“Room 4” at the PIT – Interview with Alejandro Kolleeny

alejandro-kolleeny

Room 4, a new satire about black stereotypes in entertainment, is currently running at the PIT. Described as a mix of Groundhog Day, Waiting for Godot, and A Chorus Line, this comedy follows four black actors as they audition for the same role as an anonymous drug dealer’s friend in a certain prime-time crime drama. Unfortunately, this time, it doesn’t just feel like the same role, but it is the same role. The four actors are stuck in a time loop, and they will have to work together to break out of it.

I sat down with the cast of Room 4 the day before their opening night to talk about frustrating casting calls and unpacking harmful tropes and stereotypes with humor.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to be an actor and how you came to be working in New York City.

I grew up here. I’m a stand-up comedian primarily, and that’s something that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, I was a part of a group called The Kids in Comedy. We did one show a month at the Gotham Comedy Club, and I also did open mics around the city, so I’ve just been sort of around. I went to school in Oregon, and I came back, here I am.

Would you consider yourself primarily a stand-up comedian more than an actor?

I guess so. I’m not sure. I’ve done a lot more acting in the past few months than stand-up. I’ve done a few of their plays.

Here at the PIT?

Yeah.

Could you explain what Room 4 is and maybe a bit about how you came to be a part of the show and what your role is in it?

Room 4 is a kind of nightmarish absurdist/hyper-realistic play in which four black actors are in a casting room, auditioning for a sort of anonymous drug dealer. They get the feeling that this has happened before, and they think, oh, this happens to us all the time, but on this occasion, they happen to be caught in a sort of actual time loop. It becomes sort of a nightmare, a world of horror in which they are trying to escape the room by any means necessary, by successfully getting the role, by going out of the exit.

I became involved because I met Marina and Nicco three years ago when we were doing sketches together for a project that never unfolded, but we all got to meet a lot of people through that. So they booked me for shows sometimes. Sometimes, they had me audition for their plays. My role in this play is I’m one of the two white characters. I think that part of what my character is there to do is to show that for the white characters in this world, the room doesn’t even exist. This thing that is such a huge obstacle to the four black actors in the room, I can walk in and out the door, and I don’t notice it, and I think that sort of twists the knife a little bit. That, I think, is the point they are trying to get across.

Room 4 - The PIT

Anthony Franqui and Alejandro Kolleeny

Yeah, the whole notion of white privilege. Within the New York City arts community, I get the feeling that we like to project an idea of progressive ideals but oftentimes in things like casting, that doesn’t necessarily happen. What do you think is going to have to happen or what will it take for that to really change?

I’m not entirely sure. God, it just feels like things are currently happening that are good, and I’m really in no place to talk about how much progress is being made or needs to be made, but I think it’s a good sign that more people – that we’re kind of forcing the entire country to have the race conversation. I remember growing up in a private school and being taught that racism ended in the late 80s, and so I think for ten years or so, we’ve all been not really talking about it, and we really have to talk about it, so I think that is good.

Absolutely. What was it like working with Marina and Nicco on the show?

It was great. They are really great writers, they are great directors. Nicco is spearheading the directing. He’s great at it. I haven’t worked a lot with directors, so a lot of the things that I get excited about are just like regular directing, like he tells you where to look or he tells you how to react to things. This, for me, has been a really cool experience, to be a part of something that isn’t really about me, but I get to be a part of it, and certainly, I think for a lot of white actors and comedians, you don’t have – unless you really go out there and do it – you’re not going to just find yourself in a room where you are the one white person. That’s been really good too.

What do you hope that audiences take away from Room 4?

I think that it might not be something that audiences don’t already know, like the things that you see happening in the play, but for a huge amount of people, it’s something that you are never forced to think about. So I think it’s going to – for example, you watch a Law & Order-type show, and you see a character who is only on-screen for two lines, and their name is probably “Drug Dealer #1,” hopefully you’ll think about what went into that casting a little bit and like oof, that was not super fun.

Tickets are on sale now for Room 4 and can be purchased online here at ThePIT-NYC.com or in-person at the PIT, located at 123 E 24th St. For other questions or assistance with ticket purchases, call the PIT at 212-563-7488.

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