Name: Ebony Vines
Hometown – Maryland
Where do you live? – New York City
What does it mean to have a voice? –For me, having a voice means being my authentic self. It’s being truthful and honest in the words I speak and write, and through the events I produce
How did you find your voice? – I believe that finding your voice is a life-long journey. To say that I have “found” my voice is to say that my voice has “arrived.” There is much for me to learn about myself and the world I live in. The way I am finding my voice now is by not waiting for a door to open or asking for permission; Instead, I create my own doors of opportunities for myself and others.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
I grew up in Maryland in a predominantly white church and school in my formative years, which highlighted my “otherness” in a way that continues to shape how I see the world and people today. What I remember most about where I grew up is how much I wanted to leave. I remember being about three or four years old and wanting to get on my little red tricycle and just go. I had no idea where but I just knew that I didn’t belong. Many times I would sit in preschool and daydream about leaving, or look out of my bedroom window and dream of getting on my electric-powered kiddie motorcycle and going away as far as it could take me. Though the church was very accepting of my family, I still felt my “otherness” in a negative way, and it affected how I viewed myself. Feeling like a misfit toy gave me a longing to find a place where I could belong or find other kindred spirits. Ultimately this feeling led me to New York City, which I affectionately call, the “Land of Misfit Toys.” Feeling different and constantly being “the other” has made me want to create spaces for other individuals who feel like misfits. In 2017, I finally decided to take a big leap. I did it because I knew that I had to believe in myself and my ideas to put them out there, even if no one else believed I should. Fortunately, I found people who joined me on the journey. We live in a day and age where we don’t have to wait for a “gatekeeper” to give out opportunities.
I realize in ways I am greatly privileged. The values instilled in me by my mother and the faith that she and my grandmother taught me through religion gave me value of my personhood. My father was always encouraging of my beauty and intelligence, which helped me to know that I could do anything I wanted. I understand not everyone has the luxury of having adults in their life who reiterate their worth even if the world might not. The fact that I know I am privileged in this way and that the world doesn’t see the worth of myself and others like me, drives me to create spaces for us to be heard and known. I want people who hear what I write or attend an event I direct or produce to know that someone sees them, hears them, and knows they are valuable and worthy. I do what I do because I want people to feel seen, heard, and valued. So many of us walk around feeling alone and invisible and I hate it. Whatever I can do, whatever is within the talents God has given me, I will use it so that we all can have a better understanding of how He sees us. I want to be a part of that work.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
I began writing when I was nine years old as a way to express myself and unpack my feelings. I had a notebook with pink paper that held scripts, poetry, spoken words, and other narratives about my experiences. Writing helped me to get a huge weight off my chest. When I write, I innately create characters with a variety of ethnicities, educational backgrounds, or ages because that is my experience. My blackness, femaleness, and faith hold their space differently depending on which way I decide to express my creative voice. I believe that as much as we are each different, there are a lot of qualities that make us alike. Unfortunately, we are so encumbered with differences that we are missing each other’s humanity. So when I write a play or screenplay, I make sure to include notes that leave space for many people to play the characters. When I produce, I am usually drawn to projects that highlight social issues I am passionate about and give opportunities to people who haven’t had many before.
Define “voice” and why it is important?
Voice is important because as we each share our stories and our humanity, we can inspire other people to see themselves. A woman I look up to once said that when she became free in who she was and her creativity, she realized her purpose on earth was to free others. I think that she and Marianne Williamson’s quote, “…as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others,” sums it up well. I know this holds true because of my own experience. One of my actors in a show I produced in 2018 was hearing-impaired. She said she had never been asked to be in a musical concert and if she was, she was only asked to sign. In our show, we asked her to speak the lyrics from “Mr. Cellophane” as well as narrate some dialogue I wrote to go with the song. We also used some of her own story and weaved it into one of the songs she performed in. As she watched us make that show happen from the ground up, she was encouraged to make a film about her own experience as a hearing-impaired individual and succeeded in raising the money to begin her project.
What advice do you have for someone trying to find their voice?
Everyone has a voice already. The question is whether or not you are empowered to use it and what the outlet is for you to express your voice. You must ask yourself, “What is the space that feels most authentic to who I am so that I can be of service to others?” My wish is for people to truly understand their worth. I think the landscape of every institution in the world can change for the better if everyone walked around knowing their worth. By being unapologetic about loving others and accepting your own self, we can make choices that are worthy of the life God has for us. Do not be willing to settle for less out of fear and a scarcity mindset.
Ebony Vines is a writer, director, and producer. In 2018 she wrote, produced, and co-directed Typecast: A Benefit Concert, which featured stories of identity lost and found. In 2019 she produced and assistant-directed The Women’s Cycle, an artistic event featuring female writers, directors, performers, a painter, and a chef. Ebony continues to create platforms that allow others to express their voices. She will be participating in the Commercial Theater Institute’s 14-week producing program, in which she hopes to gain knowledge and experience to use for her future projects. You can hear more from Ebony via her blog, EbonyVines, and hear her love of theater through her co-hosted podcast, Theatre Geeks Anonymous, which is available on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.