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?
KHRIS DAVIS: I have been acting since I was a young boy. When I was six I told my mother I wanted to be an actress. She said sharply "You want to be an actor". I replied with genuine honesty and naïveté, "No I want to be an actress". After a brief discussion about the differences between the two, I willingly seceded. So she began to write plays for me to perform in church. Once I got to the Creative Arts HS, in Camden, NJ. My first actual play that I was in was Othello. Its because of that production I have a love for theatre.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
KD: I decided to be a theatre artist after I played Othello in high school. I was inspired to act because I liked what I saw on TV. As a child I would lay down and repeat everything the actors on TV were saying. The curse words and sexual references were a spoken silently though. I continued forward and graduated from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, With a B.A. in theatre arts in 2009.
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.?
KD: Race relations in the U.S. is always a sensitive topic to discuss. There is a ideology that is prevalent in our society, where everything is fusing into one. Music, art, fashion, races, religions etc. However, undeniably there are still major strides that need to be taken when it comes to earnest relations between races. I believe there is an issue with closet racism that we are dealing with here in the U.S., not just black and white. So, as artists it is our duty, I believe, to be active players in changing any form of racism, or inequality, that may continue to plague us here in the U.S. through the power of art.
JL: THE HAMPTON YEARS also celebrates and honors such extraordinary 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?
KD: I feel this piece is relevant simply because we all, at some point, are dealing with the progression of our environments. If that be overcoming oppression, war, famine, or sociopolitical propaganda. Art, as it is, is one of the most prolific forms of activism and change. As we seen over the course of many generations. It doesn't matter if the work is from 1302bc as storytelling and finger painting on cave walls, or 2013ad. with theatre, digital film, new colors to canvas, or new electronic forms of music. It all helped to move a society, a world, forward.
JL: Which character are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions or belief system?
KD: I am playing the character of Charles White. What I feel this character and I have in common is a passion to rise above. Especially as an artist, one cannot help but to stand up and out in some way, or risk losing the integrity of the art form. Charles likes to observe everything from the outside and help others make rational decisions, and to question the status quo. I feel as though we both share that sentiment.
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?
KD: When audiences walk away from the reading. I want them to be unafraid to reject the whatever an institution has designed to oppress ; Unafraid to take the big steps and swim against the tide. I want them to decide to leave a legacy. Even if it be to just assist someone build theirs. Change takes a collaborative effort, and none of us can do it alone.
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
KD: Next I will be a part of the Quintessence Theatre' "The Chocolate and Champagne Repertory" this spring. It will consist of George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man", and Moliere's "The Misanthrope". The production will be mounted April 24-May 26. You can follow me on Facebook. I would be delighted to receive support from audience members and colleagues.
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!