Ayana Hampton bounds towards me in orange like a glowing giant, her mouth open, teeth widening into an electrifying cave of snow-white elasticity. She had a difficult time locating the Casa del Mar hotel, so I have agreed to stand on the street and wave. Coming into my sphere as if I’m a long lost best friend, Ayana exclaims, with glee all over her shining face, that she just booked a Coors Light commercial and has a fitting within the hour. Serendipity—her drive to Santa Monica was considered out of the way. Now, it’s good timing.
“The spot is about men who are badly hitting on women,” Ayana says as we sit next to the huge window, with the ocean, sun and Santa Monica pier behind us. “I am one of two pretty girls, and I initiate a cock block, until the ‘Master of Cold’ emerges.” She’s happy—it’s been awhile since her last TV appearance. In between auditions, the ferociously active Ayana stays busy with her half performance art/half stand-up 10-minute one-woman show, which plays bi-monthly here, but will likely debut in a much longer version this summer in NY.
“The Morning After” show is breathtaking, frenetic and with the balls and staccato of a beat poet. Ayana calls it “experimental Vegas.” The themes range from sexual frustration to showgirl obsession to heartbreak. And there’s singing, jazz dizzying motion, dramatic poetry, and what-the-fuck did she just say funny shit. The passion is feverish, the energy contagiously righteous. It comes, historically, from watching her mom sing. “She does this thing where she turns the music on really loud and just stands in the corner and sings, really, really loud. So with my show, it’s my way of growing up and not sitting in the living room anymore.” Of course, there is a great deal of African-American culture embedded in the entire spiel, and Ayana seems to have tremendous fun with dramatizing her interpretation of stereotypes such as the “manly” black woman or really out there drag queen. “The black experience does continue to be hard,” she says, “but the world today is working against keeping it hard.”
What makes Ayana different from all of the other Hollywood work horses is her unapologetic, genuinely playful spirit. In truth, being with Ayana is akin to watching evolution—nature in all its raw glory and everlasting punching. “Most people are out for calm and balance. And they’re happy to maintain their achievements,” Ayana explains, in differentiating herself. “That’s because frenzy is like an animal. It can’t sustain itself.
“A person can find themselves trapped in their circumstances and they have to figure out how to open the door.”
Watching Ayana’s own creature unleashed from that cage is indeed part of the fun insistence of her gestalt. “I get this genuine presence and necessity when I perform. And I sense that the audience needs me to be me. So I feel vital.”
And that’s just it: art for Ayana is imperative, and it’s hard to turn away from someone with that kind of gumption.
- David Kohner Zuckerman