En Garde Arts Presents Uncommon Voices

S1 E2 | FULL EPISODE

Pascale Armand

This episode features Tony nominee Pascale Armand’s new work entitled “$#!THOLE COUNTRY CLAPBACK,” which is a chronicle of her family’s journey to American citizenship from Haiti.

AIRED: February 12, 2020 | 0:13:54
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TRANSCRIPT

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

that you get from the audience.

When you hear a... [gasps] or you hear a "mmm".

Even just hearing a sniff, [snaps] you got them.

You know it, you could feel it. You could hear it.

All the senses are just engaged.

As far as developing a piece is concerned,

to get that immediate response, it's priceless.

♪♪

My name is Pascale Armand,

and I am an actor and writer of $#!Thole Country Clapback.

I have worked in television, film, theater,

but mostly theater.

Actually, my Broadway debut

was understudying in "Trip to Bountiful."

But when I was like with a show,

from like the very beginning to the end

and getting it to Broadway, was "Eclipsed."

The play was written by Danai Gurira.

And I played

[ African accent ] Wife Number Three.

[ Normal voice] We'd been doing the show regionally,

like, at the McCarter.

And then we did it at Yale Rep.

That's where we met Lupita Nyong'o.

She was a student when she was understudied.

I was nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

I would like to be a winner!

Oh! I'm s-- [ Laughs ]

$#!Thole Country Clapback is the first play I've ever written.

Ever written. I'm so scared.

I am just starting high school. Just finished ninth grade.

And riding the subway on my own, feelin' myself,

and I have to leave to go to Haiti?

It has been an empowering journey for me.

I'm - I'm no longer waiting for that phone call.

I'm doing it.

The play is basically my chronicling my family's journey

of becoming legal citizens in the United States.

This story is very personal.

It talks about people that I love dearly.

And hopefully the audience gets to love them, too.

My writing process was basically,

after I heard the statement, just journal entries.

I-I was just writing fervently.

In a book, you know, at home. And I was just mad.

The President of the United States

is at the center of a storm tonight

over crude and offensive language.

"The News Hour" has opted not to repeat the word in question,

but President Trump was widely quoted

as asking a group of U.S. Senators yesterday,

"Why are we having all these people

from blank-hole countries come here?"

Woman: Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat in the room,

insisted the President did ask

why the U.S. would want immigrants from Haiti or Africa,

and did use a derogatory expletive.

I-I-I don't think I'm alone

in thinking that this statement was completely off.

People in my family, they're not [bleep]-hole people.

So I was like I'm dispelling that theory

that the President seems to have put out.

My mom has been so helpful in the development of this piece.

She's basically told me, "Now I know why you're an actor

because your memory, it's something else."

She was like, "There are certain things

that I've forgotten.

I don't even know how you remember any of this stuff."

And I was just kind of like.

The big challenge for Pascale was putting history in story.

Family.

Just information about Haiti and Haiti,

and that's her biggest passion,

to debunk what people don't know.

And she began to just share just the -- uhh --

of what she'd written.

I realized it was her grandmother, it was her story,

and that's where I started to lean in.

Grand-mère is my grandmother.

That's the French word for grandmother.

I was fascinated by her grandmother.

♪♪

When you're an immigrant in America, life is your classroom.

So, besides learning my ABCs, and 123s,

and teaching them to my new sister,

I learn a huge lesson at Waldbaum's supermarket.

Now I am young, which means my sister Kharim

is two years younger.

We're with Grand-mère, and she has to go grocery shopping.

Now, before heading out,

Grand-mère organizes her empty labeled wrappers

and containers of grocery items she intends to replenish.

Grand-mère doesn't speak English,

so she is going to show customer service personnel what she needs

and have them direct her that way.

No need to talk. It's brilliant, actually.

So, she gets her six- and four-year-old granddaughters

ready to go to Waldbaum's.

Sweaters, coats, hats, and scarves, and off we go.

Now, Grand-mère doesn't let us run around the supermarket.

She installs Kharim into the cart,

and I either hitch a ride on the back or walk alongside it.

Now, with the grocery list and wrappers in hand,

Grand-mère goes through each aisle

of the whole supermarket once

looking for the corresponding labels, wrappers,

and containers she brought.

When she sees the grocery items,

she picks up what she needs, places it in the cart,

and discards the matching wrapper.

When we get to the refrigerated dairy section,

Grand-mère makes sure we zip up our coats

and put on our hats and scarves.

Colds come in through exposed heads and chests!

We get the Sunny Delight, eggs,

vitamin-D-enriched whole milk, cheese, and butter.

Grand-mère checks expiration dates,

cracks in the eggshells, and prices.

The cart gets fuller and heavier as we go through each aisle.

By the time we get to the other side of the supermarket,

all of the wrappers are gone from her hand except for one --

a ten-pound bag of Carolina white rice.

Did she miss it? Did they move it?

She thinks she knows this store like the back of her hand.

And then she sees him.

A white man donning a white coat,

clipboard in hand, checking inventory.

Ah! Surely he would know.

She rolls up her cart alongside him,

Carolina rice wrapper in hand.

Excuse me! Excuse me!

Grand-mère. Laissez moi taider.

Let me help you.

Eh!

Please?

Yes, can I help you?

Oh, aisle 12, bottom left.

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

[ Sighs ]

[ Scoffs ]

You can't speak English, can you?

You're one of those.

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

[ Clicks tongue ]

All right. This way.

Oh, tank you!

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

"One of those?" What does that mean?

A person who eats? A person who feeds her family?

I watch all of this, knowing the answer.

I could have bridged that lingual gap with a simple

"Allée douze en bas á gauche, Grand-mère."

I could have led Grand-mère to the rice, but I didn't.

At six, I didn't have the words to say,

"Mister, why are you talking to her like that?

Do you know who she is?

That's our [Speaking Kreyol]

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

Lesson learned.

From then on, I make it my business

to be Grand-mère's lingual bridge.

At first my family was a little apprehensive about it.

They were just like, why are you trying to air our dirty laundry?

I would remind them of certain things when I would ask them,

I was just like, "Do you remember

when Daddy came home with the machete?"

And my sisters were like, "God, you remember that?"

And I was just like, "Yeah, don't you?"

And, um, we'd flesh things out.

And I was just like, "That's going in."

And they'd be like, "Um..."

The next summer, at home with our parents in Queens,

[bleep] hit the fan.

My father goes out to put gas in the car

while my mother, sisters, and I are at home doing chores.

We hear the biggest slam of a door

that should have taken it off its hinges.

My father comes back from the gas station visibly upset.

He's like a black Bruce Banner

turning into the Incredible Hulk.

You know that part of the transformation

as he's going green when veins in the eyes

start to bulge and everything on his body gets bigger?

That's my dad. He busts through the front door

and beelines for the backyard.

My mom runs after him.

We hear yelling.

My sisters and I are terrified.

When she gets back inside

my father has a machete in a death grip.

She pulls him to the kitchen sink,

turns the faucet on, and pours cold water

on the top of his head and on his face.

His jaw clenches as he breathes through his nostrils.

She gets him to drink some water,

sits him down, and asks him what happened.

Keeping a grip on the machete, he shouts, "I'm a man!

I'm a man! Gas station. Pumping gas.

I am a man! Unh!"

She gently sits in his lap and holds him,

telling him, it'll be all okay, he's home now.

He lets go of the machete and holds her with both hands,

burying his face in her neck, silently crying.

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

I don't know how many strikes this was for him,

but he had reached his limit.

My mother barely stopped him from killing a man.

♪♪

It is very hard to share stuff that is personal.

Um, when I get to explaining about --

describing my uncle's death and my grandmother's death,

and the flight over from -- from the United States to Haiti

to bury her, I've -- for as many times

as I've done it, done the reading,

and this is my fourth time now, that never gets easy.

My voice kind of... all the time.

And I'm trying to get to a point where I can just say it,

but I'm not there yet.

She wanted to be able to deliver that portion of monologue

without being affected so that she could do it without crying.

I basically said the legitimacy,

if someone handed this to you as an actor,

you would let this move through you honestly

every time you had to do it.

This is your work.

You've got to let it move through you.

♪♪

Two poor men who somehow get their hands on weaponry

hold up my uncle's store.

After casing the joint and sticking him up,

they demand Mon Oncle Guy empty the cash register.

As he's doing so, the bandits realize he has a hunting rifle.

The one who goes behind the counter with Mon Oncle

informs his partner that Mon Oncle has a gun,

which all business owners are allowed to have

for situations just like these.

And so comes the order.

[ Speaking native language ]

"He's got a gun? Kill him."

And GWEW!

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

Such an easy choice to make.

It makes you wonder, how do his murderers,

in a country that rations electricity,

where a majority of the people take bucket baths,

if they can find clean water to bathe with at all,

where a mode of transportation is a donkey,

where people are starving on so many levels, get guns.

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

My goal for this show is for just people to know more.

Knowledge is power.

Um, I feel that people already know in their heart of hearts

that the statement was wrong.

But, some of them don't know why it's wrong.

I'm hoping to give them the information

that they need for them to --

to come away with not just, "Yeah, we know it's wrong,"

because you just shouldn't say stuff like that.

And hopefully for you to, in the end, go home,

if there's more that you want to know about Haiti,

go home and -- and do some research.

Hey, Google. Google. You know?

Find out more about it so that you become more informed.

Thank you.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Knowledge is power.

♪♪

♪♪

What I love about live theater is the immediate response

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