Artist to Watch: Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo

The Fringe Festival sensation is becoming an actress in demand.

That Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo would become an actress in demand — a hit at KC’s 2016 Fringe Festival who has played standout roles at the Coterie and the Unicorn — was far from expected.

Badejo comes from a family that excels in the sciences. Her mother and three siblings are medical professionals, her father is a research scientist and her uncle is head chemist at Johnson and Johnson. Badejo’s adolescent goal was to be a nuclear chemist and her career path seemed defined and promising.

But alongside science activities in high school, Badejo played in the band, she sang in the church choir and, significantly, she discovered the thrill of being on stage. She threw herself into debate, forensics, plays and musicals. She claims her “dad could see the spark.”

Last fall Badejo played three different roles in “The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock” at the Coterie Theatre. In December, she appeared in Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” at the Unicorn.

And it’s burning now.

In July at the Fringe Festival, Badejo starred in her own one-woman show, “Young Black Victorian,” at the Fishtank.

“Badejo grips the audience by the heart from the very beginning,” reviewer Jessie Riggins wrote in “KC Metropolis.” “Powerful, ladylike, and childish all at once, her portrayal of a young girl just trying to find her place in the world is heartwarming and captivating.”

“Young Black Victorian” enjoyed solid audiences. It was extended and will likely be expanded into a fuller ensemble piece within the next year.

Last fall Badejo played three different roles in “The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock” at the Coterie Theatre. In December, she appeared in Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” at the Unicorn, earning high praise from theater critic Robert Trussell: “Her performance as Minnie is simply riveting,” in his review for “KC Studio.”

“Keeping busy,” is how Badejo describes her current status. “After closing ‘An Octoroon,’ I’ll be in the world premiere of ‘No Talking’ by Laurie Brooks at the Coterie Theatre,” she said. “I’m currently working on expanding ‘Young Black Victorian’ as well as assistant directing Project Pride with Amanda Kibler at the Coterie.”

Badejo especially credits her Hickman Mills drama teacher, Hanna Cusick (who can also claim local actors Jake Walker and Rusty Sneary among her successes), as her inspiration. Under Cusick, Badejo performed in “Boys Next Door,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Let’s Murder Marsha,” “Aladdin” and “Killer Halloween.” She was also part of the Coterie Theatre’s “Round Table” high school writing club with Jeff Church.

As Badejo was finishing her junior year, Cusick urged her to apply for the Missouri Fine Arts Academy summer program for high school students at Missouri State University in Springfield. It was a competition, and Badejo had to send in an audition tape with original monologues and essays. She was one of only 12 theater students and other artists who were chosen statewide.

A commitment to acting determined her college path. Following studies at Longview Community College and internships at Kansas City Actors Theatre and The Living Room, Badejo graduated in 2015 from UMKC. As an undergraduate she again turned to Jeff Church, who advanced her development into a playwright as part of his Script Analysis initiative, offering graduate-level text analysis for UMKC.

At UMKC, Badejo was involved in university productions, but as a first-generation Nigerian American found her choice of roles to be somewhat restricted. That’s changed now, she thinks, with a greater openness to race, gender and — for Badejo, size, as she is petite. In any case, she surprised even herself when she decided not to go on to grad school but instead to get out in the market and make her way.

For two years Badejo has been the “artist in residence” at the Fishtank Theatre, where she and Heidi Van debuted their “Brechtology” pieces and later performed Samuel Beckett’s “Come and Go,” a sparse, “absurdist” piece in which the audience watches as three near-silent actresses sit hidden under their hats on stage. The “testing” nature of absurdist theater gives it that science flavor.

Education is her second calling, and that’s where science really comes in. Badejo teaches science to preschoolers and sixth-graders in an after-school program, “Mad Science.”  She has headed up thousand-strong school assemblies, most notably with the “Spin Pop Boom” presentation all about explosions, “exothermic and endothermic.” Following a recent extended course in Paola, the kids clamored for her to return.

“It is a performance,” she says, one that empowers children, ignites an interest in science and gives them confidence. For the fourth year Badejo is one of the members of the Dramatic Health Education Project, a joint effort with The Coterie, UMKC Med and KU Med, in which acting and med students perform monologues about HIV to middle and high school students.

Badejo’s goal is to be artistic director of a new works theater in two or three years. Chicago, she says, would be a dream, but Badejo can envision Kansas City potentially filling that desire. First, she says, she needs to “go away,” to “strike out on her own” and come back stronger and more complete.

And, just as they have in science, her family has a legacy for that. Her father, a Muslim, this year made his first spiritual journey to Mecca, as did his father before him. (An earlier family member actually made the entire journey from Nigeria to Mecca on foot.) Badejo’s mother is Christian, as are her three siblings. Badejo describes herself as unaligned but still very spiritual. Like any scientist, she is a child of “the universe.”

The Coterie’s 2017 Project Pride performance, assistant directed by Badejo,  will be held March 4 at 7 p.m. and  March 5 at 5 p.m. on The Coterie’s Mainstage, located on level 1 of Crown Center. Admission is $5. For tickets, call The Coterie Box Office: 816.474.6552.

Badejo appears in the Coterie’s production of “No Talking” through March 19. For tickets, 816.474.6552 thecoterie.org.

Above: Photo by Jim Barcus

About The Author: Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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