The Academy Celebrates Black History Month 2023

James Barnes - Jasmine Haskovitch, Ivy Quainoo - Getty, Donald Paul - AFF/Alamy Stock, Jennifer Fouché - Ambe J. Photography

Black History Month Collection ’23

As we enter Black History Month this year, we recognize the indelible impact of Black Americans in the industry. The Actors Society honors this with some of our Black alumni and their accomplishments below. With this brief list in mind, let us know who else you would like to see featured.

A Conversation with James Barnes

Graduate James Barnes’ (‘13) work centers on the London theatre scene, where he has worked with some of the most prestigious theatres worldwide; Young Vic, The National Theatre, and most recently, Shakespeare’s Globe. His work is known for reinventing, revamping, and reimagining the classics—typically with political fervor. 

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You attended the Shakespeare Monologue Master Class this past June. Tell me about that.

It was an incredibly fulfilling experience…exciting and vulnerable in equal measure. I really felt like I was back in a peaceful place under the guidance of Susan Pilar. Dame Harriet Walter was wonderful and gave me more confidence in my approach to Shakespeare, reminding us all to enjoy the words so much so that they reverberate throughout our entire being.

I’ve heard only good things. I wish I could have attended. What’s been going on more recently?

I've mostly been directing and have recently joined the faculty at Shakespeare's Globe. I’m also developing and producing a few projects which COVID delayed. Lately, it's mainly been producing and directing. Acting-wise, the last thing I did was a commercial about four months ago. Doing that was a huge surprise because it came out of the blue.

Is that where your career has moved—toward directing and producing rather than acting?

Somewhat. I didn't want to become jaded about acting. I was like, “Okay, what can my day job be?” And this [directing, producing] has become my day job. It’s great because you're in the arts constantly. You're seeing things from a different point of view. Oftentimes, you're also making better money than you would as an actor, and you're also making different choices that improve things for actors. So yeah, I wouldn't say it's moved there. All of us actors have side jobs; I've just tried to ensure that my side jobs are all in the arts.

Working with The Globe is a huge feat, many congratulations! What has that experience been like?

I felt very vindicated because my introduction to Shakespeare was through a love of the words…not through being an aficionado or understanding his plays. It really was the love of productions that I first saw when I was 14. [former Academy faculty member] Theresa Hayes has this sort of great comment she would make about acting in the sense of, you know, when you don't know how to express yourself, you act, when that isn't enough, you dance, and when you can't contain it anymore you sing. 

Playing Shakespeare as an actor wasn’t enough; I needed to go further, so I started to direct my own work, slowly discovering what my voice could be within the classics. That's kind of how I got into it, and with the new job at Shakespeare's Globe came a feeling of vindication. Because they, of course, have their experts on Shakespeare but were interested in how I arrived at Shakespeare, and how that might inform my Shakespearean practice. It’s wonderful, and another example of work I get to do that ultimately informs my work as an artist.

Right, and you don’t become “jaded,” as you mentioned. How do you avoid this while continuing to work as an actor?

It is absolutely the work. It's the people who have come before me. It's really diving into the work of people like John Cassavetes, you know. And to focus on what I’m doing, and what I’m working on. When it comes to telling stories, focus on telling the story better and better. That's helped me…that's helped me so much. And again, I've got so many circles of artists, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, and when I connect with them, I feel that I’m quite rich, which sustains me. You need actually to absorb yourself in the world. Every artist should do that. 

I love to attend film festivals…many actors don't know that they're allowed to go to certain film festivals. They think, “Oh, I can only go there when I have a film there, and I'm nominated” Well…that's a big ask! So go to film festivals and see films being made. And see it without the glitz and the glamour. Dive into the world.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is that you are not bigger than it… Tell me about creating your own work and content. 

I reinterpret the classics for a modern, contemporary audience. And this means thinking of who your audience is. Whether it's a working-class audience or a global majority audience. For me, the kind of work I'm trying to create is work that brings everyone into the space, and works that feel accessible. I want to have contemporary discussions about hot topics and about the classics. 

I also like visceral messages. I like my theater to align with the practitioner, Antonin Artaud. I like it to be an assault on the senses. I like everything to be visceral. I like to think of humans as animals, you know? We're mostly visceral, and we're mostly physiological. So that's kind of how I direct. And ultimately, it's all about human connection. It's all about giving people the agency to do certain things. 

Reinterpreting the classics, visceral theatre. What about politics and representation on stage?

It matters a great deal…I can't separate the two. With my work, you won't really see any confusion about my political stance. I’ve been working on a piece that sets Macbeth in the Caribbean, and elements are changed quite clearly, so you can see these people making choices against Empire. As long as I can communicate exactly what I intend and what my politics are, you know what my endgame is. I don't like to dance around it. The theatre is where I protest.

What’s the conversation been like in the UK, as it refers to this?

The UK is, in some ways having a great conversation right now, but I’m living in a bubble and frequenting organizations that are having open and honest conversations, so I wouldn't quote me on the state of the UK in real-time. [Chuckles] At times, it does feel like we’re at risk of moving backward when certain opinions are aired, but you hope that by being even more open and honest, the conversation can really move forward and evolve.

What’s next for you, and where can people find you?

I’m directing The Ballerina at Vault Festival 2023, a show which debuted in New York in 2019. It’s a political dark comedy infused with Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. We have information available online for anyone interested.

I'm also debuting some new work at the festival called Club Culture, an initiative for multidisciplinary art that we started after the first Covid Lockdown. I'm very excited to see it grow.

For anyone interested in grabbing a coffee, I'm based in London, and I can be found on Instagram


Ivy Quainoo debuts role of Eliza Hamilton

The Academy might have campuses located in New York and Los Angeles, but that hasn't stopped our alumni from taking over other markets all across the globe. Last October, Ivy Quainoo (‘17) debuted the part of Eliza Hamilton in the groundbreaking German-language production of Hamilton, bringing the show to Hamburg, Germany. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s flexible, clever use of the English language was renowned by critics and audiences, leading to 11 Tony Award wins, and several blockbusting runs. Translating the show into German has been heralded as a feat of translation, the process having taken several years of writing. 

Watch the German cast perform the title number here, auf Deutsch. 


Donald Paul

Actor Donald Paul (‘11) can be seen across network television in a number of roles. Best known for his work on ABC’s hit Quantico and the CBS political drama The Good Fight, Paul’s face has been beamed onto television sets across the country. 

The Florida native has also been in several seasons of the Starz series Power starring Omari Hardwick, and in 2018 his work hit close to home when Paul starred in Grown, a dramedy set in his home state of Florida.

From 2019 to 2021, you could catch Paul in Queen of the South, USA’s action series starring Alice Braga and Hemky Madera. You can also catch his work on Raising Dion, the sci-fi drama from Netflix starring Alisha Wainwright.

Paul’s career shows no signs of slowing down, either. Most recently, Paul starred in the supernatural thriller The Blacklight, and the Will Smith-led Civil War period piece, Emancipation. Upcoming, Paul will be in Jules, the Ben Kingsley-led drama currently in post-production. 


Jennifer Fouché

Actress Jennifer Fouché is based in New York where she is a member of New York’s critically acclaimed Amoralists Theatre Company, a former member of the Flea Theatre's resident ensemble, and The Bats. She is best known for her role as Matron Mama Morton in the Broadway and National Tour of Chicago, playing on Broadway on the following dates in 2022: November 21st-27th, December 16th-18th, and January 2nd-15th, 2023. Fouché is also known for her role as Roberta in the Original Off-Broadway cast of Sistas The Musical and her work in POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.

She has performed in plays and musicals in The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The New York Fringe Festival, and the Obie Award-winning play festival, 48 Hours In... Harlem. As the industry recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, Fouché played with the cast of Chicken and Biscuits at the Circle in the Square Theater in New York. 

With the following screen credits, her work across television and film is equally impressive: Wu-Tang: An American SagaJessica Jones, SMASH, The Mysteries of Laura, Person of Interest, White Pickett Fence, and the Sundance Award-Winning film, Crown Heights. She is also the voice of Dame Stella Nostrella, a recurring character on the PBS animated series, Pinkalicious & Peteriffic.

Ms. Fouché was kind enough to share some of her time with us this holiday season, recording a solo number for The Fifth Annual Holiday Celebration. Watch a clip of Fouché sing Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! here

Up next, catch her in White Girl In Danger by Michael R. Jackson at Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theatre from March 15th to May 21st.