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 became an actor, and what brought you to New York City.
Well, I’ve always been a performer since I was a little kid. When I was in preschool, I played the Big Bad Wolf. I danced like Michael Jackson, and I huffed and I puffed and I did a bunch of hee-hee’s and hoo-hoo’s, so I’ve been a performer since I’ve been a little kid. I went to NYU for acting and Afrikaner studies. I’m really passionate about looking at the performance of blackness and what that means, and I have a couple of solo shows that I wrote dealing with performing blackness. So when I had the opportunity to audition for this play and read the play, I was like, yes! I’m down, I’m very interested because this is the type of work I’m really invested in, and I like sci-fi stuff. I also have a Harlem-based theatre company called the Movement Theatre Company and another Harlem-based theatre company called Harlem 9. We are about creating and supporting new works by artists of color. So yeah, there are a lot of things within this play that align with my personal mission. Take what you will from that.
How did you first find out about Room 4?
Nicco reached out to me because I was recommended by a few folks that I know, a few friends that we have in common, so Nicco was like, “Ohhh, two people said you’d be great for this!” And I was like, “Well, they know me really well because I’d love to do it!” So that’s how I got connected. I reached out and auditioned.
Could you explain what Room 4 is and what your role is in the show?
Yeah, Room 4 is a comedy about four actors stuck in a time loop auditioning for the same stereotypical roles. My role is Greg, and Greg is a pretty confident young actor who is willing to do what he has to do. I think he really embraces the business aspect of the industry in terms of, okay, you’ve come to audition. You want to dress the part. You want to have the attitude of the character. You want to be able to give your best in that room, and it doesn’t matter what the part is. You just want to get it because it’s another opportunity to make some money and also do what you love.
While he is very aware of the stereotypes, I think he kind of puts those concerns to the side in order to get the parts. He is, in terms of personal differences between him and I, he is a little bit more outspoken than I am, which I love because if you’re not able to tell, I’m a pretty quiet, low-key person, but I enjoy Greg because he is a little bit more outspoken and goes for it.
Have you had a lot of experiences similar to what happens in Room 4?
I’ll be honest and say I don’t feel like I’ve had a lot of experiences like that. I think more often than not, because there are a lot of elements that go into getting opportunities to audition for stereotypical roles. I’m shorter and look younger and have a specific type. My type is usually like the nice guy or the sweet boy who is on the wrong side of the tracks, so I find that often, I don’t get the opportunity to audition for Thug #1 because people don’t often immediately see me and think Thug #1, so I don’t have that many experiences. I will say once, I auditioned to play a drug dealer that would be playing opposite 50 Cent, and I was like 5’7” and rather slim but athletic guy. 50 Cent is a big man, and I’m not going to look intimidating, at all. So that was a surprise. I did not get the part, and I auditioned the heck out of it. Left an impression on the casting director, I’m sure.
From what I’ve observed in the New York theatre community, we like to kind of project the idea that we’re really progressive, but in a lot of these castings in theatre, film, and television, it still seems to very much not be. You said that you studied and have an interest in how blackness is shown in the media. What do you think it is going to take for that to change?
Yeah, you know, small questions.
That is actually scarily the easiest question to answer, but it takes more people of color in positions of power. That’s what it requires. I am a producer, a filmmaker, a writer, an actor, and having been on many sides of the table, I understand that the producer and the people who are in charge of the money and the main resources, those are the people who are making the big decisions. So we get more studio executives that are of color, if we get more casting directors, if we can get more agents and get more managers, if we get more of the people who have the yes and no say-so in positions of power consistently, that is what will change things.
I do think that progress is being made in terms of with media being more accessible to so many more people. People have outlets to create in, and major studios and major networks are constantly or more often looking for opportunities and outlets to release new content, so there are more opportunities for people of color to create their own content, and that’s exciting. I expect that all of us involved in this show are thrilled by that and will find opportunities, whether that means acting, writing, or producing, to contribute to that. So I think it just requires more of us taking advantage of these opportunities, especially in this day and age when we can create our own opportunities.
We can start filming a web series, start a podcast. There are so many things that we can start on our own, and once we have an audience and a following, then executives at the networks, these people will say, hey, I see what you’ve got there. We’d love to pick that up, and as long as you can have a certain amount of power over them – which you should, you have every right to have power over your work – then you can create more opportunities for people of color to be showcased.
You said that you are a filmmaker?
Yeah, yeah, I have a short film called The Jump right now that’s been going around to different film festivals, so the next upcoming festival will be the Urbanworld Film Festival here in New York at the AMC Theater in Times Square. That will be Saturday, September 24, and that will be the biggest screening thus far, and other screenings around the country will be coming up.
Excellent. What do you hope that people take away from Room 4?
I want people to walk away having a really great time, having had some great laughs but also acknowledging that for performers of color, oftentimes the decision to take on roles can be a bit more tedious. The choice to decide, okay, this is a role I’m actually interested in auditioning for, first of all, but even past the audition, once you get the role, does it really feel right in your spirit to play this? How are you representing your people, and are there enough opportunities out there to showcase the diversity, the complexity, the variety of our experiences as black people or as people of color, and how are you contributing to that variety or that lack thereof? So I think it’s a big conversation that too often is not spoken about, and I don’t think people consider it that often, so I’m excited that we can create that discussion and create that dialogue with the audience.
I think maybe that’s part of it, that people don’t consider it or think about it unless they are directly affected by it or know someone that is.
Yeah, you wouldn’t. It’s so interesting, I think we’re at a phase in our society where, I mean, social media has created a globalization of the world – I mean, it’s given us access so that we all have access to each others’ experiences in a way, and so we have to become – the progression of our society is that we have to become more empathetic to others, and we have to start considering people beyond ourselves, and if we try to resist that, it’s going backwards. It’s “Make America Great Again,” it’s going backwards, and we don’t want to go backwards. We must push forwards, and it just means that our human consciousness must move to a place where we are considering our brothers, our sisters. We are really considering people beyond ourselves, and I do think work like this offers conversations about considering people beyond ourselves.
Are there any other upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?
My theatre company, the Movement Theatre Company, we’re having a Laugh Out Loud event on October 10, which is Columbus Day. We’re gathering comedians of color – sketch comedy, stand-up, and improv – to do a show based on the idea of Christopher Columbus, so that will be in Harlem at this restaurant called Nabe. So that’s an upcoming thing that I’m excited about, and other than that, my film The Jump and my other work.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.
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.