There’s no “Lovecraft Country” without the CRAFT — specifically choreographer Jamaica Craft, who created both the minstrel jig that made Topsy and Bopsy so terrifying as well as the stunning steps that signified Montrose finding the freedom to live his truth.
Craft spoke with BOSSIP about how she came up with Topsy and Bopsy’s frightful footwork, working with women showrunners on “Empire,” “P-Valley,” “Lovecraft Country” and “Step Up: Highwater” and finding greater purpose bringing more professional dancers into acting roles. Check out our Q & A below:
On Topsy & Bopsy’s Minstrel Jig:
When Misha Green worked on this particular episode, she started with, ‘I want you to create a minstrel jig.’ She showed me the character of Topsy and we went through “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” From that journey I just went into minstrel and then jig, and when I came back to pitch her the idea for Topsy, I was like, ‘Okay so, I’ve been researching minstrel jigs and I want to do something that’s modernized as well, but not lose the history. So we went through this journey of finding what this movement was.
There’s a Chicago style that’s coming through the choreography, mixed in with a Miami vibe, mixed in with just an actual minstrel jig and how the movement was at that time, so it’s a combination of things that I researched, mixed in with modern and old school. From even how to make them scary — the movement is exuding their character and their vibe. Misha was like, ‘Topsy is focused on getting Dee. She’s like, ‘By any means, I am there to get her. Bopsy, she’s there to get her too, but she’s a little more playful. She’s like, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, when we get her, when we get her, when we get her, it’s gonna be so great! Oh my God Oh my God.’ And Topsy is like, ‘Yeah sis, I’m going straight to her, that’s all great. Yeah, uh huh, I’m going to keep going straight for her.’
So when you guys see the dancing, that’s what I was trying to exude out of this movement, but at the same time for people to go, ‘Oh my God!’ It’s a different way for a scary movement to happen. It’s not your typical same zombie kind of movement, arms straight out and walking stiff… It’s incredible dancing, it’s incredible feet work, it’s incredible high energy, it’s the back story to it all. Every time the movement always had to keep going forward and keep going toward Dee, and for you guys to keep going, ‘How did they do that?’ and for it not to be special effects. Every one of those steps, Topsy and Bopsy did.
On Helping Other Dancers Succeed In Film & TV
Another amazing thing that Misha Green offered in this particular episode, she was like, ‘I want to cast the role as dancers. I think dancers would do this role extreme justice.’ It’s such a pleasure, in my career, now maneuvering over to TV and film, pushing dancers and the dance community into that acting community even more. Not just being the double, which isn’t bad either, but being the actual — you’re on the call sheet as Topsy and Bopsy. This not only was that happening on “Lovecraft Country,” that was also happening with Katori Hall and “P-Valley.” She had the same kind of conversation with me. I also work on the show “Step Up: Highwater” that must moved over to Starz as well. We were on YouTube Red for two seasons and that showrunner as well, Holly Sorenson was like, ‘Jamaica, the majority of the roles are played by dancers.’ Which is amazing, so I was like, ‘Go head Lord use me as a vessel!’
On Completely Missing The Social Media Response To Topsy & Bopsy
I kind of separate from that so it doesn’t bog my soul to be creative. I love that the reaction has been incredible and people are getting the Easter eggs inside of the dance of Topsy and Bopsy, but I’m really disconnected because I want to stay connected to the creative. If I start letting those voices, good or bad, get into my head, it affects my gut, it affects when I get a project. I start seeing a movie or start hearing the music or start seeing the movement. I want to always keep my brain clean with that. Sometimes people are like, ‘You should watch it.’ But too much good can get you to going, ‘Oh you’re good,’ versus, ‘I don’t even know.’ I want to just keep giving you guys what’s inside me and even if you don’t get it, that still protects me. I was happy with what I gave you. I didn’t give you what I thought you wanted to see.
Sometimes we can give what we thought people wanted to see versus ‘this is cool’. Creativity to me is always about being a risk taker and not worrying about who likes or who hates. You first have to love it. You first have to be satisfied with it. Black Twitter, my friends will send me things, my family will send me things, and Topsy and Bopsy were a big pour down in my phone like, ‘Girl do you see these people talking about Topsy and Bopsy and how they’re scared but they can’t take their eyes off them at the same time?’ And they’re noticing the dance, they’re noticing the choreography. ‘It’s so cool that you didn’t get overlooked in this moment.’ They commented that they can like really get off. They’re like the new Thriller. I was like, do you know that I can be done with my career? I’ve been working for many years to get anywhere near Michael Jackson.
On The Misconception She Only Choreographed The Jig-A-Bobo Episode
People are like, ‘I know the show but I haven’t seen the dance, I can’t wait for your episode.’ I’m like, ‘Actually I did episode 1-10.’
On The Power Of The ‘Strange Case’ Episode
That episode was AMAZING and believe me, with the community I have worked with from drag queens, to transgender to the LGBT community all of that was to allow me to hire from within that community. It was really, really, really amazing. Even just the scene where Sammy is dancing toward Montrose in he apartment, it was one of my favorite.
On Which Of The ‘Lovecraft’ Actors Is The Most Naturally Talented
Courtney B. Vance. Actually Courtney AND Michael [K. Williams]. Mmmmhmmm, just super super natural.
Hit the flip for more from Jamaica Craft on her work on “P-Valley.”
On Preparing For “P-Valley”
“P-Valley” is a whole other animal. One of my dream jobs. I didn’t know “Lovecraft” was going to be such a dream, I was just happy to be working. That was time period and I knew that would push me. With P Valley I’ve always been inspired by exotic movement, from me just first starting to choreograph. The most infamous example is the “Yeah” video when I’m bent over moving, so me as a dancer, but I had gotten that from when I was in St. Louis. It was a certain dance but at the same time that’s what strippers did. From there I was intrigued.
I put pole dancing in Ciara’s “Get Up” video and people didn’t find that Easter egg. Movement where I was using exotic dancers in a video that was very kid friendly, but we infused that inside of there and it has been so on and so on.
Then God blessed me with the ‘Superfly’ movie with Director X a year before “P-Valley” and that was really where I researched actual pole dancers and stuff in Atlanta. I already frequented the clubs. because in Atlanta it’s not a faux pas, it’s cultural. Like I eat there a lot, so I was already comfortable, but I now wanted to know the ins and outs, so he gave me a scene with dancers and built it out. And from there I got the show “P-Valley,” so those same dancers, amongst other ones, I was able to hire them. Katori made them also have a role and they became like the core dancers and core actors for “P-Valley.” So when you see Peanut Butter and all the different dancers that are standing next to Mercedes and Miss Mississippi in the club, these are actual either ex or pre-existing dancers in the club that were working, that I started working with.
What I love about this show is that they show that it’s not easy what they do with them going up a pole, or you looking at them in a certain limelight, it’s that these women are bosses, these women are superheroes, these women are dealing with a whole lot coming to work and able to block you out. They’re dancing for THEMSELVES most of the time, vs. you and a lot of times people don’t get that. A lot of times when you’re dancing at home, you’re dancing for someone else, not even enjoying for yourself. The one biggest thing Katori told me she wanted to do was every time the audience to see the dancers from the perspective of the dancer, not the person watching. So the audience sees this is what the dancer sees when they’re dancing , this is what they feel, this is what they’re putting into it.