Back To Top

[Rewind] Performance Art, With Danielle Deadwyler

[Rewind] Performance Art, With Danielle Deadwyler

We’re rewinding back to May 2018 to revisit our episode with Danielle Deadwyler, who has since been up to quite a lot, including landing a recurring role in HBO’s Watchmen and writing, directing, and producing her own experimental short film, CHOR(E)S. Danielle is a multimedia artist who uses her body as her primary medium, including through on-screen and on-stage acting, dance, and performance art. In her conversation with Michelle, Danielle discusses her method, process, and motivations. Danielle and Michelle discuss how the goal of Danielle’s art—whether it be in a traditional acting role, an abstract performance, or life itself—is to explore the chaos of life and how we can flow freely within it.

Read the episode transcript below.

Michelle Khouri  0:02  
Hello, my babies! This is a bit different, don’t you think? It is because we are taking a little, much needed Cultured break during this holiday season. But don’t you fear! We are coming back with all new episodes and all new conversations with fascinating artists in January 2021. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to have some Cultured love. There are a lot of amazing conversations that we get to revisit, which is why this episode and the next three episodes, we’re going to be releasing some of our very favorite conversations with some of our very favorite artists. And we’re starting with Danielle Deadwyler. Oh my goodness. This episode was like two years ago at this point, and ever since, Danielle continues to prove herself as one of the hardest working and most multifaceted and versatile artists that I know. In our conversation, we talk about her as a performance artist. And we have a fascinating conversation about what it’s like to be a black woman but also black motherhood, and what that feels like for Danielle. But also since our conversation, Danielle has been up to quite a lot. And most notably and what I’m super blown away by she had a recurring featured role in Watchmen, HBO’s Watchmen. One of the best TV shows I have literally ever seen in my life. And all of a sudden I’m watching and there’s Danielle Deadwyler, as June. It was incredible. Her performance is fantastic. And also, since we spoke, Danielle directed, wrote the screenplay, and produced her very own experimental short film called “CHOR(E)S”. And in fact, it was a 2020 official selection at the Atlanta Film Festival. So snaps for Danielle who is doing her thing. Okay, and that is just a couple of the many things she’s done. So I encourage you to visit her and check out her work online. But for now, it is time to revisit our conversation with Danielle.

Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.

Hello, my beloved babies! I hope you are having an inspired and cultured week. Welcome back for another episode. As always, I am just the happiest girl in the world to have you listening to this show and joining us from around the world. Today we are talking to Danielle Deadwyler. She’s an Atlanta based actor and performance artist and she is absolutely incredible. We dig into topics surrounding her method, her process, and her unique ability to lose herself entirely in becoming other characters and embodying different situations and people is really something inspiring to listen to her and I think you’re gonna find her to be a riot. Think about somebody who has way more energy than I do. And you’re coming close to getting to know Danielle. But first and resulting from a conversation with Danielle, we talked about what was inspiring her and I’m just in love with it. So I’m adopting Danielle’s inspiration this week, it is chaos. And as Danielle put it, she’s inspired by chaos, because it’s this completely intangible concept that we’ve built into the world around us. And this idea that chaos exists, is actually just imagination. So we talked about how in quantum physics, the very foundation of everything is chaos. And so is it really chaos as we’ve come to define it? If that’s what the foundation of everything is? Oh, did that make you think for a second? I hope it did. What’s really cool about this is that it gels really well with our conversation with Danielle, as you’ll hear in a second, we talk about chaos, but we also talk about this, this flow, this ability to allow yourself to flow with everything that comes your way in life and to almost be an observer, a detached observer toward everything that happens in your life. And that gives you this unique ability to just flow to change your perspective on the flip of a dime. And that way you’re not shackled down by preconceptions or built up notions that maybe were established in your childhood which happens to all of us. I would love to hear what you think about the concept of chaos. If you’ve maybe played with the idea of chaos versus control, maybe you’ve actually struggled with the ideas of chaos versus control. You know, I can be kind of a control freak in very specific ways. But the idea of control is also an illusion, perhaps as much as chaos is, hmm. All right, y’all. Without further ado, let’s Chitty Chitty Chat Chat with Danielle Deadwyler.

Welcome, Danielle!

Danielle Deadwyler  5:40  
Michelle, I’m so elated to be here.

Michelle Khouri  5:44  
I’m pretty excited to have you on the show. You are what I would consider a freaking crazy, amazing talent weirdo from another planet-

Danielle Deadwyler  5:55  

Michelle Khouri  5:56  
– to put it very simply.

Danielle Deadwyler  5:59  
That’s, that’s, that’s pretty austere. Yeah. It’s very austere. 

Michelle Khouri  6:05  
So why don’t you describe what you do?

Danielle Deadwyler  6:08  
It’s – everything is a performance. It’s an exploration of emotion, of feeling through the body. So that’s dance or through the body and, and voice so that’s acting through more abstract notions. So that’s more performance art and melding all kinds of stuff. So I, in a nutshell, I’m a multimedia artist.

Michelle Khouri  6:28  
Multimedia, including the body as a media. 

Danielle Deadwyler  6:32  
Yes, for sure. 

Michelle Khouri  6:35  
Mhmm. There is so much to go into here. So you started out as a dancer. So bring us through the journey because you’re just there’s so much to dig into and you’re hyper creative and you tend to create in whatever ways summons you forward. 

Danielle Deadwyler  6:50  
Good Lord, I get called. You want to go back. Okay, so let’s start. We did Marlene Rounds. I know my sister probably did something before I did. But Marlene Rounds is where I first started dancing. And that’s a dance studio. That was a dance studio when I was four years old. And she said, this is what my mom would say, she saw me watching TV, dancing to probably Soul Train or something like that. And you’re like a little girl, doing her thing, “Oh my goodness, that’s- we should fuel that.” That’s just a natural thing you’re interested in. So that’s what she did. She put me in dance class, Marlene Rounds, Total Dance Theater. And, and that just allowed me to explore things through my body. And that was a natural segue into theater. Theater was a, um, theater is the body too, but it’s also the mind and the voice and oh, and dance has that component, as well. That’s why they’re so beautifully connected. But dance is just like an immediate communication. Because the body instantly says however it’s feeling. It doesn’t get boggled by miscommunication of language. If you allow it, if you allow it to, right? That’s a practice. So, so, so from dance to theater, I did theater all in middle and high school, largely in, um, at Grady High School. And played with Atlanta street theater as a middle school kid. And, just those were the spaces to constantly hone those two crafts, largely dance and theater. And then, you know, you go to college and you get weird. You start learning about all the weird stuff. 

Michelle Khouri  8:24  
Like what?

Danielle Deadwyler  8:25  
Oh, man. Well, feminism isn’t weird, but it’s definitely not what you grow up with. At least in my environment, in my neighborhood and community. You know, your certain gender roles are as they are, certain racial dynamics are as they are, and you bring in all the other intersectional elements of, of exploring those kinds of things. So then you start breaking down walls, chipping those things down. How can you be more abstract? How can you just play with, you know, focusing on one aspect of exploring dance, focusing on one aspect of theater, miming, clowning, just whatever is left? Let’s go.

Michelle Khouri  9:02  

Danielle Deadwyler  9:02  
That’s exactly what it was. 

Michelle Khouri  9:03  
And it’s interesting, you mentioned breaking down those structures. It’s like we’re born into this world that actually builds all these layers of bullshit, frankly, on top of us. And when we’re artists or performers, the creative process begins with the dismantling of that first, like, 18 years of information. 

Danielle Deadwyler  9:22  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. 

Michelle Khouri  9:23  
It’s transformative.

Danielle Deadwyler  9:24  
It’s transformative. So that’s the funny part. When I got to college, I was like, I’m gonna take a break from all this. So from all this stuff, not wholly, I did a little bit of theater plays here and there while I was at Spelman. A little bit of plays while I was in grad school in New York. But you go “Oh, man, why did I do that?” once you start teaching. Because I taught elementary school for two years. And I, that was, that was the definitive zone where I was like, “The art world! That’s, that’s where you’re trying to be.” That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s just a place where you’re trying to be. And we were, we were, you know, poopity-scooping about Kanye. But I used to listen to Kanye, like the second year, every morning, I would listen to “I Wonder,” and I was just crying at the same time. “I have other aspirations. What am I gonna do? And, and all of that was like a kind of psycho magic conjuring me to, to go in the direction that I really wanted to go in-

Michelle Khouri  10:23  
– to get back on track –

Danielle Deadwyler  10:24  
– to get back on track. Yeah.

Michelle Khouri  10:26  
But the diversion must have served you in some way. 

Danielle Deadwyler  10:28  
You, you learn a different community. I mean, it wasn’t that I wasn’t a part of education, but I know that this bounded space was not where I wanted to be, you know, I come from dance first. So I need to be free. I need to be able to move and I need to stretch and all of a sudden do a cartwheel. Not outside, on the inside of a building. Because that feels good. Right?

Michelle Khouri  10:54  
So you got back into acting. What was that transition like from having that full time now to going back to your art form?

Danielle Deadwyler  11:02  
I’d auditioned for a play. Jasmine Guy was directing. It was her first time directing a play, “For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Wasn’t Enough”- “Isn’t Enough”. It’s jarring, because you, you, it’s like getting back into the groove of something. You’ve done it here and there, but you haven’t done it consistently. And so when I got it, you know, I just went in like, I have nothing to lose.

Michelle Khouri  11:24  

Danielle Deadwyler  11:24  
I haven’t, I have nothing at all to lose. So you might as well lose yourself right in the process, and in the moment, and in the audition, and I got it and I was like, “Oh, here we go.” And we did the run. And I was like, “This is something that I cannot stop doing.” I said I want to do it again. So, I continued to do, you know, other pieces, maybe smaller. But in the, in conjunction with that I had like, an art administration position. That was part-time. In your balancing, you’re doing the juggle, and it just, from there, flowed into film and TV. And I got a commercial. It was like when Monique had her talk show. So I did that commercial. 

Michelle Khouri  12:02  
What was it like? 

Danielle Deadwyler  12:03  
Oh, it was hilarious, because I moved to Vancouver. And then I became impregnated.

Michelle Khouri  12:11  
Vancouver will get you every time.

Danielle Deadwyler  12:14  
Man, don’t do it. It’s the mountains and the hot springs. They keep me warm. And that’s when I came back and I did “For Colored Girls” whilst I was pregnant. And then Nevon took my headshot into the, um, into her agent. And I booked that commercial. And I was legit five months pregnant running down the street. Oh my god, like topspeed cuz it was like, we would have to like, chase, were chasing this ice cream truck that had, that had her on it. 

Michelle Khouri  12:32  
Oh, that’s so funny.

Danielle Deadwyler  12:41  
Yeah, people didn’t even know I was pregnant. They were like, “Oh my god!” You know, you just wear an Empire dress-

Michelle Khouri  12:48  
– and you have a very small frame, so I’m sure like, never got to be too enormous, anyway.

Danielle Deadwyler  12:53  
Other than when it was enormous.

Michelle Khouri  12:54  
Other than when he was ready to come out!

Danielle Deadwyler  12:58  
He’s such a lovely surprise.

Michelle Khouri  13:00  
Aw, little bunny. 

Danielle Deadwyler  13:01  
Yes, he is. But yeah, it just flowed from there. Vancouver was definitely a happening place after definitely getting that agent, and then I got another agent in Vancouver and just learned so much while I was there and was really focusing on doing voiceovers, voiceover auditions for, because they do a lot of commercial and cartoon work in, in Vancouver. And I just learned that, the process of auditioning. Learned how to really dig into film and TV at that time. And then I came back and it was just like full speed ahead. Did theater. Did film. Did TV. And then you go, “Okay, this is cool. Working for others. Okay, what can you do?”

Michelle Khouri  13:45  

Danielle Deadwyler  13:47  
How do you say she ate the things that are bubbling in you? That are intriguing to you? That these other spaces may not be digging into? Because I’m interested in a bit more raw issues.

Michelle Khouri  14:00  
Like what?

Danielle Deadwyler  14:01  
Motherhood, the truths of sexuality, the exploration thereof, taking away this shell of respectability. What does it mean to be both of those things? Or what does it mean to be one of those things, nix that and move to the other thing? Those things are important to me, getting to, you know, the, the raw quality of a, of a topic or a person.

Michelle Khouri  14:22  
I think that’s why your work is so powerful, is because it speaks to this ethereal nature of humanity. If you allow yourself, you’re in a constant state of flux, and you are in, and you’re meant to be, in my opinion, in a constant state of evolution, and sort of shedding ego identities and replacing it with others and then shedding those and then if we’re lucky, shedding them all and just being this like, you know, unboxed creature.

Danielle Deadwyler  14:49  
You’ve been meditating? because that’s some meditative knowledge.

Michelle Khouri  14:54  

Danielle Deadwyler  14:57  
Diminish the ego is like less- like in the past, the chaos, the chaos is beautiful. 

Michelle Khouri  15:02  

Danielle Deadwyler  15:03  
And it’s, that’s a part of the flow.

Michelle Khouri  15:05  
Well, and the Cultured crew knows, I’ve been reading this book about quantum physics since 1952. I’ve been reading this book. But I talk about how, in the basic levels, like in quantum mechanics, if you go down, which we don’t have the technology, so it’s all theoretical. It’s like, it’s called the quantum entanglement. It’s called like, this quantum mist or something like that. Because it’s absolute chaos. When you go down to the deep, deep, deep, tiniest levels of our universe, and what everything is made out of, it’s absolute, what we would call, chaos. 

Danielle Deadwyler  15:38  

Michelle Khouri  15:38  
But it’s such controlled, elegant synchronized chaos-

Danielle Deadwyler  15:43  
Come on, great.

Michelle Khouri  15:44  
– that it comes together –

Danielle Deadwyler  15:45  
Right. Yeah. 

Michelle Khouri  15:45  
– and creates this controlled universe that we perceive.

Danielle Deadwyler  15:50  

Michelle Khouri  15:50  
What a dream.

Danielle Deadwyler  15:51  
I believe in bringing those things together. So let’s think I mean, America is chaotic. I believe that bringing multiple mediums together is a form of exploring that chaos. I believe, in talking about how I’ve been impacted by motherhood, how I’ve perceived other women who have been impacted by motherhood, particularly looking at Black womanhood. There’s a late level of chaos. Women, Black women, women of color, do this thing where they, they burden themselves, and then they make that shit look effortless.

Michelle Khouri  16:23  

Danielle Deadwyler  16:24  
Who does that? 

Michelle Khouri  16:25  

Danielle Deadwyler  16:25  
Right? People of color in general, you’re dealing with these massively ridiculous notions of societal, you know, behavior, you’re dealing with this violence, you’re dealing with this psychological, mental, emotional, just is straight up- it’s mania out here. And then, you have the audacity to be talented or you have the audacity to have grace and cool, you have the audacity to just be, you know, dynamic, brilliant, godlike.

Michelle Khouri  16:56  
Or, or even to show your humanity and sometimes not be godlike.

Danielle Deadwyler  17:01  

Michelle Khouri  17:01  
Sometimes just feel the pain or sit or fumble, which is part of the human experience.

Danielle Deadwyler  17:08  
How dare you? And how dare you not? So that’s what I’m interested in.

Michelle Khouri  17:12  

Danielle Deadwyler  17:12  
So that’s how I navigate.

Michelle Khouri  17:13  
There’s so much to explore there. There’s so much and it’s just like you said, especially in this country, which is very different from a lot of the ways other countries function, especially in Europe. And there are some similarities in Latin culture, like with womanhood in Latin culture, but frankly, at least we give ourselves permission to be batshit crazy. Because that’s what all of us have within us, is this like, ability to express to feel to process to interpret.

Danielle Deadwyler  17:46  

Michelle Khouri  17:46  
So you’ve come quite a long way now. And you were actually just recently featured on the show “Atlanta.”

Danielle Deadwyler  17:53  

Michelle Khouri  17:54  
And that was such a different vibration for you to explore. So tell us about what it was like to go to, to be on the set specifically of that TV show.

Danielle Deadwyler  18:06  
Oh, man, it’s totally fun.

Michelle Khouri  18:08  
And what your character was.

Danielle Deadwyler  18:09  
Oh, I played Tammy. Tammy was on episode seven. And Tammy was- of season two. And she was a part of the girls. You know, going to the Champagne Papi party. That’s what Tammy was about. She was about a good time. And they always have a good time. But it didn’t necessarily manifest. Tammy was able to be shown in a different light because of the way she broke down what it means to be a black woman and what it means to, to deal in socio-economic dynamics of dating or you know, in interracial dating and what does that mean for her? I mean, there was some, there’s something true about what she says and there’s something not true and she’s- is she really angry? Is she not? She was high, ya’ll. Like people want to be like, “She’s an angry black woman!” She was high and it’s not… Does she really care?

Michelle Khouri  18:55  
For those who haven’t seen it, will you describe what you’re talking about?

Danielle Deadwyler  18:58  
Oh, well, Tammy went off on a Caucasian woman who was dating Devion Johnson, who, I think Devion was surely on season one in a small capacity, but he returned here. And Devion is like this famous actor and Tammy happens to be enamored with him. And in her chase to find him all night, she happens upon him whilst he’s sitting with his white girlfriend of many years. And Tammy is hating Kiran play.

Michelle Khouri  19:31  
Can you give us a taste of some of the lines that you had? Like, can you perform a little bit of that? To put you on the spot.

Danielle Deadwyler  19:38  
The only thing I could surely give you is: “Bitch, I love him too!” That’s, that’s as clear as I can get.

Michelle Khouri  19:45  
So I’m curious about your method as an actor to get into characters that are a little bit more complex or far fetched for you. So will you describe an experience with a character where you really had to do some work on the back end? Feel comfortable with her?

Danielle Deadwyler  20:00  
It starts with the body. It really, really does. I’m heavy at first. I do as much research as I possibly can. You inundate yourself with the history, you inundate yourself with the text, any little clues that are present in, in the script that can signal you to who this person is, what do they do every day? You know, those kinds of things are really, really important. Simple, simple details. It’s just never-ending. Research is never-ending. Digging into who this person is, every single day, the script is mine, every single day digging into what, what these scenes are. What, what is the relationship? And trying to surprise myself every night.

Michelle Khouri  20:42  
You talk about the physical aspect of it. So how do you use your body to start making you feel at home with the character? 

Danielle Deadwyler  20:49  
Okay, so, so we do something called blocking. When you first start doing a play, and that’s where I’m trying to find how that person sits in the body. How do they walk? I don’t say this to myself, but it’s just a natural thing to discover. What is the tempo? What is their, their bodies- how does their body step? How do they feel in their shoes? It’s something about the core that shifts. You know, because I did a play called “C.A. Lyons Project”. And chaos was hunched. I didn’t even know when it started. But it just, it’s just you, it’s hard to say what the process is because something just innately takes over. Jodorwosky is very, Alejandro Jodorowsky that is, he is very integral in my understanding of the poeticism of, of the body and the way you, you kind of create art. And so some things just, they’re inexplicable. And I allow that kind of stuff to happen.

Michelle Khouri  21:46  
I think that’s your brand, too, because I think you allow yourself to lose yourself. You’ve said that a couple times in this interview, we’ve talked about it separately, to allow yourself to lose yourself in a character brings those things out innately. I think for some actors, they have to be very intentional about eliciting those things. And you know, whether it’s good or bad, I just think one of your strongest points and what makes you such a standout talent is the fact that it is an innate process for you. We talked a little bit about your acting bug and your talent, your method. But let’s explore performance art.

Danielle Deadwyler  22:24  
Yeah, so this is where I didn’t get to when in talking about the train back to art.

Michelle Khouri  22:30  
Tell me.

Danielle Deadwyler  22:31  
So I had, I had some, like, just super emotional, psychological shifts, personal evolution around 2012, 2013. That’s when it’s like, “Okay, you’re doing work for others but what does it mean for you?” So it was this, it was this, was a very spiritual coming forth into, into performance art. I was haunted by it, essentially. Y’all can call me crazy, whatever. You just got to go with the flow sometimes. And I had to manifest these stories, these images, these visions that were coming. And so that’s when “Dispossess” happened.  “Dispossess”, was in 2013, Spellman’s Museum, in the Black Box Series. And that’s when it was like, “I don’t got to do monologues.” Um, but I don’t, it’s not just dance. “How do I find this form that is definitive of where I’m trying to go?” So, that’s when I started playing with performance art. “Disposses: The Live Mixtape” was, for me, a party, kind of a party in my head exploring a triptych of women, with a live DJ. And it, it, that was the push to start doing these other things to get into the worlds that I’m interested in to get into. Just non-traditional, non-conservative forms of, of expression.

Michelle Khouri  24:00  
So “Dispossessed”was your first performance art piece. So, what did it feel like to have that first piece come out and sort of be birthed?

Danielle Deadwyler  24:10  
It felt like a birth. It felt like some, like psycho magic happening, you know, you have to do things that your, your psyche is calling forth from you, your subconscious wants you to do. So it wanted me to explore these challenges that I was having, or these, from memories of what does it mean to be a young girl to explore, explore girlhood in sexuality? It wanted me to explore my perception of my grandmother on my, on my father’s side. What, because I didn’t have the most in depth relationship with her but she’s such an iconic like, memory for me of a certain kind of woman. She, she, she had them knives, you know, so people be like, she was that kind of woman. 

Michelle Khouri  24:53  

Danielle Deadwyler  24:54  
And people will compare me to her and I’d be like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. “I’m just really sweet!”

Michelle Khouri  24:59  
Right, so like, she’s sheer power. 

Danielle Deadwyler  25:01  
Yeah. And she was little, she was a thin, small woman. Like who? Who? Who does that?Who, how do you? How do you come about? Okay, so from some kind of weird liminal space, I created a notion of where my grandmother come from. Not fully autobiographical or biographical, rather, but my exploration of her and how that, how does that pass on to, to me in some kind of way? And then I was like this, um, this rapper, you know, I mean, I play sometimes. Sometimes I be rapping, you know. And so, I fused all those things, some with text, some with lyricism, some without text. And I said, let me, let me present this, and it felt like an ultra birth. It did, it felt like the ultimate birth, because it’s a new identity for yourself coming into play. 

Michelle Khouri  25:50  

Danielle Deadwyler  25:51  
Oh, take claim. Take your stake in the things that are important to you in your ability to create. I still love to create with others. So that’s a different kind of juggle. But to do stuff on your own, you have a different appreciation for people who do stuff on, on the higher level, and everybody else’s role. You have a respect for directors, a different respect for the marketer, a different respect for everybody who’s helping to create in, in, in a space where I’m just talent. So when I’m not just talent, yeah, that’s, I mean, it’s just helping me to create a different love for the whole thing. And that’s what makes me respect everybody in the sphere of, of creating a project,

Michelle Khouri  26:34  
So “Dispossessed” was you alone?

Danielle Deadwyler  26:36  
Not alone. I had, then, you learn, “Oh, you got to collaborate.” You got to talk to people about what you want. Yeah. Oh, you got to write it down. Yeah, it wasn’t me alone. Nothing I do is, is, is, is solo. Everything is collaborative. Even when you think it’s solo, it’s collaborative.

Michelle Khouri  26:52  
Hmm, it’s so true. And it’s so much more powerful to do. 

Danielle Deadwyler  26:56  

Michelle Khouri  26:56  
When we combine forces as humans, we can create incredible things.

Danielle Deadwyler  27:01  
Man, you just went Captain Planet on me.

Michelle Khouri  27:04  
What did that change inside of you after you performed that?

Danielle Deadwyler  27:07  
Oh, I was ballsy. I was definitely a lot more ballsy. Let’s go and try to do the weirdest shit you possibly could think of. And, you ain’t going far enough? Try some more. You know.

Michelle Khouri  27:20  
That’s powerful.

Danielle Deadwyler  27:20  
It was like, do it on a smaller scale. That was a big endeavor. Okay, let’s do just a little something here.

Michelle Khouri  27:27  
Well, and now you’re at a place where you’re putting together a new work. So tell us about that work. 

Danielle Deadwyler  27:33  
Oh, dear. “The Ood: A Field Guide To Apocalyptic Worlds For Children” is taking me from public art, like being outside, which is where I’ve been for the past three years. I’ve been outdoors. But this is taking me inside to explore how we teach survival to our children as women of color. I’ve been very interested in motherhood, how to, what is the connection to what I mean? Who do we work with? We work with our families, we work with our children. And this is a pivotal time right now. This is a chaotic time. In that, we, one day you’re talking about the Waffle House tragedy, right? And then you’re talking about another Waffle House tragedy. Right? So bodies are, people are gone. And then you’re going to disrespect a body. And then, in the same inclination, like, you know, Black Panther came out. And then like, how do you teach your children to, to, to move through this kind of space? That’s, that’s challenging. And so, through the specters, through, through these trips, this triptych of mothers slash otherly, otherworldly kind of beings. I explore those women talking to specters of children across this kind of liminal world, and particularly delving into birth, the language, the sex, body, and myth. And so it’s, it’s like presenting a field guide, literally, to our children on how to step through the world.

Michelle Khouri  29:06  
That’s incredibly powerful. And I think also, how do you teach the concept of cause and effect in a world where that, or at least in a society, where that is disappearing, you know? It’s, it’s, especially for people of color in this country, more specifically for Black people, and also for Native people. There is no such thing as guaranteed. Like, you take this action so that this doesn’t happen to you, you take it and that is a terrifying reality. So, talk about the different collaborators and art forms that you’ve brought in to help you express this.

Danielle Deadwyler  29:43  
Oh, yeah. So, the piece explores those themes through a bit of improv, through movement, through operatic glossolalia.

Michelle Khouri  29:58  
You know you’ve got to describe that.

Danielle Deadwyler  29:59  
Want to break out your Merriam-Webster? 

Michelle Khouri  30:05  

Danielle Deadwyler  30:07  
But, um, Mika Wilts is a trained classical singer and she’s a collaborator in this project. And glossolalia is speaking in tongues, essentially. So this operatic tongues is happening.

Michelle Khouri  30:20  
So basically she’s channeling this very spiritual energy, and it’s coming out as expression through her opera. 

Danielle Deadwyler  30:29  
Yes, yes.

Michelle Khouri  30:30  

Danielle Deadwyler  30:31  
There’s a DJ as well, Thin. Gnarly Thin and then another collaborator, Yakimi Horn, who is an African dancer and an actor here. These are all people I’ve known for a while. We’ve, we’ve worked together and their talents combined with mine person.

Michelle Khouri  30:49  
Captain Planet-ing again.

Danielle Deadwyler  30:51  
Yeah, I, it’s people I’ve, stuff that has been in development for like a year, when bodies are in the space that changes everything. 

Michelle Khouri  31:00  

Danielle Deadwyler 31:01  
You know, I like that. I like surprises. That’s kind of how my past public artworks have been, you know? You don’t know what happens until you’re in this, in the legit setting.

Michelle Khouri  31:14  

Danielle Deadwyler  31:14  
And dealing with bodies and energy to, to know.

Michelle Khouri  31:19  
Well, and, and feeding off of your audience is such a huge part of a performance, a live performance. So really, we talked about this. Every single night of the same exact performance can feel completely different depending on your audience that night. So that’s the thrill of it. That’s the rush. It’s never going to be the same because the people in the room are never going to bring the same thing.

Danielle Deadwyler  31:42  
That’s what you want. 

Michelle Khouri  31:43  

Danielle Deadwyler  31:44  
But it’s not, it’s not like you know, improv theater. 

Michelle Khouri  31:47  

Danielle Deadwyler  31:47  
This is something, this is something else. It can be raw nasty. 

Michelle Khouri  31:53  
Oh my gosh. That is so exciting. 

Danielle Deadwyler  31:55  
It is. 

Michelle Khouri  31:56  
Thank you so much, Danielle, for being here today.

Danielle Deadwyler  31:58  
Oh my god!

Michelle Khouri  31:59  
This is so much fun. 

Danielle Deadwyler  32:00  
Thank you so much.

Michelle Khouri  32:06  
I feel like my mind has expanded after talking to Danielle, do you feel that way? It’s just the way that she talks about her work and the way that she approaches creativity. And her art form is incredibly inspiring and expansive. I’m super energized by her and she’s also, like I said, a riot. So, if you want to learn more about her upcoming project, “The Ood,” you can go to That is a local Atlanta theater called Synchronicity Theater, and again that’s And you can find her on Instagram at Danielle Deadwyler. Obvi, all of these links are going to be in the show notes for you, to make it super, super simple to dig up the roots of this episode. Until next time, my loves, keep it classy, keep it curious, keep it cultured.

Weekly Inspiration: Chaos

Michelle is inspired by something she discovered in her reading about metaphysics and even explored in her discussion with this episode’s guest, Danielle Deadwyler, and that’s the concept of chaos. We tend to think of chaos as a state of danger, unpredictability, and discomfort. But metaphysics teaches us that chaos is actually the basic state of the entire universe. That means our usual definition of chaos is just a construction of our imagination! This paradigm shift has helped Michelle be able to flow with everything that life throws her way and go through each day as an observer rather than a stressed-out control freak. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you to do the same!

Creating art with the body, with Danielle Deadwyler

This week’s guest on The Cultured Podcast possesses some truly infectious energy! Danielle Deadwyler, to put it in her own words, is a multimedia artist who uses her body as her primary medium. Throughout her career, this has manifested itself across multiple channels, including on-screen and on-stage acting, dance, and performance art. In her conversation with Michelle, Danielle discusses her method, process, and motivations.

Danielle explains how she studied theatre and dance in middle and high school but really started breaking down walls and chipping away at the structures of traditional acting when she got to college and started exploring how to express herself in more abstract ways. A few years later, after a brief stint as an elementary school teacher, she dove headfirst into performing full time. Since then, she has built an impressive resume of stage and screen performances – including a featured role in the second season of FX’s “Atlanta.”

Danielle and Michelle discuss how the goal of Danielle’s art—whether it be in a traditional acting role, an abstract performance, or life itself—is to explore the chaos of life and how we can flow freely within it. She also explains how her art is influenced by the issues that are most important to her: motherhood, sexuality, and the relationship between them.


Alejandro Jodorowski


For Colored Girls Who Have Considered

FX’s Atlanta

Jasmine Guy

Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf