Philadelphia playwright Kash Goins’ 10-play series began when he learned about Hydeia Broadbent, a woman who was born with HIV and who became a lightning rod for education and prevention of the disease. This subject eventually lead to his play VI Degrees, based on true stories that dealt with the down low movement in the African American community with a lot of sexual encounters by married men with other men, sharing of needles, leading to the spread of HIV, which results in a major killer of African American women: AIDS.
From there, Goins discovered hidden aspects of prison life. According to the official statistics, 1.5 million black men in the US are absent from their homes because they are dead or serving time in US prisons—in Philadelphia alone, more than 30,000 are missing. Goins’ prison drama V TO X, which returns to the stage this month after a successful run last October, evolved after a great deal of research and many interviews. This is the second of a two-part interview with Goins about his work (read part one here).
[SkyBox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, 3rd Floor] January 29-February 20, 2016;gokashproductions.com.
African American experience and audience building
Eger: A number of people in the US are voicing their concern that not much is done to support African American writers and their plays.
Goins: America is generous in providing a playwright, specifically a young African American one who has a slant towards socioeconomic commentary in his work, the opportunity to write plays about the tragedies in our community. There is no shortage of motivation, nor subject matter, to pull on or be pushed by. I set out to write plays that speak to my time and my generation—dramas that are relevant to the African American experience. Because of America’s narrative, and the generosity of social media, I don’t have to dig for content or motivation. America gave me that motivation—I wake up and it’s there waiting for me. I am thankful.
Eger: Tell us about building an audience for your socially aware plays that bring in people of all socio-economic, educational, and ethnic backgrounds.
Goins: That’s been a goal of mine from the beginning. First I wanted to introduce a predominantly African American audience to a product that was more closely aligned with classical theatre, but still full of the big dramatic and comedic moments that my demographic has an affinity for from the stage.
My goals evolved with my experiences in theater as an actor. I saw how much other demographics were interested in African American stories when I performed August Wilson, Charles Fuller, and [Lorraine Vivian] Hansberry. I saw an opportunity to add value by finding ways to introduce multicultural audiences to what we do.
Eger: Which playwrights have influenced your work the most?
Goins: This is the shortest answer in the world for me: August Wilson. What Wilson taught me is that the story is best served by creating a location, drawing complete and full characters, and then putting them in that space and turning them loose. My study of Wilson has been invaluable to me as an artist on both sides of the stage.
Eger: How did you earn the trust of people who usually don’t go to the theater?
Goins: The baby steps to earn the trust of those who would probably not normally find us was to introduce an all-black version of [Reginald Rose’s] 12 Angry Men, the same with [Arthur Miller’s] Death of a Salesman. I believe our audiences have become familiar with the quality and the effort we put into our work, and have now even taken an interest in what I have to say as a playwright.
Eger: You appear very outgoing and are loved by many people in Philadelphia. Yet, you carefully avoid all contacts with prisoners, even though you present vividly dysfunctional characters in your plays.
Goins: As outgoing as I tend to be, I’ve recently learned that I’m one of the most deeply introverted people I know. Because of my social makeup and how my social energy is derived, there tend to be many different opportunities for me to improve socially, and V to X in particular screams at me. I am evolving psychologically and socially.
My hopes are that part of that evolution will afford me to be more engaging and transparent. I’m usually comfortable in this way if there is a heightened conversation, business matter, or business dialogue. If this area of my person were strengthened, in addition to other areas of my life, I would likely discover the ability to have relationships with those prisoners that I consider friends or close associates—if they were still on the outside.
Eger: What about prisoners who reach out to you and even provide information or motivate you to write plays?
Goins: A good friend wrote me a letter from jail that provided significant motivation for me to craft the lives of these men from a psychological standpoint, helping me to come to a better three dimensional understanding of them. I’ve been meaning to write him back, but I still haven’t. I don’t know what to say to him. I haven’t yet found the words that would respectfully capture the magnitude of what he did for me. I don’t want to short-change that.
Eger: How welcoming is Philadelphia to your work?
Goins: It’s a very good place to be in Philadelphia to develop multicultural support as a true independent theater producer. We’ve been fortunate to have longevity that dates back to 2008. In this town that’s a LIFETIME.
Eger: I have seen your audience grow, congratulations. You had a strong cast last Fall. However, you changed five actors. Tell us about that directorial decision.
Goins: GoKash Productions has evolved into a huge repertory family. Because of that, we tend to know when cast members are hurting, and when we probably have areas in our lives that would deserve a greater focus from time to time.
We also have the types of relationships where we can have unselfish dialogue, resulting in the situations that serve one another. All of the changes being made to the cast for this run fall into one of these categories: a career change, a new baby, new work responsibilities, additional attention for a college bound star athlete son, support for the needs of an artist in this show, or the production as a whole. These five role changes were made amicably to create a win-win situation.
The previous actors are served, other actors within this proverbial family get an opportunity, and the audience gets to experience or re-experience this story with a freshness that inserting five new actors would undoubtedly create. It’s a blessing that I don’t feel like I ever have to hold an audition, and can always mount a dynamic cast. We can’t wait to unleash V to X—the revisit.
Eger: Great. Knowing your creative drive, you probably have already started on your next play.
Goins: Yes, the piece that will follow in this series, VIII Days After Death, is heavily influenced by the 2015 narrative about police violence and the killings of unarmed or non-threatening blacks.
Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Goins: My focus in 2015 was to gain more valuable film experience, and to finally join the SAG-AFTRA union after 15 years of eligibility. The universe heard my wishes and conspired with me, and I was able to land speaking roles in Sylvester Stallone’s Creed and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split in the same year.
I miss the stage, and 2016 is starting off with a bang. I’m very happy to return to the stage as Wolf, the lead role in V to X, and roll immediately into rehearsals at the Arden Theatre Company, where I will be playing Hambone in their production of Two Trains Running this Spring.
Eger: You certainly are on a roll, Kash. No wonder your performances sell out quickly. Thank you for sharing.
A newly staged version of V TO X by Kash Goins runs January 22*-February 14, 2016, at the SkyBox Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street (3rd floor). It’s important, for this production, to arrive on time. See gokashproductions.com for times and tickets.
*Because of the bad weather, the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday performances on Jan. 22-24 have been canceled, but more weekend shows will be added between Jan. 30 and Febr. 20, 2016. For more details, click this link.