A Few Minutes With . . .
OSIRIS KHEPERA (in the play Booty Candy)
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MULTITALENTED actor Osiris Khepera is center stage in the much talked-about Windy City Playhouse production of Booty Candy, written and directed by Robert O’Hara and runs through April 15. In the hilarious (but sometimes controversial) play where love, life, sex and race are at the forefront, Khepera and other cast members take on multiple roles in the Chicago premiere that’s been described as “smart, searing and sensationally funny.” In an interview, the Chicago native who studied theater under the direction of the iconic Kathryn Gately at Northern Illinois University talks about the power and significance of Booty Candy, why it’s timely and how he hopes the play affects theatergoers after viewing the impactful production.
What was it that attracted you to Booty Candy?
Khepera: The opportunity to work with [writer/director] Robert O’Hara. He’s someone I’ve always wanted to work with, and several of my very close friends have done his work previously. And to have the opportunity to be in a show like this one, I just couldn’t pass it up. When I heard about it, I called the casting director myself and asked for an audition, got a call back and the rest is, as they say, history.
Was working with Robert O’Hara everything you expected it to be?
Khepera: I had no idea what to expect, absolutely no idea what to expect. But when I got into the room with him, [I found] he is amazing and wonderful, very concise and he knows exactly what he wants.
How did you prepare for the multiple roles in the show, and was your preparation any different for this show?
Khepera: Yes, I did have to prepare differently. He [O’Hara] sent us an email that said “Learn your lines” like five different times and in all caps. Rehearsals started December 16 and my apartment had caught on fire so I was in the midst of trying to rebuild my life as I was trying to memorize this text. He helped me to shape a lot of the character choices. As it is said: “When your vision of what the character is and the choices that you make line up with the director’s vision, that’s usually when you get the job.” So in preparation, I listened a lot because I didn’t know exactly what he wanted. For the first few days, I was nervous and didn’t want to mess up his text.
Although there are many hilarious moments in Booty Candy, this play is going to make some people a bit uncomfortable and it will shock others. Why do you urge people to see this play?
Khepera: Because it’s unlike most pieces of theater currently circulating. I’ve read a lot of plays, seen a lot of plays and this piece of theater is necessary. I think at this time in our country a show like this that is shocking . . . this show is necessary right now. And I’m proud Windy City Playhouse had the courage to put this up.
Was there anything associated with the play that made you uncomfortable at any time?
Khepera: No. I’ve been a working artist for a long time now, doing my first show in 2003, but prior to that I came from the poetry circuit. I went to theater school. I, myself, was a life model in art classes while I was in college, so I’m pretty comfortable in most situations. There are very few places where I find myself being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to art. The art is the art. It’s the work, and the work is supposed to challenge; it’s supposed to make you think; it’s supposed to make you feel something.
Why do you describe yourself as “a Renaissance artist”?
Khepera: I don’t just act. I’m also a poet, a playwright [who recently received a Chicago Dramatists Tutterow Fellowship for playwriting]; I sing; I paint. I used to dance more than I do now, and I teach poetry and performance as well. I love crafting different things. That’s where the “self-described” parts come from. The Harlem Renaissance is probably––not probably––it is my favorite period of history, and I feel like that is happening now in Chicago. There are so many artisans who are so multidisciplinary, who are meeting each other on a regular basis and creating art together, having conversations and, of course, being activists for the rights of people worldwide, specifically people of color––fighting against Islamophobia, fighting for the rights of women, fighting for trans rights. This is where I live. I live in spaces where discussions on intersectionality happen on a regular basis. Because there are so many people who are artisans in this city, and who are fighting for these ideas and ideals, that renaissance is currently taking shape.
You mentioned teaching. Tell me about your work with the Louder than A Bomb Poetry Squad for YouMedia.
Khepera: I love those guys. They are brilliant. They make me a better writer. They make me a better performer because when you can get teenagers to reveal their scars and open them up again and again and again and be vulnerable on stage in front of a crowd of people who they do not know . . . My co-coach, Jennifer Steele, and I often say we don’t coach for Louder than a Bomb, we coach artisans, we coach artistry. We’re not seeking the approval of whatever random set of judges at that particular event or wherever else. We’re literally coaching to help these youths find their voices as artists. And as I tell them, even if they never, ever speak poetry again once they graduate high school, it doesn’t matter. Whatever career you go into, construction work or whatever, it doesn’t matter because everybody needs somebody who can speak publicly and who can write well. So we’re looking to help them maintain a space for their lives. I get to know these kids really, really well and they reveal a lot of innermost secrets and demons. We have conversations that encompass everything from family dynamics to the understanding of the spirituality of political happenings in the news and what the latest rapper is talking about. They teach me as much as I teach them, sincerely.
When people leave the theater after seeing Booty Candy, what do you hope they walk away with after that experience?
Khepera: I hope that they are having conversations because there are so many themes and ideas that come up in this show. I hope that as people are leaving they are having conversations about things that are expressed on stage. The show is controversial. As we say in the show, “The work is not easy to digest.” I’ve had several different conversations after the show with people who come up to me and say they haven’t finished processing what they saw and want to talk about it. Some are my very close friends who say they need to break it down. After seeing the production, I want people to feel something. I want people to have a reaction, and not just to the sexual content and other things in the show. I want people to talk about the overall meaning of the show. I want people to feel something––viscerally feel something.
Carin Silkaitis in I Do Today at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
The highly versatile cast of Booty Candy includes (left to right) Osiris Khepera, Krystel McNeil, Robert Fenton, Travis Turner and Debrah Neal.
In the role of a minister, who often refers to the "They heard folks," Khepera shows his comedic side, and (below) he (left) exhibits another persona when joined by Travis Turner.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow
Subscriptions range from $60-$135, with a special $45 rate for patrons under 30. Single tickets range from $15-$55—with discounts available for seniors and students—and are available by calling 773-891-8985 or visiting windycityplayhouse.com.