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FLINT, MI — With short and purple-colored hair, a yellow long-sleeved tee shirt, black pants, and radiant dark chocolate skin, Harvey, just Harvey, arrives. The 25-year-old creative artist and Flint native is bringing the sights and sounds of Broadway to the city. Since her time at Pierce Elementary School, she’s spent her life in pursuit of her dreams. But now the aspiring director is rethinking theatre and redefining the art of Black storytelling.
Flint Beat Arts & Culture Reporter, Xzavier V. Simon, sat down with Harvey in an one-on-one interview. Find out what she had to say about Flint, art and passion.
Who is Harvey?
Harvey: I am Harvey. I am 25 years old, and a Flint citizen. I am a performing artist of many mediums. I act, I sing, I dance. I also do poetry and have a podcast called All Black Errthaang. Um, Harvey also has five jobs, so I’m just like you. [laughs]
When did you find out that you had the passion for the arts?
Harvey: When I was at [Pierce] Elementary School, we [had] partnerships with the Flint Institute of Arts and the Flint Youth Theatre. In sixth grade, you could audition to be in the youth ensemble and I got it. I kept taking classes and stuff until I graduated college with a degree in it.
What school did you graduate from?
Harvey: The [University of Michigan – Flint] in 2016
Congratulations! So, what’s happened since then?
Harvey: I put on a show called Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald. It was on Broadway in 2008 and won many awards. I put it on at the Flint Local in December where it was sold out each night. That was really cool. I also do improv comedy in Detroit twice a month. I do cartoon cabarets and in July, I’m trying to put it together where I can do [the play] The Coloured Museum by George C Wolfe.
So you design and creatively come up with the themes to put on these different productions?
Harey: Yes. My goal artistically, is to do Black art different from the way it’s been done.
What do you mean by that?
Harvey: What’s going on specifically is, it’s like this is what theater is supposed to be. A stage, there’s curtains and it’s lights and tap dancing, and I don’t want that. When it comes to Black theater, it’s either we’re being oppressed or we’re trying to depend on some white person to get us un-oppressed. So this play Passing Strange, on Broadway, was an all black cast, which is what I stuck to. It’s a coming of age story and Black folk don’t get coming of age stories that aren’t centered in oppression. So my goal is to showcase that Black art isn’t this one thing.
And you do all of this here in Flint?
Harvey: I do. I’m really trying to produce art and the downtown Flint scene has been good to me. The people at the [Flint Local 432] have been good to me.
It seemed like back in 2014-2015 there was a lot of creative stuff happening downtown. After that, it felt dead. How were you able to maintain your creativity and find spaces to be able to put on the kinds of work that you do?
Harvey: I’ve been very fortunate to have some great parents who are like, yeah, girl, go be an actress. During those times I needed to get to New York to go to all these auditions. I was in New York like five times a year trying to get auditions together.
On the backs of your parents?
Harvey: No, no, no! On me! [laughs] My parents were like, go live your dreams on your own dime, but we won’t charge you to live in our house. I’m really happy I had that experience because I could go out and see how New York is this cultural mecca. There’s way more stuff. There’s so much going on. I always tell people, there’s always something going on in Flint, you’re just not looking. But [New York]…
It’s taken up several notches?
Harvey: Yes! There’s like all these different cultures and all these different stories. In Flint, I feel like people get bogged down. Like Flint is this one thing. I’ve taken the things I’ve learned and experienced from going to New York. Going to see shows there and see art, and I’m trying to bring those influences back into how I put on shows in Flint.
So how important is representation for you and in your creative artistry?
Harvey: The thing that leads me in creativity is: what’s the Blackpopulation doing in this project?
So you’re African centered first?
Harvey: Yes. That’s why the shows that I want to put on are very diaspora driven. The lens I create through is blackness and representing Black and Brown people.
Yes, even this shirt you have on is very expressive of Black pride!
Harvey: I think that lately in my life…I don’t know. It’s like the switch has turned on. I am actively fighting to be just be treated as a regular person, right? But in this lovely American society that we live in, it’s built to keep us down.
It seems like your journey and your art is going against the norm, especially in a Flint context. How has that challenged you and at the same time given you motivation?
Harvey: It’s definitely been challenging. I am definitely the blue Skittle in this sea of red Skittles and I don’t like it because it’s like all eyes are on me. At the same time, it’s like, well, if all eyes are on me, I got to do something amazing with the attention.
I understand that feeling!
Harvey: But it’s like this is how it’s always been. This is how it’s gonna be. This is the status quo. But there’s a layer underneath that’s like, this is who I want to be and this is who I feel like being.
An undercurrent or peeling off the mask.
Harvey: There’s so many people I know in Flint who are on the side writing some really great poetry or singing. We’re not allowed to have those types of passions or dreams because it’s not realistic and it won’t make money. I’m like, well let me bring that to the forefront. Let me bring that underlayer to the forefront and worry about making money later.
Where do you feel like you are in the grand scheme of things in your journey, both personally and creatively?
Harvey: I feel like I’m climbing. I had to stop waiting for people to give me a chance. I had to stop cause I would go to New York all the time and I would hear nothing back from anybody. I’d always be like, ‘well I’m just waiting for somebody to call me so I can get my break.’ Well, Issa Rae never waited for anybody.
But hasn’t that been the story of Black people in American for so long? The story of creating a way out of no way?
Harvey: It’s the Livin’ Single of it all.
And this seems to be reflected in your podcast and the cartoon cabaret.
Harvey: Yeah. I just started [the podcast] January 1st. It’s called All Black Errthaang. I call it a mini podcast because each episode is about 10 to 15 minutes long. It comes out three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s meant to be like, what you listen to on your drive to work or on your lunch break or something like that.
That’s a helluva name!
Harvey: I named the show All Black Errthaang because I want to focus my art on Black stuff and different areas of Blackness. Black isn’t one thing. As long as a Black person is doing a thing it automatically becomes a Black person thing. Therefore, “errthaang” I talk about on my show is Black.
So, what do you do on the show?
Harvey: Each [day] has a theme. Mondays are called Niggas doin’ Nigga stuff. That can be about anything that has anything to do with like [Black] people. Wednesdays are called, Black Nerd Content. I talk about cartoons and anime and Star Wars. Fridays…I don’t know what it’s called but we’re just trying to get through life and survive in this African diaspora. That’s more lifestyle stuff.
How does this play into this new adventure that you’re promoting with the cartoon cabaret?
Harvey: I have always loved cartoons, and the music from cartoons because it’s like these are full songs. Somebody wrote these songs, went to the booth, spit the fire, and now it’s on SpongeBob.
Harvey: Like people put work behind it, and I was like, I always wanted to go to a concert and sing my favorite songs from cartoons. I remember thinking that for years and years. I’m like why didn’t anybody do this? Then when I was directing my play, I was like, oh, I can do that. The man who actually wrote that play Passing Strange came to Flint for a workshop. He said something like: ‘you just gotta set the date and do it.’ So I set the date and I booked the venue.
When’s the date and time?
Harvey: Harvey’s Cartoon Cabaret is February 28th [at Flint Local]. Doors open at 7 P.M. and the show starts at 7:30. Tickets are $5 and available on Eventbrite or through the link to the Facebook page. You can also get tickets at the door.
You have goals and aspirations, I’m assuming not just putting stuff on it, the low group of different parts of the city?
Harvey: I want to take the Cartoon Cabaret to like comic conventions. What I want to do is go to the Motor City Comic-Con. It was too late for me to submit, but I’d like to perform. [In the meantime] I’m definitely going to take my hat, my microphone, my little boombox, and I’m going to be standing somewhere nearby and sing my songs and have a little sign. [laughs]
[laughs] So last but not least, what are some things you’ve learned throughout this whole process? Like what have you learned about yourself through the struggles and the triumphs?
Harvey: That I can do anything. I just need to know what the steps are and then I’m good. We see like this huge thing in front of us and we don’t see that it’s just a bunch of tiny steps rather than you gotta jump all the way up there. Through all of it, I can do anything.