In order to boost the signal, yours truly recently conducted an interview with the woman behind it all: RVCBARD.
It’s 11a.m. on a chilly Wednesday morning. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria waiting for the interview that will me put me on the map.
RVCBard, the hottest new playwright on the scene has a reading Nov. 12 entitled Tulpa, or Anne&Me and I managed to procure the exclusive interview.
Goodbye obscurity and hello Rolling Stone.
And there she was, strutting towards me like a woman with a purpose a force of nature.
The ensemble said it all. The brown Prada boots were sensible yet stylish. Orange and gold complimented the fall season we were in. I read in Vogue (speaking of Wintour) that Orange was the new black. The outfit was of an Asian design and it reminded me of the character Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Her white Hermes scarf draped sensibly around her throat.
The haughty posture, upturned sneer reminded me of that old crazy ass white lady Meryl Streep played in the film, The Devil Wears Prada. Before I can stand up to greet her she casually tosses her maroon trench coat atop of my head like I’m a coat rack.
She reaches into her Burberry bag and removes her iPhone.
RVCBARD: I do not care if the books haven’t been written yet. JK Rowling mentioned in her interview with Oprah that she could write at least three more books in the Harry Potter series. I want those books by noon tomorrow. Tell my assistant that I do not care if she has to fly to Scotland and beg Ms. Rowling to write the books or lock Simon Baker in a room and fuck him senseless to make it happen. I want those novels tomorrow.
She hangs up the phone and glares at me.
RVCBARD: Who are you?
N-P: I’m from the magazine you agreed to do the interview with?
RVCBARD: Oh yes, let’s make this quick. I have to meet with people who actually matter.
A waiter approaches the two us. She wastes no time ordering.
RVCBARD: I’ll have a bottle of chilled cristal.
N-P: And I’ll–
RVCBARD: And he’ll have a glass of water. Tap water.
I click the recorder and we get down to business:
N-P: First and foremost thank you for doing this. I know you’re busy getting ready for Nov. 12 but I know readers will love to get that insight that goes into creating art.
RVCBARD: (Blank gaze)
N-P: So before we get into Tulpa/Anne & Me and the Crossroads Theater Project, why don’t we let the readers know about the woman behind the curtain. So tell us about yourself?
RVCBARD: I am a lot of things. What in particular did you want to know?
N-P: What drew you into theater?
RVCBARD: I came to theatre through roleplaying games, especially things like the World of Darkness games, which added a new dimension to characters and storytelling that I really enjoyed. During my college years, I quickly realized that in order to tell the stories I had in me, I had to make them myself. That led to a creative writing course in my sophomore year, in which I tried my hand at scriptwriting because my interest in roleplaying seemed to match that. I did a short called “Kwik-E Mart” about an attempted robbery at a convenience store gone hilariously awry. I then tried my hand at a feature-length screenplay, a sequel to “Romeo Must Die” because I was deeply infatuated with Jet Li at the time. I really liked the process of creating stories that way, and I wanted to do more of it. Then, about a year after I graduated, I got an idea for a story that I wanted to do, which I initially tried to write as a screenplay, but it just didn’t come together. I forgot what prompted me to try it as a stage play, but I remember deciding to use blank verse because I wanted to give the piece a sense of grandeur and poetry that I liked about my favorite Shakespeare plays. Thus, “The Rose Knight.”
N-P: Now when it comes to theater, many people are about taking the center stage in the spotlight? What drew you to being a playwright?
RVCBARD: First, I’m a storyteller at heart. Narrative is my native language, followed by imagery and metaphor. I love the freedom of writing for the stage because the representations don’t have to be as literal as they need to be in film. I also enjoy the intimacy of theatre.
Second, and this is going to sound kind of weird, but I was always drawn to more three-dimensional art forms. I prefer sculpture to painting, for instance. Likewise, I prefer seeing a play to reading a poem. That doesn’t mean I don’t like painting or poetry, but the things I like seem to have that three-dimensionality to them.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I’m extremely reserved and tend to be shy. It’s not easy for me to express what’s inside of me in a spontaneous way. I’m deeply introverted, and I’ve come to accept and value this about myself because it gives me a rich inner world.
N-P: Who were some of your mentors and role models both in and out of theater?
RVCBARD: Hard to say. I came at a lot of this on my own, through research and such. I’ve never been inclined to follow someone else’s lead because what I found more important was listening to myself and expressing my own truth than following someone else’s checklist of what Great Art is about.
It’s hard for me to talk about mentors and role models because nobody really sat me down and tried to teach me anything. I doubt I’d be willing to learn in that way anyway. I have a shelf full of books though. Theatre is a collaborative art, and I learn a lot from seeing how other collaborators work – especially directors and actors – than I do from “masters” of playwriting. Peter Brook’s “The Empty Space” and “The Open Door,” have been consistent sources of inspiration and understanding. I guess it’s because other theatre artists can show you what’s possible with your work.
N-P: Now you’re a native Virginian who relocated to New York to pursue your calling? Most people wouldn’t be courageous enough to do that. How did you know this was the right decision?
RVCBARD: Frankly, I didn’t. I did know that not doing it would’ve been the wrong thing for me.
N-P: Was moving to New York the right decision? What’s your journey been like?
RVCBARD: Challenging, but invigorating in a way that life in Richmond isn’t. There’s always something going on, so you’re never stuck for lack of something to do. On the other hand, it is hard to make a life for yourself. You have to be flexible and adaptable but focused and determined. It’s a combination a lot of people don’t have.
N-P: Following one’s dreams is always risky business, particularly when dealing with the arts. How did you maintain your resolve and your determination?
RVCBARD: I don’t know how I do it, to tell you the truth. I just know that if there’s anything else I could do that would make me happy, I’d do it. But that’s not the case for me.
N-P: I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of reading the earlier incarnations of Anne & Me. But for the readers who aren’t in the know, why don’t you tell them how this special story came to be?
RVCBARD: It came from a frustration I had with how racial dialogue between Black people and White people usually happen. They always felt, to me, superficial. They skimmed the surface with things like “stereotypes are bad” without really understanding the effects that has upon people as human beings. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but no relating. There are so many things about my life that are important to me that I never get a chance to say because dialogue gets in the way of relationship.
It was really important for me to confront this by putting a face on it. It was very important for me to create a situation where I could say, “I’m right here!!! Listen to me right here!!! Listen to me right now!!!” because I don’t get a chance to say what I really feel in the way I really feel it. These things are always rendered so abstract as to be meaningless, rendering experiences that have shaped my life into so much ephemera. It was frustrating beyond belief to be constantly confronted with the fact that to so many people – even people who say they know me and care about me – my lived reality is purely conceptual.
N-P: Why Anne Hathaway? Of all of the actresses out there? What made her unique for you?
RVCBARD: LOL! You’re not the first person to wonder why I like her. If I felt like being facetious, I’d say, “Why not?” but I think this requires a real explanation.
There are a few things you need to know about me. I am not impressed by celebrity. I am by temperament an iconoclast because I have a strong aversion to what I sense to be idolatry. As a matter of fact, I am probably harsher on celebrities than I am on “the masses” because many celebrities become and remain such by exploiting class, race and gender privilege. Because of this, I deliberately limit my exposure to mainstream media and only seek out things that I find worth my time and energy, things that really excite or intrigue me. So when I like someone or something, it’s because they really appeal to me and not because it’s who or what I’m told to like.
Also, remember that I’m very introverted. I avoid the limelight. So free publicity is emphatically NOT what I’m after here.
As for Anne Hathaway in particular, from what I’ve gathered from her work and the interviews I casually come across, she comes off as someone I could genuinely respect beyond what’s required of basic human decency. From my very limited idea of her, I feel like if I were to talk with her about some of the things brought up in this play, she’d get it in a very real way – not just intellectually or on principle.
I can’t even say the same thing about most of my friends. Think about that for a minute. Think about what that means. For something so important to me, something that has shaped my life since the moment I was born, the person I trust most to share how I feel about it is someone I’ve never met.
N-P: What’s your favorite Hathaway film? Or if you have several?
RVCBARD: I don’t really have favorites. I have things I’m in the mood for. I know I’m expected to say “Rachel Getting Married” or “Brokeback Mountain,” but there’s something about “Havoc” and “Get Smart” that really do it for me.
N-P: If Anne Hathaway saw this reading? What do you think her reaction would be?
RVCBARD: I think she’d hate me for it. Rather, I fear she would.
N-P: What would your reaction be meeting her?
N-P: As a queer woman of color, you’re certainly no stranger to the intersectionalities of bigotry and institutional oppression. And Tulpa, or Anne&Me pulls no punches. It’s honest and candid without being preachy. Tell us about what inspired you to tackle these topics and your methods in addressing them.
RVCBARD: I had to do it, or I would turn it all inward and self-destruct. Writing this piece saved me from myself by keeping me from throwing my life away.
N-P: Do you ever worry about this being career suicide or being blacklisted and branded as the black queer feminazi with the “political agenda”?
RVCBARD: Not really. People already think that about me regardless of what I actually say or do, so there’s really no point in me worrying about it.
N-P: As I mentioned earlier, you tackle these issues head on and pull no punches. Now obviously tackling such “controversial” issues is gonna make people uncomfortable. IE: Cis straight white folks. As they’re sitting they’re watching the reading, some folks will probably be squirming in their seats like they have a severe case of hemorrhoids. What would you say to folks who are uncomfortable or would rather not talk about such “unpleasant business?”
RVCBARD: Whatever. They’re supposed to be uncomfortable. And if they’d rather not talk about it, I wonder what they’re doing there. It’s not like I hide that “unpleasant business” from them.
N-P: But why does it ALWAYS have to be about race with you peepul?
RVCBARD: (rolls eyes)
N-P: But slavery is over and you have a black president. WUT MOAR DO U PEEPUL WANT?!!!!
RVCBARD: The end to all systems of oppression.
N-P: But couldn’t you have just made a nice play without bringing up racism/homophobia/misogyny?
RVCBARD: Sure, as soon as I have a life where I don’t have to deal with racism, homophobia and misogyny.
N-P: But as a creator, shouldn’t you learn to “broaden” your horizons? Not everything isabout race/gender/orientation.
RVCBARD: Right, because straight White dudes are all we need.
N-P: But this play just seems sooooooooooo angry. You’re never going to get an audience with THAT attitude?
RVCBARD: Oh, shut up.
N-P: Do you think you would’ve been able to convey the same points across in your piece if Anne had in fact been say Gloria, a human white character, as opposed to a supernatural manifestation that takes the form of an accomplished actress?
RVCBARD: I really don’t know. It wasn’t that conscious a choice. But I would guess that Anne being a supernatural entity allows me to have conversations with her that, with a “real” human, just wouldn’t happen because it’d be too easy to get sidetracked by other stuff.
N-P: Based on what you’ve witnessed in your life, in the theater, and even online, what do you think needs to happen for marginalized people to get more of their stories produced? To get more people to actually listen and be receptive? What steps do we need to take?
RVCBARD: That’s a pretty intricate question that would involve years of study and millions of words, but in the simplest language, shut up and do it already. All it takes to make theatre is people, space and money (in that order). Give us some and let us do our thing.
N-P: Has there been progress in your opinion or is it just the same ole same ole?
RVCBARD: We can use the same restrooms and water fountains at the theater, so I guess that’s progress.
N-P: And for those who are uninitiated with the power of Google, tell us what Tulpa means?
RVCBARD: That will be $25, which is my hourly rate for research.
N-P: Tell us a bit about Crossroads Theatre Project.
RVCBARD: Crossroads Theatre Project is a collaboration of new Black playwrights whose works explore how race intersects with other identities and challenge mainstream ideas about Black theatre.
The crossroads are rooted in African folklore, Vodou, and Delta blues as a place where strange and unexpected things happen. Anything can happen on the crossroads. You can speak with the dead, meet the spirits of your ancestors, or even sell your soul to the Devil.
Crossroads Theatre Project is the anti-Chitlin Circuit created to break barriers and undermine stereotypes by presenting thoughtful new stories by and about African Americans today. In the simplest terms, this means: no maids; no crackheads; no Tyler Perry.
N-P: You are a woman who doesn’t slow down. In addition to Tulpa, or Anne&Me and Crossroads Theatre Project, you also recently launched a new site entitled Ars Marginal. Tell us about the site. The name of it, what inspired it, it’s mission?
RVCBARD: Let me answer that with a question. How many places can working class, transgender, LGBQ, female, non-white AND disabled people go to where we can say, “This is what this film/TV show/comic book/game/book/etc. says about us, and I hate that shit!”? Where else can we go where we can say that without needing to apologize for it or temper our responses toward mainstream audiences (aka straight White able-bodied bourgie cisgender men)? Where else can we go where privileged people have to play by OUR rules?
N-P: You also have some excellent contributors. One in particular who stands out is that brilliant and might I add strikingly sexy stud, Neo-Prodigy. What’s his story? Is he single?
RVCBARD: I think so, but you might get your feelings hurt if you forget that he drives stick and doesn’t go for a bunch of bullshit. But if you’re a cute blond guy I think he’s available.
N-P: So what lies ahead for RVCBard? After the reading where do you go from here? Any other projects on the horizon?
RVCBARD: No. I’m in a different creative phase right now, so it’s more about experiencing things and accumulating raw material for my next piece. I’ll focus on helping the other playwright with Crossroads Theatre Project.
N-P: Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for aspiring storytellers?
RVCBARD: I’m generally not the advice-giving type. But I would say that it’s important to make a commitment to your art. It can’t be what you do because it’s fun and you need something to do. It has to be the center of your life, even when you’re not in the middle of creating. It can’t be something you do on the side.You have to act like you mean it when you say you’re an artist.
And with that I click the recorder. The waiter returns.
Waiter: Will there be anything else?
RVCBARD: We’re done here. He’ll handle the check.
N-P: I will?
I look up just in time to see her strutting out the door and stepping into her limo with the bottle in tow.
[Waiter hand N-P the check. N-P]
N-P: THE FUCK?!!!!!!!! I can’t afford this!!!!!!
[N-P rolls back sleeves and grabs a towel]
N-P: Third time this month. Point me to the kitchen. Those plates aren’t gonna clean themselves.
More info on the Nov. 12th reading can be found here.
You can also show your support by clicking the lovely button below.
And if you see RVCBARD, remind her she owes me $500.