Writers Corps Profile: Markeith Wiley by Daemond Arrindell Nov 15, 2016

by Daemond Arrindell

drawing by Tessa Hulls

This season, an Ambassador Writers Corps* Member will write a profile on each of the nine local artists in 16/17. These in-depth conversations between local artists and local writers will take the place of curatorial notes in the performance programs. 

“I like when people are trapped in the joke, when there’s no escape. I like to lead people down the wrong path and then trap them.” -Paul Mooney

Markeith Wiley wants us to look at ourselves - to take a good, hard, long look at ourselves. Which is the exact opposite of what most of us want during a show. Hell, I could stay home and see myself. And Markeith isn’t talking about a simple glimpse in the mirror either - not a quick check to see if there’s something in my teeth. More like: Is there anything in my heart? How’s my humanity looking these days? 

It’s often works that can’t be captured in a box or with a label - this is a play, this is a dance, this is a song - that poke us in the sensitive places because we don’t know what to expect as audience members. So we are on our toes or on the edge of our seats and we simply can’t go to sleep and if we do, the work will serve to wake us up like an alarm clock and act as the more aggressive mirrors like the ones in seedy bars that have really invasive and unflattering neon lighting that shows every crease and nook and cranny of our skin.  Honest work that shows us ourselves, honestly. This is what Markeith Wiley strives for.

My initial impulse was to call him a jack of all trades - dancer, choreographer, actor, activist, teaching artist - but that would be another label that minimizes Markeith’s creative endeavors. Part of me wants to say that he is magic, but that would take for granted the intention, the labor, the hard choices and the vulnerability he puts into his work. Yes - work. That label seems appropriately fitting.  While a student at Cornish, many of his fellow students were drawn to collaborate with him. So much so that he was told if he started his own performance troupe, he would immediately have a following. Markeith attributes this to “need.” “I work out of necessity...of what’s happening to me and you…” And what is needed is almost never easy. 

Enter Dushawn. Seattle’s first Black talk show host. Dushawn is a creature of Seattle – born in part of Markeith’s need to share more than just his choreography as a dancer. In the desire for transparency, honesty and non-conformity, every move, every word, every utterance he brings to the stage through this character will be a dance as he works through the issues of the day. And considering the events of this week there is much to work through. 

With Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, and Paul Mooney as inspiration, and perhaps their spirits as co-conspirators, Dushawn and his guests from the community will address the question, “Is it too late?” Markeith cites the Devo song as a source  for the title of the show. “When a problem comes along, you must whip it.” Which begs the question, what and/or who is the problem? And furthermore, who holds the whip?

– Daemond Arrindell

Daemond Arrindell is a poet, performer, and teaching artist. Writer-In-Residence through Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools Program; and in 2012, he taught Seattle University’s first course in Slam Poetry. He has performed and facilitated workshops in poetry venues, prisons, high schools and colleges across the country, and he has been repeatedly commissioned by both Seattle and Bellevue Arts Museums.