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The Urban Erma: 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…


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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 onstage 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 get to make the return trip with me.

For more info about the show go: http://tribecapac.org/writers-in-performance/ 

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