Caroline Zemp
Guest Columnist

In the eyes of many people our age, writing seems to be outdated or irrelevant. The only exposure we get to writing these days is through class assignments in high school and college. But while it may be “dated”, the connotation should not be made negative. It is a traditional form of expression that is ever evolving, and surprisingly more relevant to a daily context than we even realize. Contemporary outlets have made it relatable to our generations. At our school specifically, young talented writers and artists transform powerful overflow of words into art onstage. In a very candid, yet profound interview, I spoke with two brothers from Northern Virginia who have proved to become well known on campus for their work in this way. VCU junior and poet Joshua Braunstein, and his brother Daniel Braunstein, an actor, both started their work early on and have since become expressive artists whose work and even daily demeanors move people beyond expectation of artists their age. In speaking with me, they discuss the things most important to them in a personal context, from school to brotherhood, and how this in turn drives their work.

Ink Magazine (IM): So let’s just start with where you guys started. Where and when did the interest take hold and grow, or was it sort of always there? And as a part two to that question, how did that effect choices in becoming a poet and an actor?

Joshua Braunstein (Josh): Well… I can start. I didn’t start writing until I was fourteen or fifteen. I started rapping, and uh, it wasn’t very good. Then I heard a kid at lunch spit an a capella rap and I just attempted to do that too, and that was my first experience writing without a beat. And then… I actually got into a little bit of trouble, got kicked out of school, so I had the pleasure of going to a different high school my junior year. In my AP English class that year, my teacher showed us a slam poem, and I was like, “…Yeah. That’s what I want to do.” That was the blend of rap and writing I was looking for. So that night, I wrote my first piece, named it “Addicted to Diction”, and the rest is history.

Daniel Braunstein (Daniel): Yeah, and then for me, similarly, I got into theatre around fourteen or fifteen. I was always the class clown. If I didn’t like a subject—

Josh: — Or if you weren’t good at a subject!

Daniel: Ha, yeah! Like, math class was always comedy hour. How far off track could I get the class? People always said, “Oh, you’re so funny, you should really do theatre!” My mom started saying the same thing, and I was like, I don’t know if that’s for me… looking back now, that’s funny… because it’s so me. I took a class. It was fun, and being in front of people just came naturally. Maybe that comes from being twins, and having people constantly approaching us each day to talk to us, we’re just used to the interactions.

Josh: Right, that always gives me a sense of confidence in new situations, because I know someone is always going to be there to have my back.

Daniel: Exactly… anyways, we had wanted to join JV Basketball, but Josh had just gotten in trouble and moved. So I auditioned for a holiday play, there was one about Chanukah. I thought, “Hey, I’m Jewish, this’ll be hysterical,” and I got on stage and I loved it. My first show after that was West Side Story. My friends came up to me after the show and said they forgot it was me. My own mother, who created me, didn’t even recognize me. That’s kind of when I realized I must have an ability for this, a gift.

IM: So then you both came to VCU for college together. Was it the art school that drew you here?

Daniel: VCU was my top choice. It was a no brainer after acceptance, because I love Richmond. For this reason: all of the art surrounding us. What you’re doing, what we’re doing… I knew I wanted to be in an urban setting like this because it facilitates so much art. It inspires me.

Josh: The city definitely inspires me as a writer. It’s a social commentary.

Taken from Daniel's play 'The Coghill's'.
Taken from Daniel’s play ‘The Coghill’s’.

IM: And what is art to both of you?

Josh: Art is something indescribable. An impulse we can’t control. I call it your “crazy.” Everyone’s got their own… it’s just a matter of, “How socially acceptable is your crazy?”

IM: You know. It’s very interesting for me through the process of these interviews to hear artists talk about their own work and to see them get more into it as they talk…they get caught up in it.

Josh: Right? It’s intense, you know? There’s a passion.

Daniel: I could talk about it for days, and never get tired of it. Like you’re obsessed with it. In class recently we talked about Victor Hugo, who wrote a play so controversial that people rioted over it 54… 56 days? That’s how passionate they were about art. And our teacher asked us, “Are you that passionate? … Are you willing to riot in the streets for your art?” I mean, you say we have passion… but that was 56 nights.

Josh: Right. And its like that passion gets to a point as you get older where it’s not something you’re embarrassed about anymore. In high school, during AP, I would find myself dumbing down my responses… I was scared to show my peers that I was excited about learning.

IM: So to backtrack a bit, it’s clear that the city is a source of inspiration to both of you. What other things inspire or drive your work?

Josh: Well I think our mother is a source of inspiration, or constant encouragement for both of us. We always wanted to help people. And that relates to our mother, who is a social worker. We watched her help people everyday and so we just wanted to do the same, however we could personally… me through my writing, and Daniel with theatre, and his recent writing as well. The greatest thing she ever did for us with our work was just listening. But it’s just sort of funny… a woman who listens to people all day gave birth to three boys that all talk for a living.

Taken from Daniel’s play ‘Connections’.

Daniel: And I guess separately from that, there are actors I look up to… Daniel Day Lewis. He disappears into a character. I don’t exactly like how he goes about that, through method acting. But there are people like that, while I don’t aspire to be like them, they are impressive to me. Meryl Streep is the same way, and that’s why people regard her so highly. She goes all the way with that character. I think it reminds me to really read into the plays I’m in. Read what you’re about to be parts of! Even in a one-person show, you’re still a cog in a greater machine. The key is looking at a character that’s so different from you… and finding, “How are we similar?”

IM: So educating yourself and it’s connection to art obviously is something that resonates with both of you. Can you elaborate why you feel that way?

Daniel: Absolutely, like, going to class definitely makes me a better artist. Me teachers drive me… One was on Broadway. She has all this knowledge, and all she wants is to give all of that to me? Why would I resist that?

Josh: Yes! Just going to class, not even taking notes, just listening to my professors talk inspires me more than just trying to come up with work all on my own. But you have got to be open to learn in order to grow in your work. Yet somehow education has gotten this label that it’s like a burden, a hassle to deal with as a means to an end. But it’s eighteen years of your life… and I think it’s important to have an educated society. And no one held a gun to your head and made you come here. You chose this! And my professors are brilliant at what they teach. However, that’s not to say that our professors are in a way better than us. Just because you’re nineteen or twenty doesn’t mean you’re not just as brilliant as your professors. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re smarter –

Daniel: — You’ve just had more time to read the books!

(Promotional Video for Slam Nahuatl, the slam poetry group at VCU, which Josh participates in. This is him reciting one of his pieces for the sake of their promotion.)

The Coghill’s – Daniel Braunstein

She was a woman who wove tapestry so beautiful the gods flooded the earth with their tears. Charlotte would weave her web in masterful form. Living up to her character name she would commemorate every major life event through a beautiful tapestry. “A lifelong love grows.” “Loving hearts make lovely homes.” And of course, our names forever immortalized in her tactful textile.

Her husband, forged in fire. His mother queen hath trapped him in a cell for many moons. Shackling the young man, he was forced fed knowledge at a rate no human being could possibly comprehend. His mental state would forever be altered. His perception of reality became distorted. Contrasting colors with music. Confusing images with a peculiar taste. Doomed to forever be a slave to his senses was what his mother hath bestowed unto him.

The boy eventually grows to be a man. A very brilliant man. I guess so much pressure made him a diamond. I would boast of his brilliance to every passerby I deemed worthy to hear of his awesomeness. Truly a fountain of knowledge my brothers and I would dance and sing in his waterfalls of wonder. His voice would bellow from the corridors of our house as if the sounds of his stories were dying to be heard across the land. Tales of war were perfectly juxtaposed to jovial hi jinx of young men. Including information my father so conveniently left out of his own story telling.

He is my father’s best friend. Oldest friend. Just like the man, a friendship forged in Mordor. My father would escape through their love of mysticism. Masterfully taking the technology of the day and constructing art. He came to my father’s rescue, casting his light the only we he knew how. Akin to Gandalf he is a giant! Leading my father like Frodo through the elfish old forest. I look up to him in every sense of the word. He is a mountain of a man.

He wed the young seamstress long before my story had begun. Together they crafted a wizard of a boy. His infatuation with lights and sounds is a testament to his father’s blood flowing through his veins. My father brought these people to our table. Our home. They blessed us with the gift of knowledge, friendship and best of all a tapestry.

Connections – Daniel Braunstein

IPhone? My phone? How can we call these things our possessions? When corporations eat your cookies and browser history. Taking in the information and then selling you shit. We eat leftover crack berry bush administration lies. At least Obama Cares. Calling it the Patriot act is a slap in the face to the men and women who have fought and will die to protect us. The irony is palpable when a word synonymous with freedom is used to strip the people of the very ideal.

I want to Sam hung, Uncle Sam and the politicians that hang 1200 dollar suits in their closets. Don’t say you represent the general population when your wardrobe could feed a starving south side Chicago family for a lifetime. At least you’re in style and looking drop dead gorgeous. They are out of touch with reality. But aren’t we all?

Blinded by the lights shining from our phones. Trapped in lock screens we can’t see past ourselves anymore. We have escaped into the universe of the phone. Finding it more comfortable to live through technology instead of just speaking to one another face to face.

We use the flames of Tinder to try and spark a romance. I see Josh take a trip down to Georgia following the light of the fire. Burning like stars for each other. Good thing they swiped to the right.

Drake sings about Internet connections and dialling up ex lovers. We hide behind the cracks on the screen. Overdosing on ugliness and strung out like musical strings, everybody just wants to hang. We spit venomous vile language at one another; it’s piousness and sickening. I see fans on

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his Twitter, speaking in forked tongues. Some serving sentimental exchanges chirping at the young Song Bird. And others filling his time line with hopes that his mother would die. Now that I’ve seen all of this, nothing will ever be the same.

Watching people be so cruel to one another, Grinds the very fiber of my being.

I fear a repetition of the past when young men utilize Grinder to engage in promiscuous sex. Deshawn told me in the Queen’s City that sex was the gay man’s hello. The AIDS epidemic is approximately 30 years in our past. These men have forgotten that their fore fathers were afflicted by a Holocaust. Too young to remember, they aren’t be properly educated of their history and rich culture. I hope they look to the holy land and someday swim in the waters of milk and honey. We speak 6 millions truths when we say “never forget.”

So I guess what I am saying is. Don’t forget what you hold in your hand. Its an opportunity.

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