Supernatural: The Play… We All Have a Hair Story starring actress-comedian Kim Coles was written by three dynamic playwrights where seven women confront their hair and themselves. Meet Audrey Kelley, Candace O. Kelley and Gilda Rogers, the Playwrights!
You all have your own personal story about going natural. Can you share that story with the readers?
Candace: My mother has never gotten a relaxer, so the relaxer ritual wasn’t something I learned from her. When I was in college though, of course, I had to try it but a relaxer was not for me and I’ve have been non relaxed for over 30 years. Back in the 80’s I was the odd girl out! I remember working at Court TV in 1996 and I was told that my hair was “inappropriate for the workplace.” People didn’t quite know what to make of my big hair but it didn’t matter – that’s what was growing out of my head and I owned it. I was always making products for my hair because there was nothing out there. I have been mixing for over 20 years. Fast forward and those recipes are now in my line of products called Curl Prep Natural Hair Solutions. The line can be found in select Whole Foods in NJ and online. I receive orders from around the world and outside the US; Nigeria, Portugal and France especially love the line.
Gilda: I am old school having grown up during the Black Power Movement, I wore an afro for years, but as times changed I permed my hair – but never was into weaves or wigs. That was just too fake for me. Then I started teaching African American studies at Brookdale Community College [in New Jersey] and realized I needed to be authentic. I needed to put in context what I was really all about if I was going to be teaching about Black culture. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being authentic so it was not even an issue when I made the decision to be done with the whole perm routine. It was one of the most liberating things I’ve done. Back in the day during the ’70’s, we made a statement by wearing our hair natural, but today by wearing our hair natural we’re making a bold point. This is authentically who we are and it’s the most provocative way of telling the world that we love ourselves. This is not a trend. Natural hair is here to stay this time around.
Audrey: What led me to go natural? I was learning more and more about the toxic chemicals that are used in relaxers and that they could be linked to cancer and African-American women are the largest demographic to die of breast cancer in this country. I was later diagnosed with hypothyroidism and then uterine fibroids and my research led me to believe that detoxifying my body was key to my health. So, along with adopting a plant-based diet, that meant not applying the harmful chemicals that are found in relaxers and I went natural.
What impact is the natural movement having on society and business?
Candace: A few things I have seen so far are: 1. I spoke to a distributor last summer who said that he has a warehouse with relaxers just collecting dust. These relaxers have already been paid for and the distributor can’t get rid of them. 2. Hairdressers have also had to learn how to do natural hair because beauty schools are not required to teach about natural hair. And of course, we have noticed that women have forced businesses to use natural haired models in their campaigns. Most of the women of color that I see, in print ads especially, are natural. Corporations get it and we forced their hands to do so. 3. Finally, women around the world, including me, have natural hair events. The women that host these small and sometimes gigantic events are women of color. Not only have they found a niche hosting natural hair shows, but the vendors that showcase their goods are almost 100% women of color as well who have their own successful businesses. To be at these events is inspiring and of course fun! You can get your shop on!
Gilda: Clearly, natural hair is becoming more acceptable in the work place although we’re not totally there yet, but we’ve come a long way from being told by White corporate America that our natural hair is unacceptable. We’re actually seeing white people trying their hardest to wear dreads so I guess you can say the natural hair phenomenon has crossover appeal. We are seeing more natural hair women in commercials on television. And for our younger sisters who have embraced all their “nappiness”, it’s a real sign that we’re starting the process of accepting and loving all of who we are at a much younger age. That to me is huge!!
Audrey: As more women go natural, people are asking “why did you perm it [your hair] in the first place?” That question opens up a conversation about history and African-Americans in America itself. I talk about how our hair has been viewed in history from slavery to the current day and that historical conversation is very enlightening to most. They appreciate the insight they get just from asking me about my hair. If you went natural in the 80s, there was the possibility of losing your job. But today the atmosphere for going natural is much kinder. It’s not only viewed as a “political” statement, but also as a fashion statement. I think that black women are steering this conversation and the more that we accept our natural hair, the more others will accept it too.
This play is about more than hair. What is the overall message you want conveyed to your audience?
Candace: I want people to know that their stories matter. We are a society rich in story telling from books and films, to television and Broadway and more. Our story is a part of the world’s cultural fabric and we need to be woven in. When anyone sees their story it validates who they are. Thus far, this play has been shown in New Jersey at Crossroads Theater, Luna Stage and in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and I’ve seen women come together and watch the play with a sense of belonging. I have also heard a chorus of “amens” and seen plenty of tears from the audience and with each gesture; we claim our hair history even more.
Gilda: From my perspective SUPERNATURAL: THE PLAY is about acceptance and truly discovering who you are and owning it. I just wrote a phrase down that popped into my head yesterday that says “Success is being who you are with no apologies necessary.” The success of each character is that she comes to that point – No apologies necessary for being me. This is who I am. From Hannah who is caught in between two completely different worlds trying to reconcile who she is, to Niecey, who seems politically incorrect, but her candor is so on point that her true essence is revealed. It’s a very diverse and interesting mix of stories and lives lived that speaks to the most diverse audience which makes Supernatural so Universal.
How did the three of you arrive at the play?
Candace: Back in 2009, Gilda Rogers, a co-writer of the play said that I should write a play about natural hair and I basically put it in my mental files. She and I are both journalists and business partners putting on hair events. We met so many women with the most amazing stories, we couldn’t hold back. Hair just starts a conversation with most of the women I know. Gilda and I kept that conversation going in the characters we created in the play. My sister is a director and actor in Hollywood and Gilda and I pulled her in for, well, everything! From editing the monologues in the play, to directing and formatting and assisting with the unions. One quick example of how she worked is she asked questions about characters and probed to make sure they made sense and were real. We had great conversations shaping characters, making major changes and reading the play aloud over and over so we could really hear the voices of the character.
Gilda: Candace and I were kicking it one day; I think at the small bookstore and art gallery I used to own called “Frank Talk Art Bistro and Books,” which is actually where Candace launched her line of natural hair products called Curl Prep. We began talking about natural hair and Candace had become such a guru on it with all the women she’d met and the stories she’d heard, it led her to write a book. I think I suggested she should write a play and I had written this piece on the history of black hair. We kicked the idea of the play around and then one day Candace and I were having lunch in New Brunswick and we started coming up with the characters. They didn’t really have names just ideas about their background and lifestyle. Candace reached out to her sister Audrey, a very talented actress – who actually wrote and produced her own episode – to add to the characters and that’s how we all came together.
Audrey: I recently got the details of this myself. Candace has a hair company called Curl Prep which features a line of products for natural hair. She gives natural hair seminars and has heard many women tell their stories about their own natural hair journeys. Gilda suggested that Candace should write a play telling the many stories she has heard in her Curl Prep workshops. Candace thought that was a great idea and even though they are both wonderful writers and journalists, they weren’t familiar with the technical aspects of writing a play. So, Candace asked me to come on board and join the writing team because of my theatrical and writing background. I hold an MFA in Acting from Rutgers University and I am the dramaturgy on this project. The three of us together have written a beautiful piece.
Which characters in the play do each of you identify with and why?
Candace: When the play was written, Gilda encouraged me to write a character that shares my own story. So while I am not exactly like the character “Kee Kee” in the play, who is the narrator, is who I identify with. She is a natural hair entrepreneur who meets a lot of women with interesting hair stories. Kee Kee takes you down memory lane to introduce you to these women.
Gilda: I identify with Constance and Dr. Jenkins, because of the history they bring to the play. But I think there’s something provocative about each character that we all can relate to so basically I identify with them all.
Audrey: The character I identify with the most would be Doris, the preacher’s wife. Doris struggles with a fatal disease and went natural because of her health. That parallels my own natural hair journey because I too am encouraged to go natural mostly for health reasons. But, now that I know how to do my natural hair it’s so much fun and I wouldn’t perm it again.
What advice would each of you give to those wanting to pursue a career in playwriting, directing and / or producing?
Candace: We have been told by a couple of producers that the script is very raw and real. So I would say this to people, and it seems trite but write. Write what you know, then when you get it on paper, you have more than a start. Also, the business of putting a play on Off-Broadway or on Broadway is one that involves quite a few guidelines that have to be followed and depending upon the type of play you want to put on also changes the cost of putting it on. All of that has to be considered. Connecting with someone who knows the business makes the trip to New York City a little smoother. For those who have a play central to the Black experience, audiences are ready for plays in this arena. This is why we flock to almost anything anywhere that is Black and is on stage. Some of the plays and themes aren’t for everyone [you know those plays I’m talking about!] but the often elusive, Black audience-goer has proven that if given the opportunity, if it’s built, they will come. Finally, this was not planned, but we have found that so many Black actresses find the script to be something worth attaching to. I know it’s not easy for women of color to find real-like women to play in Hollywood and hundreds and hundreds of women have reached out to be a part of this production. We have been told the characters are not stereotypical but are real, engaging and thought-provoking. We are so grateful to be able to employ some amazing women and to receive their interest and validation.
Gilda: We all have something to say about something, right? Then say it in your own creative way. Ours just happened to be through the medium of a play but someone else’s might be through music or another creative form. I’ve been writing for a long time although this is my first play. But writing is where I feel most at home creatively. I love the idea that my words, ideas and thoughts have the ability to move people in ways I never imagined. That’s rewarding.
Audrey: The actual term “playwright” means someone who builds a play, a craftsman. So writing is about re-writing, more re-writing and still more re-writes. It’s important to continue crafting your play until it’s finished. Don’t give up too soon. If you want to be a director, I would suggest that you take a few acting classes and knowing the process of the actor will help you direct them better.
There are different types of Producers. Some Producers raise money; some organize projects others are more involved with networking, etc. After deciding what type of producer you are, find a project to work on and get some experience.
There is no one way of doing this. Everyone has to find their own way.
Director & Playwright
Audrey Kelley studied sketch comedy writing at Second City in Los Angeles and stand-up comedy with Judy Carter. She was selected for an Internship in Writing and Development with Tri Destined Studios in Los Angeles working closely with Gregory Anderson and ND Brown. Original written works include: I’d Never Say This in Public (one-woman show), Little Dates (a webisode in collaboration with Asia Winston) and several sketch comedy skits and stand-up comedy pieces. She wrote, produced and directed Audrey & Dre, a webisode starring Zuri Alexander and Andrew Chen which was recently picked up for distribution. Audrey resides in Los Angeles.
Candace O. Kelley
Playwright & Producer
Candace Kelley is a five-time Emmy nominated writer, TV reporter and documentarian. Over the past four years she has collected a myriad of hair stories that helped shaped the play Supernatural. A leader in the natural hair field, she has produced dozens of natural hair signature events to sold out audiences. Her book Coif Cuisine: Natural Hair Recipes and Side Dishes for the Natural Hair & Now was released in 2011 and her book The Big Chop will be released in 2013. Her online E-Zine Hair Candy has a huge fan base and she continues to teach Natural Hair workshops as founder of Curl Prep Natural Hair Solutions. A documentarian, she wrote and produced the film Missing. The piece sheds light on what happens when children grow up without a father. She is also the co-writer and producer of the film Kosher about an Orthodox Jewish man who became a Pentecostal pastor of an African-American church in Manalapan, NJ.
Gilda Rogers is an award winning producer, journalist and historian who often speaks about the topic of hair history. She is the executive producer of the popular weekly television show Frank Talk that airs on Brookdale Television on Comcast and Verizon FIOS Cable stations. In that role, Gilda has showcased an array of stories that inspire, inform and entertain. A documentarian, she wrote and produced A Man and His Music chronicling the life of Ralph Gatta, a Red Bank, N.J. native and jazz historian, known as “Johnny Jazz.” She is also part of the creative team for the documentary Kosher. Gilda’s work has appeared on AOL Black Voices and the PBS affiliated station NJN.
Buy tickets at: www.supernaturalproject.org
The show times are: Saturday May 25, 2013 at 4pm & 7pm and Sunday May 26, 2013 at 3p tickets $30
Play location: The Players Theater 115 MacDougal Street New York, New York10012 212.475.1449
Bio and photo courtesy of: Marvin Daye