Sunday, November 30, 2014

Returning to My Theatre Roots

Before I did stand-up comedy I did theatre. Being in the wrong place at the right time landed me the role of Lola Le’Dare, Hot Box Girl, in a college production of Guys and Dolls. It was my first time acting on stage and by first time I mean we are going to completely overlook my Kindergarten stint as Mother Goose.

I don’t know why but when I was in school I didn’t like studying in the college library. I almost always opted instead to set up shop in an empty classroom. One day, when I slipped into one of my regular haunts I found it occupied. Professors from the Theatre Department were using the room to hold auditions for the Spring musical.

I was inside, door closing behind me before I realized my mistake. Surprised and embarrassed I apologized and tried to leave when a professor said, “No wait! It’s okay. Can you sing?”

Tricky question that. I can sing. I actually love to sing but in the Black community unless you can belt it out like Patti Labelle, Whitney Houston, or whoever the screamer du jour is, you’re not considered a singer. And so as not to get my feelings hurt I’ve mostly kept my limited tune carrying abilities to myself. But when asked the question at my accidental audition I answered honestly. I said, “Uhh, yes … I sing in the shower.”

Great!” The professor said. “Can you dance?”

Yes!” I said.

I was and am infinitely more confident in my dancing ability. I’m not Alvin Ailey level but I can cut a carpet with the best of them. My parents spent a goodly amount of money making sure my childhood Saturday afternoons were occupied with dance classes given at The Brown Sugar Dance Ensemble. A wonderful, generous, and patient woman named Angie taught me and the girls in my neighborhood how to do modern, jazz, tap, and African dance.

The professors and I chatted a bit. One of them plunked out a few bars of something on the piano, asked me to sing a few lines of I don’t remember what, and a few days later I was in rehearsals learning choreography, blocking, and the lyrics to “A Bushel and A Peck,” “Take Back Your Mink,” and everybody’s favorite, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” I only had one line of actual dialogue that I shared with another girl as we toddled across the stage in high heels. It was, “Okay, Adelaide.”

Until Guys and Dolls I didn’t know my school even had a theatre department. That’s probably because at the time it fell under the auspices of the Speech Department, which I guess made better sense than lumping it in with Physical Education, but not by much. My school had a great reputation for business and accounting. Nobody went there as a stepping stone to Broadway. One of our graduates was more likely to finance a production than to be in one.

But you’d be surprised how many future CFOs, marketing executives, and entrepreneurs were also great actors, choreographers, and stage designers when given the chance. I myself started out as a Finance major, switched to English, and ultimately earned my degree in Journalism and Creative Writing with a minor in Theatre Arts, which has helped me immensely in my career as a writer and stand-up comedian.

And while I’ve spent the majority of my time on-stage solo, I’ve never lost my love of the theatre. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of the 2014 season of the Writers-in-Performance Program. It’s a 12-week workshop that culminates this weekend with two performances of works penned and developed under this year’s theme of Return. At 7:30pm on December 5th and 6th I’ll be appearing at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in three pieces including my own original work: This is It? a short, slightly-dark comedy about the disappointment of adulthood and the fear of old age.

I hope you can make the return trip with me. Itll be worth it.

(Click HERE For more info about the show!)

The Urban Erma, the longest running column on, was created and written by stand-up comedian Leighann LordListen to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Get her e-books on AMAZON

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