The Genius of Jordan Temple’s ‘Hidden Fences’
LIGHTS UP on a team of scientists in lab coats who gather around taking notes of a single man who is swinging a baseball on a string held by another scientist
Aha! I’m gon’ be the first nigga to hit a baseball into space!
Yes, and we’re going to do the math to help get it there!
If my calculations are correct Troy will be the first nigga to hit a baseball into space.
I’m so happy you convinced NASA that getting my baseball into space was more important than getting a man on the moon.
And so begins Hidden Fences.
If you aren’t familiar, the award season began with a series of white actors and journalists giving awards and interview questions to stars of the films Hidden Figures and Fences by constantly conflating the two films. “Why can’t Hollywood keep two damn black movies in their head at the same time?” asked New York-based standup Jordan Temple. Hell, even a google search for “Hidden Fences” takes you directly to information on the movie it assumes you meant.
So he set out to do something with his frustrations. He made Hidden Fences, a play that intertwines the plot of a movie about African American women at NASA with the story of an abusive ex-baseball player and the strength of the family around him. And it really, really works.
“This idea started from the news of it hitting — the whole inability to separate the two films,” Temple says. “It stuck with me. I avoided making jokes about it online but it was processing in my mind. I’d already seen Hidden Fences…. oh, see, I can confuse the two as well. It allowed me to get offline while being inspired by the things I’d seen online. Black Twitter helped me fill this canvas of bullshit that black people already know about. I was on the fence — no pun intended— about the whole thing and then I went for it.”
Temple, who started in improv and made a jump to standup four years ago, had a family background in theater that helped lay the groundwork for this production. “My mom has a Masters in Applied Theater. We were once in a production of Sister Mary Ignatius where she played the nun and I played the schoolboy who has to sing for cookies. It was twisted, but that’s a quick peek behind the curtain of my comedy.” Since then, Temple has been developing his work while also writing on several seasons of MTV’s Decoded.
Temple realized the Hidden Fences concept was fertile ground for comedy after watching Black Twitter tear it to shreds, and then he backed away so he didn’t accidentally borrow any of the material as he crafted his own multi-act presentation. After putting in the hours rewatching both films, he set out to explore black culture through a meta-literary lens as the blue collar workers and visionary idealists clash in situations with turns that force the audience to examine both the success and failures of progressive Hollywood entertainment.
Also, the entire cast gets to scream “Fences are a metaphor!” Just in case you may have missed that.
Having sold out three different runs of the show now and plans to take it to other cities in the next few months, Temple is now basking in some success. “People tag me in pictures of the show and say ‘Jordan is doing it for the culture,’ and that’s how I feel like this played out. The cast too, all of us involved, the love of something like this shines through when you’re true to your own voice and take out those frustrations and turn them into the purest, most boiled-down version of yourself. That resonates with people. That’s what people love, and it starts with that love emanating from you. It doesn’t always go that way, but when it does, it’s something special.”
And now the show is starting to evolve, incorporating elements of other prominent black entertainment, including some segments from Get Out. Without giving too much away, it’s fairly easy to transition back and forth between the white cop pull-over scenes at the beginning of both Get Out and Hidden Figures. The show takes the form of a standup comedy variety event, with other performers, including Black History Facts’ Langston Kerman, getting individual spotlights before the show and in the show’s act break intermission. The cast has included cast members Karolena Theresa, Devion MacArthur, Holden McNeely, Kerman, and more.
Who does Temple see as his audience? “My audience is black people who love Erykah Badu and white people who love Kurt Vonnegut. The crowd at our last show were young black people who love both.”
Does Temple feel like the play is accomplishing its goal of alleviating frustrations born of the original cultural infraction? “I am less frustrated by the temporary and the things you don’t get than by the long run and the fear that you have no ideas or that you’re doing something wrong,” Temple says. “This was about taking the heartbeat or the pulse of what was around me, and that was important to see through. It took a willingness to get this to the point where it became this popular.”
“People sometimes understand the black experience to be one thing. Muhammad Ali said ‘I contain multitudes,’ and I want people to understand that — not just about me as a black comedian, but as a thinker and a creator with a hunger. And the culture. That is to say, I would like to think I did it for the culture, but deep down I know I did it for myself as well.”
Langston Kerman adds: “Hidden Fences is a beautiful articulation of how little white America cares to understand the value and nuances of blackness, and how important it is that we, the members of this shunned community, remind ourselves not to give a fuck.”
So keep an eye out for Jordan Temple as he takes the show on tour, and as it continues to evolve into a mass of black culture that famous white folks cannot keep separate.
Photos by Mindy Tucker.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and standup comedian living in Los Angeles and doing the best he can. He lives with a wife and one cat and the cat is named for the lead character in The Fugitive even though it is a girl cat because gender is fluid. Buy his albums on iTunes or Amazon and follow him @brockwilbur on Twitter.