Jonathan Pillot and curly twins Stephanie and Suzanne Jones created Project Curly and the Curly Monologues, which of course resonates with us here at NaturallyCurly. We got to ask them all about the experience so far!
NaturallyCurly: Tell us a little bit about Project Curly!
Jonathan Pillot: I created Project Curly as a community-based platform for people (primarily women) to self-express about how curly hair has affected their lives in any and all respects, regardless of race, age, nationality, ethnicity, etc. It was clear to me intuitively and then confirmed by conversations with curly females, that almost all of them had alot to say on this subject, and there is power in sharing stories and feeling the bond and the similarities within the context of one's own personal experience. Connecting the individual to the general. I felt that this could be a wonderful media vehicle in a variety of platforms, from web to film/television to live events, as well as a platform for brands. It is in alignment with two professional missions: to "entertain and elevate" as well as to create content and projects that give voice to others, so that we listen, and they are heard.
Suzanne Jones: It’s a multi-platform initiative created to celebrate all things curly—whether curly hair or “curly” thinking—as in creating and living beyond the straight and narrow. It started when Jonathan Pillot created a short video piece with women of all ages and races sharing stories of their curly hair and then organized a couple of “flash mobs” for curly-haired people to meet and greet.
NaturallyCurly: What inspired the Curly Monologues?
Suzanne: The initial inspiration was to bring the curly video concept into a live show environment with real people telling their stories to an audience, somewhat in the vein of “The Vagina Monologues.” Jonathan then partnered with my sister Stephanie and I, who, as The Jones Twins, are performers, writers and producers who, among other things, create and curate theatrical projects. We partnered to create a live cabaret/real storytelling event featuring established professional performers here in NYC doing curly-inspired performances as well as real people telling their personal stories around their curly hair. The hope is to unite all types of people around the concept of celebrating difference and sharing experiences. And to entertain and uplift!
Stephanie Jones: It wasn’t hard to get behind the Curly Monologues idea, as a performer/producer of live events I thought it was a brilliant concept! The whole experience has been fab.
Jonathan: When I shot the initial interviews for the sizzle piece, I was looking in the eyes of each woman/girl and sensed that real stories, authentically told, could really work in a live event/"theater" format. I thought of theatrical pieces like "Love Letters" and "Love, Loss and What I Wore" and "The Vagina Monologues" and decided to thread out this notion to get feedback, spread the brand messaging, and see what might be possible, not just in one venue, but across cities and, possibly, countries.
NaturallyCurly: What has been the most memorable story you've heard at the Curly Monologues?
Stephanie: All of the stories are memorable. So many authentic and passionate people have flocked to this event and amazingly creative people have taken to the stage! Our last theme was Growing Up Curly. We had storytellers of all ages, and a variety of performances. There was a beautiful story a young woman told of a grandmother who made her French braid her curly hair out of sight. She demonstrated this onstage, asking other Curlies to come onstage with her and take turns doing her hair. Another amazing presentation was by a mother, a brilliant writer by the way, whose greatest wish for her young daughter is for her to embrace her natural hair. In her story she told hilarious vignettes of all the research she’s done shopping in the hair care aisle, and how it inspired her to reach back into the archive of history and also examine pop culture to try to inspire her child to be proud of what she looks like. So powerful and so creative. We keep finding that talking about embracing your inner curly is really the story of the search for self.
Suzanne: One young lady, an actress, wrote and performed a hilarious and heartfelt piece from the perspective of her little girl self, wondering what life would be like without her kinky, curly hair and then realizing it wouldn’t be as much fun. Another great story was told and performed by a woman who, as an adolescent with a head of “unruly” blonde locks, was called “Witchiepoo” by her classmates. She decided to embrace her unusualness later in her life as a performer/musician/songwriter and ended her performance playing a ukulele and juggling oranges--Free to be herself!
Jonathan: There are two: one woman talking about how her father clearly must have wanted daughters with straight hair, not curly hair, and how he used to say things like, "can't you do something with that hair?!" as if it was something she should be ashamed of. That had a huge effect on her life, and her saying how it took her another 35 years to be in synch with her hair. The other was an African-American woman who after hearing the stories of white girls with curly hair, remarked that she never knew that white girls had suffered any similar experiences to hers. That showed me the power of storytelling and the bridging and connecting of people.
NaturallyCurly: How and when did you start embracing your own curls?
Stephanie: For me it was not until my 20s that I started learning to care for my curls, and even now I’m still learning. At the same time, that age is when I also started embracing myself as I was, and stopped looking to fit in so much, accepting my own unique traits in general. But in my childhood, products for our hair, hair like my twin sister and mine, just didn’t exist. So we either braided it up, used things that were too heavy, greasy, or oily, or cut it short and tried not to get the pyramid look. The cuts were not always successful! Many a school picture can attest to that. One year when we were in our teens we even made a trip to NYC from our home in the Midwest to visit a certain hair salon and guess what: that short hair cut was a disaster. So I didn’t always feel attractive with this hair, until I learned how to make it look beautiful with the right haircare. It didn’t help living in an area where almost nobody had curly hair!! Being the only biracial girls in a white suburban neighborhood/school environment, and trying to use products that the kids around us were using just didn’t work! I mean washing too often with Herbal Essence shampoo wasn’t working. My twin sis and I are writer/performers and did our Curly Monologue performance about this, living curly in a straight and narrow world. So I felt more powerful and curly goddess-like as I grew older and started figuring out how to get rid of the frizzy look, I have to admit.
Suzanne: Definitely not until adulthood as my sister and I hardly ever wore our long curly hair out growing up! Then I started experimenting with short hair—though it had to be cut often or would grow into a shapeless bush. Now, I LOVE all the natural bush/afro styles that people are wearing. I kept experimenting until finding a flattering length, which is definitely longer. Now, even though in the workplace--and in general--sleek, smooth hair is the norm and the standard, I love and wear my hair naturally curly—and long--because it is who I am and how I feel my natural best.
NaturallyCurly: Any Holy Grail products?
Stephanie: I try different ones all the time. I don’t rely on just one brand. After a while, if I see that my hair stops responding to certain products in the way I liked, I try something else. It can be hit or miss. Today I tried Ouidad Moisture Lock Define and Shine cream and my hair actually looks great. I’m loving it today.
Suzanne: The products for curly hair are getting better and better, thankfully!! I LOVE Miss Jesse’s Curly Pudding (it smells good too), any type of Moroccan oil, and recently, since working on Project Curly —Ouidad whose products are FANTASTIC. My hair just laps up anything Ouidad now, haha.
NaturallyCurly: How do you think having curly hair has impacted your life?
Stephanie: Hair has a big hold over us as women. Not feeling cute is a big deal. So finding the right way to take care of this hair is something I have to always think about it, and I work it into my schedule even, what with kids, family, work. So now with The Curly Monologues, hearing other women’s funny stories or painful struggles and seeing the creative ways we all have of living with and glorifying in our curly hair has been so impactful. It makes me wonder if folks with textured haired actually have an extra creative gene or something!
Suzanne: Well, as a woman of both African and European descent, my curly hair is an expression of who I am, literally. It is a symbol of that mix and it often helps create connections with people, strangers who start conversations (sometimes in other languages besides English) with me or ask me about myself. I guess you could say my curly locks have helped me bridge cultures and communities because this type of hair is globally prevalent. And since I have a deep love of people of all types and stripes, it literally helps me travel between worlds, communities. Also, curly hair is fun, sassy, never boring—a way I HOPE I come across!
NaturallyCurly: What is your goal for the Curly Monologues?
Stephanie: Bring women together across the globe by sharing something we all have in common. Curly /textured hair is present in so many cultures, from Africa to Asia, Mediterranean, Middle East as well as here in the West. The Curly Monologues shows have had a cross-section of participants and audience, presenters of Italian, Puerto Rican, French, and Jewish descent, biracial, African-American and Afro-Caribbean women. The amazing thing is hearing women say “wow, I never knew she had the same issues that I had about my hair. I thought it was only my people that felt that way”, and so on. The Curly Monologues is really a way of connecting women to each other, discovering things in common, and then creating a space for everyone to feel great about being who you are. We want to celebrate each other through a highly creative and entertaining experience.
Suzanne: We have presented two shows so far in New York and they have both been hits, the second one building on the first. We would like to keep expanding it here in New York but also across the country and the globe. We want to create a live event template that invites ALL types of people to hear and share stories and art around the concept of curly, especially as a metaphor for a free way of thinking and being: to naturally express who one is as an individual, curly, straight or whatever.
Jonathan: To expand it both here in NYC and to other geographical locations, to grow it in terms of finding the best manifestation of what is possible (in the style of the storytelling, the format for the productions, etc.), so that we can reach the most people and create commercially viable opportunities, as part of the overall Project Curly.
NaturallyCurly: Any upcoming projects?
Jonathan: Two feature films in the works, a women's sensuality portal, and CrazyRebelMisfit, which is another community-based multiplatform brand that celebrates out-of-the-box thinking and ideas.
Suzanne: Definitely continuing to collaborate with Jonathan on the Curly Project, here in New York, across the globe and across all media! Also, Stephanie and I, in our Jones Twins mode are recording a musical memoir – a musical tale of our lives as twins and bi-racial sisters growing up in a black family in a white community told through "opposing" musical styles; it’s called “The Jones Twins do Bebop Muzak”. Another project: Getting my own little girl to embrace her beautiful big curly/coily hair (not easy--but possible!)
Stephanie: Do longer form documentary film for Project Curly and to take The Curly Monologues live event on the road! Go to other cities around the country and across the globe and spread the message of Project Curly. Basically, we’d find a space with a stage and microphone and put the call out to women (men too) to come with something creative to say through story, song, and performance about embracing your curliciousness , inner or outer, because Curly is a state of mind. So far the Curly Monologue productions have been amazing and transformative. It’s an instant community and great way for people to come together.
NaturallyCurly: Where can our readers find you?