Jacqueline Lawton: Give us a little background on where you’re from originally, where you grew up, and how you ended up where you are now…
MD: I’m a native Angeleno, and if you know me, I’m always reping my City of Angels. I grew up in what is considered South Central Los Angeles and Mid City. My incredible and altruistic mother Joyce Cattenhead raised me as a single parent and is my living hero. Her devotion and unconditional love is the reason I am the man today. My father Otis Darrell is the reason why I am such an activist and lover of my people. My Grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Dallas and Great Aunt Jessica Wilson have been the elders who have always been a living testimony for me of what faith in God truly is. Their prayers, my father’s strong convictions coupled with my Mom’s love, insanely witty and brilliant organizing skills and the incredibly loving village of family, friends and church folk, make up the person people know today as Malcolm K. Darrell.
My parents always desired and sought the best educational opportunities for me so it was no surprise that my adolescent educational career began at 32nd Street USC Magnet School for the Performing Arts. It was here where I learned to be an appreciative student of all things artistic. Here I learned Algebra, Jazz Trombone, Contemporary Sculpture, Folk Dance, Spanish, English all while surrounded by some of the purest forms of diversity I’ve ever encountered, it’s the reason today I have friends of all races, ethnicities and religious backgrounds.
In 10th Grade I was accepted to Hamilton Academy of Music, a performing arts conservatory of the highest order at the time. With a college preparatory curriculum that included the arts equally, I was busy in High School. Most of my days started at 7:30a and ended around 6p or 10:30 -11p on show days. Hamilton is where I became a disciplined artist. Students were treated and expected to act as professionals and as a result I had a confidence when I entered U.C. Berkeley for my undergraduate training.
Berkeley had a profound effect on me because of my work at Cal Performances my participation in the Theatre and Performance Studies Department, the African American Student Development office and the relationships I built which would secure my future, literally. Working in the Cal Performances box office I was exposed to some of the best international artists the human race has produced. Three seminal moments that are clear to me as if it happen all yesterday are 1. The final Company performance for the Berliner Ensemble performing Bertolt Brecht’s The Irresistible Rise of Arturo Ui. 2. Alvin Ailey American Dance theatre’s presentation of their classic ballet Slaves and 3. The soul stirring music of Cesária Évora, Cape Verde’s Barefoot Contessa! These three moments revealed to me the possibility of human connection through art. Berkeley is also where I met one of my mentors Dr. Margaret Wilkerson who would later introduce me to a dear mentor and friend the late Wesley Montgomery. From these two and my friendships at Berkeley, my life would be forever changed. From Berkeley to the New Victory in New York, to Center Theatre Group and Yale (too much learned here to describe, again life affirming experience), to the Kennedy Center and Ebony Repertory Theatre and back at Center Theatre Group I’ve had quite the journey so far!
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
MD: There were two pivotal moments when I realized I wanted to be a part of the theatre, the first was when I saw Hamilton High School Academy of Music’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. It was AMAZING! It’s the first time I believe I understood what phenomenal playwriting, composing, casting, scenic, costume, lighting and sound design were. As soon as the orchestra and chorus collided on the first notes of “Tradition!” I knew I had found my home. The second moment was seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Straight from Broadway, it was my first opportunity to see professional theatrical work and to hear that singular American voice breathe life into my own people. Again I was reminded I was home.
JL: What is unique about being an artist where you live?
MD: Hmmm interesting question. Surprisingly, living in Los Angeles is unique for me because I’m a Native Angeleno. Most artists I come into contact are transplants and have no idea of what LA used to be and how it’s grown. Los Angeles, in all its vastness is truly my terra firma. Because of this I feel I have an invaluable network of people and resources to draw from whenever I work on a project.
JL: You were the General Manager of Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT) and currently the New Play Production Associate at Center Theatre Group. How did you get involved with these organizations? What do you hope to achieve?
MD: Relationships. I constantly remind young people entering this field that you must cultivate, manage and nurture your professional relationships. I met Ebony Rep founder and producer Wren T. Brown through a mutual friend and colleague, Shay Wafer. While working with her at Cornerstone Theatre Company in the summer of 2007, she became a connector and seriously urged me to speak with Wren about his new venture. After our first meeting I knew we would be lifelong friends and colleagues I began working for ERT that November solidifying one of the greatest choices I’ve made in my life. Center Theatre Group (CTG) is a reuniting with a community that raised me as CTG was my first job after college. I worked in the department formally known as Performing for Los Angeles Youth(PLAY) coordinating the exact outreach effort, Young Audiences Program(YAP), that change my life in 1996 at the Ahmanson. Yep I’m an Alum and a living example of the power of theatre! I’ve recently returned to CTG as the New Play Production Associate because I have an insatiable passion for working with artists and producing, or creative project management for those who have no idea what we do in the theatre.
JL: Who nominated you to be a Young Leaders of Color Award Recipient?
MD: My awesome boss and mentor, Diane Rodriguez. Her championing of my voice has been invaluable and I owe a debt of gratitude to her for her wisdom, sacrifice and support.
JL: What excited you most about taking part in the conference and the program?
MD: A chance to be inspired, hear from brilliant DIVERSE minds and reunite with former colleagues and old friends.
JL: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from the conference?
MD: My success is found in my Core Values. Once I clearly define and operate in what I value, I have no choice but to succeed.
JL: What are some of the challenges you have faced as an artist of color? What have you learned from these experiences?
MD: I live in America, so I recognize there are many covert and overt ways in which racism and discriminatory practices rear their evil heads even today in 2012. Thankfully, I’ve not personally been a recipient of another human beings bigoted vitriol. However, I do work in a field that is still challenged by the notion of diversity of thought and experience. I’m not totally myself at work, because there are parts of me that are -- simply put -- culturally alien to many of my colleagues. So as DuBois coined, I live in a double consciousness, fully able to operate in a world where my other self, would never be fully accepted. Now this may seem contradictory, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is only by expressing or revealing pieces of that cultural alien I spoke of previously, am I truly being a courageous and impactful leader.
JL: What advice do you have for other young artists of color in the theatre?
MD: YOU can determine your destiny, but it requires an immense amount of tenacity and relationship building. Do everything with passion, creativity, excellence, integrity and heart!
JL: What’s up next for you and where can keep up with your amazing work?
MD: Well I’ve just received The British Council/Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Cultural Exchange International Fellowship http://usa.britishcouncil.org/cultural-exchange-international! I’ll be headed across the pond to engage with people of the African Diaspora who create and experience art from a European/British perspective. I’ll be bringing my podcast platform, Culture Connection, to the UK to have meaningful dialogue with cultural, civic, academic, community and artistic leaders.
Speaking of Culture Connection, please visit me at http://www.blackisonline.com/ for my weekly segment on all things concerning cultural Arts! Please follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CaliYalie, I’m always tweeting my two cents about everything from Jesus to Jimmy Fallon!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!