Courtesy of Performing Bla(Q)!!

May 10, 2021

“Performing Bla(Q)!!” A Celebration of Black Media

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Kenzi James M.A. ‘17 and A.T. (Allen Porterie) ‘20, are the stars of a new kind of podcast, best explained by themselves in the opener of each episode:

Performing Bla(Q)!! is a celebration of the work that pushes the culture forward, and a conversation of the work that leaves us wanting more. This podcast will make you laugh, but most importantly, it’s going to make you think. – Performing Bla(Q)!! 

The name of their show comes from Kenzi and A.T.’s shared identity as queer black men, which colors the perspective they bring onto the show. Even though the Q is separated by parentheses in the title, Kenzi reaffirms that in their show, “queerness is just as important as blackness. There is no hierarchy.” 

Kenzi and A.T. met at Cornell while Kenzi was pursuing his Masters in the Performance and Media Arts and A.T. had just declared his minor in the same department. Although they were drawn to one another by a sense of shared identity, their friendship flourished due to their mutual interest in the performing arts, as A.T shared that “Kenzi and I always had conversations about… What we’re seeing, what we want to see, and what we want to see changed. [The podcast] has been a good outlet for us to have these conversations and share them with other people.”

Performing Bla(Q)!! is currently wrapping up its second season. The first season of the podcast was an inter-generational conversation about Black pop culture called Sippin’: Gen Z/Millennial Vibes. While gearing up for their second season, they decided to relaunch with a renewed focus on Black performance. 

While they sometimes touch on the harsh realities of the current political moment, the creators pride themselves on keeping their show a celebration of Black performing arts. A.T. explains, “We have to continue to find some way to pull up joy, uplift, and be there for one another, because nobody else is.” 

Kenzi attributes the success of their balance to the different ways they interpret current events, “Allen is very good about ‘let’s find the joy,’ where I’m like ‘listen, let’s keep it real, if it’s not happy, it’s not happy!” 

The podcast was born out of quarantine giving them space and time to pursue a project they had been hoping to develop for a while. As they are based in different states, they have had to learn through trial and error how to best record the podcast remotely, using a variety of tools, such as Skype, before discovering the podcasting app Zencastr. While the tools of the trade didn’t pose many problems, the tolls of the pandemic still reached the podcasters. Kenzi explained, “I’m starting to feel the weight of the political moment and internalizing a lot of the drama that’s been happening in the world. It becomes a challenge to be meticulous as we once were… and to muster up joy when you don’t feel joyful all the time.” 

In the current season, listeners can enjoy episodes on a variety of subjects discussing Black theater, television shows and movies. The most recent episode is centered around the third season of the National Geographic show Genius about Aretha Franklin. Even if a listener hasn’t seen Genius, they’d be able to enjoy the lighthearted discussion about Lil Nas X’s Montero, or more sobering reflections about the Derek Chauvin trial and the murder of Daunte Wright. The discussion about the Aretha Franklin biopic was nuanced and deep, critiques were constructive, and their descriptions of specific scenes are clear enough to allow a novice to understand their commentary. One notable discussion surrounded the importance of dialectal work in Black media, and the degree of success to which the actors in Genius pulled off the Black accent they put on. While Kenzi and A.T. didn’t agree on the severity of their critique or why exactly actors seem to default to the accent, the conversation brought to light an important aspect of Black film that isn’t discussed nearly enough.

Another notable feature of the podcast are the celebrity interviews. This season, they had the opportunity to interview Angela Birchett about her role of Jacky Clark Chisholm in The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel. They also got to talk to Domonique Thorne ‘19 about her role as Judy Harmon in Judas & the Black Messiah. A.T. and Kenzi are adept interviewers, and always spur interesting conversations that go beyond the bounds of the performance they are discussing. They discussed Birchett’s acting method and heard from Thorne about how she balanced completing her senior year at Cornell while working on Judas & the Black Messiah. 

For those Sun readers who may be thinking about pursuing their own creative projects, the pair had sage words of advice. Kenzi shared the most valuable advice he received: “Just do it, get the content out there, and figure out what works… You’re going to make mistakes, the production isn’t going to be pristine, but audiences are more interested in what you have to say than how it sounds.” 

The hosts of Performing Bla(Q)!! Are focused on growing the podcast into a larger project. Kenzi shared that they hope to turn Performing Bla(Q)!! into a show. Furthermore, Performing Bla(Q)!! will soon become an LLC, which they will expand into a production company that creates performances. Beyond Performing Bla(Q)!!, A.T. is co-founder and producer of Labelless Black Box, which produces short-form content as a “love letter to our community,” and Kenzi’s solo play “The Kids” is being submitted to theaters in the United States and abroad and will hopefully soon be a full-length production. 

Listeners have a lot to look forward to. The next two episodes coming in the next couple of weeks will include an homage to theater and the “Performing Bla(Q)!! Excellence in Film Awards,” where they’ll give out the “Cicely” in honor of the late Cicely Tyson. Listeners won’t have to wait long after these final two episodes for more content, as Season 3 will premiere sometime during the summer.

Christina Ochoa is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at co234@cornell.edu.