#70: The Black Actors Guild
They’re young, gifted and funny as hell, but the members of the Black Actors Guild also have a mission to give back to the community that supports them through school-enrichment programs and an open-minded, proactive spirit. Originally formed in 2009 by five students at the Denver School of the Arts, the group has morphed and grown; these days, you can catch them doing the funny at the Crossroads Theater or in more public places, such as Denver’s Meet in the Street on the 16th Street Mall. A collective to the core, the Guild naturally chose to tackle the 100CC questionnaire collectively; note that some of the questions are answered individually and others as a group project.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Quinn Marchman: Although "artist" was never one of his many credits, I would love to collaborate with W.E.B. Du Bois. He was a member of the intellectual vanguard during the Harlem Renaissance, and although I would give anything to be a part of that era specifically, his ideas carry a timelessness that would benefit me as an artist today.
Ryan Foo: Hmmm, would have to be Shakespeare himself. Brilliant, insightful, funny and completely out of left field — that's the kind of artist we love.
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Nick Thorne: Dave Chappelle. To be honest, I'd be happy just talking to the man. A full collaboration would be intimidating. I relate to his outlook on things in general, but to be able to turn the whole world upside down, change culture and to truly have an impact on what people say and do in their everyday lives through the art of comedy is amazing. To also have the values to deny money, fame and whatever else Hollywood brings to hold on to what you believe in and who you are takes strength. The dude is also mad funny.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Foo: Russell Brand and John Oliver. I love comedians who step up to bat on the international stage. There's a lot to be said — and hilarious ways to say it. They also cover material that's super-duper hard to find interesting on your own, and as the world grows more complex, that's going to be important.
Thorne: My generation. I think it's interesting to have conversations with people in my age group, "the millennials,” because the conversations can be so different depending on who you're talking to. There is so much opportunity in our world today, and it's nice to engage in conversations that go beyond "Weather's nice today" or "How was your Tuesday?"
Marchman: Australian comedian and theater producer Tim Minchin. I randomly saw a YouTube video where he was giving a commencement speech about nine steps to life after college. It was darkly comedic and pithy, but it carried a lot of inspiration for me — a person overwhelmed by an overactive brain —because he pretty much said, "The world is meaningless and you're gonna die. Might as well do your best for yourself.”
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Foo: Die? Whoa. Uhhhhh, jeez, that's a raw question. Nothing comes to mind. I choose not to hate on another human being's form of expression, no matter how weird.
Marchman: As Ryan said, "die" is pretty intense, but I do reserve the right to be a “hater.” The trend I dislike the most is art presenting itself as "the answer.” As artists, we do bear the responsibility to be principled and passionate about issues in the world, but I think there is a danger in believing we are correct. The most powerful messages are questions and not answers. With all that is happening in the world, I would love to see more art be vulnerable and unsure — still powerful and provocative, but allow the "truth" to be left up to the audience.
Thorne: Gentrification. Don't know if it's considered an "art trend," but it sure feels like it.
What's your day job?
Marchman: Producer. There's a played-out joke that goes, "Oh, you're an artist? Which restaurant do you work for?" I've played out that stereotype plenty of times and always with pride, but I've taken the risk and now make all my income from arts-based projects. Along with the Black Actors Guild, I work for HEAL Denver (Health. Education. Arts. Leadership), where we focus on health and wellness, primarily HIV outreach and prevention. I also am business partner with singer-songwriter Kayla Marque, where I focus on booking and development. In such a fast-paced industry, I really enjoy the ability to be incredibly busy with a flexible schedule.
Thorne: Boring. I work for a local dispensary as a technical writer. I create a lot of documentation, policy and procedure, resource guides and training manuals. Words, words, words. I much rather prefer filmmaking.
Foo: I have the pleasure of teaching, producing and contracting full-time. The Guild does a lot of different things, from helping with art installations to leading workshops — all with the goal of supporting the creatives that do the great work.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Buy a warehouse. We've got all the equipment, talent and skills to make that place an icon in this city — all we need is the space. It'd be some kind of "Fantasy Factory,” where artists could both work and live. Residents would forge their likened dopeness within the fire of collaboration from morning till night. We'd also teach classes, hang art shows and produce cool original content. Maybe have a little cafe. Definitely showcase up-and-coming artists for our generation— one that has grown up alongside Denver.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Thorne: Love it. I like to travel, so I'll leave it. But never for an extended amount of time. Growing up here and watching the city evolve constantly is motivating to me. It’s exciting to be a part of the community and contribute something that helps to boost the city's potential of being the next New York or L.A.
Foo: Oh, totally love it. Denver is crazy cool, even with all of the change that's happening. I'm from Hawaii, so it says something that I call this place my home.
Marchman: Being in theater, we have a lot of friends in New York, L.A. and Chicago. Of course, there are bigger and brighter opportunities elsewhere, but this place is special. The biggest opportunity is being an up-and-coming artist in an up-and-coming city.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
PAY/SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS.
One way would be to provide professional development for artists. There are so many talented people who just have no clue how to market themselves or don't know the true value of their talent. We advocate for affordable housing for artists (and rightly so), but many of them have the potential to afford these "luxury" apartments at market rate. Few investment opportunities guarantee as much in return if the city dedicates more focus to the individual artists and organizations. The City of Denver has an obligation to support, nourish and cultivate brilliant young artists who grew up within our city's culture. It seems like people know Denver because of its beer and weed, but there’s a whole artistic culture that thrives underneath that hype.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
So many favorites! We're a huge fan of Conscious Creatives and all the unique, original stuff they do. Huge props to Kid Astronaut, Kayla Marque and Sur Ellz for crushing the scene this past year. Drunk Shakespeare is one of our absolute favorites, so a huge shout-out to the Wit Theatre Company. Franklin Cruz is a longtime poet/friend who has been going hard in the paint. Armando Lopez and his squad are always incredibly impressive. Danny Mazur has this cool event called "Soul Stories" that is so Denver that you're lame for not knowing about it already. The Crossroads Theater is mounting a comeback, and everyone should support the hell out of it. The Wormwood Theater Collective is a new group that's about to make waves. Simone Johnson and Jordan Bashi be killin' it, helping to organize the Colorado Black Arts Festival. Donnie l. betts and Jeff Campbell had a killer show with Who Killed Jigaboo Jones, and all of us loved Thomas “Detour” Evans and his work over at RedLine (which is awesome, too).
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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Lots. Continuing our improv series, Show Ya Teef, building out for the second season of our web series and growing the company as a business. We’re also working on new curriculum, material and talent.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Our friends and collaborators Conscious Creatives are really going to blow up this year. The name really captures what so many people want to see themselves as, and with continued growth of organizational structure, CC will be able to provide that to so many.
The Black Actors Guild regularly performs at the Crossroads Theater and other locations in Denver. Keep up with the group, its Show Ya Teef revues and Behind the Smile web series on the Black Actors Guild website and on Facebook .