British Ballroom pioneer and father of the House of Revlon, Jay Jay Revlon, has turned his sights to the stage as the creative director of Sundown Kiki Reloaded. In the following interview, he discusses his introduction to Ballroom, his wider relationship with theatre and why Sundown Kiki is a must-see show.
AZ: Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
Jay Jay: Everyone knows me as Jay Jay Revlon, father of the House of Revlon. My work has existed in the community for more than 10 years. I’ve taught dance from a young age and I actually found Ballroom through Bebo. When I got to a comfortable age, I invested my time in it. I created [Ballroom and dance] classes and I’ve done everything from DJing to community support work, to corporate engagements and diversity and inclusion training. I work in a world of giving to others and my main thing is educating and giving people a space to be themselves, regardless of what background they come from.
AZ: What’s it like being a father for the House of Revlon?
Jay Jay: I was brought up in a Caribbean household (my family are from Jamaica and Trinidad) and nurturing others has always been a big part of who I am. I encourage my [House of Revlon] kids to be better and do better. I book them jobs. I’m like their momager and agent because I’ve worked in the creative scene for so long and I know there are a lot of things that organisations and brands won’t tell you. The father role is not just about helping my kids reach their creative potential, it’s also about providing support. I use everything I can to help my kids with whatever they need.
AZ: As a young black man from South London, what were your earliest experiences of theatre?
Jay Jay: There weren’t many. We did the classic Shakespear play in school but to be honest I was not involved at all. I got most of my grades for performing arts in dance. I’ve always danced so all my experiences on stage growing up were in the remit of dance. In terms of watching theatre, like most Caribbean people I grew up watching all the Oliver Samuel’s plays and that kind of thing. Other than that I was never really drawn towards theatre, I just had a really strong interest in dance.
AZ: How did you realise that performing arts are a great way to build community?
Jay Jay: I was in a dance group with this incredible woman called Leanne Pero. She ran The Movement Factory and is a good friend of mine. She’s probably the reason why I do what I do. I’ll always be grateful that The Movement Factory gives young working class people a space to be themselves. My access to dance was always based on community. I went from seeing it to being part of the infrastructure that makes it possible.
AZ: How did Sundown Kiki Reloaded come together?
Jay Jay: Originally, when Shereen Jasmin Phillips [Director of the Young Vic’s Taking Part division] hollered me about it, I was gonna say no but my ex convinced me to have a conversation with her. I’m usually quite harsh when I talk to organisations about doing stuff around Ballroom because sometimes I feel like they’re full of shit, so I’m really firm but I could tell straight away that Shereen came from the culture and had the cultural references that most people who work in theatre don’t have. Her vibe was basically perfect and that’s why I agreed to take on the project. Then they introduced me to [the director] Tristan and I went to see one of his plays which moved me to tears. I could see what everybody brought to the table and I was really impressed. They respected me as creative director and let me have the reins because I have the most in-depth knowledge of Ballroom. In the end the vision made sense, we all worked well together and I learned a lot.
AZ: How would you describe the show in three words?
Jay Jay: Crazy, shady and wholesome. Sundown Kiki is very real, there’s no sugarcoat.
AZ: What were some of the major highlights of putting the show together?
Jay Jay: A highlight for me was seeing the whole thing through for the first time and realising it looked better than anything I’d imagined. I also love that it’s a diverse piece of work and I was able to bring in people I knew. In the end it just felt like a family production.
AZ: Why do you think it’s so important for a show like Sundown Kiki Reloaded to reach queer audiences right now?
Jay Jay: For queer people of colour especially there are a lot of issues around representation and seeing ourselves, people feel like they’re being erased. To see a show like Sundown Kiki is to see ourselves in a space that’s usually super white and that’s really important because it serves as inspiration. It’s made for us Black and Brown people to enjoy theatre the way we would and it’s definitely not one of those shows where you sit and watch in silence. It’s definitely giving loud and it’s giving chaos and audience participation is encouraged. I wanna see people jumping out of their seats and having a great time.
Sundown Kiki Reloaded is on at the Young Vic Theatre, Maria Studio from 31 July to 11 August and live-streamed on 10 August.