Interview: Jeanine Abraham
Infectious laughter, humble attitude, and radiant energy. It is always surprising when someone you just met matches the sight or scent of home. You stop for a minute to recognize you both introduced yourselves only minutes prior, and then continue on smiling. I have a hunch that the forgetting of first meetings occurs most often with people who do good things. People who make others feel comfortable and known, because it is in their blood to do so.
Jeanine Abraham is a woman with more heart, soul, and inspiration than you might bear to believe. Thoughtful conversation was accompanied with intermissive “wow”s, exclamative affirmations, and natural bouts of laughter. Abraham runs VisAble Black Women Productions, a self-owned media production company based in New York City, and is the brilliant mind behind the growing improv comedy production known as Drunken Civics.
Drunken Civics is a new NYC-based improv show blending comedy with educational content on political issues and civic engagement. Prior to each show glasses can be heard clanking against tables, signifying the happy hour portion of the night, whereby people from different backgrounds, industries, causes, and educations are able to connect, listen, and collaborate. Any attendee can expect to learn and laugh at the same time, in a space that energizes shared visions for an improved world.
Abraham stands as both a leader and proactive member of many causes and movements, working and living to show the world the brilliance of black women. No doubt, a living example of someone pursuing work worth sharing.
How did you become inspired to create the show Drunken Civics? Can you speak a little bit about the shows?
The 2016 election really inspired me to become civically engaged - I started joining to different organizing groups and found myself completely glazing over, because the bulk of what they talk about is public policy. It just made sense to me, that comedy experts and civics experts should get together in a bar.
The happy hour part of Drunken Civics brings together people from various communities, where everyone can network, troubleshoot, and figure out how to reach each other better. When you put people together in a room, it’s amazing what happens.
As a production we’re trying to work with people who are passionate and diverse, and are making an effort to reach out to more improvisers of color. For our next show "Pussy Grabs Back" we have an all female cast from all facets of America. For the first part of the evening a storyteller will share a narrative on harassment, and the improvisers will flip the script to show that same story played out differently (how they would have liked it to see it). The second part of the evening the audience will call out varying situations, and the improvisers will act off that.
What are some of the day-to-day things you do to stay motivated and inspired, running your own production company and pursuing work that is activism-oriented?
It’s not very hard to stay motivated - with the state of the world and the news we hear every day, there’s always something triggering. It can be really easy to get caught up with the “Why me?” and not take action. It’s a part of my self care, to be able to do something, creating shareable content that lifts people up rather than dragging them down. I want it to be a place where people can get a little break and laugh.
The ultimate form of resistance right now is to support a black female owned business. I’m hoping that people will see my work, where each show strives to preserve the legacy of black women through storytelling - to show black and brown communities in a way that humanizes us instead of solely victimizing us.
I feel like a lot of what we see in media, Hollywood, and television is shown through the perspective of well-meaning white people who, though talented, can only tell stories from their perspectives. It's starting to change as we have more black and brown people in writing rooms, but at the end of the day our life spans are limited. I never thought I’d be starting my own production company, but I want to work, so I have to create the work. The time is now.
How has working with improv and activism changed the activist experience, working in a more joyful medium of media?
The improv we’re doing for the show is awesome - the first show we did was on the 2nd Amendment, with a lawyer explaining the details broken into a 3 part story: beginning, middle, and end. When people left the event, including myself, we actually remembered what the lawyer said because of each funny circumstance connected to every lesson.
It's magical because the improv doesn’t have to be dry in order to be educational - improv is improv, it can go in any direction, but the teachings are what sticks. Everyone’s rooting for whoever’s on stage as well, because we know it's being created on the spot, which makes for a very loving atmosphere.
What are the things you want to give gratitude to?
I'm grateful for the immersive theater experience I started called Rhythm Therapy, something that supports all of our work. Rhythm Therapy allows people to get out of their heads and into their bodies. So often we don’t breathe the same air - there’s something to say about actually being in the same space. Being able to disconnect from everything to simply dance together helps actors be present in our bodies and give emotionally on stage. It’s funny, cathartic, silly, and sad, you can dance your anger out or anything else.
I’m also really grateful to organizations like Girl Trek, which inspires women to get out and do something physical every day for 30 minutes. I’m connected to over 100,000 black women in Girl Trek. The goal is to get 1 million women walking, to be a political force.
What do you want people to come away with from your shows, projects, and overall work?
All of the different groups who are pushed to the margins need to come together. A lot of marginalized artists need to create their own work (or they don’t work). I want this to be a space that welcomes the power of diversity and intersectionality, to show that every issue we have to deal with starts with us.
My intention for Drunken Civics is to find a place where we can take two hours to meet and be open to those outside of our usual cliques. My shows exist to put black and brown faces first, to create opportunities for white progressives to learn from the people who have been in these movements for the past 40-50 years. Then we can all move forward together.
The political process is a community process, it’s not something you can jump into. But if you start with little steps you can begin learning, and continue building off that. It’s kind of like going to the gym every day, but instead of growing muscle we're growing mental capital. I really want us to have a more united front, that’s the main goal.