Trey Anthony didn’t even know that her play, ‘Da Kink in My Hair, had been nominated for five NAACP Theater Awards until she started getting congratulatory emails from friends and fans. She even had to check online to confirm the news. But last month, ‘Da Kink took top honors in four of the nominated categories: playwright, ensemble cast, sound and director.
The play features a cast of black women dealing with issues such as coming out, surviving incest, hitting the glass ceiling, raising a child single-handedly and facing shadism — prejudice based on skin tone — in black communities. Anthony said there are pieces of herself in each of the play’s characters: “I tried to put things that I’m battling with or that I’m pondering, or things that I’m really fearful of [in the play]. I usually put those as dilemmas in the characters’ lives.”
‘Da Kink has played in one venue or another every year since opening at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001, where it boasted the highest ticket sales for the entire festival. It has since sold out theaters and received standing ovations in New York and throughout Canada. The play is headed to London in the fall, and Anthony hopes to open in Los Angeles around the same time.
Anthony, whose parents are both Jamaican, moved from England to Toronto when she was 12. She currently lives in Toronto but is planning to move to Los Angeles within the next few months.
Until recently, Anthony had always performed the play’s lead role of Novelette, a Jamaican hairdresser whose clients provide the play’s core monologues. But she reluctantly gave it up in order to take part in the upcoming Canadian television production of ‘Da Kink when the shooting schedule and the play’s London opening were in conflict.
Anthony, who recently turned 33, acknowledged that it was a luxurious dilemma — having to choose between doing her own TV show or her own play — but she had a very hard time with the decision. “It was the first time in the six years of doing the play that I wasn’t involved, and I felt like you could’ve killed me,” she said.
The 13-part television series will air in September on Canada’s Global Television. Britain’s BBC and Channel Four have already expressed interest in picking it up, and the show’s producers are looking for a U.S. broadcaster as well.
This isn’t the first television outlet for Anthony’s play. In 2004, ‘Da Kink was adapted into a one-hour television special for Canada ‘s Vision TV. But in that program she played Novelette’s younger sister, whereas in the series she will play Novelette as she has onstage.
While the play focuses on the clients coming into Novelette’s salon, these characters are secondary in the television series, which focuses more on Novelette and her family. According to Anthony, the subject matter is the same, although the format differs: “We deal with the same gritty issues in the show, but we have to tie it up all nicely in a half hour, so that has been the challenge.”
It was important to her to keep the integrity of the play intact and maintain creative control, which she has done as a producer and head writer for the show. “The play really was a brand, and people already recognized it, so I felt it was important for people who had seen it and connected with it — to not disappoint them when it came to TV,” Anthony said.
She never expected so much interest in her work: “It was my first play, and I thought, if it does well in the Fringe I’ll be happy, but it just kind of took on a life of its own. People really started responding.”
Some of those people included members of Anthony’s family, a few of whom reacted with a measure of dismay. “My mother’s always like, ‘All our business is on stage,” Anthony said. “‘If you want to know what’s going on with our family, then go to Trey’s show.'”
Anthony cites coming out to her family as catalyst for writing the play. She is especially close to her grandmother and mother, who had negative reactions to her coming-out. Her grandmother stopped talking to her for two years, and Anthony felt compelled to come out publicly to end her own isolation. “As black lesbians, we don’t see ourselves reflected at all, and very few of us are public about being queer and being out,” she explained. “So I felt there was a need for me to be very public, to say I know I cannot be the only one.”
She continued: “We’re known to be a very homophobic culture. It’s sad but it’s true. So, I think, for my mother to have a child who was saying ‘I am a lesbian’ was shocking. She didn’t know anyone else. It was a matter of her shame, and then I took on her shame as well and thought there was something that was really wrong with me. ‘Da Kink really came about from trying to write through that disappointment and shame that I had let down my family. It became very therapeutic.”