Joaquina Kalukango and Amanda Williams on Creative Freedom

A.W.: How does that impact your craft? Does it trip you up to have to be mindful of words in a way that maybe you hadn’t been before?

J.K.: We’re all more careful. Everyone’s fragile. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and so many issues have come up for so many people. We’re all giving each other a lot of care and grace in this new era that we’re trying to build, this new era of theater we’re trying to make. But it’s a bit of a struggle, I’ll be honest. When you do work that’s specifically about a very troublesome time — and if you look at the Jan. 6 riot [at the U.S. Capitol], it’s similar to the draft riots — you can’t sugarcoat it. You can’t run away from it. It’s always a balance of, how do you tell a story without traumatizing our community?

T: When did you first encounter each other’s work?

J.K.: I first saw Amanda’s work in her TED Talk.

A.W.: Oh my God. I had wondered, how did you find out about me? How do you know who I am?

J.K.: I had such a visceral reaction to “Color(ed) Theory.” All of it was so much a part of my life, my childhood. Plus, I just love colors. How did you get that concept? What inspired you?

A.W.: I grew up on Chicago’s South Side and crossed town every day to go to school. Chicago segregation, coupled with the city’s grid, is perfect for systemic oppression because it sets boundaries, and then we mentally reinforce them. I was hyperaware of color all the time, as in race, thinking, “That’s a Mexican neighborhood.” “Chinese people are there.” “White folks do this.” Things like that. And I’ve loved [chromatic] color since birth. Then I learned about color in an academic setting.

One summer, while [I was] teaching color theory, a friend joked, “They pay you money to teach people what? Red and blue is green?” I said, “No, color theory is a whole science.” She said, “You know colored theory.” We laughed and I left it alone. A week or two later, I thought, “I do know colored theory.” I spent another few years making sense of it. It seemed so juicy. I started to think, “What things make you think of the color first?” There’s a story I told in the TED Talk: I met a gentleman who grew up near the “Crown Royal Bag” house. He thought the purple house meant Prince was coming. Even after I told him about my art, he said, “You wait and see. Prince might show up and perform right here.” Suddenly, he had hope for that vacant lot, in a way that maybe he didn’t before. To me, that was success.

J.K.: It was brilliant.

A.W.: At first, I wasn’t as familiar with your work, but when I started to look into it, I was like, “How could I have missed all of this? These are the exact same things I’m thinking and talking about.” I’m excited about how we translate these thoughts across mediums — theater, performance, music, architecture, sculpture, writing.

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