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Kristian A. Hardy ’24 is a self-proclaimed “multi-hyphenate creative” who is pursuing a concentration in Theater, Dance, and Media and African & African-American Studies. As someone who views theater as an all-encompassing field, she has learned to act, sing, dance, and produce, and she has some practice in set building and sound design as well. Around campus, she is well-known for her direction of the play “All the Natalie Portmans” during the Spring 2022 semester and more recently, the musical “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin” in Spring 2023.
These plays, as all of the art she aims to share, were put on with Black women and girls in mind.
“The work that I do there is also definitely to serve as a form of representation and just showing other Black girls that they can create their own realities and that their dreams are attainable,” Hardy said.
Of course, she clarified this does not mean her shows cannot be watched by people of other races and genders — everyone who wants to watch and listen to these stories is encouraged to do so — but Black viewers are the target audience.
The most obvious reason for having this specific audience is representation, but Hardy makes it clear that this is an oversimplification. According to Hardy, Generation Z has grown up with substantially more representation in media than previous generations, and she has continuously been inspired by those as part of popularizing Black women’s stories, but she recognizes that large issues remain. To Hardy, not only is representation of Black people important, but their stories and messages are just as important, if not more.
“Yes, we are represented and included, but now what stories are we telling and how is that working to further uplift our community,” she said.
There are a multitude of Black stories that offer a variety of morals and provoke various feelings, and as an artist, Hardy makes it her mission to showcase as many as possible. Inherently, this means discussing and presenting subjects that are neither palatable to wide audiences nor easy to understand and reflect on. If Black people are to be truly represented, the wide variety of their stories must be portrayed — which is why she has directed shows that deal with undertones of hardship and grief. “All the Natalie Portmans” and “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin” express the struggles experienced by Black women, and attempt to find the humor in them. Hardy does not shy away from dealing with difficult topics in her productions.
“I just commit — you have to commit. I think if you awkwardly sidestep, especially with this past show because it was filled with so much satire, to treat the story as ‘Oh my god, are we going to offend people, are people going to feel uncomfortable?’ They should feel uncomfortable. That’s reality. That’s theater,” Hardy said.
Hardy is aware that she cannot control the audience’s reception of her art.
“That isn’t a reflection of me, they just have a different humor. They just see things differently,” she said.
This is particularly true if she sees the Black people in the audience — the people who the show is intended for — reacting in a way that shows their approval or recognition of the humor.
“At the end of the day, if I feel like what I did was fly, it’s fly. People may like it or they may not, but if I like it, I like it,” she said.
At the same time, Hardy believes in making sure the people behind the show — the cast and crew — are comfortable while practicing and experimenting. For example, “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin” featured a song including slurs, and in response, Hardy pulled her actors aside and said they have “the agency to decide” what they felt comfortable saying, and that their safety and comfort were much more important than the production.
Directing is a laborious task, and Hardy does her best to make sure that her productions are meaningful experiences for the audience, as well as for the cast and crew.
“This semester I was the only Black director on campus. I don’t want to be that,” she said.
Hardy hopes that more Black artists — more marginalized people in general — continue to be inspired to share their stories and their art.
For now, she continues to do her part in magnifying Black stories. Next spring, her thesis performance, a solo show, will highlight the intersectionality of “Black womanhood, and queerness, and Southern spirituality.”
It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of fighting to be heard, but Hardy looks forward to a day where anyone can make art and have fun with it.
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