Thesis Spotlight: Khalil Flemming ’16 Presents “Equal Weight”
Khalil Flemming ’16 will be presenting his senior thesis, an original, multimedia comedy called “Equal Weight,” this weekend. Flemming, a theater and dance major, is also well known on campus for his memorable performances in Mr. Gad’s House of Improv. “Equal Weight” invites viewers into the mind of the protagonist, Zeke, as he navigates his relationships and listens to the voices in his head. The Amherst Student sat down with Flemming to learn more about the production.
Q: How would you best describe this project?
A: My project, titled “Equal Weight,” is a multimedia staged show. It’s basically a play that relies on film to tell some of the story. It’s about a guy, a loosely satirized version of myself, who must learn to love himself, appreciate those who love him and ultimately find his own voice. Also, it’s a comedy, though it has some moments that ask you to sit quietly and really feel what the characters are feeling.
Q: How did you originally come up with this project?
A: I wrote a very short version of this for my playwriting class last fall, and I developed it last semester in my directing studio class with Ron Bashford. It told a different story with different priorities, but those earlier pieces ultimately lead to this.
Q: Do you think you began your project with an intention? If so, what?
A: By the time I decided “Equal Weight” was something I wanted to put on for my thesis senior project, I had to decide what capacity I’d work in. Since I’ve acted all my life and spent a lot of time here at Amherst performing, I wanted to put that aside and focus on directing and writing a show from beginning to end.
My two goals were first to effectively combine theater and film to work as simultaneous entertainment, and second to be a storyteller, really learning how to sit back and bring a text to life with actors, technical elements and the time to do it all well.
While the technical challenge of combining media was present throughout, I had to shift my focus to strong storytelling as we began creating a world with meaningful characters living out a story that people would want to watch.
Q: What was the most challenging part of producing this play?
A: The most challenging part was just that — telling a story. More specifically, adjusting the text to be more dramatic — as a novice playwright — and directing the performance to best capture all that drama in a way that a live audience would appreciate — as an inexperienced director.
It has been quite the challenge, but I have learned a huge amount about good storytelling in the past couple of weeks and I hope people can leave the theater feeling good about the two hours they invested in the show.
Q: What did you look for when choosing actors to cast in the production?
A: As for choosing actors, it’s all about finding people who will best be able to tell that story. In the end, I’m not going to stand up in front of the crowd on opening night and say, “Hey folks! So here’s what you’re about to watch.” No. It’s up to the actors, with the help of the technical elements and each other, to give the audience a story that makes them feel something. And I look for people who will do that — people who are physically and verbally expressive, who can interpret words and convey the ideas to others, people who are flexible enough to take direction and make those changes quickly and creatively.
As a playwright and director, I may not always get everything right, so it’s important to have a cast that is talented and daring enough to help me steer the show in the right direction. Needless to say, that is what I’ve found in this group, as they have taken a piece of work that had potential to be a full-length show and provided the additional words and drama to bring it all home.
Q: Have you practiced any other arts? Do you think they influenced your playwriting?
A: I’ve acted on stage and on camera since I was about 9 or 10, and most recently it’s been primarily improv here at school. All that has definitely influenced both my writing and directing, since my perspective on theater/entertainment is largely from the perspective of an actor. There’s a rhythm and a beautiful set of feelings you feel as an actor who is successfully entertaining people (and another bunch of feelings when you are struggling to do so), so I tried to channel some of that when creating a story for actors to tell.
Q: How do you think people will respond to the play?
A: I hope that people respond to the show with a smile, a few laughs, and a moment of reflection about how they relate to others and how they treat themselves. “What does that voice in my head say to me that I may be ignoring? Am I loving the right people?” I don’t want or need every person to get up and tell me what they thought of the show.
Feedback is great, and I will never turn it down, but it’s more important to me that people are feeling something and that they take the time to acknowledge it for themselves. For now, it excites me that people are looking forward to it, reserving tickets, texting me at ungodly hours to find out what times the shows are. It means a lot that people care about theater, about their friends who are performing or were involved in some way, and about me to make time to come see the show.
Q: Where do you hope to see this project go in the future?
A: It’s nice to think about where the show, or some show like it, could go one day, who it could touch, what other messages it can send — but for now I think it deserves to happen here at Amherst, in Studio 3, close to all the people who inspired it and worked hard to bring it to life.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.