gotten some good preliminary work done, made a list of research I want to do, and started to outline things. Those were my two main points of focus. The commission happened in early 2015. And it’s not just myself; It’s me and a group of folks. My writing partner, Michael Walker, and I will go to St. Louis together in November to do more interviews. It’s an interview based play, and then in March we have a residency at St. Joseph’s University, and we hope to come out of that with a script.
So you’ve written other plays?
Yes I have, usually commissions. Back in 2009, I wrote a play that was about Dr. Justina Ford who was the first black woman doctor in Colorado. That was commissioned by The Black American West Museum. The other play I wrote was commissioned by the NAACP in New Jersey. They asked me to write about various stories from the Civil Rights Movement that their members had shared, like things that they had lived through- they commissioned me to turn it into a play.
Did you pursue writing as an actor or later on?
The first commission was because the pastor of the church I was attending was also on the board of the Black American West Museum, and he knew I was an actor, so he just thought I could also write a play. Because I guess people who aren’t in the theater world just think that’s how it works! And I had written other stuff before, but nothing under a formal commission. So that’s how that began.
Where have you been spending most of your time?
I’ve moved around. The first day, I worked down on the dock. Yesterday I worked in the garage. And today I worked in the gazebo. When the dock got too sunny, I just moved back to the bonfire spot. That was Wednesday.
It’s so funny, I was on the phone with my partner, and I was telling him that it was just teeming with insects, and they weren’t bothering me, but I was amazed at how many different species of insects there were down there: dragonflies and bees and ants and everything.
What’s next on your docket? Moving forward or looking forward to?
When we plan the re-maps which are the big national conventions that we do with Arts in a Changing America, we get to curate all these amazing artists. So we’re right in the middle of making it happen. We would say, “oh this person would be really cool to talk to,” or, “this person would lead a dope workshop.” So more of that is what’s going to happen when I get back. And I think one of my favorite parts of the remap is getting all the names and then emailing the people, and they say “Yes! I can do it!” So that’s kinda where we’re at right now. That part is a lot of fun.
Roberta’s and my responsibility is to know what’s going on nationally, but the only way we’re able to do what we do is because we have people all over the country who know who we need to get in touch with.
How do you overlap your acting career with this career?
Part of the philosophy of the project is that everyone’s a working artist, because we feel like we have no business talking about art and change if we’re not actively involved in it. Roberta is a theater maker which is great for our communication, and she’s just made a commitment to making it work. But when I’m doing a show, sometimes that means I’m in a skype meeting in the dressing room. We’re all just very committed to the work, and myself to theater. I’m only able to do one because of the other. They both make me feel full. It’s really wonderful. The financial stability is great. I’m able to turn down acting jobs if I want and only do the stuff that I really love. I also have full benefits, so… I feel very very very blessed to work with a visionary like Roberta and to be doing what we’re doing.
What farm animal would you be reincarnated as?
I think I would really like to be… I was gonna say a horse, but I don’t want people riding on my back. I think I would like to be one of these free range chickens. They’re not locked up, and I’m sure they have ample food. They just seem to have the best life around here. Although I think everyone would want to be Socks. Everyone likes him.