We had the privilege of chatting with the cast of the hit play, “When Boys Exhale,” by Black author and playwright Anthony Green. The play is inspired by the 1995 cult classic girl power flick “Waiting To Exhale,” starring Whitney Houston, Angela Basset, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon. In this Atlanta run, the play will focus on the lives of three Black gay males. Green was inspired to write this play after the painful loss of a friend. Actors Derwin King, Moses Princien, and Kai Jones sat down with us to spill the teas on their backgrounds, what brought them to this project, and what audiences will experience when boys exhale.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Hello, everyone; I want to thank you for joining me today. Let’s start with introducing yourselves and giving me some information about your background.
MOSES PRINCIEN (MP): Hello, my name is Moses Princien, I am 23, and I am an actor in Washington, DC. I was born in Haiti and grew up in Michigan, and I am non-binary. I came to this play through my friendship with Anthony and being a part of the African American Theatre Collective.
PI: Which pronouns do you use?
MP: I use They/Them pronouns.
PI: And Kai?
Kai Jones (KJ): My name is Kai Jones. I began my acting career in 2017. I’ve done commercials, television, movies, and web series work. In 2020, I had my acting debut in the theater with “When Boys Exhale” here in DC. I’m excited to bring the role back in 2022 in Atlanta. I’m a guest co-host on a podcast called Four Sisters Live and the Founder of a non-profit called Serving Women Across Generations (S.W.A.G.) I co-authored two books, “Daily Dose of Declarations” and “The Power of Sisterhood.” I’m very active in my community because I feel that being involved in your community is how you can make a difference.
PI: Kai, I love your enthusiasm. I can hear that radio voice each time you speak.
PI: Moses, tell me more about your background and journey thus far.
MP: Specifically with acting or just as a human being in this world?
PI: Both. Let’s start as human beings existing in this wonderful world.
MP: I was born in Haiti. A white family adopted me, and I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was one of eleven children. I was into the performing arts, singing and dancing, and just putting on shows for people. I was very much into knowledge, just anything I could figure out, whether reading through encyclopedias or watching Jeopardy! at night. I loved learning new things, and I loved people as well. I was extroverted and made friends with everybody. I went through a lot with my family. Being a Black queer person growing up in a very strict Christian white household did not often go very well, but I found theater and art, which allowed me to express myself.
When I wasn’t able to express myself in other aspects of my life, I had to hide, whether in my room, reading books and traveling to different places, or on stage being another person. I could come into myself and discover who I was, even if it were through watching films. One of the first films that spoke to me was “Paris is Burning.” Then I discovered the television show “Noah’s Ark.” Seeing that film and TV show in my childhood affected me. I saw people like me, and I could live and be myself. I decided to go into the Arts, specifically theater, and I came out to DC. I am a student at Howard University right now. I have one semester left to get my degree in Musical Theater. I’ve recently made a home for myself in the DC theatre community, especially within the Black theatre community. I feel like I’ve been able to give and use my gift of storytelling to start conversations that get people to see others as human, get outside themselves, learn something new, and hopefully bring people together.
PI: Kai, you mentioned activism earlier. Why is activism so important to you?
KJ: My activism is very important because I know that one person can make a difference. And when you feel that you can make a difference and then move in the direction of how you want things to change, you’ll find others who want to make a difference before you know it, it’s a community. You can make so many new things happen when the community comes together. I work, and I live in Prince George’s County. I’ve worked on different grassroots campaigns for judges. I’m also working with a politician on a grassroots campaign, and she’s running for a state delegate position. When you believe in a person, and what they can do for a community, it’s critical not just to say, “Oh, they’re going to be great.” You have to put your money or put your action behind your work. Contribute your money to help bring or get those people into office. That’s going to make a difference in our communities. Instead of sitting back shaking your head and saying, “Oh, things didn’t go right” or “I wish we had this person,” you have to decide to at least try to get the people in office that you want to make a difference in our communities. I believe that voting in the primaries is important. Still, I think it’s most important to vote in the general election and work to make a difference where you live.
PI: Moses and Kai, let’s talk about your role in “When Boys Exhale,” what would you like audiences to take from your performance?
MP: I play the character, Jonathan. Jonathan is an excellent representation of many Black queer men, whether it be the issues that he has with his parents, not feeling seen, or being raised in a very traditional or specific way. A way that clouds who he is and feeling that he has to perform or be someone else, or that he won’t experience love from his parents or won’t be able to be accepted unless he performs in that particular way. Having that as a child or growing up with parents that’s something that many people can relate to, as well as the fears of HIV and the stigma that comes with that and with being gay—knowing that people look at it as something awful that is deserved by people who are in the LGBTQ+ community. The fears that Jonathan has about that and not wanting that to change who he is and still be himself, still be the teacher, the person who loves to hang out with his friend Andre. It is just an addition. I feel a lot of people will be able to relate to that as well as the struggle of being queer and finding love. We are often not represented or shown that we can have love. And whether it be that middle school love or just holding hands or getting to go out to the movies, when you’re in high school, many of us sometimes don’t get to experience that until we’re adults. And so, then we find ourselves in movies and films where there’s a love interest, and we romanticize this love. And we often can be very naive, or we just haven’t had that experience. And so, watching Jonathan maneuver through what he wants and what he views as real love versus connecting with another person in a relationship. This is real, and this isn’t a movie; this is real life and having to work through his traumas and navigate relationships that way. I think his character is compelling and a great, excellent representation of the community.
KJ: I play Jonathan’s mother. My character’s name is Miss Sheila. As Jonathan’s mom, I love my son, and I try to understand him. I know that he’s gay and wants to understand it all. It’s something that I’m not used to. It is bizarre to see my son involved with another male instead of a female. I think, as Miss Sheila, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that Jonathan will be with whoever he wants, not who I want him to be with. I feel Miss Sheila comes to terms with love is love, and she realizes that everybody needs love. She realizes that her son not only wants love from a man but also wants her to love and accept him as who he is. They have a pretty contentious relationship. I feel the bottom line is that he loves her, and she loves him, although he never tells her that he loves her in the play.
PI: I see that Derwin has now joined us. Derwin, I’m glad you could join us. What pronouns do you use to describe yourself?
Derwin King (DK): My pronouns are He/Him and His. I accept She and Her with no problem but use He/His primarily.
PI: Tell me about your role in this play, and what do you hope audiences will take away from your character?
DK: I play Andre, a friend of Jonathan, and I think that Andre has an exuberant personality who is used to, because of how flamboyant he is, being characterized in other people’s brains. Many of us, especially the more feminine presenting, experience people are boxing them into this comic relief role versus seeing them as complete and whole human beings. My goal is, and what I’m hoping the audience will receive from viewing a character like Andre, is that despite how larger-than-life people can be, they experience a range of entirely relatable emotions that could affect how lonely they feel. At some point in the show, Andre is dealing with the kind of isolation caused by people seeing a person as a flat character that way, and he’s anything but flat. He’s insightful, not because he’s like a magical Negro in everyone else’s life, but because he’s experienced his pain and suffering and has gotten some perspective.
PI: I want to go back to you, Kai. Miss Sheila. Are you a mother?
Kai: Oh, my goodness. Yes. I have five children, four boys, and one girl.
PI: Did you bring some of your experiences as a mother to this play? And if so, how?
Kai: Oh, yes. Well, I bought my experiences as a mom to the play. Because as a mom, you love your child, and you want your child to be happy. So, you do whatever you can to make your child happy. Even though sometimes they can be annoying, and they can think or feel that they know everything and don’t want you to be their business, as a mom, you’re going to do whatever you can to make your child happy. Also, if happiness means accepting them the way they are, as a mom, that’s what I do. No, really, as a mom, I’m not judgmental. I’m more of a person who feels, live your life how it makes you happy.
PI: The next question is for both Moses and Derwin. Did you bring some of your own experiences into your character, and how? Let’s start with Moses.
MP: I would say that there are a lot of similarities between Jonathan and me. In terms of life experience, I also have a contentious relationship with my parents. I have had many conversations in which I’ve tried to educate them, or I wanted to get them to a point where they see me and could be in this relationship where we both could support each other. But that doesn’t always happen. So, I bring a lot of that hurt or wanting things to be different from my own life. We’ve all gone through many issues during this pandemic, and knowing that I have friends who support me and are there for me when my parents can’t or won’t be. Relying on or having a person like Andre for Jonathan, someone who’s there to show further through the gay lifestyles, introduce them to things, and be there for them as their rock. Those are a few things I bring from my own life and experience.
DK: I think interestingly enough, this character is very similar to me, or at least one of the ways I present in the world. I’m very similar to Andre because I often offer insight to people I love and am often known as a large personality. Then feeling this sort of distance from the people in my closest relationships, or at least that’s something that I have experienced. There’s this moment where Andre is telling his best friend how he didn’t feel like he measured up. I know that I’ve experienced that sort of harm before, and then, of course, Andre has his own men’s problems, and those are issues that I think that many of the queer men watching the show will be able to relate to.
PI: This next question is for Moses and Derwin. If your character were a female, which “Waiting to Exhale” lady would you most resemble? Robin [Lela Rochon], Gloria [Loretta Devine], Bernadette [Angela Basset], or Savannah [Whitney Houston].
DK: Mine would be the character of Robin with a bit of Gloria. Those two mixed. I think my character has Robin’s fire with that deep longing for Gloria’s maturity and wisdom.
MP: I would say that Jonathan is all aspects of Gloria. The newness or naiveté comes through when you look at Gloria, whether she’s in a relationship or just wants things to be specific, and realizes what’s happening around her and with the other men. Gloria attempts to figure out what she wants from a man, whether bumping into her ex-husband or meeting the new neighbor across the street. I feel like that aspect of Gloria’s character is seen in Jonathan. I like the determination and strength behind Bernadette’s character. Jonathan needs to be more honest and open when dealing with Khalil, his love interest, and his relationship with his mom. The ladies have the inner strength to speak what is on their minds and let the chips fall as they land.
PI: This is a round-robin question for everybody. How do you land this part in the play? Let’s start with Derwin since you were in the last production.
DK: If I recall correctly, I was on Facebook looking for my next opportunity because I had just wrapped up filming a web series called “My First Love Withdrawals and Relapses.” I was excited to move on to another project. It had been a while since I’d done stage, so I figured I would go back to doing plays. I saw an ad and decided I would go to this audition. It was my first-time meeting Anthony and JT, who had become some of my favorite people. I want to say that Anthony is so incredible at building community. One of the reasons I continue to work with Cagedbirds Productions is because there is this familial kind of experience when you do one of the shows. That’s why I auditioned and why I came back.
KJ: I had seen the audition or that they needed a cast member for “When Boys Exhale.” And so, I applied, but at that time, Anthony had said, “Oh, somebody has already been cast.” So, I was like, okay, but then the person could no longer continue in that role for some reason. So, he asked me, and I said sure. I was in the first production of “When Boys Exhale” in 2020, along with Derwin. So when I was asked to do the play again, I said, yes, I’ll do it.” Here I am back again in 2022, ready to go to Atlanta and get it done.
MP: As I said earlier, I already knew Anthony. I met him through a mutual friend. I saw different works by The Brave Soul Collective and Cagedbirds Productions. I continued following Anthony and the work that he was doing, and then I saw the auditions for the first production. I had a friend that was in the show for a little bit. I read some of the scenes with my friend to help him rehearse lines. That was the end I thought of it, or so I thought. Then I saw the sign for auditions again around December. So, I reached out to Anthony, and I had previously auditioned for “The Souls of Black Pebbles” the film he had done before this production. I thought, okay, well, try again. I wanted to work with Anthony. I enjoy the way that he writes, specifically for black queer people. That is who he’s writing about. I wanted to be in more works like that. I auditioned and thank goodness I was able to be part of this production.
PI: “When Boys Exhale” will play in Atlanta from April 22 – 24th, 2022. Are there plans for it to play elsewhere?
KJ: I hope so. It’s a dynamic story that has to be seen. Everyone has to hear it and see it. I hope that once we leave Atlanta, we’ll be going to other places, not just in the United States but outside of the United States.
PI: This final question is for everyone. What’s next? And, if you’re called upon to work with Anthony again, would you do it? So, we’ll start with Derwin.
DK: Anthony knows that he can always give me a call. If I am available, I will always join him again. He is a great community creator, and it is always a welcoming experience. I’ve grown so much doing his production. I couldn’t possibly dream of saying no. I don’t have any new projects lined up next. I hadn’t intended to be doing any projects in the last couple of months. But when Anthony called, I couldn’t say no. We shall see what is in the future. I do have a podcast called thatblackboyjoy. So, of course, we’ll be putting out some more episodes this year. And other than that, yeah, we will see.
MP: If I’m ever called again, yeah, without a doubt, without hesitation. The experience of just being able to do Black queer work by a Black queer person, surrounded by Black queer people, is something that I never take for granted because that is not everywhere. I’m very blessed to have met Anthony and the people involved with Cagedbirds Productions to have this experience. I’m there. And what’s next for me? I have a contract in June and July with “Parallel 45,” and I’ll be doing “Cabaret” and “The Crucible.”
Kai: If Anthony asked me to come back and do When Boys Exhale or another project that he has, I would be more than happy to be honored. I tell you, I was so honored that he asked me to come back and reprise the role of Miss Sheila again in 2022. He’s empathetic. He put his heart into this play, and it’s based on his friend. I’m going to say that he and his friend were just so close, and it’s like a love letter to his friend about how much he cared and how much he loved his friend, and it just makes me feel so good to be a part of it and to bring the story to life on stage. And what’s next for me is I will be on a web series entitled The Tyler J show, where I play Aunt Bernadette.
When Boys Exhale Apr 22, 2022 – Apr 24, 2022, in Atlanta, GA. Click here for tickets