I interviewed Charise Sowells about being a multi-disciplinary, highly creative, mixed race person in the USA. Charise is a scriptwriter and songwriter who also produces, directs, and composes, among other things. Her play An Ocean In My Soul, about being mixed in the USA, can be watched in full at the end of this interview. Charise runs Unabashed Productions ‘…an arts and entertainment company that supports people who not only think outside the box, but live there’.
Leslie: What made you who you are? Could tell the story, please, of your personal identity struggles.
Charise: The motto for my company, Unabashed Productions, is ‘Don’t just think outside the box, live there’. When I was growing up, you could only choose one race on paperwork that asked you to identify yourself. People fought to have the other box added for those of us who were mixed. Now, you may even see multiracial or the option to make more than one selection. We have come a long way. But that feeling of people wanting to oversimplify the complex, shaped me in many ways, both as a person and an artist. In 2008, I started Unabashed Productions with the intention of collaborating with other boundary blurring artists to make envelope-pushing work.
Leslie: What are the most important themes you keep coming back to in the different expressive art forms you work in? How have you developed these themes, and how does the choice of medium change the approach and the content?
Charise: In my scripts, I tend to address themes of belonging, self-actualization, and the concept of home. Within that, there is often an identity thread as related to race, gender, sexuality, or mental health. I began writing scripts because I grew up in an era when very little reflected my experience, image, or perspective on the world. It was incredibly frustrating as a young actress and isolating as a human moving through the world. At 15, I began writing to change that for people everywhere who were not typically seen onstage or onscreen. It began with monologues and poems. They quickly turned into scripts and songs. Everything flowed out of me as if I were downloading from the ethers. These days, it’s a bit more of a process generally but the intention is the same. I love raising awareness through my work, hopefully encouraging empathy and compassion while expanding horizons along the way.
Leslie: Could you describe the philosophy of Unabashed Productions and the art/performance it has produced, please.
Charise The philosophy behind ‘Don’t just think outside the box, live there’, is about not letting fear prevent you from living or creating as you were intended to do. We produce music, theater, film, and events.
Leslie: When you’re working creatively, what routines and quirky actions help you to stay in the zone? How do your ways of working vary, depending on the expressive medium you’re using?
Charise: With scriptwriting, it’s usually music, caffeine, water, internet, and an ergonomic setup. When I’m recording music, it’s all about the mood, lighting and snacks. If I do it right for either one, I tend to plunge deep into the rabbit hole and lose all sense of time for many hours which is a beautiful thing in this day and age.
Leslie: In setting out to change the visibility of underrepresented people, what have you discovered about your own character and temperament?
Charise: Working to make a change is hard. It takes time. The roadblocks are plentiful. One must celebrate the wins, mourn the losses, and breathe through it all. On top of that, fear of missing out is real. So is burnout. Boundaries are required. Especially in this digital age. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, nourish your mind and body, release toxins, unplug, stretch, strengthen, connect, rest, and recharge along the way truly makes a difference. It took me decades to learn that setting aside time for my own well-being should be a top priority. And it took me even longer to figure out what that meant for me since everyone has different needs. But it was a worthwhile journey of discovery because if you don’t have your health, what do you have? As someone told me years ago, “Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Since creating with clear intentions has been my life’s work and I am in it for the long haul, pacing and self-care is absolutely crucial. The sooner people learn that and develop good habits, the better, no matter what their calling may be.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.