Local playwright reveals importance of digital ‘detox’

Monday, October 27, 2014

By Shanaya Day-Merkerson

Special to The Communitarian

Ontaria “Kim” Wilson believes that the internet is not only making people lazy but also stripping users of basic interpersonal skills that are essential for everyday communication and, as a result, breaking families apart due to a lack of communication.

So the actress-dancer-writer wrote “Detox,” a play about people’s obsessions with the cyber world and social media.Wilson, 40, is no stranger to the world of entertainment. The Philadelphia native appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien as well as in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 fantasy film “Last Airbender.”


Wilson’s self-directed play is about a family of five who allows the internet and social media to take over their everyday lives.

I recently sat down with Wilson to discuss her accomplishments and the purpose of “Detox,” which will be performed Nov. 15 and 16 at the Luther Rogers Center for Education and the Arts, located at 4809 Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia.

Q. When did you first start dancing?

A. I always had a passion for dancing. I started dancing at 3 years old. I couldn’t take classes as a child because my parents couldn’t afford them so I would practice with my friends. We used to break dance and I would teach them how to do certain moves. When I got older, I joined Renny Harris Puremovement, an international dance company in Philly.

Q. What dancing experience do you have?

A. A lot! I danced on shows like Soul Train, Motown Live, The Conan O’Brien Show, and NFL Under The Helmet as a back-up dancer for female rapper Eve. I also toured with R&B artist Gina Thompson. And I was a principle dancer in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Last Airbender” as a member of the Earth nation.

Q. Please tell me more about your experience in “Last Airbender.”

A. I was a part of the earth nation. All of the earth’s different nations had different backgrounds, so you had your Africans and your Asians, etc. The earth nation I was in, we were in a village and the air benders came to our village. It was a festive moment. We were celebrating. My group was responsible for dancing so we spent maybe 12 hours practicing choreography and the next day we were there for the shoot.    It was outside, it was hot, our feet were blistering, but we knew we were getting paid and that a check was coming [laughs], so we were like, “Ok, we’ll just sit until they call us to do our scene.” I enjoyed the atmosphere.

Q. What made you decide to become an actress?

A. As a child, I was always outgoing and fun. I would find humor in imitating others.

Q. Are you a member of the Screen Actors Guild Union?

A. No, but I am SAG Eligible.

Q. What does that mean?

A. The next SAG job that I get, I have to become a member of the union.

Q. Why?

A. They told me they’re not going to keep paying me union money if I’m not a member.

Q. Do you want to be a member of

SAGA? . Yes. When you’re a part of SAG in certain states, you get the best work. You get selected before somebody that’s not union. You get a lot of protection being in the union.

Q. When did you begin writing?

A. I began writing poetry in the 10th or 11th grade. I always had a love for English.

Q. Who is your ideal audience for “Detox”?

A. The world. Everybody. I wrote “Detox” from the perspective of an African-American family because that’s who I had access to right now, and I wanted to get it done. I’m the kind of person who believes that when God gives me [an idea], he doesn’t give it to me to sit on it. He gives ittometogetitout.Inthemidstofmy writing, I started picturing certain people who I believe need a real life detox from the cyber world.

Q. Why did you name your play “Detox” and what does it have to do with the issue of people abusing the cyber world?

A. I feel like society as a whole has an addiction to social media and most people won’t say that it’s an addiction because it’s habitual. When you try to break away from anything habitual, you feel the sting of it. Imagine not having your phone for a day. We freak out when we don’t have our phones because our phone is our access to the world. If for some reason people are at work and the network goes down, they panic. They don’t know what to do. Then they’re ready to go home as if there isn’t work to be done. I am currently detoxing from social media, but my phone stays in my hand. It reminds me of smokers who try to stop smoking but buy the electric cigarette. We all need a break, a detox, from the cyber world.

Q. What is the message you want people to take from this play?

A. Balancing their lives between modern technology and social media and reclaiming their families.

Q. Please elaborate.

A. The internet has opened up a plethora of information that has made us lazy and not as book smart as we used to be because everything is at our finger tips. Nowadays, people can’t even remember their mother’s telephone number because everything is saved in technology. Even in my relationship, a romantic relationship, we are both addicted to our computers, our phones, and we are addicted to social media. We have a certain level of disengagement.

Q. Please give me an example of when you experienced disengagement.

A. This one time, my fiancé, his son and I went to Pizza Hut for dinner. My fiancé pulled out his laptop, son pulled out his Samsung Galaxy and I said, “No! No, no no! Put it away!” They said, “Huh?” I said, “Put it away. This is family time, talk time.” Nobody wanted to talk, nobody had anything to say, so I started throwing out questions such as, “Hey? How was your day?” Nobody wanted to talk, but they give so much energy to the world of cyber space.

Q. How did that make you feel?

A. Angry in a way and disappointed to see that as a whole, our interpersonal skills have degenerated, especially among young people.

Q. How so?

A. One example, I work at a performing arts school. The kids barely know how to engage in conversation. They don’t look you in your eyes while talking to you, they talk to you, looking in a completely different direction and answer everything like “yes… no… I don’t know… huh… maybe,” like they don’t know how to properly converse. It’s as if they can’t do it because they’re not being taught how to do it. It starts at home. Put down the game, come sit in front of mom or dad and talk. “How was school today? What did you learn How did you feel?” Parents today need to tap into their children’s emotions, get into their psyche and see what’s really going on with them. They don’t because they’re too busy with social media and the cyber world, just like the children and young people. [It is] disengagement.

Q. How would you recommend this problem be solved?

A. All we have to do is talk. Doesn’t that solve most problems? As a people, we have had so much fighting against us, for centuries. And now things are getting even worse because now we’re not talking. During the Civil Rights Movement, people talked. Families would go home, sit down and have dinner and talk. I’ve had conversations with a mother. She has a son and doesn’t like him going outside because it’s dangerous and so much is going on there. Her way of keeping him safe is keeping him inside, buying him games. But her balance? She would take him to a natural science museum or to a farm, or anywhere just to do things with him to engage and to let him know, “There are other things in life you can do. Let’s talk about these things. You have a new friend? Tell me about you friend.” Balance. I’m not saying take the internet away. It’s a good resource, but sometimes people use it with bad intentions.

Contact The Communitarian at communitarian@ mail.dccc.edu

By Shanaya Day-Merkerson

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