An interview with playwright and performer Trey Anthony
By Zachary Moull
Trey Anthony is a truly multitalented artist, not only writing ’da Kink in my Hair but also taking the stage as Novelette, the hairdresser at the heart of a play that has brought laughter, tears, and healing to its passionate audiences ever since its 2001 premiere at the Toronto Fringe Festival. We spoke with her during rehearsals at Theatre Calgary.
What was your first spark of inspiration that led to writing ’da Kink in my Hair?
I was an actor in Toronto, and I was really tired of going out for auditions that I felt didn’t represent me. There were a lot of stereotypical roles: Baby Momma #1, Welfare Mom #2. I got really frustrated with those roles, and I remember going home and talking to my grandmother about it. She said, "Well if that’s the crap that they’re writing, then why can’t you write better crap?” Then the heartbeat of the play came when I was coming out to my family as queer. I turned to writing because it was very therapeutic for me, and the play is really rooted in that.
’da Kink in my Hair takes place within a community of women at a hair salon. How does that strong sense of friendship and solidarity form in a salon?
I grew up in a hair salon. My aunt was a hairdresser. So I know what happens in a hair salon very intimately. I think most women can relate to this: you have a very intimate relationship with your hairdresser. So the hair salon becomes a place where women gather and talk about what’s going on in their lives. Especially for Black women, since we spend a lot of time there. I know that when I tell my friends who are not Black that I’m in my hair salon between three to four hours – that’s a quick day! – they’re shocked by that. They’re like, “What are you doing there?” But you go for the whole experience. It’s not just about getting your hair done. It really is a place where we gather as a community.
You play Novelette, the hairdresser who presides over the salon. How does she build that community?
Novelette has this amazing gift where she touches a woman’s hair and causes what I call the “unmasking.” All of us have a public persona and a private persona. Novelette is able to unmask these women and reveal what is going on in their private lives. It’s a truth-telling.
What makes it so powerful, so necessary, to speak those truths?
For me, I think it was necessary with ’da Kink to see Black women’s stories portrayed authentically onstage because, for a lot of women, regardless of race, we walk around with this private pain. There’s that inner voice saying “we are never good enough.” And I think this play gives women a sense of healing. After the show, I’ve had women say things like “It made me proud to be a woman,” or “It made me feel less alone,” or “It made me see that other women are going through these struggles.”
Speaking of public and private personas, what role does hairstyle play in the way we create or present our identities?
When we’re going through any kind of transition, be it a break-up or a new job, a lot of us go to our hair salon to change our look and feel better about ourselves. I know for me, when I’m feeling down, the first thing I do is go to the hair salon and say “give me some colour,” because that’s a representation of how I want to feel brighter in my life. Or sometimes I’ll want to cut my hair to represent that I’m letting go of something in my life. I think our hair is a very symbolic representation of ourselves. So it’s really important that when Novelette finishes her work on someone’s hair, she’s created an inner and outer transformation.
The play delves into some very important issues: racism, homophobia, violence, sexual abuse. What drew you to those stories?
When I was writing the play, I felt that every single one of the characters had pieces of me and my life in there. Homophobia is something that, as a queer woman, I’ve experienced within my family. With sexual violence against young girls, that’s something that we don’t talk about publicly, and that had occurred within my own childhood. With the character whose son has died, I have a Black father and a Black brother, and I know it’s a reality that every single time they walk out the door, there’s something that goes through my mind: “Are they coming back?” These were things that I really needed to talk about. And I knew that there was a community of people who were longing to hear it.
I’m sure you’ve done countless interviews over the years about 'da Kink. Is there a question you wish you got asked, that you haven’t been asked yet?
That’s a good question! I think it would be, “how have I myself changed from when I wrote the play to now?” When I wrote the play fifteen years ago, I was going through my twenty-something angst and questioning a lot of things. At that point, I related most strongly to the women who visit the salon. Now I’m older and more mature, and I see myself in Novelette. I’ve become the woman that I wanted to be – that’s who Novelette always was. The way she just says, “I do whatever makes me happy.” So I feel like Novelette is where I’m at in my life now, and I’m grateful. It was a journey to get here, and I recognize that it’s not a final destination. You’re always trying to work through something. But at the same time, you need to be at peace with where you are.
This interview has been edited and condensed. To read more about Trey Anthony’s journey with ’da Kink in my Hair, visit our online Play Guide coming soon.