Recorded by Cheyann Neades and Fatima Calderon Ceron via Anchor
Edited by Cheyann Neades
Featuring Reality Hendrix
Photo by Isaak Berliner
Music: “Just Dance” by Patrick Patrikios via YouTube Audio Library
FATIMA CALDERON CERON, HOST: Hi, I’m Fatima.
CHEYANN NEADES, HOST: And I’m Cheyann. And welcome to Midwest Uprising.
CHEYANN: We chatted with Reality Hendrix. She is a singer, actress, and a wonderful human being, among other great things.
FATIMA: We talk about her journey, her college experience, and what’s next. We also get into finding communities, along with the harm in color-blind casting.
CHEYANN: We hope you enjoy our interview with Reality Hendrix.
CHEYANN: So tell us about who you are and what you do.
REALITY HENDRIX, GUEST: My name is Reality Hendrix. I am a senior at Drake University, I will be graduating in May with my Bachelor’s in Musical Theatre. I reign from the hot Dallas, Texas. I’ve been doing theater since I popped out of my mama’s womb. [LAUGHS] I have loved it. It’s literally everything about me. I don’t know what I would do if I could not do theater. And the fact that the world is closed and theater is closed right now is kind of making me quake a little because I spent my whole life working up to this moment and then it kind of got taken away. But I’m gonna navigate and figure it out. So, yeah, that’s me. [LAUGHS]
CHEYANN: How did you first get involved with performing? You said you’ve started from a very young age, but what was your first performance and why did you end up choosing to do musical theater?
REALITY: Oh, so my first performance, I guess I was four and we had a Black history program to do. And we—I was Madam C.J. Walker and I had to go on stage and my mom rehearsed my lines with me and I went on and I said, “My name is Madam C.J. Walker, and I invented the hot comb.”
REALITY: And my mom knew then that that was like my niche. And so then I started to go to acting classes at KT Studios and then she put me in a performing arts elementary. And then I started doing summer work and I was doing theater at this place called the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, which is in downtown Dallas. And I was booking and I was getting pretty good roles and I was like, “This is for me.” And then what really sealed the deal was one time…So my mom in her restroom—she would always sit in the restroom and then we would sit and she has this little stool by her bathtub. And I would always stand there and be like “This is my stage.” And I was sitting there singing some random song and I ended up telling her, I said, “Mama, when I’m on stage, I feel like I’m in heaven.” And so then she just made sure I stayed in theater.
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FATIMA: Since coming to the Midwest, can you think of any organizations or places that you regularly think of that you find support in as a person of color living in the Midwest? Because it’s a white state. Growing up here, it’s not as easy, you don’t see as many people that look like you–talking from my personal experience. But how have you navigated through that?
REALITY: Honestly, when I came here, what really helped is the Crew Scholars Program, which is a program here we have at Drake that we’re all in, but it’s a program for people of color. And they gave me a sense of family. I remember when I first—we have this friends and family weekend here at Drake—and we always have this cabaret and you’re supposed to—and everyone’s friends and their family comes and it’s like a really big thing. And I remember I’ve sat in like our third Thursday class. I said “I don’t have a family here so.” And also I wasn’t on good terms with my family during that time either. And I was like, “It would really mean a lot if y’all could come.” And literally I look out to the audience right before I sing and I just see this whole row of color and they’re all cheering me on. I just felt so loved and supported and oh my God. Also Pyramid Theater Company here, it’s the first Black theater company, I love, love, love, love, love the founder, Ken-Matt Martin. He’s like such a wonderful soul and he also attended Drake. And then I love my sorority. My sorority is the first Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. I found a piece—a sense of home here, too. And I think that’s like pretty much it. I guess I just found my home at Drake and not so much as like outward things.
FATIMA: Do you think this time has been very challenging for you, in a way that it’s challenged the way that you thought of life before when it came to your craft? So how do you think your perspective on your craft has changed since living in this pandemic?
REALITY: I think it really strengthened my belief that this is what I want to do. Because of the fact that it’s been kind of taken away from me or I’ve been getting teased with it, like being able to do it but not able to do it in a sort of sense of a way. It’s just made me know like [LAUGHS] “Girl, I don’t know what I would do without this?” [LAUGHS]
CHEYANN: What is your favorite thing about performing? Like have you—what’s the most rewarding or best experience you’ve had, especially in the last four years?
REALITY: Ooh, that’s a good one. Oh, I know. So I did a domestic study abroad program called the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Center. And it’s a 12-week program. And you stay mostly in Connecticut and you do two weeks in New York and it’s seven days a week [LAUGHS] from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. for 12-weeks straight.
REALITY: So it was very intense, to say the least. But we—there’s this man called Michael John LaChiusa, and he wrote this musical called Marie-Christine, and he wrote it specifically for Audra McDonald. And Audra McDonald is like my everything, she’s one of my idols. She’s one of the people I aspire to sing like.
CHEYANN: She is an icon, truly. [LAUGHS]
REALITY: Yes. Yes. So he came there to work with us on Marie-Christine and they casted me that week as one of her big songs. So I got to work with this man. And he literally told me that I had a great voice and that was the best thing anyone could have ever said to me.
REALITY: And I got to, oh my God. Just being able to do that and then also just being there, like that’s where, if you know Hamilton, Lin-Manuel went there and he also—
FATIMA: [GASP] That’s me gasping for air.
REALITY: He has a program for minorities, a scholarship program and every cohort, every semester that goes, he picks a few people. I wasn’t blessed enough to get it, but there have been other people that have been able to do it and they get to work with him and he flies them to Puerto Rico and perform there.
FATIMA: Oh wow.
REALITY: Yeah, and then ALSO also if you know August Wilson, Fences, he wrote that there. [LAUGHS] So just being able to be around all that theater and just so much like iconic things that came out of this place. They literally say it’s the launch pad to theater. It’s the launch pad to your career and it is.
FATIMA: Reflecting on your time at Drake or just even in the Midwest alone, do you think you had all the opportunities that you could have in such a small city like Des Moines?
REALITY: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so. When I think about some of the shows— like even if I wanted to work outside of Drake—when I think of some of the shows that they brought, they’re very white. To say the least. And I knew that, especially because they don’t know me, they would try to typecast me into something wrong when I’m so much more than a Black girl. I have a very wide range of talents and talent. So, I just wouldn’t—I just wouldn’t even audition. Because sometimes I’m just like, “What’s the point?” Also, though, I wasn’t booked in a lot of shows in school here. So that’s the thing, too. But I don’t know, I feel like…back at home there’s a lot more opportunities to do a lot more things. So I’m so used to having a wide array of things to be able to do. And so coming here—I feel like especially being Black there, like even though it’s the South, Dallas is very diverse—but being here, it’s not the same way.
CHEYANN: In what ways do you think institutions, especially ones that work with artists, could better support people of color in these communal entertaining spaces that they provide?
REALITY: Communicate, talk, ask questions, research. That’s really the big one. It’s the research for me, like let’s break it down. Let’s think about Drake University Theater Department. Let’s talk tea. My freshman year, I did this show called Runaways. The cast is supposed to be one third of white, one third of Latinx, and then one third of a Black cast. So there was what…there was four Black people in the cast, two Hispanic people, and then the rest was white. And so certain songs—Oh my God so—. One of the songs, it was supposed to be sung as a Puerto Rican prince, and they casted a Filipino man as it and never changed it until the week of our tech saying, “Oh, we should probably change that.” Yeah.
CHEYANN: Oh, gosh.
REALITY: Yeah, they’re kind of problematic. They just don’t, they don’t think stuff through. Like I really don’t—And they don’t think of the harmful effects that can come from it, like, why would you do that? [LAUGHS]
FATIMA: But there’s so many opportunities to do good—
FATIMA: —within the department, so.
REALITY: And my biggest thing is always, if you don’t have the demographics, you shouldn’t do it.
FATIMA: Oh, okay.
REALITY: That’s just what it is. That’s the nip in the bud.
FATIMA: What does the future look like for Reality. Whether that’s after graduation or just your dream. Your life dream, is it to continue in doing your craft in whatever scope that looks like?
REALITY: For me, I’ll be working on my nonprofit called Reality Kids, where I bring arts into low-income, impoverished communities and schools and teaching them theater and musical theater and how to act and stuff like that. I want to travel. I want to see the world with my puppy, my Ia. She’s my world. [LAUGHS]
CHEYANN & FATIMA: Awwwh.
REALITY: And I honestly just want to be happy. That’s truly what I crave right now, just happiness.
CHEYANN: So just wrapping it up here, what advice would you give to other people of color, specifically women of color, that are pursuing the performing arts? What advice would you give them?
REALITY: I would say that…always be yourself. Don’t try to change yourself to fit the need for a production, or a director, or things like that because your integrity is way more important than that. And always stick to your morals because you’re nothing without them. And you’re gonna always receive a thousand no’s before you receive that yes that you finally want. And that’s okay, that’s what show business is. And it’s—We’re going to face so much rejection. We’re also going to face so much rejection because we are people of color and even more so, we are women and they are looking for a certain body type. And sometimes it even comes down to, “Well, I only have a costume for a small, or a medium, or a large, and you don’t fit that.” Or “Oh, these girls already have—are six feet and you’re five nine.” It comes down to stuff that you can’t even control. So why beat yourself up about it? That just doesn’t make sense. And you go where you are appreciated. If they don’t appreciate you, you take your talents elsewhere. It doesn’t matter how good the pay is, you will never sell your soul out for anything short. So. Yeah, that’s it. [LAUGHS]
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CHEYANN: Thanks for listening to Midwest Uprising. Stay tuned for our next episode, where we speak to an illustrator from Minneapolis.
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