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READ: Alumni Spotlight with Nia Akilah Robinson

In October 2020, Waterwell produced a workshop of Nia Akilah Robinson’s dynamite play ‘WP’ Means ‘White People.’
This workshop was particularly special for us because Nia is an alum of the Waterwell Drama Program! Like so many WDP alumni, Nia is using her talents and training to make a difference in the world and her community. We loved getting to support the development of her work as a playwright, and we wanted to share more about Nia, her play, and her experiences with the Waterwell Drama Program. 

Without further ado, please enjoy this Alumni Spotlight with Nia!

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What has your connection with the Waterwell community been like post graduation?
Lee Sunday Evans and Arian Moayed have the same emails that they did when I was in high school! With that said, anytime, and I mean ANY time I emailed them, I would hear back the same day. If I’ve ever had a question about the industry or about life for an artist post graduation, they have both taken time to meet with me; either in person or over Zoom. They’ve always made me feel that Waterwell will always be a second home for their alumni. And that has proven true, and I am incredibly grateful for that!
What sticks out to you from your time as a student in the Waterwell Drama Program?
One of my fondest memories at Waterwell was preparation for college auditions. I remember the idea of college auditioning was terrifying for me. I remember the doubt I felt. Not doubt because I felt like I wasn’t prepared enough or good enough, but the fear of the moment before; the moment your name is to lead you into a room full of strangers, and unapologetically step into the life of a character. I remember asking Mr. Moayed for the magical key to auditioning confidently. Or how to cope with the notorious waiting room, where nervous actors sit in silence, looking at one another. I remember the hours Mr. Moayed spent with myself and other students that wanted to go to college for acting. He reminded me to never ignore my nervousness, but to acknowledge it. To not ignore my surroundings, but to give myself the grace to sit in whatever feelings I may have. And that the given circumstance and objective needs to be so deeply rooted in me that I can dive into my monologue, then leave the room and exit the building…proud of my work but with all fears and anxiety remaining there too.
Tell us more about your play, ‘WP’ Means ‘White People.’

When do we choose to traumatize our black and brown children with the reality of their history, and the risks of their future? WP Means White People is about an interracial friendship, told from the perspective of Mya, a black Millennial from Suburban America. We are taken along the journey of a 15-year friendship, between Mya and Maddie, a white woman. Along the span ofalmost two decades, Mya discovers that anti-Blackness is taught, and the consequences of racial differences end up consuming their friendship. It’s not a tragedy… just an unhealthy love story, between two people who don’t understand privilege, race relations, or what their futures in America should look like.

The Zoom Workshop of WP Means White People, by Nia Akilah Robinson. (Clockwise from top) Stage Manager Joanne Pan, Robinson, Director Jasmine Carmichael, Adam J. Frank, Lee Sunday Evans, Renee Anna Byrne, and Chelsea Lee Williams.

 

What are your greatest hopes for your work in the future?    
I want to be careful in what I ask for, especially for the public to see! But what I feel comfortable sharing is…
1.   I want to see my work performed in multiple staged productions. I dream of that day.
2.   I hope for the art I put out to be geographically and financially accessible to the community I was raised within.
3.   And I hope my writing brings black folk joy.
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Nia Akilah Robinson is a playwright and actor who received her BFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Nia is currently in a developmental workshop of her play, “WP” Means “White People” with Waterwell. Recently, Nia is one of two playwrights awarded the 2020 Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commission under Urbanite Theatre Company. She was one of four playwrights chosen for Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Playwright’s Playground for 2020. Nia was chosen as a 2020 Participant for PEN AMERICA, World Voices Festival, other participants included Lynn Nottage, Margaret Atwood, Jeremy O’ Harris, and Zadie Smith (and many more). She is a facilitator at the Broadway Advocacy Coalition (BAC) which builds the capacity of directly impacted advocates, students, artists, and organizations focused on social change work. With BAC she is co-building an Artivism fellowship for black womxm to help uplift our voices! Nia co-created and is facilitating a ten-week monologue writing workshop for Exodus Transitional Community, where she is teaching formally incarcerated black womxn & womxn impacted by foster care system. She is a founding member of TheBlackHERthePen (a Multidisciplinary Collective for Black Womxm), and with this group, Nia participated in a short play reading series at the Drama League. Her acting credits include, The Lark, Waterwell, Classical Theatre of Harlem, The Fire This Time Festival, Crossroads Theatre Company, Negro Ensemble Company, Shakespeare in the Woods, Stonewall Foundation, and AGM Theatre Company. And she is writing for the December 2020 Issue of The Flashpaper!