“I don’t think you can leave this play without learning something.”
That is one of the ways Tia Bannon, one of the two co-stars of the blistering and subversive new play “seven methods of killing kylie jenner,” sums up the particular experience of her production.
Of course, she adds it is not the job of the cast, director and playwright – all women of color – to educate the audience but “learning through the witnessing of someone else’s experiences and using yourself, your responses as a guideline to understand how you might be a part of the problem, so ultimately you can improve,” is part of the goal.
Bannon plays Kara, friend to co-star Leanne Henlon’s Cleo, who goes viral on Twitter with a post criticizing Kylie Jenner for her exploitation of Black culture when the influencer is declared to be the world’s “youngest self-made billionaire” by Forbes. What follows is an exploration of cultural appropriation and exploitation, especially through the lens of the seven ways Black bodies are brutalized and oppressed on social media.
Presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with the Public Theater and the Royal Court Theatre, “seven methods of killing kylie jenner” runs at Mammoth’s theater through March 5. Bannon joined District Fray to discuss the dynamics of the show.
District Fray: Talk about your reaction to the title of the play and exploring that idea throughout the 90-minutes you’re on stage with Leanne.
Tia Bannon: The internet is full of lots of inflammatory words, to say the very least. It’s a place where people can get away with saying – for the most part – whatever they want, with systems of protections that are quite lenient or arbitrary. Women’s bodies are censored and critiqued so much on the internet, as one example of how arbitrary it can be. I can’t quite remember my first reaction to the title; I think it just felt very commonplace that something like it would exist just as much as, for example, the plethora of racist, violent language that exists on the internet. The title of the play is intended as “clickbait.” The main argument is: If Kylie Jenner and other people are willing to profit off Blackness, surely they should experience the seven ways – that are documented here – in which Black bodies are oppressed and brutalized.
So, what we see throughout the play is Cleo – a character played by Leanne Henlon – unpacking, for the internet, seven particular ways in which Black bodies are brutalized and oppressed as a way to highlight how you can’t just take the good stuff of our culture and experiences without understanding the oppression and violence we face too.
Since the show is only you two on stage, what does that allow you as an actor to do with the material and the dynamic with each other?
First of all, it’s a real gift work with such multi-dimensional and expansive characters, as well as to explore the relationship and dynamics, like you said, that exist between Cleo and Kara!
We also have the gift of the internet, which in our production we “step in” Twitter. We embody all of those different characters, so it’s a fantastic playground for exploring accents and physicalities, expression, and, in my case, different languages too. I think given the time we have, there’s a real intimacy created on stage, which I think is extremely precious, especially when it comes to exploring Black women and our tenderness, our relationships and some of the nuances that can exist between two people, as well as those things presented within the Black community. It’s really a brilliant insight or peek into the experiences of two Black women and their dynamic, and what it means to be friends, what it means to hold each other accountable, what it means to understand how our history affects us and how we can move forward in the present.
Is there a visual element here with the deluge of potential tweets and Instagram posts and TikToks as a stream of internet consciousness, or is it all you two?
In our production, we physically enter the internet. So, the, I guess, third character of the play is Twitter. In between some of the “irl scenes,” as they are acronym-ed, we enter into the Twittersphere and embody a whole range of characters. There was someone who asked the other day, “Why haven’t you put it on a screen?” First of all, people come to the theater to see theatre! But also, it allows you to step into the world of how we engage with things we think are so passive on our phones, on our screens, sitting there or standing and walking and scrolling. It actually allows us to enter into the physical embodiment and feel the visceral reactions of what that space does to us.
Is there something about the immediacy of theatre that creates room for this kind of understanding or empathy better than other media?
I think the great thing about theatre is that you choose to engage without any distraction. So, you’re really engaged in this contract of like, “I give my time and energy to this space and to the work that you’ve created.” I think our play – and I can speak for it because I’m in it – should and does give you the encouragement to dig deeper into your empathy space. The play is full of emotions and journeys and experiences. There is a lot of a joy and a lot of pain, there is a lot of purging and expression, longing and a deep need to understand each other. I dare you to watch it and not feel a type of way. You might feel many things: you might feel angry, at moments, sheer joy, you might feel defensive in response to it, which is a really good indicator for you to do the work and understand why you might feel that way.
“seven methods of killing kylie jenner” runs at Woolly Mammoth through March 5, 2023. To learn more and get tickets, visit here.
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