Feb 22nd, 2021
In today's episode, I welcome Darnell Benjamin again! This is part two of a two-part interview with this incredible actor, filmmaker, choreographer, dancer, and all-around amazing artist. He shares his heart about bringing dance to more people, and how fortunate he always feels to be an artist. His interview is truly inspiring, so enjoy part two today!
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Episode 41 - Darnell Benjamin (Part 2)
Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.
[00:00:06] Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.
[00:00:12] Roman: All I can do is put my part out into the world.
[00:00:15] Elizabeth: It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. It doesn't have to be perfect ever really. I mean, as long as you, you're enjoying doing it and you're trying your best, that can be good enough.
[00:00:23] Elna: Art is something that you can experience with your senses and that you just experience as so beautiful.
[00:00:31]Lindsey Dinneen: Hey, Artfully Told listeners, Lindsey here--just a really quick moment to let you know that this is part two of a two-part interview. If you recall from last week , we actually broke this episode into two different recordings because it was so good. Darnell has so many wonderful things to share with us. And the interview just is a little bit longer than our typical episode length. And so if you'll recall, part one was last week. Part two is this week. If you haven't already listened to part one, I would highly encourage you to go back and do that real quick before you jump onto today's episode so that it flows really well for you, but you are in for an absolute treat, and I am so excited to share Darnell with you once again. And without further ado, enjoy.
[00:01:25] Darnell Benjamin: It's like, I don't know about you. I think a lot about how, you know, the people who inspired me and I, you know, we all have those people who really just inspired us and why we do what we do. And , and, and some, for me, it came so late. And, it's been a very important thing for me to try and visibly be that person that I wish I would have seen. I never growing up seeing a really, really out queer black man. I, I didn't accept, you know, obviously you can see these people on TV, but that can feel very removed. You know, I didn't see that in my community.
[00:02:06] And so it's been very important for me to, to be that person and to be unapologetic about it. And, and know that you can know that I can still be unapologetic about it, but still be able to not lose my sense of being grounded. You know what I mean? Not getting so sort of removed and unapologetic to where you don't, where you disconnect with people. Like for me, I thrive on those connections with people and I thrive on even the connections with my students. And I try to be that person that I wish I could've seen. You know, that's what it boils down to. And now granted, you know, we all have good days and bad days. Haha! 'Cause there was some days that I, I don't know if I'm winning at being that person, but that's a part of the cycle. And, and, and I didn't know. I mean, I'm just, I'm grateful to have even had an opportunity to share that story. You know, I really am. I really, really am.
[00:03:05] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. That, that is incredible. So yeah. Good, good for you and, and good for you for, you know, wanting to be that for the people coming behind you, right? Not just, you're not just sort of reflecting on, "Oh, I didn't have that. Oh, that's too bad." But you know, "Oh, I didn't have that, but I wish I could have, and I know that I can be that for someone else," so, yeah.
[00:03:29] Darnell Benjamin: Yeah. And even looking at this pandemic right now and thinking about how--oh, my goodness, I don't know about you-- but this pandemic has really made me feel so small. It's made me realize how small we are all are in the larger spectrum of things, and so what I've been doing, I'll share this. I've been going back to all of those favorite movement books that I'd read in the past. And I've just been sort of immersing myself in being reminded of basic-level things. Like I re-read the "Viewpoints" book. I re-read the Labon efforts book. I re-read both Tadashi Suzuki books that I have, which is what, is The Art of Acting." And then there's also "On the Technique of Acting." I read that one. I've just been kind of reimmersing myself into--because coming from a dance background, it, it was a no-brainer for me that in the work that I do as an actor, it always comes from a movement perspective. I can't not. Like that's the first thing my brain thinks is, how does this character walk ? You know, little things like that. And going back to the basics, that's been, it, it's been kind of humbling and very, just kind of, it's just kind of nice to be reminded of how small we all are. You know what I mean? I, I've been in that place of being reminded of that and being gracious. So that's, that's, that's, that's where I am right now in regards to all that.
[00:04:59] Lindsey Dinneen: I love it. I love it. You know? Yeah. I just love the fact that that art can do that kind of thing for us. And, and that's what makes it so special. And, you know, before we started recording, we had a chance to chat a little bit, and you had talked a little bit about how you feel that art can be experienced by everybody in different ways, sort of. Do you want to chat more about that?
[00:05:26] Darnell Benjamin: Yeah. I mean, I think about like, for example, growing up in a small town in Southern Louisiana , my family, you know, they, they are not people who are big art people. And I think some of that comes from the perspective they have of not being invited to or are a part of that world. But I was just the kid who art was where I--there was never a question--I mean, it, it was so clear to me that this is the world in which I sit. And what I found is that, you know, growing up in those environments -- my family that, you know, it's kinda not the greatest story in the world, but my dad, he passed away in March unexpectedly and he had been telling me-- the last thing my dad had seen me do and as far as performance was in grad school, and that was like in 2008 and here we are now, you know, in 2021, he passed in March of 2020. And he kept saying, every year, "I'm going to come to Cincinnati. I'm going to see something you're doing when it come to Cincinnati. I'm going to see something you're doing." And that's over and over again.
[00:06:29] It's the same thing with my mom's side of the family. And they don't, you know, and I know a big reason why that is, is because they and, and I'm only speaking the words that they, my mom particularly, has said to me herself is that she sometimes will say she doesn't get it. She doesn't get it and I, I, it's so easy for people to think that art is above them. And I think that's really a sad thing. The reality is that art is for anybody and everybody. Now granted that are a particular piece of art may not speak to you. And that's valid. I don't think anybody should feel guilty because something doesn't speak to them. I think about, for example, Beyonce, as much as everybody loves Beyonce, I'm just not that much of a fan. And I don't feel badly. And I'm a gay black man and people get mad at me about not being a fan. But my thing is I love Solange. I love her sister. Her sister does some weird, interesting music. And I am all for that. I love people who take those risks like that.
[00:07:28] So I guess what I'm getting at is that there is no such thing-- there is no reality to the idea that art is not for everybody. Art is for everyone. Art should rather be for everyone. And unfortunately though, people start to drink that Kool-Aid and they start to believe that, "Oh, this is not meant for me." Like what I think about what happened to me. And that professor, if I would have listened to that professor, I would never be doing Shakespeare. I would have given up and I would have closed the door and I would have limited the potential of my career, not even just my career, but my work as an artist. And what a foolish thing, you know what I mean? So, for me, it's so incredibly important to know that you just have to find the art that you like, because there are so much out there.
[00:08:15] I think about like, you know, for example, I struggle sometimes in art galleries, that's just, that's, I'm more of a -- I like art that moves, like art galleries, where it's more of a -- whether that's video work or experiential work. I love that kind of art. I have to admit I'm not as big into paintings on a wall. And does that mean that paintings are not amazing and valid pieces of art? Of course not! That just means that for some reason, to me, it doesn't speak as much. Now, granted, have I found expressionists work? Absolutely. That speaks to me. I love when I can just fall into a painting and not understand it necessarily in the--and what I mean by not understand it is--I might not be able to know exactly what the artist's intention was, but guess what? I am a, a consumer of art, so I have a right to digest it how I digest it, and to translate it in a way that applies to me.
[00:09:20] For example, I think about in grade school or even high school, the book choices that schools choose. I'm from, like I said, Southern Louisiana and my high school was primarily BIPOC. And we had a really high Asian population as well as black. And we were reading things that--I mean, you know, for example, the conversation on "The Great Gatsby." It's hard for a kid growing up in a small Southern Louisiana town who doesn't have much exposure, for example, to , to white individuals or to individuals outside of his world. So he might read that and not connect at all. He probably is not going to even finish reading it because it's going to be like, "I don't get this, this doesn't do anything for me."
[00:10:09] But, so that's why I think what it boils down to is from a young age, right, teachers, mentors, parents should expose their kids to the art that speaks to their communities, that speaks to their world because that will open the door then to them expanding their reach of what art they connect with. But if they're not even given that opportunity, then if, or rather if they're given work, art that doesn't relate to any of their world, that's, that's not going to affect them. I was a weirdo kid who got affected by everything. I was so interested in a lot. I remember reading "The Red Pony," and I liked "The Red Pony." I'm pretty sure I was the only kid who liked "The Red Pony." But, that was just me, but that's not going to be like that for everybody.
[00:10:57] So I guess what I'm getting at is that if we're not, if we're not sharing art that a kid can relate to, then that kid is not going to gravitate to the art in the way that you would like them to. And so we have to start from a young age and some of that comes to also you know, support. So I think supporting friends, supporting family, and going take in people's art and... art, in my opinion, I think art also applies to if you're an entrepreneur and let's say for example, you have a, a, a shop when you sell bags, that's art. I think people forget how much they are surrounded by art. I will never forget reading that, that article, it was at least--it was in a newspaper here in Cincinnati, where they had at the bottom of essential workers was artists.
[00:11:44] And I remember being mind-blown by that because all I kept thinking was here, we are in a shutdown with a pandemic and you are at home doing what? You're watching TV shows and films. You're listening to music when you workout. You are playing with your kids, with toys are games that were created by artists. So the whole time, I'm just kind of like, how are we not essential when we're the only reason why you've not lost your mind right now? Right? I think about that all the time. How just, I think our culture in America is so disconnected with what art is. I don't think people really understand that art exists in--even for example, engineers, I think, are kind of artists like creating devices that work in a certain way and having to put all the pieces in, in the only way that'll make it work correctly. And over time, we think about the technology of phones getting better and better and better and technology getting better and better, but there is an art to that. And I wish that that kind of art understanding was taught. So people genuinely understand that you are surrounded every single day. That lamp that's sitting on your desk, that's art.
[00:13:02] So I think the more we can get our culture to truly embrace and see the art that's around them, that I think that whole conversation on the , on the art being for someone or not will stop. But I think until we get that understanding to people that they are surrounded by--these masks, I think of everybody choosing their own specific mask, buying it from friends who are designing these, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, that is a designer! That is a costume designer or purely just somebody who loves to, so who is making a piece of art. Art for you to wear on your face." And that is amazing. That is so amazing to me.
[00:13:42] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes. I love that. I love that perspective and you're absolutely right. We are literally surrounded by art. Even the furniture is designed by somebody. I mean, that's an art. Everything--almost everything-- yeah, is, is artfully created on some level. I mean, I have a friend who is an engineer and he was having trouble seeing what he did as art. And I was like, are you kidding me? What do you design? It's designed! That's art. Like you have a unique, you know, you get to include the science and the math and all that with it too. But like it's, it's art. Yeah. It's so cool.
[00:14:24] Darnell Benjamin: Yeah. I even think about like, for example, us as dancers. Oh my goodness. The understanding you have to have of anatomy and even physics to really, truly understand how you can make your body dance. And dance specifically--I mean, science and art, in my opinion are constantly best friends, always working together. And the stronger your understanding, in my opinion of science, and particularly in regards to anatomy, the stronger your ability to dance, when you can know and understand what your body is doing little, tiny little adjustments. Like one of my favorite things in dancing, even as a dancer or as a choreographer, I'm big on isolations. I love isolating body movements. I'm very into that. 'Cause I love that little tiny movement that you might do with your hip can tell a whole story. I love that stuff.
[00:15:18] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, me too. And. Yes. Oh, yes. That's all I can say about that.
[00:15:25] Darnell Benjamin: We are scientists, darn it. We are scientists.
[00:15:29] Lindsey Dinneen: There you go. Or at least we have to have a solid understanding. Goodness. Yes, you're so right. That's one of my favorite things to teach my kiddos and adults in jazz classes, isolations and learning that your body does not have to move as a whole, like you can move individual parts. It's pretty cool.
[00:15:47] Darnell Benjamin: Oh yes. Oh yes. The body is a funny and strange thing. So strange.
[00:15:54] Lindsey Dinneen: Indeed. Well, this has been so much fun and you have so much insight to share. So thank you for all of these stories. And I'm just curious, is there anything in particular that really stands out to you as an encounter with art that's like a moment to remember? Something that really matters that stands out as like "I've got to file that away."
[00:16:16] Darnell Benjamin: Oh, my goodness. So many. Oh gosh. I'll share a couple. One of them was in Houston. When I was in grad school, I went to see a show at the alley theater. I cannot remember what show it was offhand. But that company of actors--it's they're an ensemble. So it's a lot of times the same people in productions and you develop a relationship with them, you know, over time. But when watching this one show, I would never forget, there was this table behind this couch. And, you know, they would put things on it on occasion. Somebody would lean on it. In one moment somebody was leaning on it, right? And the table broke and the actor almost fell, but didn't quite, but every single actor on stage had this sort of moment of the gasp and nobody did anything for a little bit.
[00:17:08] And slowly you started to see people start to tremble, 'cause they were wanting to laugh so badly. And one by one, they broke, and they laughed for--no joke--probably like a solid two minutes. They could not stop. Like, and you know how that is. Anytime one of them would pull it together, and another one pull it together, and then somebody else would start laughing again. It was the most phenomenal thing to watch on stage when you have that, that sort of --the layer peeled away and you're just seeing these real people on stage. It was magical and hilarious. I will never forget that. That goes down in easily one of the top theatrical experiences of my life.
[00:17:52] And then I got to say another one too. This one is this one isn't as funny. This was pretty intense, but yeah. It was, I was still in undergrad at the time. And there's this festival called ACTF, which is American College Theater Festival is ACTF. Yes, that's right. Yes. And it's in Fayetteville, Arkansas, or it was that year. And the students go to compete for this Irene Ryan scholarship. So there's this production of "Pterodactyls" by Nicky Silver. And if you are into playwrights who write very sort of dark comedy-type plays, that's perfect. Well, this play, this guy is building this pterodactyl on the stage, like a life-size pterodactyl, he's climbing on a ladder and everything. It's really just amazing to watch. And yeah, throughout the play, there's this tension between him and his mother and he's trying to confront her and tell her. And he ultimately, she thinks he's about to come out as gay. And so she's avoiding it and dodging and dodging, and he just keeps saying, "But mom, I need to tell you something." And she's like, "Oh, well, you know, you can tell me later, there's this going on." And that's going on and on and on and on.
[00:19:00] And then out of nowhere, it's building up and building up and building up and then suddenly he just screams, "I have AIDS." And the lights go out. Oh my God. I did not see that coming it. Yeah. Right. I was probably 19 or 20 at the time and it just came absolute--it was so unexpected, that it's a moment I will never forget because it was done so beautifully, the orchestration of the lines and the buildup. And then what you expect is going to be one thing and they completely pulled the rug under you. And then complete blackout right after the line. And it was just like, "Are you serious?" Oh my God, I've never -- well that's a lie--I've cried in the theater quite a bit, but that was one of those cries I was not ready for. And on top of that, it was the lights coming up in the house and I'm mortified sitting there bawling my eyes. I will never forget that. I will never, never, never forget that.
[00:20:01] And it also, okay. Sorry, I got another one. You will appreciate this as a dancer too. I got to do this show, "bobrauschenberbergamerica" by Chuck Mee, and it's a phenomenal script. It's very kind of -- I didn't, I mean, I think in some ways you could call it an expressionist piece--but I played this character, Wilson, who is just hopelessly in love with this woman who comes like, sort of plays him like a yo-yo. She's back and she's gone and she's back and she's gone and there is this beautiful dance we got to do. And by the way, we got to do a Viennese waltz. And I don't know if you're a, a ballroom dancer, so you know what I'm talking about. Exactly. That is a tricky piece of movement to do and do smoothly. And while we're dancing, these ping pong balls are thrown all over the stage. By the end of the dance, there are seriously somewhere around 500 ping pong balls all over the stage, and we're navigating this dance through this. It was so, so magical and challenging, but the great thing, and you know what I'm talking about when I say this, she was an amazing partner. So the trust was so solid. We just floated. And it was just absolutely magical. Okay. I got one more, one more and I promise this is the last one.
[00:21:22] Lindsey Dinneen: Go for it.
[00:21:23] Darnell Benjamin: This was over a year ago. Wow. 2019, December. I was doing "Alice in Wonderland" and I was playing the March Hare. And since the director knew that I-- I, so I roller skate. I'm really big into roller skating. I love it. I refuse to get rid of my my roller skates. And she knew this about me because I'd done a show a few years back where I got to roller skate on stage while drunk with a bottle of Zima. And, but in this particular production I got to skate and I got to do tricks actually. And that was the most fun thing to do to bring in, you know, a hobby, a fun thing that I love to do in my personal life to bring that on stage. I mean, I don't know, just having those moments where you could bring a little bit of yourself, truly yourself into a stage experience. That was just fun. And I will never forget, there was this one day I got the best compliment ever . It meant the world to me because--so I had to skate on stage from stage left, which for anyone who's listening, if you were sitting in the audience, that's going to be to the right-- so I have to skate in from stage left and drop this miniature table, but I had to put it down in such a way to where the face--'cause there was a character's face on it--that was facing out toward the audience. It had to be facing out. And I just messed it up a couple of times in rehearsal.
[00:22:50] So, the break came and me being me, I went back and forth for probably like, no joke, 20 to 25 times getting it right. 'Cause I, it just had to be right. I wanted to nail it and I wanted to hit my turn and do a smooth exit. So one of the actors in the show was just watching that whole time, watching me go back and forth and back and forth. And she said, "Darnell, I love your commitment." And yeah. I don't know if she knows this--Sarah, if you're listening to this, just know that I went backstage and cried. I don't know why that really kind of affected me because, you know, I think about, and I'm sure you know this as a ballet dancer, the amount of discipline the work takes to make it effortless is a lot more than what the audience knows. You get to see the final product, but here we are like--especially if you're one of those obsessive people like me--you're, you're working so hard, not even just in rehearsal, but when you're home to try, and get it right. And to have someone acknowledge that, that was pretty huge for me.
[00:23:53]Lindsey Dinneen: Perfect. I love it. Well, you know, what's so funny is--you'll actually appreciate this-- so a couple of years ago--I also, I really love roller skating. And a couple of years ago I asked one of my dancers-- who also choreographs quite extensively on the company-- and I asked her if she would like to set a piece that included some roller skating. And her being the sweet yes person she is, was like, "Sure, I'm up for this challenge." So she created this adorable--and I'm going to have to dig it up and maybe I can post a link to it at some point-- but this adorable, like fifties diner piece where it was myself and one of the other dancers were in roller skates. 'Cause we were the only two that were brave enough/foolish enough to undertake this. And , and we were the waitresses and then it was like, all these we're trying to do all. It was like cute little love story. And we're trying to do all this partnering and, oh my goodness. Do you realize how much weight is added when you do rollerskates? And then this, my poor partner, I think he was like, "What is happening?" 'Cause I, you know, there's all this weight at the bottom of your feet now. And so anyway, it was such a hoot in rehearsals and... I'm not gonna lie. One of the walls suffered a little bit when I totally fell, like biffed it, fell. And like my skate went right through the wall. So that's my roller skate dancing story.
[00:25:21] Darnell Benjamin: But isn't that the best, though? That's the, like, I don't know about you--my favorite moments on the stage are the ones where there is an , a mistake that happens when something goes wrong and you have to figure it out. I mean, I will never forget--I was doing this production of a show called "The Legend of Georgia McBride," and I'm playing this drag queen in the show and I happen to have on these heels that were probably good solid five inchers, but it also had a platform to it. So they were, they were, I was working. Right? And this one night I was feeling myself, you know, because we're doing the final number and it was a matinee, you know, those matinees, you're all energized. At the beginning of the day, I was getting my best life and I added, you know, how, like, whenever you watch those runway models and sometimes they kind of land on the outside of their foot and roll it flat when they're crossing the legs, and I somehow did that and I was feeling myself and I landed directly on the ground and I was so embarrassed because I got through the entire run of that show, not falling. But the, best part about it was that while I was down there, because my character is kind of like the messy type, I was like, "Well, okay, here we go. We're going to make this a bit." And so I turned it into this whole crawling routine and had fun. And I just think that's my favorite stuff I love when not--let me not say that, please. Okay. I don't love when things go wrong, but I appreciate when things happen that remind us. Oh, yes, yes. We got to stay present.
[00:26:59]Lindsey Dinneen: Oh, my word that, that is exactly it. Yes. I, I joke about it, but it's a true fact--and I'm sure you've experienced this too--when you know a piece of choreography in and out, and eventually you go on autopilot to some degree, but the problem is that is, that is effective only if you don't quote, unquote, wake up in the middle of your autopilot, because you had this experience where all of a sudden you're like, "Hmm, I'm in the middle of the stage. I don't even know what comes next." Like have you had that?
[00:27:33]Darnell Benjamin: I have totally had that happen so many times and I've had it happen to the point where you're autopiloting--it's autopilot, autopilot, and then you realize that you're there and then you get in your head because you realize that you're there and you're watching somebody who happens to be looking at your footwork. And then suddenly you forget how to move your feet. Oh, trust me. There was this one number in a show, "All Shook Up," and I was in the ensemble in this show and we got this great choreographer who gave us this movement where it was basically it was kind of like, I guess, a soft shoe sorta sorta kinda. Yeah, it was kind of a soft shoe and for some, and the feet are like moving in many different directions. So if you mess up one thing, good luck. You're in trouble. And I messed up one thing and this woman watched my feet the entire time smiling and laughing and I'm like, "Oh my goodness. I'm so glad you're enjoying this because I am not." In, at the same show--this is another thing that happened with this show--so the shoes they got us for that number were these really, you know, and that's always the challenge when it comes down to shoes for dance shows, you know--spend that extra money and get the better pair, but they did not do this, right?
[00:28:43] And the sole of the shoe from the heel forward started coming apart, but it came apart at a fast rate. So I'm doing this very heavy footsie moment where we are crossing the feet and moving in all these different directions and the shoes, the sole starts flapping throughout the entire dance. It's so all this time, I'm just mortified because I can't quite land on my foot flat. And it gets to a point where finally I did this one kick little thing and the entire thing just flew off it. Yeah. I mean, live theater didn't get better than that. Live art is my favorite for all of those little mistakes. And yep, everybody saw it. There was no hiding it. So I kind of like laughed through the entire number because I was like, they're enjoying it. I'm going to enjoy it too. I love that.
[00:29:35] Lindsey Dinneen: I'm sure everybody has a shoe story to tell. I, oh my goodness. I had one time where we were doing a ballroom-inspired piece. It was , it was really fun choreography and it had like some elements of a Foxtrot mixed in with just a little bit of ballet. And anyway, it was, it was really charming piece. And I realized about five seconds--I don't even know--into the piece that my ballroom shoe wasn't buckled securely. And I spent that entire dance with this, like, you know, the gritting teeth smile where you're just, you're--it's not genuine. You're just, yeah. It's like, "Look at my face. Look at my face. Don't look at my feet. I'm going to distract from my flailing limbs." Yes, and so this--I'm gripping so tightly with my arch that I'm like, "This shoe is not coming off." 'Cause I cannot think of any sort of way to gracefully get out of this situation. If the shoe comes off, it's going to be bad, right? So the entire time I'm like gripping it with my arch muscles. And I'm like, this isgonna stay on. And the last few seconds there are these high kicks that I do. And I cannot tell you, I had the biggest cramp after that dance, because I was like, "This dang shoe is staying on my foot. I don't care what happens." Oh my word. And hopefully no one noticed, but I was a mess and, oh my goodness. And I don't think even my partner,--'cause I like whispered to him--I was like, "My shoe's coming off." And I'm pretty sure he didn't even hear me. And he was just smiling the whole time anyway. So...
[00:31:13] Darnell Benjamin: But you know, I mean, what a joy, I mean, these are--some of my favorite stories from theater are these sort of tragic moments where we, you know what I mean? Because I feel like so often when we perform, it's very, we, you know, we become these characters. We join that world. And what these mistakes do for me, they remind me that, oh, my God. It's not that serious. We can have fun. I get reminded of that whenever those things happen, that we have to remember that we get to do this. We get to do this. So, yeah, I love, I love when those mishaps happen. Well, the ones that we can fix.
[00:31:52] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, amen to that. And it is so fun because these stories are what makes it just charming and where you build this comradery around being an artist, being a dancer, being an actor, anything. And you know, like we've talked about, we both have skating stories, ironically. We both have shoes stories, ironically, and they're not the same, but we get it. It's so fun. I love that about art.
[00:32:15] Darnell Benjamin: Yes, even when the stage falls on you. I mean, I remember this one performance where we were doing a show, "Love's Labour's Lost." And the director did it in this way that it was sort of a character in the, in the present, like today's world, kind of opening this book. And I, and as the character starts to tell this story, or to dig into this story, the, the, the front part of the stage--sort of, I don't know, like a door, like one big, huge door opens up. For some reason--I could not believe this of all times for this to happen--on the first preview, the wall starts to fall. And, and it's so funny. Nobody can control themselves. But at the same time, you know, that's their mixture of horror, 'cause you don't want anybody to get hurt, of course. But there's also that mixture of, "Oh, my goodness. Is this happening in front of the audience? And am I the person who looks so stupid right now? Oh my goodness. What is happening?" It's, but I will never forget that. I won't forget watching this actor friend of mine, Kelly, stand there as this wall is falling and trying to figure out, "Do I save my life and get off the stage? Or do I stay in character and pretend like nothing?"
[00:33:35] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh yes. Yes. I think everybody has experienced that who's done any kind of live theater production of, "Do I stay in character or do I die basically?" Yeah.
[00:33:49] Darnell Benjamin: And it's so funny to watch, watch the person think. You can see their brain running through, "What do I do? Do I leave the stage? Do I stay?" And I'm just like, "I want you to do whatever you want to do because right now it is entertaining. I want this moment, whatever this moment is, keep doing it."
[00:34:06] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes. Oh, I love that. And so a lot of what my company has done in the past is bring, try to bring some humor and some lightheartedness and a lot of joy into, into our productions. And one of the pieces we did was where we had a bunch of dancers ahead of time, record themselves saying things that they would say in their head during a performance, just to be funny. So like, part of it was something like, you know, commenting on how bright the lights were, or somebody noticed abBobby pin on the floor that they have to avoid, or, you know, "Nailed it!" after a turn or just like all sorts of like hilarious things. And then we compiled them all into this piece. And, and so it became sort of like the introspection, like the audience getting to hear what goes through dancers' heads as they're actually performing and it was a hoot, yeah.
[00:35:02] Darnell Benjamin: Yes. I love that idea. Oh my goodness. I wish I could have seen that. That's right up my alley. I love when we look at the art that we do and that we can not take it so seriously. You know what I mean? That yes, absolutely art can, you know, because that's the one thing that I, I, you know, I was thinking about that even most of the first half of this, I know a lot of what I was talking about were these heavy, serious things. But even in the film, that's why I made sure there was a moment of joy because I'm like, despite all the bad, despite all the complications--I mean, look at the world of art right now, as far as performing arts, like how we're not able to do what we do. And, and how sad that is, but also what I'm noticing a lot of people are doing, they're reminiscing. They're telling stories, they're sharing things on social media about this funny thing that happened backstage or whatever. And I just think of as much as we bring joy to people who watch what we do, I think about the joy we get from each other when we're creating. And we're in that making it happen. And the fun, the fun that happens in a rehearsal process is everything for me. I love the joy in rehearsal. I love it. I show up to rehearsal and I'm that person who shows up excited to be there every single day, because it's, "Oh my goodness. We get to do this. We get to do this. What a joy, what a joy."
[00:36:27] Lindsey Dinneen: Amen. I love that. Well, I have some questions that I always like to ask my guests if you're up for that.
[00:36:34] Darnell Benjamin: Please!
[00:36:36] Lindsey Dinneen: Okay. So first of all, how do you personally define art or what is art to you?
[00:36:43] Darnell Benjamin: Oh, child. Wow. That's rich. Hm. I guess the best way I would describe art--art is perspective. Art is when someone shares their perspective through a specific medium whether that be film, theater, dance , visual , music. I mean, the list goes on. It's perspective. I think art is a person's perspective through a medium. I know that sounds very simple, but I think that that's, that's how I would define what art is.
[00:37:20] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh, I think that's perfect. Yeah. I love that. And then what do you think is the most important role of an artist?
[00:37:28] Darnell Benjamin: Ooh. I think the number one rule for an artist is to be honest. I think that, to be honest, whatever that means, to be honest.
[00:37:39] Lindsey Dinneen: Perfect. Yeah, absolutely. And then I'll define my terms a little bit in my final question, but do you think that art should be inclusive or exclusive? And inclusive referring to an artist who puts some work out into the world and shares a little bit of context behind that, whether that show notes or titles or whether it's the inspiration behind it or something like that. Versus exclusive referring to an artist who puts their work out into the world and doesn't provide context behind it, so he or she leaves it entirely up to the viewer or participant to come up with their own interpretation.
[00:38:20] Darnell Benjamin: You know, that's such a tough one because I'm a firm believer in, you know, we can't please, everybody. Everybody's going to not like our art, even if we do back it up with whether that's statistics, information, whatever. So I'm a believer in you do what you want to do. I don't know if I think it should be one way or another or the other, because it's, it depends on the intention of what the artist is trying to accomplish. I think about, for example, "13th and Republic" is non-linear. It's abstract and it, what I, what was important to me is just to make sure people understood that this is a conversation on mental health. Boom. But other than that, I want people to take it, how they take it. I want people to digest it however they want to digest it, because I can go and give a dissertation on what every single moment in the film meant. But how was that going to be helpful to them? I mean, I think it's only going to be helpful when somebody can take from something, what they get from it, as opposed to me trying to force something down their throat.
[00:39:28] And that's also not me saying that because an artist does decide, let's say for example, to be inclusive with their work, I don't think that means that they're shoving it down their throat. I think there's a, there is a difference between sharing information to get people , give people insight and give them understanding about what it is versus saying, this is what this is. You cannot see it any other way. Oh my God. That does not sound like art to me. If it's like, you're forcing your audience, but if you are purely just sharing to let them in on it. I think about like, for example, when I go to a, an interactive performance and I really am not given any kind of direction, and I'm just kind of like, "What do I do?" And I know to some degree, some people love that, but I like a little bit of direction when it's something like that. But as far as if I'm going to a, to see a dance piece, or if I'm going to see a theater, I want the work to speak for itself.
[00:40:24] And then I love having conversations. Like I love talk backs, Q&As. I am all about that because to me, that's the moment where we can start to open the dialogue about what this piece is, but I don't see Q&As as like--the questions I don't like as much is stuff where somebody is asking me to tell them what something means as opposed to me just sharing with them what I was feeling when I created this and what my inspiration was. I love sharing that, but I don't necessarily like to tell people this is exactly what this means from start to finish. Yeah. That's not as fun for me, but to answer your question overall, I think it should be dependent upon the work and the artist. So I'm, I'm open to either as long as I don't feel completely abandoned by my artists. You know what I mean?
[00:41:11] Yeah. Yes. I think that's a great perspective and I like that, that the artist can choose to include you so to speak or not, but it is based on what the artists intended and all that. So, yeah. That's great. Well, thank you so, so very much for being here today, this has been so much fun. I've loved hearing your stories and I'm so excited for you in this new pathway that you're kind of blazing with "13th and Republic" and all that. What's going to happen as a result of that, it's just so cool. And if there's a way that our audience can kind of connect with you and follow your journey, is there a way for them to do that?
[00:41:56] Ah, yes. Okay. Well, okay. We had this conversation before. I am so in the stone age, sometimes when it comes down to social media, but I do have a Facebook: Darnell Pierre Benjamin. You can find me there. Add me as a friend, be a friend, all that good stuff. And I, I, I tend to be pretty regular about keeping people up to date about things there. I'm currently in the process of revamping my website completely. So I'm not even going to share that one right now, but it will be updated in the next couple months. That's part of my New Year's plan. And I'm on Instagram as well. I do not use it as much, but I am making an intentional choice to share it because this is going to force me to use it more. And it is at Darnell.P.Benjamin. So that's, those are the two, I'd say Facebook and Instagram for now or where you can find me most. And again, the film is at onethreeandrepublic.com. So check out what's going on there as well. Especially whenever we move into this next phase of getting it out now. I do want to make it very clear. We're staying in the sort of a tri-state area of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.
[00:43:06] Lindsey Dinneen: Perfect. Awesome. And you heard it here first folks. So we're going to hold him to his Instagram resolution for this year.
[00:43:14]Darnell Benjamin: It's true. I cannot hide it. I have to own it. I have put it out there.
[00:43:20] Lindsey Dinneen: There you go, and we'll love following your journey, but thanks again so, so much. I've just loved everything and really appreciate your perspective and your heart for art, your heart for your students, your heart for change in the world. So thank you.
[00:43:36] Darnell Benjamin: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me and thanks for doing this. Thanks for like collecting artists and talking about art. I mean, what a joy, what a joy. I thank you for doing that. And thank you for inviting me to be a part of this. Really. It means a lot.
[00:43:49] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh, of course. Absolutely, of course. And thank you also to everyone who has listened to this episode, and if you're feeling as inspired as I am right now, I would love if you would share this with a friend or two and we will catch you next time.
[00:44:05] That's all for today. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to share it with your friends. If you'd leave us a review and rating and subscribe to our podcast, you'll get notified when the newest episodes come out. Thank you for sharing art with us, and we hope your day has been Artfully Told .
[00:44:24] Hey, Artfully Told listeners, Lindsey here, and I just want to share with you a little bit more about The SpeakEasy Method. Now, if you've had a chance to listen to Gregg Gonzales' interview on Artfully Told, you're already a little familiar with the process that is so unique. The SpeakEasy Method is for people who are ready to write their books, but maybe aren't super confident about their own writing ability, or just want a more streamlined way of doing it. Gregg and his team at SpeakEasy are experts at these amazing questions that help your authentic voice to shine through. So what they do is they go through recorded audio interviews with you, and these recordings are then transcribed and put into manuscript format ready to go. So what's cool about that is instead of months and months, or years and years, of you writing a book, they will actually take you from concept to published and it can be as little as nine months. That is one of the most recent success stories that they have accomplished. And it is just a really innovative method that I am personally so excited to help represent and help share the word about because what Gregg and his team are doing is absolutely life-changing for prospective authors. And I highly encourage you to book a discovery call with Gregg or another member of his team to learn more and see if this could be the perfect fit for you. It's a hundred percent complimentary and you can do so easily by going to his website and that's www.joy-ful-living.com/speakeasy. And again, that spelled out is J O Y dash F U L dash living.com/speakeasy.