James Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues The Play

Photos by B-Boy Blues’ Facebook Page and Jas Anderson, James Earl Hardy and Dyllon Burnside photo by Nathan Simmons

Author James Earl Hardy’s debut book, B-Boy Blues, was released in 1994 to rave reviews.  The groundbreaking book about the lives of African American gay men in New York City was praised as the first gay hip-hop novel.  It spawned six follow-up novels: 2nd Time Around (1996); If Only for One Nite (1997); The Day Eazy-E Died (2002); Love The One You’re With (2003);  A House Is Not a Home (2005); and Is It Still Jood To Ya? Visible Lives Three Stories in Tribute To E. Lynn Harris (2010).

B-Boy Blues The Play will be shown at the Ira Aldridge Theater on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. on June 26th. The cost is $18. PrideIndex talked to its director, gay icon Stanley Bennett Clay, and leading actors Jas Anderson (Raheim “Pooquie” Rivers) and Dyllon Burnside (Mitchell “Little Bit” Crawford), about their experience with this epic project.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): How are you doing this Sunday afternoon?

DYLLON BURNSIDE (DB): I am doing good trying not to get slowed down by all of the rain.

PI: Here in Chicago and we’re finally getting some better temperatures.

DB: Today, it’s been raining ever since I got up this morning. I am doing good trying not to get slowed down by all of this rain.

PI: Tell me about your background.

DB: What would you like to know?

Then Jas Anderson’s (JA) call comes in

JA: It’s Jas Anderson.

PI: How are you doing sir this Sunday afternoon?

JA: I am doing well.

PI: Again, I have to apologize for the technical difficulties we have experienced.

JA: It’s all good; technical difficulties are nothing more than God’s way of making us stop and get it all right so it’s all good. How are you doing?

PI: I am doing pretty good now that fellows have rejoined the call. We’re waiting on Stanley to chime in.

JA: (Laughs) We’re an easy bunch of people.

PI: Good, Good.  I’ll continue where I left off with Dyllon [pronounced dil – lon] while we wait for Stanley Bennett Clay. Dyllon, where are you from and how did you start your career?

DB: I grew up in Pensacola, Florida.  I was in a boy band for about ten years, so I’ve done a lot of musical performance.  I studied vocal performance at the University of Florida and started acting when I was about 16 years old. I moved to New York City in August in 2012 to pursue an acting career, and I worked with a musical theater conservatory to get some additional training. I auditioned for the part of Mitchell in B-Boy Blues The Play and now here we are.

PI: And Jas what about you? And more importantly, did and I pronounce your name right?

JA: Oh yeah, you got me. It’s hardly ever the pronunciation but the spelling of it. Everyone thinks is it Jas with one “Z” or two? It’s neither it’s with an “s.”

I started when I was 7 years old.  I went to an acting camp called Peter Scarlar’s acting camp.  And from there, I had an acting gig at the Village Gate, which is no longer there.  I sang The Candy Man.  I could not really sing, but I guess I had some charismatic qualities about me, and I got signed by New Talent Management of New Jersey at age seven.  My mother was always there for me; she took part in my career. She was not a stage mom, but she a mom that was fully vested in me and what I wanted to do.  It [my career] started as a hobby or something that I was just doing because it was something that I knew that I wanted to continue to do.  I went toProfessional Performing Arts High School in New York, then to Rutgers University, where I was enrolled at the Mason Gross School of Arts, majoring in theater and studying with William Esper. My career just sort of  sky rocketed.  I did not finish the program, but while I was working I had the opportunity to be a working actor when there were people in my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) program and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program that were not even auditioning, so it just a funny how this path went for me; everybody has their own path, and it has been an interesting ride roller coaster ride, but I’ve enjoyed it nonetheless. I’ve done some amazing films with some amazing people. I have done a film called Brooklyn’s Finest. I was opposite Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, and Ethan Hawk, Richard Geer, Ellen Barkan, and William Patton.  You know I’ve just had the chance to Antoine Fuqua which was great because you really don’t get the chance to work with African American directors. It was a thing of beauty to know that we can be strong and assertive and really empowered and not let that go to our heads but really take pride in what you do.  I received an Audelco Award for a play I did called Diss Diss and Diss That. So now it’s 2013 and now I’m part of this Epic movement; it’s not just an epic play – it’s a movement. Being a heterosexual man, I did not know that there was a book called B Boy Blues.  Just to be part of this iconic journey is such an amazing event.  I am just happy to be here and I am glad that Stanley and James have showed me something inside.  And working opposite my boy Mitchell aka Lil Bit played by Dyllon is just great because he’s great.

PI: And it’s great that Stanley Bennett Clay (SBC) has joined us too. How are you Stanley?

SBC: Hey, Philip, it’s great to talk to you again too.

PI: This question for all is what attracted you to this project? What made you have to work with this project? And for the actors, what made you audition for your part.

SBC: I remember B-Boy Blues when it first came out, and I remember the impact that it had on the community there was nothing like it and I saw it go from being just a book out there to it becoming a classic…You know, it’s like watching your child grow up and suddenly become the President of the United States… When James approached me about directing it, there was no hesitation whatsoever.  The opportunity to direct a play based on an ionic book is something that any director would dream of.

DB: When I read the break down for audition for the play that was posted on the internet, I remember thinking that this was not like anything that I have ever seen before for an open call. I read the breakdown of Mitchell and read some of the characteristics that were described of him physically and some of his personality traits and thought wow this sounds like an interesting character.  It sounds like the perfect fit for me; this character sounds like me in a lot of ways.  I decided back home in Florida where I saw the casting call and I decided to audition for the role. I got back in the city and went in, and I actually met Jas in the hall; we talked for a little bit and went into the audition and both of us ended up coming up with the role.

JA: (Laughs) I agree with Dyllon. It felt like it was a fun audition.  I’d actually first heard about the project when they were auditioning for the movie version of B-Boy Blues, and I read for the Raheim character, but the project never ended up going through.  So when I heard about the second go round and it was being done as a play, I was definitely interested because I thought that it was such a great role and a dynamic role. It would be something that would push my acting craft to the limit. It would be challenging to me.   I am now at my later stage or rather beginning stages of coming into growth as an actor.  As a working actor, it is about selection, so I am trying to choose roles that would challenge me as an actor and make me dig deeper into myself …and try to find something that I did not know was there. I’ve done a lot of film and television, and I wanted to get back to the stage. It gave me the opportunity to touch back on what I started my career in. The subject matter …and the writing was brilliant; that’s another thing that intrigued me about this project.  It was excellent.  To have a New York Times Bestselling book transcribed on to the stage was excellent.  And to be part of the downtown Urban Theater Festival was great. And also Stanley Bennett Clay, who is a legend, and to be directed by a legend, I don’t think you could ask for anything more.

SBC: You are making me blush bro—(Laughs)

JA: (Laughs)

PI: Here’s a question for Stanley: The two lead characters are I believe are appropriately casted.

SBC: (Interrupts) Oh absolutely, absolutely!  It is beyond appropriateness.  When both of these actors walked in that week, James and I already knew…all they had to was open their mouths because they walked in with the personification of the characters and the feel and the ambience of the characters…and the bonus was that they were two brilliant actors on top of everything else.  So it was a very easy decision for James and me.

PI: As an actor you bring your interpretation to a role and not imitation.  What did you do to prepare for the part that you read for?

JA: Basically, being that I had already auditioned for this character for the movie version of Raheim, I went back into the notes that I took maybe 4-5 years ago.  I keep notes in my archives, so that I can say, “WOW this is an interesting journey.”  I read the book again and just kind of started talking to my gay friends for advice.   I do not see gender, race, or creed with my friends – I see people.   It was interesting when I talked to gay friends about the project and that I was going to go out for the part, all I had to say to them was B—and they filled in the blanks with Boy-Blues. It was amazing. That made me feel good to hear how the story touched their lives and to get their point of view of what they thought the character should be; their personifications of Raheim and Mitchell helped so much.  Also, because the writing is done so well and so brilliantly, as an actor, you don’t have to pull so much.   It was easy for you as an actor to set up and perform.  I think that those things were clear to me when building the character of Raheim for me. I guess it was also trial and error. When we were in the rehearsal process, it was about working it and finding nuances and tweaking those nuances.

DB: For me B-Boy Blues was new to me. I had never read the book. I’d heard of James before, but I did not know much about his work, so it was a learning experience all around. It was a history lesson and it was a literary lesson.  I immediately got a copy of the book from James because now for anybody who tries to go out and get a copy of the book, it is harder nowadays to get.  So I got the book from James and I read the book and read the script several times and started to live with the material every day, so that I could learn where Mitchell came from and his background, what his family life was like, who he was to his friends and his relationships and his past relationships. I learned what his relationship to Raheim was in the book and in the play just so that I could get a deeper understanding of which Mitchell was a character and an individual…After rehearsing with Jas and working with Stanley and James [and] going over some things that I thought were instinctive to me, [discussing…] in rehearsals about characterizations and story, I figured out what story it was that James was trying to tell in the play versus the book.  Once you see the play, you will notice that it is a different story in the play versus the book. It is the same characters and some of the same relationships and some of the same things, but it is a totally different entity.  The play is completely different than the book.   I came to place where I had to put the book down because I did not want to the things that I was getting from the book to color my interpretation of Mitchell in 2013. It was a combination of studying the book, studying the script, taking Stanley’s notes, and talking with James about certain character choices and working with Jas brought out a lot as well just because he is such a dynamic actor it really allowed me to explore a lot different things in rehearsals.

JA: Oh you’re making me blush. (Laughs)

DB: Oh shut up. (Laughs)

PI: This next question is for Stanley Bennett Clay.  As the director of B-Boy Blues The Play, and since you’re most familiar with book, how is the play different than the book? How come you did not do the play exactly as it was written in the book?

SBC: The play is definitely based on the book, but I think that sometimes what happens is that you can get caught up of in the situation of trying to put the book on stage.  And a book is on pages. A play is on stage. You have to understand the dynamics; I am a novelist and a playwright and know the distinct differences between a play and a book.  You cannot put a book on stage.  You simply have to adapt it to the necessities of stage discipline and put that on stage. The other thing too is that when you’re dealing with a book that first came out in 1994 it was contemporary to 1994. Well, there are a lot of things that are different now particularly our viewpoints on sexuality. Being gay in 1994 was very different than being gay now.  The very idea of just gay marriage itself didn’t exist in 1994 and the freedoms of being same gender loving are there now when they were not in 1994.  Some of the other things that the book deals with that actually kind of bothered me in the beginning when I first read it was the idea of spousal abuse.  What has happened is that over the years we have come to realize that is a very serious problem and the play now deals with it in a very real and different twenty-first century way.   It is not something that is automatically forgiven, but it is something that has to be dealt with and it is something that can be a deal breaker.  And to me, that is something that is very important.

What is funny to me is that after the first performance of the play, I was walking down the street and Keith Boykin walked up to me. We’ve known each other for a very long time. Keith said, “Man, I saw the play, I loved it,” and he goes on to say, “Man, I was very afraid to see the play because I thought that it was the possibility of it being dated, but the way you guys did it was very contemporary.” You sort of have to contemporize in a very fluid way; it goes beyond changing a coin operated phone into a cell phone.  You have to do it in a way that seems so natural to what the story is, and I think that the story that we have now is the story that James wrote and James, who has adapted this play so beautifully, was able to open it up to the point where me as a director, the actors, and the other artists that are involved in it have been given the freedom by the playwright to expand certain things! This great collaboration that we have is what makes this project work. I totally enjoy the fact that we have these creative actors. These are not just actors that are sitting and waiting for the director to tell them every single thing to do. I had the easiest job in the world.  All I do is show up and they get up there and perform. All I have to do is to put walls on the outside, but it’s their sandbox.  And I want to see them playing with their toys in their sandbox and  when they fall outside of their sandbox, all that I have to do is to pull them back inside. As I am watching that, I am completely enjoying what my actors are bringing and how what they are bringing to it inspires James to make changes in the script to enhance it.  So it’s play time for me too.

PI: This question is for the two actors. Let’s say hypothetically speaking, Mr. Bennett Clay and Mr. Earl Hardy told you during the audition process that you were not right for the part, but they were giving you a minute to convince them otherwise. What would you do to change their minds?

JA: I would have said you guys don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m a diva. (Laughs) Just joking. That’s a good question: I am not sure what I would have done it’s one of those things where you would have had to simple act in the moment.

SB: (INTERRUPTS) I know that question was for the actors, but I have to interrupt. Philip, if you understood the process of the relationship between the director and an actor when that actor walks in, you could have Laurence Olivier walk in and he’s not right for the part, then he’s not going to get the part, and there is nothing that he can do to convince the director that he should play the part.  I think that in spite of the fact that both Dyllon and Jas are not the descriptions of those characters that were in the book. Rahiem is 19 or 20 years old and he was a big buffed dark skinned beauty and Jas is a thin, toned browned skinned almost pretty boy kind of character. Dyllon has this baby face and does not look like he’s 30 years old so when they walked in and no matter what our preconceptions of the what we thought the characters were, what it was in the end was that they brought something to the audition that made us say, “Wow, this is it!” They re-defined it, and actors will do that; they will walk into an audition and redefine roles for you.  If a character is supposed to be starving on Devils Island, but an actor walks in and looks like he weighs 300 lbs and just ate a cow, he will not get that role no matter what he does.  However, actors will walk into an audition and change a director’s mind in a minute and that’s what we look for.

PI: For the actors, what did you do to get into shape for the part or what are you doing now to stay in shape for your part?

DB: I really did not have to do much to stay in shape for the role.  I try to keep myself in shape on a regular basis.  It’s part of my everyday lifestyle of eating right, staying active and fit, working out, and things like that. So I really did not do much to stay in shape.

JA: I did some of the same things that Dyllon does.  My character is supposed to be more toned than the Mitchell character.  Dyllon has a beautiful body and …

DB: (Interrupts) He thinks that he is more toned than me.  (Laughs)

JA: For sure brother don’t worry about (Laughs)

DB: (Interrupts) again louder Laughter

JA: But I still love you. (Laughs)

DB: Whatever! (Laughs)

JA: I workout every day. I run in the morning and do about 100 push-ups in the morning and another 100 in the evening, and I do pushups while at rehearsal.    I also do sit ups and chin ups…the normal calisthenics – nothing special…just the workout that I would normally do.  I have to come to work prepared and that means I have to come to work looking sexy to have that presence so that when you see me on stage it’s as a sex symbol.

SBC: You know what it is called Jas? It’s called fuck-ability. It’s also a play that’s full of eye candy.   When the actors walked into the audition, they did not have to work out; they were already worked out.  They were already perfect.  When you see this play, all of the guys had their shirts off because it’s summertime. Then at one point, they are intimate at home, so they’re in their underwear. The thing is that the audience is sitting their salivating. And on top of their salivation, they’re getting these brilliant actors who just happen to be sexy, so you cannot ask for anything more than that.

PI: I’m getting turned on right now.

DB: (Laughs) Oh really.

JA: (Laughs) Okay watch out now.

SB: We want to turn on your mind on and we want to turn on your libido on.

PI: What else should we expect to see in this play?

SBC: We’re going to see something that you rarely ever see on stage or film – strong and powerful black men who are strong enough to be absolutely and completely vulnerable. What we find here is that there is no fear in touching and holding each other and supporting each other emotionally, intellectually, politically – all of that comes out.  There is this underlying thing that shows just how far brotherhood can go with black men where just in the platonic portions of the play where brothers can touch each there, brothers can cry in each other’s arms, brothers can hold each other up, and brothers can pick each other up from the floor from the ground and hold and be their protection without any of that macho bullshit that gets in the way of black men being able to reach out to other black men in the most affectionate and brotherly sort of way.

PI: Are there plans to bring the play to the Midwest?

SBC: Oh yeah there are plans for that. They will be announced at a later date.

PI: Tell me why should I come and see this play?

DB: You should come to see this play because it is extremely entertaining.  It is full of love and laughter and tears.  It speaks to the human capacity of what it means to love and it gets down to having a healthy relationship with another man.  It does not matter if you are a homosexual or whether you have a best friend that’s a male, it breaks down the barriers because you never hardly get to see a black man break down and cry on stage or on television and you really don’t get to see black men be affectionate or emotional.  They always depict these images of us as being so strong, and you do not get to see that vulnerability.  You will really get to see the capacity to see who black men get to love one another and love ourselves and what it means to express that love and be loved and love all of those around you…

JA: I thing this play is educational and informative and it sheds light on what you do not know.  Some people are just ignorant to homosexuality and what it’s about I think this play can been seen from everybody’s point of view. I think that it touches the hearts and souls and minds of everybody who comes to see it.  I think that everyone will leave with an open mindedness just by coming to see this show.

To purchase tickets to see B-Boy Blues The Play at the DC Black Theater Festival click here.