Khari Haynes, an actor and director with Marin City roots, says performing on stage allows him to be someone else.
“Theater is a personal outlet for me. I was able to play roles that brought out a different personality,” Haynes said. “I was able to do it all on the stage.”
But when he steps off, Haynes said he feels a responsibility to represent his roots to other young actors and students interested in theater.
Haynes, 27, of Suisun City is the artistic director of a youth production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It will be performed on July 1 at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.
One of his primary goals teaching at the Marin Shakespeare Co. youth camp this summer is to show young people that people of color from historically Black Marin City can achieve in the arts if they have a passion for it.
Haynes has been instrumental in guiding the students in their recitations and performances.
“I think theater allows them to step out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Being different personalities up there helps them grow as individuals.”
During rehearsal on Monday, Haynes directed 10-year-old Lisa Noble of San Rafael to “do an evil laugh” for the character Oberon, often known as the “king of fairies.”
“I don’t have an evil laugh,” responded Noble, evoking laughter from Haynes and others.
Lisa and her friend Maddie Silva of San Rafael have attended the youth camp before, performing in productions of “The Tempest,” “Julius Caesar” and “Twelfth Night.”
“I like all the different characters and how they’re all playing their parts,” Maddie said.
“It’s fun when you make jokes and everyone laughs,” Lisa added.
A veteran of the Marin City nonprofit performing Stars since the age of 5, Haynes said he sees much of his personal experience being relived by Marin youths in the camp. He said he hopes his experience and insight can serve as inspiration to pursue theater and acting as a profession, just as he did.
Performing Stars founder Felecia Gaston said Haynes was a fount of encouragement and humility, and a foremost representative of the often unrecognized talent in Marin City.
“He loves theater. His eyes just light up. When you see him on stage, you can see it,” Gaston said. “He’s always given back to the community.”
Haynes said his participation in performing Stars developed his love of theater. At age 7, he attended the Marin Shakespeare Co. youth summer camp and was assigned to play Hamlet.
“I was just there to be there and have fun,” he recalled, reminiscing briefly about learning a sword-fighting scene.
Haynes attended school in Marin and went to Redwood High School. But pursuing his passion wasn’t always easy.
After high school, he was living in Vacaville without a car. On weekday mornings, Haynes would wake up at 4 am and catch a ride with his mom to Corte Madera, where she worked at Safeway. From there, he would take a bus to San Francisco State University for classes. At the end of the day, he would take the bus back to Corte Madera before driving home in the evening.
After a while, his grades began to slip. He took up classes at Solano Community College to finish out his early college requirements and transferred to Sacramento State University, where a professor reigned his passion for theater and Shakespeare.
Haynes said his performances as Othello recalibrated his understanding of European playwriting and artistry through the lens of Black characters performed by Black actors. It was experiences like this that inspired his interest to return to Marin and teach students about theater, he said.
“Words are words. There’s no color,” he said. “It’s my home here. I want these kids to get to be outspoken. I want to give them courage.”
He received a degree in theater from Sacramento State University this year.
The youth camp is geared toward students 8 to 12. The Marin Shakespeare Co. is also hosting a teen camp that will perform “Romeo and Juliet,” said Abbey Campbell of the Marin Shakespeare Co.
The performances teach the students about emotional communication and empathy, said Elana Kepner, the troupe’s education director.
“I think Shakespeare has a lot to teach them about language and about how words can create worlds,” said Kepner, who lives in Forest Knolls.
The students began their preparations a week ago and are about halfway through rehearsals. The teachers have already seen a transformation in some of them.
“It might as well have been a new group of kids,” Kepner said. “They’re coming out of their shells.”