Get Cultured — September 27, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Representation Matters: Kyle Baird

by

I was an actor once. I wanted to be a film director, but I went to an acting class and I was in love. I trained for years, did a lot of college productions and some in New York City. Got myself a manager, and had offers coming. To the bare eye, things were looking up! But the thing is, they weren’t. My whole life in acting I heard the same two things over and over again: 1) You are so talented! 2) But that accent… Everyday it felt like a battle just to do what I was so good at thanks to the facts that my accent was a bigger concern to people than my talent. By the time I had a manager I had grown tired of it, and when all the offers I got were commercials about Latinos drinking beer and stereotypical criminal parts I chose to walk away from it. I had already fallen in love with writing by then, and figured “At least they won’t hear my accent on the page.” I was wrong; my name alone gave people the accent they needed and made it feel like a battle. For years I was ashamed of my accent, which ultimately made my heritage feel like a burden.

I tell this very personal story to highlight what these series of interviews will be about. In the midst of casting controversies with Evita and In The Heights, the representation matters idea is more prevalent than ever. When people say they don’t understand why artists protest Evita since Patti Lupone made the role famous, they don’t understand the fact that somebody else’s opportunity was taken away. A person more befitting for the role! And they don’t ask, why was Patti Lupone cast as an Argentinian? Nope, they ask “Why Can’t these latino’s get over it?” Ethnic communities literally have to wage war against whitewashing for the roles that are supposed to be theirs.

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Representation matters way beyond what people understand. It’s not only for us to realize we have a place, it’s for the future to understand we can be part of it. Kyle Baird, one of the actors in the National Tour of The Color Purple, is one of those people trying to create a place for his community. After years of struggling with the lack of opportunities and continuing to rise despite the odds, Mr. Baird is now on a path to both create an amazing career and inspire those that come after. Learn more about this up and coming actor and his future in the interview below:

  • Hi! Could you tell us what you do and how do you identify yourself?
    • Hey Nelson, first off thanks for including me in the topic! It’s a conversation that totally needs to be had and I couldn’t be happier to add my flare to it, too! I guess the best way to identify myself would be as Kyle Baird. Who happens to be an African American male with a hint of South American descent. But, I guess if you didn’t know me yet, it’s best to just start with Kyle.
  • As part of an ethnic community, how did you feel while developing your art? Was your community supportive of your work?
    • I grew up in a very predominantly white area in Connecticut. I loved where I grew up and eventually the high school I went to ended up having a great arts program, which really birthed the artist I am today. The community around that specific high school is incredibly supportive of the arts and their young artists. However, like most young black artists in unreflective areas there was often isolation. I can say due to some very inspiring teachers at that time I was introduced to some very interesting works that some colleagues of mine still don’t know exist. Tackling “Mother Courage and Her Children” at the age of 15 or performing “The Messiah” at Carnegie Hall at 16 are opportunities that cannot be taken lightly. However, having the opportunities to play real three dimensional characters with higher levels of melanin, or sing Negro Spirituals outside of the month of February might have made my cross into the professional sector of this industry a bit more informed.kyle-baird1
  • Who was the first person that you remember seeing represent you in mainstream media?  
    • I feel like my next answer is going to get such backlash with current events being what they are; so in the words of one of my very close friends “Hear me for what I actually mean…” I was born in 1988. I’m a Virgo, too, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the story! The first person that I remember representing me in the mainstream was Bill Cosby and especially Heathcliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show. It was one of the first times in TV history that you had seen a not one, but a two-parent household where both of the parents were working professionals. For the first time broadcast on national TV it was a real family going through normal funny family problems and they just happened to be black. Well educated, well mannered, upstanding contributing black citizens, which is exactly what my mother was raising me to be. To this day I can still quote many episodes of that show verbatim, even the ones that aired before I was born.
  • How much of your identity goes into your work?
    • A freaking lot! You can’t really shake your identity. In my line of work you have the opportunity to play different characters who make different choices than you might, or who may believe different things than you do. But, at the end of the day you have to bring a lot of yourself into the role and especially into the process of finding those characters. But, who knows, let’s talk again in 25 years we’ll see if I feel the same way.
  • Representation matters… why?
    • Because there is so much more world out there than the Fox News view! Let’s start learning the other sides of the story.
  • Has your race/identity gotten in the way of your goals? Has it make it easier or harder?
    • Oh boy, I feel like it’s impossible to answer this question without first clearly shouting THE NEED FOR MORE REPRESENTATION IS EVIDENT! There was a point in my theatre career where I just assumed that I was not going to work over any winter holidays. White Christmas and Rudolph’s Holly Jolly whatever you want to call it Christmas shows across America hardly call for people of color. Any Color. And, you can bet that if they are cast it’s one stick thin black couple in the back left who dance their behinds off. Even recently I’ve had countless conversations with people complaining in audition holding rooms about how they aren’t going to work simply because Hamilton doesn’t want to see them for any role (which isn’t true), but they forget that theatres and TVs all across this country still cater to a Cinderella or Sound of Music-expectant crowd. So my goals and my “5 year plan” have been sort of tainted and altered when you factor that I work a major percentage less than the majority race. Let me also just say clearly, of the minority, I’m a majority. We need better and more stories for my Asian and Latino and Trans brothers and sisters, too!
  • Let’s talk about your work. What are you doing nowadays? What do you have coming up?
    • I’m actually about to take out the first tour of the 2016 Tony Award winning Color Purple. I get to tell this story of a triumphant black woman who battled unimaginable odds and comes out victorious all across the country. A country, I might add, that needs to hear a story like this. There is so much “representing” happening on this stage every night. It is truly my honor to share this experience with true Kings and Queens nightly. If we are in your area please come out and see Miss Celie’s journey. You can get tickets at www.Colorpurple.com  kyle-baird2
  • Any words you would like to share with those people that think they don’t have a chance because of how they identify themselves?
    • Be the change you want to see! Unapologetically be you. They both take practice, so, start now!
  • Do you dabble in other artistic areas?
    • I love snapping pictures! So much of my life is about my career or maintaining my career, or elevating my career. Taking pictures is one thing I just like to do. I don’t like to do it for money because that then makes a job out of it. A great job if that’s your calling! But you can often find me in a park or eyeing some mural trying to make my Instagram or a friend’s just a little hotter one snap at a time! (Check it out at @Colormekyle)
  • And to round it up, if you had unlimited funding for a project, what would you do?
    • If I had all the money in the world I would buy a Broadway theatre. Sort of with the same vision Joe Papp had in mind, a sort of “Of the People, for the People” type thing. I want to leave you guys with a quote if I can? Oscar Wilde said “Be Yourself, everyone else is already taken.” So GO!

Catch Kyle Baird on the road this summer and support diversity in theater!

3 Comments

  1. Can hardly wait to see Mother Milan Grandson continues to Spead his Wings ,you are an inspiration to all who strive to remain true to ones belief👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

  2. Nelson! This is beautifully written! Thank you for your passion and for your art! KB

  3. Way to go Kyle. Keep inspiring the future.

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