DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
A piece that taps into the intersection of art, fashion, identity, and the film industry. It draws parallels between Alice’s journey through Wonderland and Kristin Dodson’s experiences in Hollywood. highlighting the surreal challenges and absurdities they face, as well as the need for resilience, adaptability. This metaphor reveals the dichotomy between the industry’s glamorous facade vs the realities faced by those seeking a place within it, and the quest for equality while being fully authentically themselves.
We’re all about collaboration in the world of KARJAKA, so we’ve let go the reins on this one and let the
Illustrious visionary Jeff Karly concept, style, layout design and interview the legendary Kristin Dodson!
Kristin Dodson is a Brooklyn native from East New York and a Columbia MFA Acting Alumni. She boasts a solid track record in television and film, with credits including Onyx’s “1266”, Showtime’s “Flatbush Misdemeanors”, and Nickelodeon’s “The Loud House”. In addition to her screen work, Kristin is an accomplished theatre actor, recently seen in the off-Broadway production of “Bernarda’s Daughter” at Signature Theater. She is represented by Framework Entertainment and Kohner Agency.
Karly: Pleasure to have you as the first artist featured in this series. East NY is wild.
Yeah, she says with a smirk.
Karly: How has your background from your hood influenced your perspective on storytelling and the arts, can you speak to dichotomy?
Dodson: I’m a Brooklyn girl – I’ve lived all over. Between my mom and my aunties, they dragged us all throughout the borough lol – there is nothing like the flavor and energy of Brooklyn. Not sure if I can put it into words tbh. As for ENY specifically, it has the reputation for being “the hood” – I didn’t feel that way going up. My block was and to this day is very residential – so it felt way more communal like that of Bedstuy back in the day – like during the 60s lol I know my neighbors; they watched me, and my siblings grow up and experience life. I relish in the fact that I can live between the worlds of “the hood” and “bougie” – it taught me how to code switch – and not code switching because I feel ashamed and moving from a place to distance myself from my upbringing, but doing it as a means to show people that just because you’re from an area that’s labeled “ the hood” doesn’t mean I’m not educated and cultured.
How’d you get into acting? I got into acting from watching my mom perform on stage. She did a lot of community theater. I was always fascinated by live performance. To this day, my favorite part about going to the movies or theater is when the lights dim down low, a hush comes over the audience and then the lights pop back on, suddenly you are in a whole new world. It’s the best feeling. I wouldn’t physically par-take in anything theater related until college. I took a scene study class and I was hooked. I’d go on to do some plays in college – I was going through my first ever heartbreak and welcomed the distraction. Lol, my first film wouldn’t be until my second year out of college, also used as a distraction from dealing with feeling lost.
That’s interesting, what did you want to do before? I wanted to be a litigator. I worked at a law firm, in the managing clerk’s office for roughly 5 years. Took the LSATS – was going to go to Columbia Law and I had a panic attack (I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) But I physically had a negative reaction to signing my life up for a career that I knew wasn’t for me.
Black arts have played a pivotal role in cultural expression and identity. How do you see the importance of black arts in today’s entertainment industry, from producers and writers to actors like yourself? Didn’t someone once say we make culture – nothing pops off until black people make it cool. I love seeing more black art in today’s industry. We still have a long way to go, but it feels really good when you get a script that sounds good in your mouth when you say the words – I’m talking your mother tongue (Ebonics). I love that we are getting more diverse stories and perspectives. Which is exciting – because we are not monoliths – I’m waiting for the theater world to catch up and stop putting on the same tired stories about us being from the south and exiting only in the church. No shade to those stores either, I was raised in the church, my dad’s side all are from the south – but I’ve always felt half nourished because I didn’t see my Caribbean heritage told in any stories. If there were Caribbean characters, they were Jamaican and the butt of a joke that white people found interesting. Having more diversity in these rooms – and not just race, socioeconomic diversity as well – it is so exhilarating to see. It’s like finally y’all wanna see us as multifaceted and culture shifters.
Can you share an example of a project where the black arts and culture were central to the storyline, and how it impacted your approach to the role? I’ve been privileged to say that ALL my work has allowed for black culture to be at the center of the storyline. That’s not often the case – in my senior year of grad school, I was casted in a play where the casting was “blind casting” so I played a woman who originally is white. There was no reference of culture in terms of race. But as an artist, I cannot separate my blackness from my characters, and I also choose not to do that. I brought my own personal heritage and culture norms to the character. I was very proud to grace the stage amongst a cast of majority white, with my hair tied up in a headscarf during a night scene.
What was the name of the play? Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, Halley Feiffer’s reimagining of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.”
The entertainment industry has faced several challenges in recent years, including actor and writer strikes. Could you explain how these strikes have affected the industry and what it might mean for its future? Well, namely it feels like we entered our own pandemic in a sense. Like our own pause. Which is super difficult to deal with. I’m team strike – actors and writers shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs at once in order to make a living. That type of grind is grueling and easily makes you feel burnt out. To this day I have not been able to not have a survival job on the side because with all my acting credits, it’s not enough to sustain my lifestyle. I don’t come from a wealthy background. I also don’t have that luxury to depend on anyone to help me financially. That article with Sydney Sweeny was the realest thing I have read about what it’s like being an actor who’s bulk jobs are streaming jobs and the pay/residuals (if you can even get them) are PALTRY. What also really sucks about the strike are friends who aren’t in the union and have limited opportunities to get the same assistance that I can get because I am in the union, all the people who work behind the scenes – with now even more limited resources – it’s fucked up. My hope, with the coming of the end of the strike, is that this won’t slow down the momentum for new actors having the opportunity to book work, because unfortunately, we live in a society where how much mass influence trumps talent.
What steps do you believe should be taken to ensure better working conditions and opportunities for actors and writers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds? Hiring diverse casting directors, hiring diverse directors, diverse producers, diverse writers- and diverse in all sense, background, exposure, socioeconomic, ages, genders, etc. The creation of studios that are interested in telling a wide range of stories from ALL people. More funding from diverse backgrounds to help more productions produced. I think also educating people to lean on your union reps who are there to help you. Not just when you are solely in a situation.
Style is often seen as an extension of one’s personality. How would you describe your personal style, and how does it influence your acting roles or on-screen presence? That’s hard! I’m such a chameleon. I dress based on my mood. These days I feel myself dressing like my mom, she has the most eclectic vibey wardrobe – without trying. I also currently live with someone who, outside of my grandfather, is one of the best dressed men I know (another person who doesn’t even try to be fly, they just are). I’m not sure if all my roles are influenced by my style. I have a strong belief that your character’s mindset dictates how they want to present to the world. When playing Zayna, fashion and her looks were the only thing she felt like she had some control over. Lena, from Bernarda’s Daughter, looked for comfort and familiarity while trying to process the death of her father. I’m always excited about what my character is wearing, that’s the first glimmer of who they are before they even open their mouth.
We used the story of Alice and Wonderland as inspiration for your shoot.. Can you draw a connection between your own experiences and the story of Alice in Wonderland, particularly in how the Cheshire Cat serves as both a guide and an enigmatic figure whose intentions are unclear? Wow, we gettin’ deep! Lol, I think the whole industry is like a wonderland. As a black woman, my journey through Hollywood, “Wonderland” can be seen as a metaphor for the dichotomy faced by the Black experience—a world of surreal challenges and absurdities, where navigating through a complex, ever-changing landscape requires resilience and adaptability, especially when you have forces that want to challenge your identity and thwart you from demanding equality. So much is smoke and mirrors, lots of players who don’t always have your best interest at heart. Players who will use you or leech off you in all the ways, just for their own self gain. You can make crazy money one minute and then the next day you’re on the unemployment line. It’s really bizarre! I’ve learned nothing is always as it seems. I’ve met some folks who presented themselves as willing guides and protectors even, but the moment I disagreed vocally with their narrative, I became this “thing” that they needed to silence. Which can be disheartening. It can be a challenge at times to define what is real in a world filled with contradictions and uncertainties. I have seen the concept of identity and visibility become elusive to individuals because somewhere down the line, the people around them convinced them to shed certain parts of themselves all in pursuit of “playing the game”. As black folks, I feel like that type of stuff always comes back to bite us in the ass.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get started?
Boy, that’s a hard one…..hmmm I’d say take the dive and have fun. I was talking to my friend Tenneh, and we were discussing life post-grad school. I asked her what would have happened if we both had committed to just having fun and diving in. No judgment or need to be “right” or “perfect” – just went off and had fun. I try to not live my life with regrets, but that is one that I have. I didn’t allow myself to have enough fun doing this thing that really is child’s play. I meet so many actors who are only focused on either the glitz and glam of acting, or looking for this major result driven thing that is so elusive at times. This industry is fickle as fuck, so if you’re gonna do this, why not have fun and dive on in fully. It’s probably never gonna be the right time and rarely will it look like what you think it should look like – just do this “acting” thing because you love it, and have fun. I can’t get that time back that I spent in grad school. I’m happy that by the last year, I was such a goofball lol I lived so largely in those rooms at Columbia and had a blast doing it. First time that I felt like I really brought myself into that space.
Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of the entertainment industry, considering the ongoing conversations surrounding diversity, representation, and the evolving landscape of storytelling? One that is a real reflection of the world we live in and one that is limitless in who gets to be cast in front and behind the camera. – KS