Beautiful statuesque bisexual dance artist Kai Hazelwood became struck with the idea of creating a conversation about race, and putting it into an art form. The inspiration came before Black Lives Matter, and before the demonstrations across the country about police brutality.
Yet, the show she created, “Color Outside the Lines,” is as timely and as pertinent as ever.
“This idea has been haunting me a little more than a year, and I brought these talented people together and talked about it, and shared racist jokes,” says Kai.
It’s not about racist jokes. It’s about sparking conversation about race, and the issues involved. It’s about what people say on Twitter and share on Facebook that may or may not be true, or involve stereotypes.
The show is usually set in a casual setting, a familiar community bar or nightclub. People get a drink and are given a name of a person known for their racial identity. Fellow attendees are to guess your name, and then everyone sits in a team of tables and comes up with a provocative name for their group. It’s a game show. The prizes include ethnic-themed foods: hummus, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, curry, Taquitos, salsa, that kind of thing.
The game show is hosted by a couple; he is Hispanic, she is a ‘50s-like housewife. He calls her “Babe,” and slaps her behind pretty frequently.
As Kai puts it, “We don’t try to offer any answers about race. Instead, it’s an invitation to explore the funny and also dark parts of ourselves, our understanding of our own racial identity and that of people around us.”
She wants people to question, disagree, challenge, be uncomfortable, and laugh. “I love see them laughing and then realizing what they are saying and cringing and then hesitating,” she says.
Kai says, “The show is intended to inspire conversations, and exploration of the things we think but never say and the things we think deep down and may not even realize we believe. The night consists of a mixture of racial take offs on traditional games and dance theater pieces.”
The Ig’nant Spelling Bee! Is the first challenge. Contestants are asked to spell works like “Honky” and “Dot Head” and use them in a sentence. The show shifts between the humor that exists in antiquated stereotypes trying to encompass multi-color lives, and the ugly reality of racism.
It’s not proper to ask people where they come from, that’s a form of “micro-aggression” suggests the wife when they are seeing who is in the audience. Kai dances stunningly in one number where she is drawing a chalk box around her fellow dancer and slowly fencing her in.
Actors Allison Wyper and Abel Arias play the husband and wife team. Allison has known Kai for eight years and she describes her as “a totally brilliant and physical performance artist.” Abel works locally as a comedian in the Comedy Sports LA, and Tasheena Medina is a former student and Kai says, “I’m interested in her voice and aesthetic and wanted to work with her.”
Abel talks personally about an audition he went to where he was asked to do it with a Spanish accent. He got a call back and asked why they didn’t ask a Spanish actor to come back for the role. His speech is touching, poignant and funny.
At one point, contestants are asked to blindly taste something on a spoon and then write down which ethnicity it is most related to. At one performance, it was mayonnaise and of course that was related to “white people,” but writing down “cracker” gets you extra points. The show forces people to say words they wouldn’t normally say, and forces people to confront their own internal racism. Inevitably, the show ends up with everyone standing and reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
After the show, Abel said, “We have to figure out a way to make this funny, even though the issues are very important. I think we have developed the right tough of humor.”
Allison, who plays his over-the-top wife, said, “Satire is always the way to deal with important topics like this.”
Kai admits that during test runs of the show, some people have walked out, and some have started crying. “It’s important to me to have a sense of humor. I also want to recognize my own sense of privilege.” She said she has talked to people who have walked out. “It boiled down to people who wanted to feel better, and they wanted to feel better coming to the show. In an hour-and-a-half show, we can’t solve racism. We just want you talk about it.”
Sexuality will be focused on in future shows. Kai came out as bisexual at the age of 15. “At no point did I ever feel straight,” she says.
Kai is a dancer, dance theater maker and dance educator. She says, “I strive always for emotional authenticity, vulnerability and honesty in movement intension, choreography and education. I use human-scale theatricality to translate personal, intimate stories, through movement, into relatable performance pieces. On stage I tell my secrets in the hopes that they will speak to yours, shine light into the places we keep hidden, and allow us to communally exorcise demons.”
Kai has 25 years of dance experience including six years at the San Francisco Ballet School, summer programs at Dance Theater of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey School of Dance, and intensive training at the Kirov Ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. A former basketball player, she has drawn on her sports, dance, and dance medicine experiences to provide personalized physical training for athletes and non-athletes since 2004. After a season with the Oakland Ballet Company, she relocated to Los Angeles where she has been mentored by and worked with local artists including, Victoria Marks and Christine Suarez.
She does plan to push buttons. She doesn’t apologize for that. But, the buttons she pushes, she hopes, will be for the better.