Chocolate Chat Exclusive: ‘Fat Ham’ Cast on Bringing Black & Queer Narratives to Life

The cast of Fat Ham, 2024. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

Can you imagine a party where the heat is blazing, plastic lawn chairs are scattered around the yard and the grill is smoking with delicious BBQ? The music is bumpin’ old school jams and you, your family and close friends are doing karaoke. Oh yeah this ain’t a regular party, it’s a cookout. But it’s not just any cookout, no, you’re at the cookout where the tea is pipin’ hot with drama. At least that’s how we felt when we saw Fat Ham at The Old Globe. With a set-design that reminds you of home, the production transports audiences to a world of familiarity, drama, hilarious shenanigans and one liners that you’ll be shouting out for days! This be Madness!

Okay but let’s not get ahead ourselves—no spoilers here ya’ll! We’ll just say that Fat Ham is a celebration filled with uplifting messages of finding one’s own self confidence. A few days ago, The Chocolate Voice crew had a great time chatting with two cast members from the show–Yvette Cason who stars as Rabby and m who stars as Opal. Together, they shared with us their journeys, passions, and insights on what makes Fat Ham such a groundbreaking piece of theatre.

The Soundtrack of Their Lives

Fun fact, did ya’ll know it’s also Black Music Month? So you know we had to kick off our chat with a little spin and groove! We asked m and Yvette if they absolutely had to choose an album or an artist to write the score for their biographical musical, who would they choose. Ya’ll, the answers did not disappoint! For Yvette, it was Ella Fitzgerald whose timeless melodies have continuously provided a soulful backdrop to her journey. Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder came in a close second though!  m on the other hand, had three choices—either a live album of Ella Fitzgerald, but they were split between Jazmine Sullivan and A Tribe Called Quest, to which we thought wait a minute ya’ll, we’ll have to work out the schedules because we wanted those artists to write our musical scores too! 

Journey to Fat Ham

“The first table read that we had— the energy at the table was incredible.”

From the opening scene of the show, there’s an undeniable, instant vivacity amongst the cast as they help illuminate the story. With boastful movements and strong vocal flexibility – there’s a reason it was nominated for five Tony Awards®, and that James Ijames, writer of Fat Ham, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2022. But, it all comes down to intentional representation. m, who identifies as non-binary, found an exhilarating freedom while being on stage through telling stories and connecting with audiences. With their own personal journey of self-discovery, finding Fat Ham was the perfect opportunity. m told us, “The first table read that we had—the energy at the table was incredible.” 

And audiences can feel that energy in their seats because the writing is a wonderful kaleidoscope of the many shapes, sizes and colors that Black people show up in. m also noted the importance of the script’s genuine and reaffirming representation of Black Queer people specifically, and the multitude of shared experiences. 

Yvette’s journey to Fat Ham came by way of her manager, who recognized how perfect the role of Rabby was for her.

“Rabby is a combination of women in my life—my mother, grandmother, my aunt and women I’ve known.”

Bringing Rabby to life has been an exciting adventure, and a role that authentically resonates with Yvette. With the many characters in the show, Yvette stressed the importance of our community not only being able to enjoy the show, but to sit in the theatre, and feel like the characters are recognizable and familiar, while also being recognized and acknowledged themselves. Almost everyone’s got either a nosy neighbor, a childhood friend, a quirky mama, a ride-or-die sister and bunch of other family members with drama right? 

Well, we can tell you first hand that the audience reactions are priceless—so it’s safe to say that they’re definitely relating to the show. Yvette says, “The interactive nature of the show and the genuine connection with the audience are what make it so special.” And m joked that we can always tell when our community is in the audience because there’s a vocal call and response, like you’re in church. “Seeing Black people leaning in and feeling seen is incredibly rewarding,” they said. 

As a theatre goer myself, I know I personally love hearing a “Mmm hmm!”, an “Oop!” or even a “Go head, girl!” Because it’s simply fun. Culturally, it’s how Black people show solidarity, that we’re fully engaged and immersed in the story—and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Ṣọla Fadiran as Juicy, Yvette Cason as Rabby, and Xavier Pacheco as Tio in Fat Ham, 2024. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

Diversity and Inclusion in Theatre

“There’s always room for more diversity.”

 With a growing fanbase from its original debut on Broadway, Fat Ham has been a part of a larger, more diverse and inclusive cultural shift in theatre. You wouldn’t know it, but this production is m’s first equity play and so far, they’re lucky to have been a part of theatre companies that look like them. However, they told us, “There’s so much work to do, in not just letting [BIPOC] people in the room but creating rooms for people who are often on the outskirts. The spaces we invite artists into, need to be receptive as well.” 

Yvette on the other hand, has been in the industry longer and has witnessed a slow progress. She felt that seeing a play like Fat Ham become a part of a theatre season is a sign in the right direction, however she’d love to see more people beyond the stage,

“There’s always room for more diversity. It’s not just about who’s on stage, but who’s making the decisions behind the scenes.”

One improvement that’s been occurring across the theatre community is the promotion of Black theatre night, and The Old Globehosted one of their own, as well as a Black pride night and will soon be celebrating Juneteenth night! These affirming events are critical especially for shows like Fat Ham where Yvette says,

“We want it to reach the people who are represented in the play.”

Historically, the Black community as a whole hasn’t had the economic advantages nor has the theatre been easily accessible, which is why more initiatives are needed in order to close the gap. This play embodies the lived experiences of our community, and through its rich storytelling, is helping to shine a light on a culture that inherently creates the way that art and entertainment move. 

m as Opal and Ṣọla Fadiran as Juicy in Fat Ham, 2024. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

m sees Fat Ham as a catalyst for change because it breaks conventional molds and celebrates Black and Queer narratives,

“The play is full of surprises that keep the audience hooked.”

And we had to laugh when they told us that apparently, one audience member even dapped Yvette up! That’s the kind of impact we at The Chocolate Voice want to see in the theatre, we want audiences to feel comfortable and have fun. As far as m and Yvette, well they hope that audiences walk away from Fat Ham with a sense of recognition and inspiration, and that viewers see themselves in the characters.

“I want the Rabby’s and Opal’s out there to feel seen and validated,” m said, while Yvette added, “Theatre is my happy place. I want the audience to leave feeling the joy and recognition that I do.”

Words to Live By

As you know at The Chocolate Voice, we always like to end things on a positive note, so we had to ask m and Yvette if there were any mantras or words they lived by.

Yvette had several, but in no particular order, “Closed mouths don’t get fed” “Ask for what you need” and one that stuck with her when she was cast as an understudy in Dreamgirls, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready”. She started living by those words after Director, Michael Bennett told her that she needed to be ready to take on the role of Effie. 

m had a few quotes to live by too – their first one was from the Bible where Moses is at the burning bush asking God for guidance, and God says, “I am that I am.” For m, this mantra is rooted in authenticity and always reminds them to keep a practice of self-love. 

Their second favorite quote to live by is from one of Octavia Butler’s journals, “Make people touch and taste and see, make people feel healed.” Which is a reminder to connect to others through shared, authentic human experiences. And lastly, a quote from Sula by Toni Morrison, “Like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous.” 

They emphasize the importance of staying true to oneself, undeterred by others’ perceptions.

Fat Ham is not just a play, it’s a vibrant, transformative experience. It’s a testament to the power of representation, the joy of storytelling, and the importance of creating spaces where everyone feels seen. It’s sure to become a cultural touchstone and we hope to see many more like it in the future!

So, if you haven’t already, get your tickets here in LINK! We promise it’ll leave you inspired, empowered, and craving more. Oh, and tell them Gwen and Shanda from TCV sent you!

Shanda and Gwen Pierce contributed to this article.

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