BWW Interview: RKJB Entertainment - Making A Big Splash In The Austin Theatre Scene

BWW Interview: RKJB Entertainment - Making A Big Splash In The Austin Theatre Scene

In February of this year, fledgling Production Company RKJB Entertainment burst onto the Austin stage with an original play with music, FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA. Hailed by critics and audiences alike, the new work starred the amazing Jacqui Cross, who virtually transformed into the Gospel great. This month marks their second production MOAN THEM BLUES, a one woman show featuring legendary Blues pioneer, Bessie Smith (Sonia Moore). Moore's rendition of Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer stopped the show, I can scarcely wait to see a show that features such powerful talent. It's time our readers are introduced to Robert King, Jr and Jeremy Brown, the men behind these shows about such important icons of American culture.

Can you tell us who RKJB Entertainment is and how you got started?

Robert: RKJB Entertainment started in Austin as RKJ Entertainment which are of course are my initials (Robert King Jr.). I worked under this Production Company name for the past 5 years up until last year when I asked my best friend and brother, Jeremy Brown, to become my business partner. He has a successful and knowledgeable background in film and I wanted him to start the film division of the company. I've always wanted to work in film but that of course it's not my expertise. Together he and I have had much success. From the improved marketing to the new image of the company. So, with me already operating under RKJ Entertainment, we decided to go ahead and add a "B" to the end to perfectly round out our initials as a whole. He and I together are definitely a well matched team.


Why did you start RKJB Entertainment?

Jeremy: RKJB Entertainment's primary mission is to provide a safe and inclusive artistic space for the underrepresented and marginalized artists in the greater Austin-metro area. Secondarily, Robert wanted to put a solid brand behind his own writing and I wanted to expand upon my professional background of marketing and operations as well as produce my own works - founding RKJB Entertainment provided a perfect vehicle for both of our professional goals.


What can you tell us about MOAN THEM BLUES?

Robert: MOAN THEM BLUES is a one woman show about the Empress of Blues, Bessie Smith. When you step into the performance space, you will immediately be transported back to the roaring 20's for this two night engagement. You may even may catch me on stage performing as Bessie's opening act. The show opens with Bessie making her grand entrance down the center aisle demanding the bartender to pour her more gin which sets the tone of the show. With that being said, the show is only for a more mature audience due to the language and content. The show is directed by theatrical genius, Frank Benge and stars Sonia Moore as Bessie Smith, William Samuel as her pianist, Jawbone and The Sahara Dancers lead by choreographer Candace Akers. Be prepared for a bluesy, boozing good time as we explore the heydays of Bessie Smith using the beautiful Sahara Lounge as a backdrop.


When and where will MOAN THEM BLUES be performed?

Jeremy:
Memorial Day Weekend:
Friday, May 26th at 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 28th at 7:30 pm

The Sahara Lounge
1413 Webberville Road,
Austin, Texas 78721
You can purchase your tickets at: MoanThemBlues.BrownPaperTickets.com


What inspired you to write MOAN THEM BLUES?

Robert: We briefly touched on Bessie Smith in my original play 'For the Love of Mahalia' when Mahalia was a child, she would secretly sneak to listen to her Bessie albums and I just thought it would be suitable to follow up with another story about another powerhouse singer in her own right.


Your first production, FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA, an original work as is, MOAN THEM BLUES, do you plan to focus on original work?

Robert: Honestly, when I started in 2004 I wanted to just produce original work. Simply because every artist has the right to have their work produced. I know the feeling of having a theater tell you, "No, we don't produce unpublished writers." Which of course, is unfair because every writer has to start somewhere.

Jeremy: We would like to focus on more original works for the stage but no, we also have a few other projects that we would love to bring to Austin's stage. Some of which other Austin theaters have yet to touch on.


Are there plans to do more performances of MOAN THEM BLUES in the future since this is just two nights?

Jeremy: We would definitely like to revisit Bessie Smith sometime in the near future and give her a full on production that she deserves. With our busy schedule this season, we were only able to squeeze in this two night event but yes we will definitely be coming back to her story. There is so much more to tell about this larger than life woman that you just can't convey on a small stage.


What is the future for FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA? Are there any plans to remount the production considering it's critical success?

Robert: Within the next few weeks Clifford Butler, who is an amazing director and writer, and I are going to get together to do a few rewrites on the show. Cliff and I have worked together a few times before in other shows. So when he said that he was interested in helping with rewrites, I immediately jumped at the offer. As a writer, you always see the bigger picture but to have someone of his expertise lend a hand and say, "I see what you're trying to convey. Here - try it this way", totally had me excited as if I was writing the musical again for the first time. So, yes we will be bringing FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA back. At the moment, I can't say how soon but it's in the works.

Is there something about Bessie Smith and Mahalia Jackson that inspires you?

Jeremy: When it comes to historical figures I'm inspired by, I always think of the era when they were in their prime. Black women have been the most oppressed demographic throughout American history - especially in Bessie and Mahalia's respective eras. So many personal and professional obstacles were dropped in front of them at every turn. Their tenacious resilience is what inspires me.

Robert: I would have to say their individual artistries. Two broke black women that came from nothing. Both had booming careers and to this day have people like myself wanting to write about them.


I understand that a name change for the company is in the works, can you talk about that?

Jeremy: We can't say much about about the name change, at this time. We are focusing on continuing to build and expand upon the name and brand we already birthed; however, as we grow and evolve, so will our name and brand. So, just be on the lookout for our company and name rebirth in the future!

Where do you see RKJB Entertainment in 5 years?

Robert: I see us owning a theater and a film studio in downtown Austin and bringing back and growing minority artists back to the city.

Jeremy: Yes, as well as expanding domestically and internationally to other cities and countries to provide platforms for similar underrepresented artists and their unique voices. Also, I see our company teaching the foundations of theater and film to economically disadvantaged children and adolescents that express interest in the industry.

RKJB Entertainment clearly has all the hallmarks of an emerging force on the Austin theatre scene. I, for one, look forward to their upcoming productions with great anticipation. I certainly will be in the audience for MOAN THEM BLUES. Performing for only two nights, under the direction of Frank Benge, I promise that this is a show that everyone will be talking about.

Editorial photographer: Dwayne Hills of DHills Photography (dhillsphotography.com)

Bessie Promo Picture photographer: Scott Hammock of Hammock Photography (hammock photography.com)

MOAN THEM BLUES
RKJB Entertainment
Directed by Frank Benge
Memorial Day Weekend:
Friday, May 26th at 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 28th at 7:30 pm

The Sahara Lounge
1413 Webberville Road,
Austin, Texas 78721
You can purchase your tickets at: MoanThemBlues.BrownPaperTickets.com


Website: www.RKJBEntertainment.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RKJBEntertainment
Instagram: RKJBEntertainment
Twitter: @RKJBEntertainMe


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