Interview with Raymond O. Caldwell, Drama Instructor
To celebrate the successes of our Drama Instructor, Raymond O. Caldwell, our Program Director, Ashley Bray, sat down with him to talk about his most recent work with Theater Alliance, City in Transition: The Quadrant Series, now streaming through May 24th. Learn more and buy tickets here!
In the interview Raymond touches on why he does what he does at BroadFutures, how that connects with his work at Theater Alliance, and his love for Washington, DC. Raymond, thank you for all the important work you are doing!
For a full transcript of the interview, see below:
Ashley: Hi everyone! My name is Ashley Bray, I am the Program Director here at BroadFutures and today we are joined by a very special, very loved, guest in the BroadFutures community, Raymond Caldwell. Hi, Raymond!
Raymond: Hi Ashley! How are you?
Ashley: I’m good! Raymond and I spend a lot of time together in program and in shared spaces with our most fabulous interns and program participants. And Raymond has been with BroadFutures for — how many years now?
Raymond: Oh my goodness, I don’t even – I’m going to tell you the truth. I don’t even know now. I feel like it’s just become a part of who I am in Washington DC, what I do. I don’t even know. I think maybe four, three years…?
Ashley: I was going to say four? I think we are about four, but I think this really speaks to how ingrained you are into our BroadFutures community, the larger DC community, and how well loved you are that we feel your presence all the time.
Raymond: I always, always say, and I say it every time I am hosting a gala, anytime I am ending programming, BroadFutures is one of my favorite things that I do in Washington DC. I love it, I love it, and I love the community.
Ashley: Well we love having you and you make such a big impact on our program and our participants. And I think for all of our community members, and everyone watching, can you share a little bit about some of the work you do with us and kind of where your focus is in kind of connecting the work you do out in the community with the work you do with us at BroadFutures?
Raymond: Yeah, of course. You know, I always imagine a space and a place where theater could be used in the practical lives of folks in the world. And you know the thing I love about the work that we are doing at BroadFutures, is we are actually making those connections, we are actually taking theater, practicing theater, games, and we are applying them to real-life situations. It’s some of my favorite work and the work that I have always been very interested in was just that: how do we actually take theater and apply it to real life. There is an entire field of theater, and I regularly reference it, Applied Theater, and this is the field that I work in. This is the work that I have done for a number of years here in Washington, DC and you know the program we have built at BroadFutures I think is really unique and special because I think we are seeing transformation in young people’s lives through the act of play, through the act of using our imaginations and building community all using theater. So yeah, that is what I do with BroadFutures and I think that connects to what I do and what I’ve done in my career and what I do here at Theater Alliance.
Ashley: I think that is right on, and I think what you said of using theater, Applied Theater, and play, as really a tool for transitions. And so many of our young people, so many of our interns, are going through that transition. Sometimes transition can be scary, new, nerve wracking, and I think what they have found and what we have found as a program is the way you not just show up and interact with our participants, but the way you really intentionally use your Applied Theater and the games and the conversations and that building of community really helps kind of ease some of the tension and some of the scariness that goes along with transitions.
Raymond: Yeah and you know I think that is really important to acknowledge and recognize because I think what many of our interns are actually learning in program is that these moments of transition, while this moment might be a major scary transition for them – they are going to constantly be experiencing these types of transitions. And so I think that the program holistically actually prepares young people to confront these moments of transition in their future. And I think that’s what’s really special and I think that when I imagine what art does, art has always occupied that space in our lives – given us, prepared us for what the future holds and that is why we have always come to the theater: to see what is currently happening and what could happen to us and to take larger lessons away from that. I think the field of Applied Theater just takes that philosophy and really roots it in lived experience.
Ashley: I love that, and I think we see it as not just a tool; for our interns who come in the program who are able to interact in this curriculum with you and with our larger team, it is not just a tool to help them remove barriers and increase access, but it is also a tool to help them tell their stories. I know telling their stories is something you and I have been focusing on in our curriculum, I know this is something you do outside in the greater DC community through your work. Can you talk about just how important that storytelling piece is on the smaller scale through the impact and the work we do but also on the larger community, city-wide scale as well?
Raymond: When I think about confidence, I actually think the center of confidence is being able to share unabashedly who you are and to move through the world confident in your own narrative. To be able to share who you are, to advocate for the things that you want, is so vital and important, and I think what has happened in the field of art and what has happened in particularly in the field of theater is that there has only been one subset of folks whose stories, whose narratives, have been validated. And that is so fundamental and important because I think our cultural institutions like theaters are supposed to be reflections of our everyday lives. As I grew up in the theater, what I started learning and realizing is that many of the stories that I was being fed were through the experiences of white people. And while the theater is an imaginative space, creates empathy, for me to see my experience through the lens of someone else, I think it is just as important for narratives of people who look like me to be put on stage. And so a lot of the work that I have done in DC from the time I arrived I was doing a lot of early education work and a lot of that education work was in middle schools, high schools, and even pre-k, empowering young Black people to tell their stories, to be confident in the stories that both were rooted in their communities and that were of their imaginations. Because I think creating and garnering that space is really important and as I moved on to teach at Howard University, same subset of ideas: how do I empower young people to be confident in the story of who they are, but also use their imaginations to imagine what the world is that they want. And then I took over Theater Alliance and it is really amazing to now have a platform where I can actually pour directly into playwrights whose stories aren’t being told and actually lift those stories up for us as Washingtonians to have conversations about.
Ashley: And I know one of the stories that you and Theater Alliance are telling right now is the beautiful film called City in Transition. Can you tell us a little bit about that, your work about it, and how important it is for us, as Washingtonians, as a community to talk about this and have these conversations?
Raymond: I keep telling folks that City in Transition: The Quadrant Series is the beginning of my love letter to Washington, DC. I came to DC probably 13 years ago now. I was only supposed to be here for six months, and before that I was living in the UK. I was not going to come back to America, but I got this fellowship – that’s what brought me to Washington, DC, that’s what started me in the education sphere here in DC and the arts education sphere. I started falling in love with the city. And I was falling in love with the city because, you know, as a child I was told – and you know Washington, DC is a really complex city, it has always been called “Chocolate City” because it has always been a predominantly Black city, and has been the epicenter of Black individual ideas, Black art, Black civil rights movements. The civil rights movements find its roots early, early on here at the turn of the century and so it’s interesting to think about DC as a generative place for storytelling, particularly for folks whose stories have not been told on our stages. City in Transition is the beginning of our exploration into this city that we call home. I have invited four playwrights to write four different plays set in each of the quadrants of Washington, DC. Because of COVID, we couldn’t produce plays in person, but I think it is so vital and important for generative artistic spaces to continue to create, even through a pandemic, because artists have always created through many pandemics even before this one. And so I pushed these playwrights and my team to actually create a film, but a film that actually exists at the intersection of both film and live performance – and what is that? So City in Transition is just that! And we get four different stories in each of the four quadrants of Washington, DC that tell very different stories but I think mixed together in the way that we present them tells a really rich and interesting story about Black people particularly in Washington, DC.
Ashley: It’s such a beautiful piece of work, City in Transition, and the story of Washington, DC’s history and those four quadrants, and I think being able to especially mix it with the times that we are in now and the work we are doing now that is long overdue and so important. So I thank you Raymond for bringing those stories, and sharing those stories with our broader BroadFutures community but also with us and BroadFutures. It is a very important reflection piece for us and we are so grateful for that and we hope that you can continue to make work and inspire and we hope that you continue to do that work with BroadFutures as well.
Raymond: Oh, of course, of course. I cannot imagine my time in DC without BroadFutures. I am just so excited to be a part of this community. Thank you, thank you for always supporting the work – my work both at BroadFutures and as we have been developing the program but also my work artistically as I have been out and about, so I appreciate y’all.
Ashley: And how can people go and view City in Transition? I think we have a special code for the BroadFutures community as well?
Raymond: If you go to theateralliance.com, you can actually click through to the link and get tickets to see City in Transition. If you enter the code, “BROADFUTURES”, you’ll get a discount. Definitely check it out and let us know what you think!
Ashley: Yes, please, please check it out! Raymond, thank you for all of your wonderful work both in and outside of the BroadFutures community. We are excited to continue these conversations. Thank you!
Raymond: Of course, thank you!