As Broadway begins to reopen its theatres, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Stanley Wayne Mathis, whose Broadway credits include Nice Work If You Can Get It; The Book of Mormon; Wonderful Town; Kiss Me, Kate; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; The Lion King; Jelly’s Last Jam; and Oh, Kay! as well as the City Center Encores! productions of St. Louis Woman and Call Me Madam. The actor has appeared on screen in Law & Order, Criminal Intent, Gossip Girl, NY 22, Rise, Magic Sticks, Dark Streets, Brother to Brother, and Shame, and he also directed, choreographed, and designed costumes for Owen & Mzee for Off-Broadway’s Vital Theater Company.
Mathis will make his playwriting debut September 13 with the 6:30 PM virtual reading of Preachin’ to the Choir/An Inconvenient Truth. The new work is described as a multimedia memorial choreo-poem that follows a young Black Lives Matter documentary student activist as he attends the annual Afro Punk Festival in New York City. For ticket information click here.
What is your typical day like now?
My day usually starts with a half-hour meditation, a smoothie, and a five-mile walk either uptown or downtown West Side by the water. In which case I can either learn lines for an on-camera audition, listen to today’s new music, or listen to educational and inspirational tapes. That morning ritual usually carries me into my second meal of the day, which I shower and dress up nicely for and usually have outside if it’s not raining. The dressing-up nicely and spending time outdoors helps me combat depression. Run errands, grocery shopping, post office, laundry, housework, etc. Afterwards, I take a mid-day nap like I used to do in grade school. Completely disconnect from electronics for a couple of hours. Upon waking I usually call or check in with two or three friends or family members to avoid too much isolation. Of course check my FB birthday calendar to wish people happy HB and read posts. If it’s rainy or too hot, I may check out a movie in a dark and empty air-conditioned movie house. Last movie was Respect, the Aretha Franklin story. Do some reading. It’s my escapism, especially with travel restrictions being what they are presently. If I have any self-tape auditions, I usually do those before sunset, (natural light), or teach or have meetings via Zoom. Prepare dinner, which I eat while watching mindless cable like HGTV, LOL! I was spending three hours, three days a week working with my editor on the virtual project until about 11 PM. I’ll retire rather early, which allows me to wake up around 2 AM, which is the perfect hour for writing. This can go on until five or six in the morning. It feels a lot like semi-retirement I suppose, LOL.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I don’t know what everyone should be watching, but I do stay away from the news cycle and reality TV shows. I tend to watch cable or streaming stations—my favorite being Netflix. I love foreign movies and Animal Planet, History Channel, or paranoia or alien/extraterrestrial exploration. Last book I read was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Currently reading Powers of the Orishas by Migene González-Wippler.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
During this time of reflection or “The Great Re-Set,” I feel that theatre organizations can pledge and restructure how they can be more inclusive and diverse on all levels, not just on stage and in front of the cameras. Avoid tokenism and trending. Really invest in sustained cultural diversity and marginalized communities and their voices. Diversity, not just according to color, but through other experiences outside of mainstream. Challenge culturalism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled communities and trans communities. As for the Black community, take this opportunity to not only be heard but to truly strengthen and build our own infrastructure to become more independent entities. Have white folks comin’ to us for work for a change instead of it always being the other way around. Networking is also important among ourselves. More Black writers and producers, casting, and PR firms and media outlets. Buy Black, bank Black, support Black enterprises and business endeavors. Mentor and invest in our young folk. Ask yourself, “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?” It takes a village to build a community. SANKOFA! Go back and retrieve what is rightfully yours. I myself have committed to come out of this pandemic better than I went in. New skill sets, etc.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
As an introvert and an empath, I know all too well the dangers of isolation. Turning inward is a good thing as long as it allows you to turn outward to others. Connect, connect, connect, reconnect to friends, family, neighbors, and humanity. Reconnect with nature, with spirituality, not religion. Develop more empathy. If you are struggling emotionally, financially, don’t suffer in silence. Make a habit of doing wellness checks with one another. You really don’t want to do this by yourself. There’s a difference in alone time and isolation.
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
I keep my creative juices flowing by writing right now. It works for me. Reading also. Right now I’m developing a multi-media performance entitled Preachin’ to the Choir/An Inconvenient Truth. It’s a BLACK LIVES MATTER memorial odyssey that gives us an opportunity to grieve and pay our respects to those lost through our past and present “Middle Passage” in America. To speak without asking permission, for the dead will not be silenced! To address our traumas collectively, not in isolation. We must heal ourselves! No one is going to save us but us. Honor our ancestors. Explore African history and African spirituality.
How do you feel about returning to live performance?
I’m actually not rushing to get back to the stage. I’m enjoying the role of writer, producer, designer right now.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
To audiences and as an audience member myself, I do what is comfortable for me. Wearing a mask, social distancing, outdoor venues, etc. Take your vitamin D3, Elderberry, and steam with a towel and hot water with oregano or T-Tree or garlic or lemon for 10-15 minutes after being around people. Detox the body. Prepare yourself for the winter season, be you vaccinated or not. Build a healthy immune system.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I don’t recommend organizations to people as I find that they find me. Find out what resonates with you and go from there.