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Cynthia Erivo has rolled her way into a new project with Adobe. The actress, artist and performer, who is currently nominated for an Emmy Award for her work as Aretha Franklin in Nat Geo’s Genius: Aretha, has partnered with Adobe on Stories on Skates. The project features a line of digital roller skates that showcases a beloved pastime — one that has grown amid the pandemic and on social media but has always been in vogue in the Black community — while also highlighting Adobe’s Substance 3D design software.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Erivo by telephone to discuss how she approached her role as creative director, what brings her joy today and why her recent Hollywood Bowl debut was so life-changing.
Why did you partner up with Adobe on these digital skates?
What drew me to the project was the opportunity to dive into the technology and the creativity that I love being a part of. The most beautiful thing about this is that we get to celebrate the aspects and touchstones of our Black community, the Black college culture, the Black experience [because] roller skating is, as a whole, part of the Black experience. Using that medium to pull out specific moments and facets of our culture to celebrate was a really cool thing.
Being able to express that using technology was really exciting, and no one had ever asked me to do anything like that before. I was able to come on as a creative director and share my ideas and help influence how things looked. Forgive me for making this more like medicine than sugar, but to have been asked as a Black woman to come on board and help shape the way we see Black culture and shape the way we look at our lives, that felt really good to be included in that way.
How do the designs reflect your creative input?
The first one is style. I wanted to mess around with the textiles, the materials and the prints that could be used. I still wanted to maintain practicality as I wanted people to be able to skate in them but they need to look good. They need to reflect a style that isn’t just current but …also reflects the era when skating became a refuge, in the ’70s. The neon wheels, the print, the fur and the loudness of the style, not only reflect who I am as a person — someone who loves to express herself through fashion and style — but also the community. Black people, as a community, are consistently reinventing the wheel when it comes to the way we dress, the way we look and the style we dress in.
Roller skating is one of those activities that is so reflective of Black joy. What brings you joy today?
I’m a bit of a flower child, a plant mom. I don’t know why but the connection between humans and Earth is a thing that’s been showing its face lately. I have plants that I look after and some trees in my house, and that’s been bringing me a lot of joy — a lot of joy. I was listening to bossa nova yesterday and just music, in general, has been bringing me a lot of joy. Not just performing but listening to other artists who find space in it and express themselves through music. When I see a musician that is able to do that and fully be a part of it, it makes me really, really happy. That brings me a lot of joy.
I did a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and I haven’t said this phrase about the experience yet, but I do think it is true: It changed my life. I’m always connected when I’m performing but at this particular concert, I felt like I was levitating. It felt so connected. Everything just felt right. I had flowers from Bloom & Plume all over the place and they’d set up this beautiful podium with wildflowers everywhere. I knew that the inspiration should come from Minnie Riperton. There’s an album cover that she has baby’s breath in her hair, and so they created like an archway out of baby’s breath with a carpet on this double podium for me to stand on. I didn’t have to wear shoes. It felt really free and that brought me a lot of joy. Singing to people and feeling like that was utter joy.
Speaking of joy, you’re nominated for an Emmy right now for your work in Genius: Aretha. You’ve gone through award season before but not in a pandemic. How are you feeling about attending events and screenings in person?
Safely. I’m approaching it as safely as I possibly can. But I’m excited to see people. We haven’t had a chance to see people for such a long time in these spaces. These awards ceremonies are really wonderful but the most amazing thing about it is that you get to see people that you never would get the time to see anyway. Hopefully, in these spaces, everyone feels good and they look beautiful but you can see a friend that you don’t see often enough and get to have a good time with each other. I’m particularly proud this time around because I have a friend, Michaela Coel, who is nominated, and we discovered today that it’s been 16 years that we’ve known each other. To be able to share this moment in-person would be a dream come true, really.
You have also recently joined the New York Homecoming Concert, scheduled for Aug. 21 in Central Park. Why was it important for you to be a part of that show? And what will you be singing?
I decided to join the New York Homecoming Concert because that’s essentially where I got my big start. New York was my home for a good three years. Obviously, having done The Color Purple there, I made a lot of friends and family when I first got there. It’s a place that really took care of me. I felt it was necessary to give back a little bit. I’m going to be singing “Home” from The Wiz. Clive [Davis] asked me to do that song and I said, “OK, we’ll do that.” What’s wonderful is that Whitney Houston’s version of the song was a moment when you realized you were meeting a star for the first time. It’s also an important song and the message is about knowing where your home is, being proud of it and wanting to be there. This is the most apt song you could sing to reopen New York, to regenerate people and help make them feel good again.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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