Acting up – Kevis Hillocks – Diaspora Dynamics

Diaspora Dynamics, where we focus on keeping you abreast of the activities, achievements, and contributions of Vincentians all around the world. For this edition, we are pleased to feature actor Kevis Hillocks from Brooklyn, New York, USA. Kevis is a first generation American by way of Vincentian parents Winfred Hillocks from Redemption Sharps, and Susan MatthewsCarter from Gomea.   By Tricia Reddock

American vernacular includes the phrase “acting up,” which is often applied to a rambunctious child who misbehaves. Kevis Hillocks, whose heritage is Vincentian, has expanded on this concept. He started acting up at his Brooklyn elementary school.

“School represented freedom. In class, I promptly forgot all about what my parents told me. I was very wild and had a reputation as the class clown. I also had quite a vivid imagination and pictured myself with superpowers.”

Little did he or his parents know at the time that his wild and crazy antics were simply a dress rehearsal for the future.

Kevis is currently a working theatre actor, a pretty amazing feat for a young, Black American male who recently graduated from university.

Kevis as Ethiopian teenaged dancer Abdi in Morning Sun (2015) at West End Theatre in NYC.

“It’s a great time to be Black and working in the industry. We now have movies like  Get Out and Moonlight . We are at a time when it is okay to have an all Black cast. We now have different options where they didn’t exist before.

We have stories for people to see themselves and their humanity fully fleshed out as a person.” I was fortunate enough to see Kevis’ performance as Wilbert X, brother of Malcolm X in  X, or Betty Shabazz V. The Nation (2017) with The Acting Company at The New Victory Theatre in New York City’s theatre district. Also in attendance were some of his family members, including his cousin Wendy Diamond.

“Kevis delivered an outstanding performance in  X , I think this was my second or third time seeing him perform, and the transformation from being reserved to lighting up on stage is amazing.”

Truthfully, I was equally impressed. I was riveted by his stage presence. He stood out and I found my eyes naturally drawn to his movements and words as he conveyed the inner conflict that arose from his attempts to balance his split loyalties between his brother and the Nation of Islam.

Character Wilbert X, brother of Malcolm X in X, or Betty Shabazz V. The Nation at (2017)
The New Victory Theatre, NYC

Incredibly, The Acting Company was also simultaneously presenting Shakespeare’s  Julius Caesar (2017), with Kevis performing in dual roles as Decius Brutus and Octavius Caesar. Born and bred in the rough neighbourhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn, NY, Kevis is first generation American.

His parents are Vincentians Winfred Hillocks and Susan Matthews-Carter from Redemption Sharps and Gomea, respectively. He considers himself Caribbean American. Kevis strongly identifies with his Vincentian heritage, proudly displaying the three Vincy gems flag emblem tattooed on his forearm.

He has travelled to St. Vincent regularly starting at a young age. In addition, he spends a lot of time with family to maintain his connection to his roots.

One of his future goals is to contribute to the arts culture in Vincy through educational outreach programs for the youths. His most recent visit was in the summer of 2014.

“I love having another home. It’s through my Vincentian upbringing that I learned about the importance of cleanliness and pride.”

He credits his parents for instilling strong moral values from a very young age. “Both of my parents were very strict, and together, they guided my social choices.

I was taught to be careful about accepting food from strangers and to be discerning when visiting other homes.

Kevis with maternal grandfather in St. Vincent (2014)

I remember my dad was like, ‘be still – don’t you even sit down!’ when we visited others,” he mimicked, laughingly breaking into character.

I met up with Kevis at a quaint coffee shop of his choosing, specialising in organic tea in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where he currently resides.

He is a tall, dark, handsome, young man – extremely animated, expressive and articulate as he talks about his Vincentian upbringing in New York.

“My parents split when I was still young. My younger brother and I stayed with my father, although our mom remained very involved in my upbringing. My dad was tough and I got the Vincy beatings too.

At one point in middle school, I didn’t like his strictness, which caused me to distance myself. He was quick to shut me down. If I ever was to do something wrong, I would get my butt whupped.

My father was very committed to raising me and my brother the right way. He was involved every step of the way. Thankfully, our relationship has evolved and now we are very cool, he is a lot more relaxed and he trusts me.”

With family in St. Vincent, 2007

It was in high school that Kevis stumbled into acting, despite being on track to becoming a lawyer as was decided in middle school.

“My parents encouraged me to join my choice of after school program to keep me busy after school, I then chose to join Project SAFE, or PRY an outreach program that raised awareness about HIV/AIDS through educating youths about prevention through safe sex practices.”

He chose to join the theatrical arm which presented educational skits and spoken word poetry. This was his first on-stage experience.

“My parents came to my first show. They were a little shocked by the content as I used profanity liberally in my monologue. In spite of the language, they were impressed with my performance.” Also, we had a family tête à tête.

A spontaneous discussion about purpose. We talked about my school environment. I was encouraged by my teachers and I had some peers who were motivating, but I still felt isolated and the overall environment wasn’t one that fostered development and advocacy. So I acted the fool.

My parents were very encouraging and assured me they supported my decisions without judgement. This was a major turning point for me.”

Serendipity was in operation because it so happened that his high school mentor, Chesney Snow, the co-leader of the theatrical division in PRY, was also a professional actor. Snow recognised his natural talent and encouraged him to consider pursuing acting as a career.

After his acceptance into State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase School of the Arts theatre program, Kevis started on his path towards becoming a thespian. However, Purchase’s rigorous acting conservatory proved far more challenging than he expected.

Kevis as Ethiopian immigrant Abdi in Morning Sun (2015) at West End Theatre in NYC.

“During the first year, I questioned myself. Why am I here? What am I doing? I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I wasn’t very committed to acting at that point. Honestly, I was a little lazy. I did not show who I was, and was almost cut from the program because of this.”

Fortunately for those of us who love the theatre, he pushed past his fears and rose up to the challenge.

“The acting conservatory at Purchase involved all day training, every day. I started at 19 years old. I had my classes from 8 am to 6 pm, then rehearsals from 7 pm till 11 pm.

We covered voice training, speech training and movement, among other things. You must have a passion for acting to complete this kind of intensive program successfully.”

His performance at SUNY Showcase, at the end of the rigorous four-year training in 2014 was noticed by casting directors and agents in attendance.

He was subsequently invited to audition for a role in what turned out to be his first professional performance in  King Lear (2014) at the prestigious annual Shakespeare in The Park production at Central Park in New York City the following summer.

Kevis’ work at SUNY also led to his first international acting experience at a theatre festival in Greece called Greek Festival 2016 where they presented  Ruined (2016), a play about Africans in the Congo, at the request of a director he previously worked with at conservatory.

It was during this run that Kevis visited Egypt for his first glimpse of Africa.

“I was in Egypt for two days. I saw the pyramids, went to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and we even got to sail a bit of the Nile River.

I went with two cast members from  Ruined who were also Purchase alumni, and we were shown hospitality by a Purchase alumni who lives there.”

As rebel leader Jerome Kisembe in Ruined (2016) at Greek Festival 2016

Other acting credits include  College Colors (2016), Thoughts of a Colored Man (2015),  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (2014), and  Morning Sun (2015), which earned him favorable mention for his portrayal of Abdi, an Ethiopian youth who emigrates to Harlem, NY to build a life with his teen love.

According to journalist Jonathan Mandell’s review in  NY Theatre , “Kevis Hillocks, in particular, is a standout, his bright smile and winning dance moves as a teenager visibly disappearing as he grows into a young adult immigrant trying to find his way out of bitterness and back to love and joy.”

Kevis consciously selects roles and productions with depth and strong social commentary. He is passionate about highlighting social injustices which lead him to try out for controversial roles. For instance, in  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone , he played a pastor who served time on a chain gang in 1911 during the racially charged Jim Crow era.

His character was a multi-layered individual who lost himself, only to find himself again in the prison system. As a Caribbean descendant, he struggled to find a way to connect with this character.

“During rehearsals, I realised that this isn’t my history, I am Caribbean. How can I do this? I had to embrace this history. I had to immerse myself in the historical circumstances of that time. I took all that I knew about that era, and myself, and applied it to telling that person’s truth. So it’s me, Kevis on stage, in another set of circumstances. I must commit to telling the truth in that moment. I cannot carry that person with me off stage. I have to walk away and leave it there after I tell the story.”

When I asked about his personal philosophy, Kevis revealed that he operates from empathy. “I try to stay open minded. I am eternally curious about what is going on around me. I seek to practice compassion for myself, then others. I have to remain connected to who I am. I have to know myself and be kind to me.

Kevis as Commander Osemebanga in Ruined (2016) at Greek Festival 2016

 This helps to keep me open to helping others. It reminds me to hold open the door for strangers, simple, everyday gestures like carrying packages for the elderly to assist when I can. I am realising that each person has their own life, and like them, I take up space. I can be big, or I can be small. I have to create balance by knowing when to be big, and when to be small.”

Tracey Pamphile, his middle school schoolmate with whom he remains close, bears testimony to Kevis’ transformation from the mischievous kid who acted up at school into the multi-dimensional, talented theatre actor with a commanding stage presence.

“Everyone’s personal development goes through milestones, the same goes for friendships. I’ve known Kevis for over ten years, and there’s been nothing but laughter! It would be hard not to crack a smile around him, he was such a character.

He is full of energy and personality. I watched his performance in  X this spring. I believe that was a great milestone in his career development, and to be able to bear witness to this is a great milestone in our friendship. I look forward to witnessing many more milestones.”

I must say I agree with her that there will be many more wonderful milestones ahead. Kevis’ journey thus far, is truly an inspiration. He is definitely one to watch. Our very own Vincy star is rising.

You can follow Kevis Hillocks on Instagram @kevishill for information about upcoming performances in your area.

Mandell, Jonathan. “Mourning Sun Review: Story of A Child Bride in Recovery.” New York Theatre. November 20,2015,

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