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BWW Interview: Satomi Blair Chats About KENTUCKY, Tribeca Film Festival and Much More!

Actress and producer Satomi Blair is ready to take on a role that she has been working on for over a year now. Starting tonight, Blair stars in the world premiere production of KENTUCKY.

KENTUCKY follows Hiro, who has to stop her baby sister from marrying a man she hardly knows, but that means returning to Kentucky and the home she's put behind her. Hiro's quest will confront forgotten friends, former flames, and the family she fled. Will she save her sister and escape back to Manhattan, or will years of therapy be undone by a single wedding weekend back in her old Kentucky home?

The role of Hiro has been near and dear to Blair's heart for more than one reason. Not only does she get to originate a role, but she's involved in a very diverse story featuring a character that isn't defined by her ethnicity.

While starring in Kentucky, Blair is also a producer on the film STARRING Austin Pendleton, which is currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Blair sat down with BroadwayWorld to chat about Kentucky, working with Leah Nanako Winkler's words and not being defined by her race.

Check out the full interview below!

Can you tell us a little bit about KENTUCKY?

The most important thing about Kentucky is that it's a little bit of a insane, lovely little play with sixteen people, which is a little bit unorthodox. For a new, young play it's a lot of people. We had tech last week and having everybody on stage at the same time was crazy. For me, that is the most important thing. It is a very ethnically diverse cast, which I think is beautiful. I honestly think it's a play about becoming an adult and figuring out what that means and how to navigate that and how hard actually that is. For one, to come to terms with your past and also understand that what is good for you and what makes you happy and fulfilled in your future, might not be the same thing as your family or those around you or from where you came from and how you figure out who you are versus who they are and that it's okay to be different. I think that's essential what Kentucky is about for me. It's about love and longing.

It's so great. I'm telling people about it and I think for my friends that are not theater people, for which there are many, they love it. They understand it, they get it. They think it's funny, they think it's sad. They are rooting for my character, but they are also severely against me, cause I'm kind of a mess, which is totally fair. I think it's a play that literally anyone can understand; any person; any creed; any race. There is something in this play that will speak to them or make them laugh or make them think.

What has it been like working with Leah Nanako Winkler's words and translating them to the stage?

There's a part of me that says that I understand Leah's voice, or I like to think I do. I could be totally wrong. I've worked on this play in development for a little over a year. I've worked with Leah on this play and other play's as well so, her language is so fascinatingly syncopated sometimes and it dives really interestingly in between beautiful poetic, really self aware and then dives back into reality. I think that not getting lost in the poetry of it or being overly dramatic and just being really real and realizing that this is how people talk is what makes it so fun. Just to do it really straight and to be really serious about the grass in the meadow and the stars in the sky. That's what makes it fun and severely dramatic at the same time. Someone is in a horrible situation, they are terribly falling down the rabbit hole of self-destruction and have this language that is so grandiose and beautiful.

How has it been working with this cast?

We are so ready. We are so excited. We have some new people that have joined the cast, which is amazing, but a lot of people that have been with the play for over a year. It's incredibly rare, that never happens. When you do a workshop, there is so much development, especially with plays. It's so rare that you have, I think 13 or 12 from the original cast that are able and make their schedule accommodating so that they can come back. Everybody is so in love with this play and we are all such big fans. It's literally just getting to hang out with your friends now and try not to laugh when they do something ridiculous in my face. Being "the straight person" in the play has its challenges and joys. I just have to not laugh at the funniest thing in the world that is happening right in front me or right at me. Everybody is backstage often and there is a lot happening backstage and there is 15 of them. I come back all the time and there is always something ridiculously funny going on. They are my family. Everyone is so positive and excited. We just have a ball and it's fun and relaxing. We are totally ready for an audience to get in here. We can't wait. We are just gonna rip it. It's gonna be awesome.

How has it been creating a totally new character for this world premiere production?

I feel like the luckiest girl in the entire world essentially. I get to be on stage with some of the funniest actors that I know. Mostly I just have to make sure I get to the scene on time and they do all the work, I feel like. It's a joy. It's a responsibility that I take very seriously and I think the thing that I love about Hiro and the play in general is yes, it's an Asian-American character, but it's not an Asian-American story and I'm not in any way defined by being Asian. For me that is the huge opportunity and gift that I get to do because this is a story that I think literally anybody would understand and relate to. It doesn't have to be about "asian-ness" or "otherness." She's an "other" but it's not because of her race and to me that is such a gift.

I've had the opportunity to work on new plays before and world premieres but to get to play a part that is Asian-American and isn't defined by that. Leah once made the joke that "It's not about dumplings!" It's so true and I just get to play this person who is very well intentioned, but slightly neurotic and messed up person who is dealing with a lot of trauma in her past and a lot of psychological warfare that she has had to process and survive through. It's just this real person and she's funny, she's quirky, she loves, but she loves incorrectly sometimes. She just happens to be Asian. She's surrounded by all these different people and to me it's a gift.

In the last year or so the conversation about ethnically diverse casting and roles that minorities are offered has become more prevalent in theatre, film and TV. What are your thoughts?

I know! I completely agree. I'm also a producer and I film at Tribeca right now [Starring Austin Pendleton], so this kind of conversation came up at the Tribeca parties and being one, a female producer in a film is rare, being a person of color in this industry is also rare. So, I feel like I talk about it a lot and I'm happy to. You know, Scarlett Johansson recent casting caused some buzz about white washing and it brings about all these conversation in theatre as well. I always think that yes, white washing is terrible and you shouldn't have white people play Asian parts, but I'm just so sick of having to audition for Asian things. Me, Satomi, I'm not defined by being Asian. I don't see it like that at all. So, it's a gift to get to play this role in Kentucky specifically.

Satomi Blair is an actress and producer based in New York City. THEATER: Good Men Wanted by Kevin Armento (Arena Stage), Seminar by Theresa Rebeck (WHAT), She Kills Monsters* by Qui Nguyen (Flea Theater, nominated for GLAAD award), These Seven Sicknesses* by Sean Graney (Flea Theater, nominated for Drama Desk), Land O'Fire* by Luis Santeiro (JCTC), American Sexy* by Trista Baldwin (Flea Theater). Has worked with New York Theatre Workshop, Ma-Yi, Ensemble Studio Theatre: Young Bloods, and PlayRise. TELEVISION: Rescue Me (FX), Gurland on Gurland (Showtime). Founder of 4Hawk Productions which produced Starring Austin Pendleton, a documentary short currently screening in the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Graduate of Fordham University at Lincoln Center. and

KENTUCKY, written by Leah Nanako Winkler and presented by Page Seventy-Three Productions and Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST)/The Radio Drama Network, begins performances at EST's Curt Dempster Theatre (549 W. 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019) on Wednesday, April 20 and officially opens on Sunday, May 1 for a strictly limited run though Sunday, May 22.


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