Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Baltimore Minute: Director, Producer & Writer, Brenda Hayes

Last summer, Allison Gulick and I were very lucky to be interviewed by the lovely Brenda Hayes for her program, This Light: Sounds for Social Change. With TFAP-B being very new to the world at the time, I was delighted to be allowed such a lengthy expanse of time with which to speak about our mission and programs. Brenda is a writer, radio producer and film director in the DC area, whose work focuses on the arts in connection with social justice. She has some impressive new projects in the works, including directing a film, Back Burner Dreams, which is detailed in the interview below. Beyond that, Brenda is warm, welcoming and continually supportive, and I'm very glad to know her, even a little bit.

And now...the interviewer becomes the interviewee!

 Director, Producer and Writer, Brenda Hayes

Shana Goetsch: Hi Brenda! I was wondering if you could tell us a little about your background,
to start? Are you a Washington DC or east coast native?

Brenda Hayes: Hi Shana - My family migrated from New Orleans to Washington, DC when I was about 2 years old, so for all intents and purposes I’m a DC “native”.

Shana: What was it that encouraged you to initiate the project, This Light: Sounds for Social Change with Ben King?

Brenda: I wanted to create a platform for artists activists to tell their back stories, share their lived experiences and what informs their art. I heard a public radio interview of Dr. Vincent Harding, a close friend of and speech writer for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Harding told the story of Betty Mae Fikes, the youngest member of The Freedom Singers, the musical arm of The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.) At the tender age of 16, Ms. Fikes was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for singing This Little Light of Mine. That and other “freedom” songs were rallying cries for justice; those songs were sung to galvanize, encourage, uplift, and though the lyrics and beats are different some decades later, the message behind the music remains the same, freedom, justice, peace. Dr. Harding also spoke of the intergenerational dialogue and work that existed during the Civil Rights Era. I am some decades older than most of my guests, so each time I broadcast there’s usually at least two generations having a dialogue about progressive social change using art as a catalyst.

 The seriously fantastic logo for "This Light: Sounds for Social Change"

Shana: As I know you have a discerning eye, I'm wondering how you decide on a subject matter? Do your interviewees, collectively, tell a larger story?

Brenda: Yes, my all of my guests tell a larger story — they create their music, poetry, visual art, dance, spoken word, film to foment change; the medium might be different but the intent is the same.

(*ahem* ...so, I had to look up the definition of the word "foment", which is "to instigate or stir up", OR "to bathe in warm or medicated liquid". I really like the idea of "bathing in change".—sg)

Shana: You have a new project coming up in which you are directing, Back Burner Dreams. Is that a new role for you to play creatively? Or maybe a better question is: out of all your roles writer, producer, director which are you most comfortable in playing?

Brenda: I am so excited about Back Burner Dreams - A Women’s Passion Project, I am excited about the lives that will be touched, the discussion for change, (there’s that word again), I trust it will create, and the women who are inspired to live their dreams and become their “whole” selves. I co-produced Vow Of Silence, a short by Be Steadwell in late 2013, I must say that producing is not for the faint of heart. I wrote and directed a short while at Howard University for a cinematography class I was auditing at the time, but Back Burner Dreams is the first film where I’m really at the helm as director / writer; can I say I enjoy it all?

This screening is coming right up, Ohio!

Shana: What is your most important tool?

Brenda: I think my lived experiences are my most important tool. I grew up during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Those eras were filled with evocative art and artists, Odetta, Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Pete Seeger, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, visual artists Romare Bearden, Emory Douglas of The Black Panthers, James Baldwin, poets Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, the Black Arts Movement. They were who I listened to, their songs were in heavy rotation during the 60’s. The fervor, energy and events of that time were documented in song, poetry, and stories, and I still feel that each time I meet and interview my guests.

Shana: Do you have a particular female artist, author, or musician that you feel has influenced you or your practice (working in any medium, historical or contemporary)? You can always choose several...

Brenda: Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote the seminal play A Raisin In The Sun, has to be at the top of the list. Eartha Kitt, who was “black listed” for speaking out against the Vietnam Conflict while at a “ladies” luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson at the White House during her husband’s administration, Nina Simone, Octavia Butler, Katherine Dunham, June Jordan, emma’s revolution, Sweet Honey In The Rock, so many, and of course the guests featured on This Light: Sounds For Social Change.

Shana: How do you decompress, or what allows you a stress-free or "quiet space"?

Brenda: I love having friends over especially for game night, we’re all competitive, it gets crazy and it’s always fun. I love music, so just listening to the music of my guests, I have quite the music library thanks to my past guests. I also enjoy relaxing by an ocean, river, lake, it’s rejuvenating for me.

Shana: Thanks so much Brenda, for spending some time with us. When can we hear your voice next? What's coming up for you?

Brenda: This Light’s next show is April 19, my featured guest is Miss Justice Jester, what a story she has to tell. Hopefully, Back Burner Dreams will have its first screening late June, early July - hope to see TFAP-Baltimore there. Thanks for the opportunity to spend a little time with you.

Shana: We'll be there!

                Image courtesy of Brenda Hayes