Artist to Artist- In the Moment with Kendra Christel!

Dear Readers,

I am lucky enough to know several very talented people in the arts. Kendra is one of them! She is an actor, director, writer, singer, and producer! This week, I was privileged to sit down with her and we both talked life, love and the pursuit of art from her perspective.

KendraPic2

Professor Haston– Kendra, thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule (she opens Sister Act, playing Deloris Van Cartier, at the Georgetown Palace on Friday 4/19/2019). Tickets for Sister Act

So let’s jump right in- Who are you named for? 

Kendra– I had an uncle named Ken- Kenneth. My full legal name is Kendra Omega Davidson Banks. My stage name is Kendra Christel, which is because I took my sister’s name. My legal name Kendra Omega Davidson Banks- Omega is important because I am the last child of 5. 

Professor Haston-  Where are you from? 

Kendra– Austin. I grew up off Martin Luther King Drive in a neighborhood called Craigwood.

Professor Haston-  What do you think makes you a successful artist?

Kendra– Probably the same thing that makes me an unsuccessful human. I am extremely hard on myself. Sometimes it wears me out. I constantly tell myself to work harder or do more. 

Professor Haston-  Where does that come from? Your parents? 

Kendra– My grandmother. She was from a totally different generation. I don’t know if you are familiar with the phrase in the black culture,  “You have to work twice as hard to be half as good”? My grandmother was from the generation of, “You have to do this, you have to do this right”. She worked hard and she put a determined thing in me. Sometimes I think I can go too far on the “try harder” scale.  Really trying is what makes me an artist. 

Professor Haston-  Well you do so much…you sing, you act and you dance and direct and produce… What brought you to acting? 

Kendra– College. I always wanted to be an actress, I just never did it till college. While a student at Texas State University, I joined Harambee Dance Group, became a member and chairperson for Gospel Expressions Association choir, and an original Executive Board member of the Ebony Players theater group and I have been acting ever since. 

Professor Haston-  What do you still want to tackle in the world of acting? 

Kendra– The things I am doing now, I want to CONQUER them. I don’t believe you can be good at one or two things. You can be good at a LOT of things. I want to be really good at writing. I want to be really good at acting.

I want to be an EGOT. 

That’s when you win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.

Professor Haston-  What’s the best advice you have ever received? 

Kendra– My mom, she is so quotable. “God’s favorites always have the hardest time”. Then people will say, “Well, God doesn’t have favorites.” and you say to yourself, “Well you must not be one”.  He tests us because He believes in us so much. It was tough for me growing up, I had a great childhood but as you can imagine, you know when you are creative you just don’t fit in and you struggle. I never stressed myself out about making friends or being liked but then people start to mistreat you or try to make feel bad about how and who you are and then it becomes necessary to constantly be on defense. That takes a lot to get out of that mindset when it’s how you grow up and my mom would tell me, “Babe, God’s favorites always have the hardest time”.

Professor Haston- Speaking of a hard time… I read recently about an all white cast doing a production of Porgy and Bess? What do you think of that? 

Hungarian Cast Members “Identify as African American”

Kendra– It’s disrespectful. It’s extremely disrespectful. Don’t get me wrong. I mean it’s Gershwin, I understand loving an artist’s work so much you have to be involved or you have to touch it some kind of way.  But there are just some roles and some works that should go untouched. Gershwin put that stipulation in for a reason (stipulation that the lead roles should only be played by African American actors) Then and now, black people and brown people, we don’t get roles that we should, we don’t get the opportunities that we should, we don’t get the treatment that we should. I mean it’s seriously clawing all the time, it’s exhausting. Just as much as people who are not black and brown are tired of hearing about it, we are tired of going through it so we wish we could stop telling you about it and the fact that there was beautiful thing created just for us, us being black people and they being not black people, couldn’t let us have it. It’s frustrating, it’s not enough to make it hard for us to be accepted and to be artists and to be beautiful and be talented and be celebrated and be creative within in our right and our own realms. It’s like we are being invaded. You can’t let us have the thing even though we created the thing. It’s frustrating. From what I understand the estate of  Gershwin is trying to sue, and I hope they win because you shouldn’t do that. It’s cultural appropriation at it’s finest. 

Professor HastonI find it disgusting. As an artist, I love the songs of Gershwin but that isn’t a role I would consider playing ever because no matter how much research I do, I will never know what it’s like to be black. 

KendraYou know what, that’s hard for an actor of any color. There are going to be roles that you can never play and never identify with because you will NEVER be that. Look, I love Frida Kahlo, I love her work, I will even wear flowers in my hear sometimes like her, I love the kind of woman she was, when I found out she was in a relationship with Josephine Baker, it made me love her even more. But if I was given the opportunity to play her in a movie or television show, I would turn it down, because it’s ridiculous. There are just a plethora of Latinas who could play that. I am not that. I can appreciate it and love it until I turn blue but I am just not that, and that’s okay and so, with them having these cast members sign a piece of paper that says you “identify as black” is f****** ridiculous.  Being black is such a vast thing. We are so different, we are so numerous. We come from everywhere, we are everywhere. Just saying that you “identify as black” – I mean, I am black and sometimes I am not sure if I am as black as I should be. We are so different. It’s disrespectful and it’s disgusting and I don’t like it. 

Professor HastonHave you seen roles that are going to white actors that you think should be going to African American women? 

KendraYes. It’s everywhere. There are roles that can and should be opened up to black women. Steel Magnolias, you know. I could go on and on. I remember trying out in high school and because I didn’t have the “traditional theatre voice” I wasn’t even looked at twice. One thing I can say is I have been working with a great production company called Mad Productions who cast me as the Queen of Hearts.  You wouldn’t immediately think about this black woman ruling over Wonderland, but why not? No one thinks, “Let’s try that,” and then this company does. They have a knack for casting the non-traditional. It’s part of the thought process of this part doesn’t HAVE to be played by a white person. It’s getting better slowly but surely because people are looking at things with new eyes. 

KendraasQueenofHearts

Professor HastonWhat do you think we all need to do to be accomplices in the fight for human kindness and better race relations besides realizing that we still have so very far to go. 

KendraIt’s exhausting. Also knowing that any moment we can regress. At any moment, someone will say something or someone will touch my hair… 

Professor Haston- Without your permission? That’s unacceptable. 

Kendra- We say it on social media all the time and we say it in life “DON’T TOUCH OUR HAIR. WE DON’T LIKE IT.” I don’t care what your one or two black friends let you do. Don’t do it. I had a woman send her 6 year old child over to me to ask me if she could touch my hair. I had to tell the child, no you may not and inform your mother that it’s not appropriate. It’s extremely frustrating. 1. I don’t know where your hands have been. 2. I am not an animal in a zoo, don’t pet me.  Don’t get me wrong, I know the myth of black hair is fascinating, and when I have friends who ask me, “How did you do that?” I will tell them and they are genuinely asking. “Can I see how you did that?” Yes, tben you can touch my hair. When it comes to sharing my culture with people, I am happy to share and teach and educate, and a good general rule of thumb, keep your hands to yourself.

{You heard it here, folks!}

Professor Haston- So as we are talking hair and costumes let’s talk a bit about Deloris Van Cartier- Why are you so excited to play her? 

KendraOne, I am a HUGE Whoopi Goldberg fan. But really, the story of Sister Act, this person who just wants to make it, reminds me of me. I know it sounds like a cliché, and it’s true. Growing up as a little girl I wanted to be a performer so bad I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, God that would be so boring. My cousins and my friends would say I couldn’t sing and they thought I was weird when I wanted to play theatre and not like freeze tag. They would indulge me sometimes. “If you could just get this English accent right..this production would be great, trust me.”  I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I know my parents weren’t discouraging, they were just worried. You don’t want to hear your child wants to be an entertainer, you want her to say she is going to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer. I had a knack for being on camera.  I got to interview some celebrities when I worked for Spiderwood Studios and I was good at it, but I got sad because I wanted to be on the other side of the camera. When I was interning there, I knew I HAD to do this. I couldn’t shake it. That’s why I identify with Deloris, she is in this relationship and gets in trouble, but she wants to be a disco diva so bad, and that’s all she has ever wanted. I can identify with that longing so much. I get to be glamorous and fabulous. 

KendraisDeloris

Professor Haston- If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

KendraStart before you’re ready. I have been a late bloomer in everything. Still. I am to this day. I was a late bloomer in dating and marriage. I was published at age 8, so I knew I could do it, so I would say it doesn’t matter how scary it is, GO DO IT. I just now feel like I am getting in the swing of the acting thing. I definitely don’t feel old but I wish I had started sooner. Start Before You’re Ready. 

KendraSinging

Professor Haston- Have you ever taken a hiatus from acting? 

KendraI did. It was about three years ago, November of 2016, when I was diagnosed with PCOS Polycystic ovary syndrome

It was horrible. It sucks. It really does. I joined a support group. I went back to therapy.

In my case, I am insulin resistant, I am infertile, my hormones are really out of whack, so I easily gain weight. I have had to use 3 different birth controls, I am on a fourth one now. I was taking 13 pills a day, my hair would fall out sometimes, still does. I wasn’t  eating like I should, throwing up constantly. On my worst day, my husband would have to stand me up and bathe me. Because I just couldn’t get the weight off and it caused body image issues. I just closed off, I stopped acting and doing music, I closed myself off from all my friends. I started going to a support group, spent time in therapy and I started losing weight and I had to spend a solid year taking care of myself. I had painful surgeries. I needed a break, because I could not function.

Professor Haston- What brought you back?  

KendraMy husband. (gets choked up) I don’t want to cry. 

Professor Haston- It’s okay if you do. 

Kendra- It doesn’t matter what I looked like or what I felt like. He never made me feel like he didn’t think I was beautiful or pretty or worthy. He never left. He never left. Not one time did he complain. He was on top of all the mess. He cooked for me, he literally had to hold me up and bathe me and he NEVER complained  and it says something that after I was diagnosed, is when he proposed to me. So to learn that someone has a life- changing condition and know that we might not be able to have kids and still decide, “Well, I still want to spend my life with you”.       I had to pull myself up and bring myself out and not go back, because it doesn’t matter what I feel like, I just couldn’t have him living like that. I know he will stick with me through whatever. He is the most loyal person and it’s when you have someone like that you want to be your best self and give them the best of you and live your best life.  If you are going to sign on to spend the rest of your life with me, than I am going to make it a really good life. 

Professor Haston-  How do you deal with haters?

Kendra- Like my Mom says, you have to consider the source. If someone hits you with a low blow then they have just signed a permission slip for you to do what you need to do get them off of you. The more public you get, the more people will hate. 

Professor Haston-  Who is your favourite artist?

Kendra- I don’t have one. There are just too many. I mean this week, this minute.. it varies day to day. 

Professor Haston-  What inspires you? 

Kendra- My fear. My biggest fear is lying on my deathbed and thinking and feeling that I should have done that or tried that. I should have done that. Like my mama says, When you slide into Heaven, you should be tired, just barely making it. 

Professor Haston- Speaking of being tired, (You are in tech week, aka Hell Week, after all) how do you “fill up”? (what you do as a performer to fill yourself to give to others)

Kendra- There is a lot of wine involved. When I am not busy writing a novel, (she is working on a book, people!) or doing a show, I watch a ton of supernatural television. I love television which is why I have a degree in it. I do face masks, I do therapy, and I spend time with my “purple hearts”.

Professor Haston- What are purple hearts? 

Kendra–Those are what I call people who support me. In the Armed Forces you get a Purple Heart for valor and giving a piece of yourself for the greater good, for great sacrifice. Purple is also my favorite color. So, I call people who support me purple hearts because they understand what it’s like to have to grow and change and hurt and struggle just to prevail and get to a better version of yourself.

PurpleHeartsKendra

Professor Haston- Well,  I consider it an honor to be one of your “purple hearts” Thank you for helping to inspire all of us and sharing your truth, your talents, and your thoughts with us.

One of the last things Kendra shared with me was this –

There is no limit to how great life can be. 

I quite agree, Kendra.

How about you readers, what say you?

Think About It.

2 thoughts on “Artist to Artist- In the Moment with Kendra Christel!

  1. This was such a revealing, passionate interview. Not only do you get a chance to get yo know Kendra but you also share in her expectations on this life journey. This is a refreshing observation that leaves the reader no doubt that Kendra knows where she is presently, where she’s going, and what it will take to get there. I didn’t know this until now, but I have been a purple heart from the time she was born and whether she new it or not, have always been in her corner and on her team!!! Great interview Spote!!!

    Like

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