BWW Interview: Chilina Kennedy of THE BAND'S VISIT at The Kentucky Center for the Arts
As Chilina Kennedy is preparing to take her final bow as Dina, she takes a moment to discuss the show, it's impact, and what it means to her.
Taylor Clemons: Hi Chilina! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me!
Chilina Kennedy: Oh, of course!
TC: I don't know how much time you have, so do you wanna dive in?
CK: Yeah let's go for it!
TC: The Band's Visit has been described by many as slowly developing and beautifully simplistic, and I'd like to ask; as an actor, what's your favorite part of telling such a beautifully intricate, specific and fine-tuned story?
CK: I would say probably, you know, it's interesting listening to different descriptions because everyone has a slightly different way of experiencing the show, everyone's unique so every experience will be different. My favorite is when we move from the seemingly kind of mundane everyday life or an interaction that seems simple, into suddenly someone mentions something or we're talking about art and we go into the thing that is extraordinary, into a place that is on the deepest level of human connection, and it usually involves music or talking about things like Omar Sharif and films, and I think that transition from the mundane into that extraordinary place is my favorite. It's interesting to hear the audience reaction, I love seeing my fellow actors and what they're experiencing and I love that feeling. One of the examples of that is "Omar Sharif". That girl comes into the cafeteria scene having nothing to talk about, to suddenly being in this beautiful and rich world of that memory.
TC: That's so fascinating to me. Full disclosure I have not seen the show yet, but I'm very excited to see it this coming week, so I will definitely look out for that kind of stuff, those specific moments. Many people know that you did over 1,000 performances as Carole King in Beautiful - the Carole King Musical, so I wanted to ask you about the differences you've found in playing someone like Carole King who is an actual person, and then trying to put your own stamp on someone like Dina who is a fictional character.
CK: I mean those two roles couldn't be more different. There's always a pressure that comes with playing someone who is still alive. Playing Carole King has a lot of pressure associated with it, but also a lot of joy, a lot of fun. She was a very 'glass half full' kind of person; very positive and very forgiving. On the rainbow of personality I always saw her as a yellow, like bright, cheery, and sweet. I played about 1,200 performances by the time I left, so I did it a very long time with a couple breaks in the middle there to do other things, but I always came back to it, so it was a joy for me to play her. With Dina it's a different kind of experience. It's very satisfying. Of course, there's a certain pressure following someone like Katrina Lenk who I admire very much, but part of the beauty of it is making it your own. Dina can really be whoever you want her to be, and I think she kind of exists on a bit of a darker plain. She's a little bit more jaded, and she's been around the block. She's been hurt a few times. I think that kind of makes her a deeper color and just different. She's very satisfying to play. I wouldn't say that it's as joyful, but it's definitely got beauty and arc and depth and love to that character.
TC: I'm sure you appreciate the variety of playing such totally different characters?
CK: Oh yeah! Well, it's everything we've ever wanted as actors to go and be able to do these very different projects. Not only are the pieces very different, but, like I said, the characters are so different, but that's what we study all those years. That's what we want to do with our lives. It's what I've been very lucky to do over the last few years.
TC: Some people are familiar with the touring life and how hard it can be to do eight shows a week and keep your health. I wanted to ask you, what do you personally do to keep sane with such a strenuous schedule? How do you continue to turn in a great performance night after night?
CK: I think part of it is keeping creatively fulfilled. The show is one layer of that. It's beautiful and the power is to keep listening and to keep diving into the story and our scene partners. However, we have the opportunities to open up and go to art galleries, like the other day I saw the Michelangelo exhibit. There's just so many things to do, places to go, and ways to be inspired. In regards to staying on top of my health, I try to eat well, go to the gym or yoga, whatever I can do to kind of stay present. And the communities that I'm in, that's the other opportunity is that we're in all of these beautiful cities, so it's a chance to be able to see those cities and get a feel of it in a way like the band does. They go from Egypt to Israel, and we're like the traveling people coming to all these different communities; some may be quite different to what we're used to and some might be similar, but we're open to allowing those communities to change us and really immerse ourselves in the places we visit.
TC: Going with that theme of going into so many different communities, have you noticed varied audience response from place to place that you have visited so far?
CK: Yes, there's definitely differences, but those can happen between a Tuesday night audience and a weekend audience in the same city, so audiences are always different no matter where you are, but yes. There have been some warmer crowds, more vocal crowds than others, but it doesn't mean that anyone is enjoying the show any less or more than other cities. It's just the way they tend to show their appreciation. For the most part we get laughs in the same spots but sometimes in a certain market it will be a different color, you know? Some people find certain things funnier and it's fun to stay open to what that is going to be and connect with audiences in whatever way is good for them and whatever way feels true and unique.
TC: That's always so fascinating for me when seeing shows I'm familiar wth, just seeing how different audiences react from one moment to the next, so it's very illuminating to hear your take on that. You kinda already answered my next question with all the talk of visiting different places and the specificities of every city, but what has your favorite part of doing this tour been so far? Or do you have a favorite city you've gotten to go to so far or a favorite experience?
CK: Oh my goodness they've all been so wonderful. I have to say my time in Washington was very great. I love all of the public galleries and the way that they encourage people to come and see theatre, art, and museums. There's always so much to do and so much to learn. However, I'm very much looking forward to coming to Louisville and to all of the stops. I guess one of my favorite things would be the people I work with. We have a global company of people from Canada, France, the United States, Israel, and all over the Middle East. It feels very special. We all bring different cultures, foods, and languages. I think between us we speak about 6 or 7 languages, and so the amount that we're learning is amazing. The people who speak Hebrew are learning Arabic, and the people speaking Arabic are learning Hebrew, so it's really amazing, and all of us English speakers learning all of it. I speak French and there are other French speakers, so we speak to each other in this variety of languages. It's really beautiful and it's the best of all things. It's the best of all things when these cultures come together. It's one of the most positive aspects. Plus the food that we get to try! The other night we all went out. It was mostly Israelites in the group plus me and another woman who's American and someone else from Egypt and we all went out to this beautiful restaurant that served cuisine from Yemen. They all spoke Arabic, and it was gorgeous food that I had never tried before, and it was all these different cultures coming together to try all of this different food, and it was just the most wonderful thing. Not to sound trite or sentimental, but that's kind of the message of our show. Our show is really about kindness. You don't have to necessarily be nice to be kind, and kindness comes in very different forms. The best way to express it is to eat together and break bread together and to celebrate together, and that's what we did and continue to do throughout this tour, and I'm inspired by it.
TC: That's not sentimental at all, I think it's extremely beautiful. How did this tour come into your life, and what made you think this was something that you wanted to pack up your life for six months and go do?
CK: Well, I had seen the Broadway production and I had heard all the buzz about it, and I loved it. I was haunted by it. I wasn't quite sure what it was that moved me about it, but I knew that I was moved, and I was inspired by the show. After digging a little deeper, they wanted to bring me in for it, and I was actually a little surprised. Obviously, I would've loved to play that part, but I just didn't know if they would feel I was right for it. I really just didn't think about it. It's always the parts where you're not sure about, and you don't really consider that end up being the things that bring you the most joy. It was the same thing with Carole.That was a total surprise, and when I played Eva Peron. All of those roles were surprises to me, and they taught me so much about being an artist and all sorts of things. Once I read the script and I started diving into the music I was in love. I was in love with the piece, and I wanted to move mountains to do it, so I really sort of threw my life up in the air and said, "Alright!" and brought my son with me on tour as much as I could, and pulled him out of kindergarten for five weeks. It's been great for him too. He loves taking music lessons and he's gotten to see things he never would've gotten to see outside of this tour, and him taking drum lessons is amazing to see.
TC: That's so sweet!
CK. Yeah he's learning how to play the darbuka which is amazing. Where on earth would he get to do that other than here?
TC: Speaking of things you wouldn't usually think of yourself for, are there any roles or projects you do think of yourself for that you would like to get the chance to do someday?
CK: Ohmigod, the list is so long! I don't even think about it anymore because there are just so many projects. It's literally every project that I'd love to do something in. For years I've wanted to play Guinevere in Camelot. For years I've wanted to do more Neil Simon, more Shakespeare. There's just a million roles out there, and I want to do them all. I'm writing a musical at the moment, so I want to write more and create more roles for other people. There are just so many projects that I'm excited about.
TC: That sounds very promising! I had no idea that you were writing something, and I'm sure we will all be on the lookout for that. I'm sure you get asked this question a lot, it's a bit of a cliche, but I figured I would throw it in anyway, do you have any advice for aspiring performers of any age?
CK: It might sound a little cheesy, but really, be yourself. That's not to say don't immerse yourself in the character, of course you should, but it has to come through you. People get so caught up, and I did too. I still do sometimes. You try to imagine what they're looking for and what they want. Who do they want you to be? and all anyone ever wants you to do is come into the room, be fully present, and allow the character to live through you. Like respond organically and truthfully to whatever part you're playing and don't worry about the result. That's easier said than done, but ultimately the people who are the best at what they do are the ones who focus on the work and do really great work that feels authentic and true to who they are as artists, and the rest of it kind of takes care of itself.
TC: That is the common thread I've heard from so many people.
CK: It's the hardest thing to do, right? It sounds so easy to just be yourself, but it's hard and it takes years and patience and practice.
TC: As human beings we put up so many walls, and it's so difficult to just tear that away.
CK: Yes, exactly. Worth the effort for sure.
TC: It was announced just recently that your time with the show is sadly coming to an end, and I wanted to know if there's anything exciting coming up that you could share?
CK: There are actually three exciting things coming up and I'm not really allowed to share any of them yet, because they haven't announced casting, but yes! Keep your ears open and hopefully very soon I'll be able to talk publicly about it. Also, my time was always going to be up after six months because I have a five year old at home. I was able to have him for most of the tour, but now it's gotten to a time where he can't be with me so I miss him terribly, and it's time for me to be home with my son.
TC: Well that's great that you'll get back into your regular routine.
CK: Definitely, and to be back in New York. I still have three cities left, this one and two more after that so I'm still excited to enjoy the last part of the tour.
TC: To wrap things up, as your time with the tour is coming to an end, what have you personally taken away from the show, and what do you hope audiences have taken away from the show, and even your performance specifically?
CK: I've taken away a message of kindness from the show. The idea that David Cromer keeps talking about that kindness comes in so many shapes and sizes and forms, and that you don't have to be nice to be kind. I think that is true. We see examples of kindness all over the world all the time, and I think focusing on the positive things makes a big difference. Our show could be about our differences and the different political sides and all the different things that make us fight or separate us and it's not. It's a show human connection and what brings us together. It's about peace, and I love that. It's also one of those shows that makes you lean in. It's not one of those razzle dazzle, big shows where you just sit back and are entertained. It's not one of those. You have to lean in, and you have to listen and be engaged, I think, in order to get something meaningful out of it. It reminded me that in the playing of it that is also true, and also in listening to the piece that's true. All of it requires a little bit of effort from all sides to get in there. That's beautiful. I think that theatre can do all things. It can be a big wash of sound, light and spectacle where you just sit back and take it in or it can be the opposite which is our show, where you do lean in, ask questions, and have to think a little bit. All of those things are valid, and there's a place for all of it.
TC: I couldn't agree more. Thank you again for taking the time to talk with me, and I'm sure I speak for all of Louisville, when I say we are so looking forward to having you and The Band's Visit in town.
CK: It's my pleasure, I can't wait to see your city!
The Band's Visit December 3 - 8
Whitney Hall in The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202