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BWW Interview: Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

As live entertainers have discovered new ways to express themselves, for Tislarm Bouie it's been business as usual.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

The last year has seen many live performers reinventing themselves, as everyone took to the internet with virtual performances. Singers and actors alike learned how to broadcast in real-time, as well as the art of filmmaking for later screenings. While show business during the time of coronavirus has been difficult, many artists will come out on the other side with new skills at their fingertips.

For Tislarm Bouie, turning his musical training into a cinematic work to be enjoyed repeatedly in the future is not a new sensation. This dancer and choreographer has had a years-long quest to create film that is informed by his art, but also by his life experiences, and that of his black brothers. During the pandemic, though, the young visionary had the time and the thought to take his film project THUG to the next level, and when this writer looking for online content to write about found his video "Ball of Confusion" on YouTube, the decision was made immediately to write about it... even though it does not fall under the heading of Cabaret.

These days it is all about shining a light on the artists, whatever their mastery, their medium, or their mission. Today, the light is on Tislarm Bouie.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced here with minimal edits.

Tislarm Bouie, welcome to Broadway World, and thank you for talking to us today about your fascinating new film project THUG. Let's start with an important piece of information - is your name pronounced as it reads?

Hey!! Thank you so much for having me! My name is pronounced Tiz-Larm like alarm without the A.

You have a long history as a performer, doing theater, tv/film, commercials, but your current focus is as a filmmaker. What was the reason you decided to take your craft as a dancer and choreographer into the cinematic art form?

Three of my biggest inspirations for pursuing cinematography are Debbie Allen, Spike Lee, and Musical Theater. I admire Debbie because she's had a trailblazing career as a performer, director, producer and gives back to the next generation of artists. Spike Lee for uplifting the voice of our people, and musical theater for the aspect of storytelling. Once I dived into musical theater I realized the power in pushing a narrative, and that helped in transforming my work. Cinematography is exciting because there are so many elements involved and almost anything is possible. I've always dreamed of having my work on Broadway, movies, and television. This has been a way for me to create an opportunity for myself. I'm learning something new every day!

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

Your 2019 film Peggy Sue's Blues was a very personal one for you; what kind of thoughts did you have before releasing such an intimate story to the public?

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG I had a lot of resentment towards my mom growing up until I came to the realization that I've had an angel watching over me my entire life, and the effect President Regan's War on Drugs had on my family. "Peggy Sue's Blues" is my love letter to my mom, forgiving her, and coming to terms with drug addiction being a sickness. I was nervous because I'm a pretty private person. I was scared of being judged, having strangers knowing my business. Some of my family members weren't okay with me telling a personal story. So I took that into consideration as well. All of that in mind, in the summer of 2018, I made a decision to be vulnerable and live my life fearlessly. You never know who you can touch when you express yourself fully, and I want to use my art to let people know they're not alone.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

In October you released, on YouTube, an installment of Thug titled Ball Of Confusion, and then another one titled Man Enough To Love. How many installments of Thug will create the final completed project?

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG My goal is for "Thug" to be one full-length piece. I created the excerpt "Ball of Confusion" and "Man Enough to Love" in hopes of starting a gofundme campaign, which would've allowed me to finish the film with no future installments. However, I decided to go a different route and apply for fellowships and grants that'll help me in building a community as a director and choreographer. I intend to keep creating installments until I'm awarded an amount that would allow me to finish the piece as a whole. Right now I'm surrendering to the moment and creating as the opportunities come.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

Using one high concept sentence, tell me what THUG is.

Thug is about redefining black masculinity in America, showing that we're not a monolith.

What was the inspiration for Thug, and have you been able to keep production going during the pandemic?

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG "Thug" was made with a heavy heart. I was arrested on the same weekend of the Freddie Gray murder in Baltimore. Spending a night in jail, in a cage with 20 other men, was an experience like no other. It felt as if everything I've worked so hard to overcome didn't matter. To the police, I was another worthless black man. As I sat on the bench and took a look around the room, to no surprise, all I saw was Black and Latin men. Growing up in Brooklyn, coming from a family who was affected by the War on Drugs, made me think about all the black men I've encountered throughout my life and the effect that systemic oppression has had on us. I was inspired to create Thug to actively dismantle the stereotypes placed on us. I filmed Ball of Confusion and Man Enough to Love in the summer of 2020. It was a response to growing national outrage on police brutality, systemic oppression, and the upcoming Presidential election. The 2 last pieces are meant to showcase difference and duality in black men.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

Thug is a film that is informed by music, dance, acting, fashion - how big is the creative team on the project, and what is the creative process like, with so many different facets involved?

The creative team is pretty big and it requires a lot of patience, trust, and communication. I'll be collaborating with an art director, costume designer, writer, stylist, performing artists, and many others. I would say it takes a village to get the vision accomplished and everyone adds their own flair to the project, which makes it so powerful. I've been trying to relieve myself of things that aren't in my niche and relying on people who are good at those things to help bring my vision to life.

Put a picture in my head of the perception of masculinity in the black community, as opposed to the reality.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG Being a 6'4" dark skin black man, I feel like I can be judged based on what I'm wearing. If I'm wearing all black with a hoodie on I might come across as intimidating. But if I'm walking down the street in platform boots no one's clutching their purse or crossing the street. We're thought of as violent and hostile based on our appearance, without getting the chance to simply be. We're cast off as thugs until proven otherwise. I blame the media.

What is your vision for changing that perception - tell me about your artistic mission statement, please.

I hope to create work where people can see themselves, and relate to what I'm discussing. My long-term goal is to inspire current and future artists to live boldly and freely, and not to conform to the limits of society. I intend to bring diversity, awareness, and most of all love.

The creative process for almost all performing arts creators has suffered setbacks in the last year - how were you able to find the bandwidth to continue your work?

This work has been in my mind for five years, but I've just been able to sit down with myself and to fully work on it without being distracted from the city, the life we would live in: performing, auditioning, training, and being "ready". This time has allowed me to sit with myself and discover my purpose and the legacy that I want to leave behind. The person I want to be and the type of work I want to create. Without any distractions, I've been able to fully dive into this work and take it on wholeheartedly. I've also had to be super patient with myself and continue to take things one day at a time. We're in a pandemic. Patience is key.

Tell me about the New York Theater Barn and the fellowship that you are working on.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG Thanks to Joe Barros at New York Theater Barn I was given the platform to create "Ball of Confusion." It came after saying a prayer on my roof; asking for god to let my work heal the world, and hoping for an opportunity to get started on this piece that has been in my heart for so long. I was able to meet Raja Feather Kelly who has become a mentor for me. I'll l be showing another installment curated by Raja the week of March 25th with Arts Nova. I've been applying to fellowship programs that will award me enough money to finish the project and to grow as an independent well-rounded creator. Say a prayer for me!

When all the installments of Thug have been completed, will you use them to create one long-format film, or will you present them as separate entities? How do you get the finished product out in front of the public?

Yes, I'll be using all the installments to create one short film that will be infused with dialogue to connect all of the pieces together. I hope to present the piece at film festivals and rent out a theater for a showing.

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

Some artists have expressed difficulty in letting go of their work when it is complete; with a film that is as personally informed as Thug is to you, what is the letting go experience like?

By the time the work is ready to be shared, I've already watched it a thousand and one times to the point where I can't watch it anymore. So I'm excited to share and for viewers to experience what I've created.

Tislarm, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today; I hope you will come back and keep us updated.

It's been an honor. Thank you so much for having me, Stephen!

Visit the Tislarm Bouie website HERE and the Tislarm Bouie YouTube channel HERE.

Ball of Confusion photos by Bones Jones, Man Enough to Love photos by Sidewalkkilla

BWW Interview:  Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Tislarm Bouie Talks About THUG

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