Creating Our Own Space: A Conversation with Chibueze Crouch and Davied Douglas Morales
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Rotimi Agbabiaka
On June 29, Theatre Bay Area will host Together We Rise, its annual fundraiser. In response to the times, the virtual event will raise funds for the Performing Arts Workers Relief Fund and all of TBA’s programs and services. Additionally, 10% of donations made during the event will be going to the NAACP, a racial justice-focused organization in line with TBA’s values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Together We Rise will also highlight up-and-coming Bay Area artists, like Chibueze Crouch and Davied Douglas Morales, as performers at the event. Crouch received last year’s RHE Artistic Fellowship and straddles the worlds of theatre and performance art, appearing at such venues as CounterPULSE, Brava, and Crowded Fire. Morales, an actor and rapper from San Jose, was featured in San Francisco Playhouse’s A White Girl’s Guide to International Terrorism and recently released his debut album, Light Hearted.
TBA chatted with the duo about their preparations for the event and what inspires them as Black artists in this moment.
Chibueze Crouch. Photo by Ismael Ishmael Ya Agyapong.
Theatre Bay Area: It’s exciting to speak with two artists in the emerging stages of their careers. Can you tell us a little bit about your theatrical journeys so far?
Chibueze Crouch: I’m originally from Paugussett land, also known as Danbury, Connecticut. I did a lot of theatre in college and worked in a theatre company in Trinidad and Tobago after I graduated. Once I moved to the Bay [in August 2016] and connected with a lot of experimental artists and movement folk, I expanded my art practice to be more multidisciplinary. I still perform in traditional plays, but I also do a lot of solo performance art that involves singing, writing, directing, ritual masquerade, and a lot of devised work with collaborators. It’s been really freeing to make art on my own terms.
Davied Morales: I grew up with a single mom; Dad passed away when I was five. My babysitter at the time ... was the TV and that’s what inspired me to want to be an actor—[shows] like All That and Fresh Prince, [seeing] people who are Black on TV. And luckily for me, the middle school near my house was a performing arts middle school. So I signed up for drama, and I got hooked and did it all the way up to college. I got an AA degree at Foothill [College].
I did the TBA general auditions and that really catapulted me into doing a whole bunch of theatre throughout the Bay Area. I also do music, and I picked that up later in high school. I [needed] a hobby to keep me out of trouble and that hobby grew into a passion of mine. Actor-rapper: that’s what I am now.
TBA: You both create original works of performance and music. How has that practice impacted your growth as artists?
CC: I love theatre, but I think what I’ve often felt stifled by is feeling like there were directions I wanted to take or characters I wanted to be on stage or or just stories that I didn’t see being told. So for me [making my own work] was partly out of necessity: ‘OK, these stories, these conversations, aren’t happening. I need to make them happen in any way that I can and I don’t own a theatre but I have a body, I have skills, and I have maybe a grant or two or someone who might support me or access to a public space and I can just go do this.’
And also, I think especially in this current racialized moment, where again it feels like Black voices and oppressed voices are being erased and not heard or manipulated or expropriated, it just feels so critical for people of color and oppressed people to take the reins of their expression and that includes creatively too. It’s filling the space that wasn’t made for us and creating our own space. I see it as me taking up the space that I was never given.
Davied Douglas Morales. Photo by Lisa Keating.
TBA: How important is it to have a community that supports your creation? Have you found such a community in the Bay Area?
DM: I definitely wouldn’t have gotten as far as I am today with music if it wasn’t for community. Theatre is on a different level. You need a stage, you need a lighting designer, costumers, directors, the rights to a play. I hope to produce my work on that level one day. But for music—producing, mixing, mastering—I’m blessed to have people who enjoy my voice and enjoy working with me [to where] we don’t even worry about money. It’s more like: let’s just create and I’ll do my part and you’ll do your part and we collaborate and when it comes to splitting money we all split it. That essence of community is really hard [to leave]. When a lot of people ask me: ‘Why don’t you move to LA?’ I’m like, ‘My community is here.’ And unless my community wants to go with me I don’t want to start over [somewhere else].
CC: I think about that a lot as someone who’s not from the Bay Area, who didn’t grow up here. I wasn’t born here, I’m not Ohlone—in every way, I’m not from here. And I am not necessarily a gentrifier in the way that a corporation is ... but I am very aware that I am occupying space that may or may not have gone to someone who is local or a descendant of people from here. I think about that a lot, about intentionality, as essentially a foreigner in the community and as someone who has chosen to live here for four years. What it has done for me is it has made me very intentional about the spaces that I do enter. It has made me very intentional about the people that I interact with and what I am bringing to the table. The question that I’m constantly asking myself is: Where am I needed?
I have found community. I’ve met a lot of dancers, performance artists, singers, and I’ve also met some incredible Black actors in the Bay, who are just so generous and so willing to uplift other Black artists and offer time and energy to help each other with auditions, resources, casting calls, and pointing me to the theatres that would be interested in my work. So I agree that community makes it hard to leave the Bay because once you find your people, it feels like you want to hold them close and you don’t want to let them go.
TBA: What can we expect from your performances at Together We Rise?
CC: I am still figuring it out. I know I’m going to make a video. It will definitely be about blackness at this moment and there might be some Nina Simone.
I’m mostly thinking about: what do Black people need in this moment? And what do theatre makers of the Bay Area need to hear from us Black makers at this moment?
DM: So I’m hosting and I know we’re going to do a segment [dedicated to] the Black Lives Matter movement. My suggestion was a moment of silence at least. I wanted to do a lot more so I teamed up with [hip hop theatre group] the Bay Area Theater Cypher and we’re doing a mini music video of what we think is important for theatres to hear about what’s going on right now.
TBA: What is theatre’s role is in this political moment—as millions mobilize against police violence and discrimination? How do you envision yourselves functioning within that role?
DM: Being an actor is such a funny position to be in because our job is pretending. I wonder if, just like the justice system, theatre could reimagine stories, reimagine some of these classic roles that we always do. Create more spaces for people to express themselves and their stories.
CC: I can give the theatre industry the same advice I’d give to every other industry right now: dismantling and decentering. Dismantling the systems that are not built for people of color to succeed. Dismantling even just the fact that [the industry is] all based in hierarchy, which is inherently capitalist and patriarchal. Why do we have heads of theatre companies who are the only ones who can make decisions on things and are often white men or white people?
As actors, our jobs are pretending but our jobs are also imagining new worlds. What would it look like if you let Black people in theatre imagine the world they want and then give them the money to make that happen on every level—creatively, structurally, financially?
TBA: I know we’re in a sort of theatre limbo right now with COVID-19 but are you working on any projects? What’s stirring your imagination?
CC: I just finished a fellowship with Afro Urban society, which was really generative and helpful for me in completely recontextualizing and changing how I think about blackness on a personal level, on a definitional level, on a cultural level. So that’s something I’m still thinking a lot about especially in the wake of the uprising.
In September, I will be doing a solo piece that’s part of a larger collaborative piece called Mouf. It’s a drag-inspired piece about Prince and Whitney Houston—reimagining what their lives would be like if they had lived openly and proudly as queer people.
DM: Music is my outlet when I don’t have a role to dive into. I told everyone on social media that I apologize for always making music for the good times but I haven’t provided music for times like this … so I’m trying to make as much music as I can for times like right now. I’m blessed enough to realize that my power is in the lightheartedness, in the levity of situations. I’m trying to reimagine my content—to be aware but to still be making people laugh.
I’m blessed also to continue doing my job. I teach improv in prison during the week .. with Red Ladder [Theatre Company]. It’s such a rewarding job—reminds me of the day that I found theatre. Every time I go in there, there are people who didn’t know they could have this outlet. We are currently broadcasting our lessons via Zoom.
CC: I really want to affirm the fact that you make good time music. Maybe people give you shit about it but honestly that’s just as important as the serious stuff. We need the joy, we can’t survive without that.
Together We Rise takes place at 6.30pm on Monday, June 29. Visit here for more info and to register.
Rotimi Agbabiaka is the features curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, and teaching artist. Learn more about him at rotimionline.com