American Prom has opened and lived in the hearts and minds of audiences for only one week, so far, and the buzz is already starting. There are still two weeks of performances, so get your tickets soon for this original and culturally poignant journey.
This week, we'd like to introduce you to one of our lead actors: a woman who has poured her life into her passions for story telling and the creative development of children. Theatreworks and the Colorado theatre community are blessed to have such a talented performer dedicated to the minds of children. In American Prom, Ilasiea Gray portrays a teenage girl, Kia B, on her journey of self discovery. Paired with her best friend, Jimmy, the two music loving teens challenge cultural norms and find a strength in themselves that model a better life for us all.
Ilasiea: Denver (California briefly, so a huge Oakland Raiders fan haha)
TW: Home now?
TW: What inspired you to do theatre?
Ilasiea: I was inspired to do theatre when I was really young. I am an only child so in my alone time I was always drawn to using my imagination to create & perform stories. I loved doing talent shows with friends and creating original songs and plays. My first theatre performance was actually a short selection of Shakespeare in kindergarten and I’ve been performing ever since!
TW: What do you think your character’s favorite movie is?
Ilasiea: I think Kia B’s favorite movie is Poetic Justice with 2Pac Shakur and Janet Jackson.
TW: How does this character relate to your life?
Ilasiea: Kia B relates to my life because she is a passionate, creative, music loving, Black girl, trying to find her place in the world. I connect with her trying to navigate in spaces where there are perceptions of who she should be, what she should be doing, and yearning for the freedom to just BE. I think everyone can relate to being on their own journey of self-discovery and the desire to live freely without social constraints. My life motto is: do you and allow others the courtesy to do the same!
TW: You were recently celebrated in the True West Awards True West Awards for your work across Denver and especially your work with children. What responsibilities or role should theatre have in the development of younger generations.
Ilasiea: Yes, that award was a tremendous honor and I am so grateful to have had my impactful work in the arts highlighted. The role that theatre should have in the development of younger generations is that of shining a light on what is possible (in many ways) and expanding their worldview both globally and in their communities. Theatre is an incredible way to reach and teach. Having done many different types of educational theatre, whether it is an uplifting story with a message like The Jungle Book, a show educating kids in a fun way about nutrition or anti-bullying, to representing a diverse world by playing Sleeping Beauty, it is all relevant and necessary for younger generations in a very accessible way.
I also tour a show about race called Black. With a Capital B., and must say theatre is equally important for educating adults. With that show we reach high school and college students - we actually came to Colorado College here in the Springs last year. We also go to community organizations like churches & libraries, to working professional groups of educators, lawyers & judges. Most recently we performed at a City Council meeting at the State Capitol in Denver, and it’s just amazing how one single theatre experience can shift one’s perspective, start important conversations, and truly change the world for all ages.
From a purely production standpoint, theatre has so many magical collaborative elements: performance, directing, design, admin, etc, and of course play-writing which is why we as an audience get to experience theatre in the first place. That starts with someone being brave enough to use their voice to tell a story. Younger generations need to be reminded that these artistic jobs exist.
TW: You spend much of your career teaching children. Can you tell us about how the children you teach affect you?
Ilasiea: The kids I teach affect me in ways I never thought possible. They truly leave my heart fuller and I am so grateful for every single child I have encountered who has decided to make theatre a part of their journey. I am constantly learning from them how to be a better communicator, better director, better artist and better human being. They are full of so many ideas, hope, enthusiasm, and make me think the world is on the right track if this is the next generation. It has been a privilege to have taught kids from diverse backgrounds and relating to the previous question, I take my responsibility to lead by example as an arts educator seriously. Theatre is a place where all are welcome, no idea is a bad idea, and shaping children’s interactions with one another in a creative space is paramount for how they will continue to communicate throughout their lives. I am super proud of all of my kiddos, and must do a special shout out to the ones making waves doing professional theatre, on-camera work, and one even starring on a T.V show!
TW: Finally, who’s your favorite fictional character and why?
Ilasiea: One of my favorite fictional characters has to be Susie Carmichael from the Rugrats because she is ev-ery-thing. When I was little that was my favorite show and it was the first time I saw a little Black girl cartoon character I could relate to. Her integrity was also on point! She was always morally sound, being an advocate, and sticking up for what’s right.