JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, can you tell me how long have you been acting? What was the first play that you ever worked on as an actor? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
AKEEM DAVIS: I have been performing on stage for about 2 decades; I was 6 years old when I participated in a Theodore L. Gibson Oratorical contest in elementary school. I credit those early experiences on a huge stage with the development of my personal confidence and how significant it is for me as a performer.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
AD: I was an excited, talkative, eager, energetic and intelligent young kid- a teacher of mine, Ms. Theresa Newton, told me to put all of that in a poem for the upcoming oratory contest. My parents and I continued to use dramatic interpretation as an outlet.
JL: Set in Hampton, Virginia in the 1940s, THE HAMPTON YEARS examines the impact of World War II on Jewish immigrants living in the United States and their role in shaping the lives and careers of African American students in the segregated south. This play investigates the various ways in which racism and bigotry negatively impact the arts, academia and military. Where do you feel we are in terms of race relations in the U.S.?
AD: I am aware that my experience as a black man compared to my father's and grandfather's generation is much smoother in the United States. My classes in high school were very diverse and with the impact of higher numbers of brown skinned folks in prominence in every arena- political, academic, sports administration- the country has expanded in a really progressive direction. America is STILL polarized along race lines about the issues like wealth distribution, the Trayvon Martin case, Obama's road to the White House and administration so far, etc. I think there is still a wide divide between races in America.
JL: THE HAMPTON YEARS also celebrates and honors suchextraordinary artists as John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Samella Lewis, Viktor Lowenfeld and Charles White for their bold and courageous ability to overcome these challenges and create beautiful, powerful and lasting works of art. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today audiences?
AD: I think the play will be relevant to audiences today because everyone en route to accomplish anything of personal merit will face challenges and obstacles that they must overcome to realize their goals. This was true for John Biggers and Picasso and Jesus and Tupac and most certainly myself and those striving to succeed in their endeavors today. I think that theme of purposed struggle will resonate with audiences.
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
AD: I am reading John Biggers. John's FIRST scene impacted me the most. John spoke about finding Truth and relaying that Truth without compromise. I am seeking to do the same EXACT thing with acting.
JL: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or thinking about after experiencing THE HAMPTON YEARS, what would that be?
AD: I think that Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Institutions are incredibly distinct aspects of America's academic and social landscapes. I am fascinated by their history and think there is A LOT of critical information and drama that can be gleaned from the intersection of different races and cultures at these institutions.
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
AD: Next up I will be working with Philadelphia's Applied Mechanics Company in a remount of their show "Vainglorious". The show will go up in April at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center.
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!