GIRL BE HEARD: Interview with Artistic Director Kim Sykes

Written by Meagan Meehan. Posted in Theater, Theater Interviews

Published on May 05, 2018 with No Comments

GIRL BE HEARD is an internationally renowned and award-winning ensemble that is currently presenting their new show titled Indivisible: Liberty and Justice for Who? at DR2 Theatre in NYC. This ensemble-devised theater work is written and performed by GIRL BE HEARD company members and is directed by Kim Sykes, actor, writer and GBH Artistic Director. Indivisible is produced by theater-maker and activist, Jessica Greer Morris and has a limited run, now through May 12th. Tickets are $26 and can be purchased from Ticketmaster online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000. In addition, $11 tickets for students and seniors and $51 for Fairy Godmother Tickets, which include a donation to GIRL BE HEARD can be purchased at the box office.

Indivisible is written and performed by the cast of young women ranging in age from 16 to 23 years old. It examines, from their point of view, the political state of our nation and its epidemic of xenophobia, sexism, and racism. Indivisible asks the question: What can we do to create a nation that provides liberty and justice for us all? GIRL BE HEARD is proud to amplify the voices of eight inspiring young leaders working to raise awareness about the issues we face in our country. All performances will be followed by 15-minute talkbacks, featuring politicians, women’s rights activists and social justice advocates.

GIRL BE HEARD develops, amplifies and celebrates the voices of young women through socially conscious theatre-making. GIRL BE HEARD promotes racial, gender, and economic empowerment by providing New York City’s girls and gender non-conforming youth with a unique social justice education and mentoring program that tackles the obstacles they face and provides strategies to overcome them. Building self-esteem and growing individual talents is how we empower young women to become leaders and activists in their communities. Incorporated in 2011, GBH directly serves over 200 new participants per year through direct, year-long programming, and thousands more through community performances and workshops in schools and public venues across NYC.

GIRL BE HEARD’s performances have toured internationally and received critical acclaim from The White House, The United Nations, the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Ebony Magazine, National Public Radio, and media outlets across the globe. The collective has written and performed award-winning shows including: Girl Power: Survival of the Fittest; Project Girl Congo (commissioned by Panzi Hospital USA and performed in the White House); Child Bride (commissioned by the United Nations Girl Up Foundation and presented as a five-city tour); Trafficked, about girls in New York City enslaved in the sex trafficking industry; 9mm America, exploring America’s culture of gun violence; Displaced, examining displacement, homelessness, and the consequences of conflict in the U.S. and abroad; Embodi(ED), illuminating girls’ struggles with body image, eating disorders, and the $55 billion dollar diet industry; and Blurred Lines, exploring the meaning of consent, the normalization of rape culture, and how girls navigate and survive in a world where 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted.

In recognition of their human rights work with activists, advocates, and survivors from around the world, in July 2015 the United Nations named GIRL BE HEARD an official non-governmental associate organization for the United Nations’ Department of Public Information – an affiliation granted to most prominent and vocal human rights NGOs worldwide.

Kim Sykes, GBH’s Artistic Director, is a member of the Actors Center Workshop Company, the Women’s Artist Workshop (WAW) and Plays In Progress (PIP). In 2017 she guest starred on Showtime’s “Homeland” as Detective Sluser and on “Bull” for CBS as Judge Diana Foley. In 2016, she was GiGi on “The Affair” for Showtime and Judge Banks for Bryan Cranston’s “Sneaky Pete” for Amazon Studios. Kim was the voice-over for Chris Rock’s wife on an episode of Louis CK’s “Louie” for FX. Film credits include the roles in the features, Pariah, and The Crow also the Independent films, Marcy and Coming Up Roses starring Bernadette Peters. Her numerous television appearances include, “Person of Interest,” “The Unusuals,” “ Law and Order,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” and “The West Wing,” among others. As a writer, she has published several short stories for Akashic Books, one of which was selected for the Best African American Fiction of 2010. Her full-length play, In A Roundabout Way, was part of Guild Hall’s JDTLab Staged Reading in East Hampton and the WAW lab at Dorset Theater Festival.

Recently, GIRL BE HEARD’s Artistic Director Kim Sykes spoke about the group and the Indivisible project via an exclusive interview:

Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: How did you get interested in theater?

Kim Sykes (KS): I grew up on New Orleans, Louisiana. Writing was my first love. Lucky for me, I found the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. (NOCCA) I was exposed to all of it…writing, acting, painting and music. It was heaven to me! I often say it saved my life because I spent so many years of my childhood searching for something to do. Before NOCCA, it was the bookmobile. Books, writing, art and acting gave me a life of the mind.

MM: How did you find your way to GIRL BE HEARD and what do you most enjoy about working with this group?

KS: I was working at another nonprofit organization and learned of Girl Be Heard and their work. It made me wish I was a teen again. They were doing exactly what I had yearned for as a kid. A place to write, perform and be heard. It was love at first sight.

MM: What sort of themes does Indivisible address?

KS: We are so married to our American Dream that we often overlook the realities people face every day. Especially the ones that affect children. Our nation is in peril and the only way to fix it is to, as one of our cast members say, “do it ourselves.” That’s pretty profound for a young person. Our cast came to that conclusion in the early days of devising their script. They realized that the way to make change is to speak truth to power. Then act. And for Girl Be Heard there is a next step. Getting others to act. They are seeing, for the first time in their young lives, that the American Dream, is just that, a dream. It’s where we got our opening song from. It’s called “Real America.”

MM: What can audiences expect from the show and why do you think it’s so timely?

KS: They can expect to see how young women today are living and experiencing life in our nation. How they plan to have a big part in deciding where America is going. Their troubles and their solutions. And especially, how through it all, you have to keep laughing.

MM: Are there any scenes or lines in this show that you regard as being especially powerful? If so, which ones and why?

KS: Yes, the evening is full of delicious nuggets of girl power wisdom. I love their pieces on the #MeToo movement; it embraced change without bitterness, yet it holds folks accountable. Immigration is a big subject for us and audiences will enjoy our sorority sisters take on gentrification. We have a series of pieces called “Liberty” where our cast was given the prompt to write a relevant poem as if they were the Statue of Liberty using Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” as a guide. These performances alone are worth the price of a ticket.

MM: How did you get the venue and what sort of effort went into the props and costumes?

KS: The wonderful Daryl Roth made it possible for us to perform at DR2. We are thrilled to be in such a professional, beautiful black box. Our costumes and props are minimal. We are Girl Be Heard. Our words are what people come to hear and see. We do have a beautiful set of projections, which are gorgeous works of activist art.

MM: What topics does GIRL BE HEARD focus on, and what subjects might you broach in future work?

KS: Our future work is up to them. Our participants decide what is important to address. When they do, we try to help them see that their ideas are valid and that their hardships and struggles will not last forever and that being heard is the first step to making change.

MM: What are your biggest goals for the future of GIRL BE HEARD?

KS: That we reach girls from all over the city and encourage them to speak out, act and get involved in the political direction of their country. Yes! They Can! We also want to arm our participants with other tools to make them better activists and citizens.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to discuss or mention?

KS: Girls have a wisdom beyond what folks realize. Listen to them. They need to be heard. If we take the time to listen to them now, then our chance of having better leaders, more women leaders, will increase exponentially.

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To learn more about GIRL BE HEARD visit their official website, Facebook, Instagram, and/or watch this GBH promotional video. They can also be followed on Twitter via @girlbeheard. To learn more about Kim Sykes, visit her official website. To purchase tickets for the show, visit Ticketmaster.

About Meagan Meehan

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Examiner and AXS. She is also a stop motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a Bachelors in English Literature and a Masters of Communication. She is an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.

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