Arthur Miller’s 1949 classic Death of a Salesman is renowned for its timeless exploration of what happens when a life teeming with tedium and unmet expectations yields tragic results. It’s a story that resonates with South Philly-born and raised actor-producer Keith “Kash” Goins, 41, who utilized an exclusively African-American cast for his upcoming production of Death, a follow-up to 2013’s all-black 12 Angry Men, which was—like this year—directed by local stage master Ozzie Jones.
PW spoke with Goins, who now lives in North Delaware, about his choice to again go all-black in Miller’s drama—including casting himself as the distressed lead, Willy Loman—for this three-week presentation and others on GoKash Productions’ horizon.
PW: What inspired you to present Death of a Salesman with an African American cast?
KASH GOINS: A great story is a great story, regardless of who is telling it. I started GoKash Productions in 2008 with a vision to provide an alternative, in quality and content, to what I had traditionally seen offered in the form of African American theater. A majority of the shows that are produced for/by African Americans carry either a gospel/family-style theme or evolve around some sort of superficial romantic relationships. I started writing original plays that followed a similar format, but with an emphasis on deeper story lines. Unfortunately, what I find this audience to be—particularly in this region—is more focused on whatever the next “hot” or “trendy” thing is. I am interested in building a reputation and a platform to provide sustainable, real theater experiences. I’ve recently found that niche, being the only independent African-American theater company in this region who is consistently producing large-scale classical theater pieces. Of course we will present August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange along the way. But a show like Death of a Salesman, aside from the socially-relevant reasons I wanted to present this story, gives us the opportunity to dive into the canon of classical American theater with both feet. It also has prompted us all to step up in every aspect of what it means to us as artists to make sure we are doing service to a piece of this magnitude and to the institution of African American-produced theater as a whole.
Are there any other productions you would like to see staged in this way?
Absolutely! The first “white” show that we produced with all people of color was 12 Angry Men. We actually pulled a double bubble on that one because we included men and women in the cast. Again, Ozzie did a masterful job with the casting by building fantastic relationship dynamics and pulling these gender switches without a need to alter the text at all. I foresee us moving forward with other shows that have been produced on Broadway, and in prominent regional theater, with non-black casts. There will be definitely more to come.
What are some of the shows you would like to star in?
I have a thing for acting in roles that call for a deeply conflicted, vulnerable yet powerful man. Even so, if I read or see a piece, and I like the story, and my schedule allows, I am interested in investing in the experience. By happenstance, most of the work I do in the classical African American theater space are roles that have been previously played by James Earl Jones (my theatre idol) or Charles S. Dutton. It seems to just work out that way. But, Willy Loman has been on my radar as a guy I would like to live for almost 10 years. So, it’s horrifying and exciting at the same time that this time is upon me. Coincidentally, Yale Rep did an African-American production of Death of a Salesman in 2009, and Charles S. Dutton played Willy.
What’s your advice for young people of color aspiring to begin a career in theater?
Study and learn! And don’t allow yourself to be lured into this ridiculous idea that you are doing this to be rich and famous. Do it to get better, and be fulfilled doing it. Do it to offer that thing that burns inside of you to the world. Do it because you love it and could not see your life without doing it. If, by some odd reason that God decides to grant you riches and fame for doing so, count that as the absolute blessing that it is. But to enter into theater with that as a goal is incredibly counterproductive and perverts what the thing really is.
Generally speaking, is there any way you feel African American theater can improve?
I think we should practice a little bit of delayed gratification. Just because you have a good idea, and 10 people at your church told you that you are the next Tyler Perry, that does not mean you should run out and produce a show. Wait until you understand the industry enough to hire a real director with a degree and a legitimate understanding of theatre. Hire a professional set designer, and bring on a professional design team for your website and promo, a professional stage manager to raise the bar of your rehearsal process and the way your show is run, a professional lighting team, a professional sound designer, a dramaturg, an assistant stage manager and run crew, a prop master, a costume designer, a production manager. These are all of the necessary elements that go into creating professional-level quality that compels those who would support an institution like the Arden to take a chance on your work, and then ultimately build the confidence and experience base to support your work for years and years. But it’s earned. And if the sole focus is on going out and making as much profit as you can as quickly as you can, you cannot build that degree of credibility.
Wed., July 30 through Sun., Aug. 17th, various times. $27.50-$35. Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. playsandplayers.org