HOW I STARTED ON THIS JOURNEY!
I have been writing for decades and producing my own work for over ten years, but always within my comfort zone. Are any of you like that–courageous as long as the seats were filled with family, friends and church members?
I produced my first adult drama, ‘The Broom’ for our Pastor’s Appreciation program. . We didn’t have adequate lighting and thank goodness that several of the guys at church jerry-rigged a sound system for us. Even with that we the attendance was close to a thousand people. It literally became standing room only.
Even though it was at church, it was mind-blowing! I remember the lead actor, Ramona Toines and I in the restroom crying our eyes out-with a packed auditorium outside, scared out of their wits!
I began to second guess myself like crazy. ‘Who did I think I was? What if it was so bad they walked out? What if they just ‘booed’?’ My mind was all over the place. However, when it was time to begin and just before the lights went out, seeing all of those people sitting, standing, lining the walls two to three people deep numbed me!
Once the lights went out and the play started, it was like I was transported to a place where I was alone, watching from afar—away from everyone. Some people would probably call it an out of body experience.
The lights came up to a standing ovation. I started crying (again), there was a lot of hugging, tears, head nodding and handshaking; but I don’t remember a lot of what else happened that evening except that one woman gave me a check. To encourage me. We were even asked to do an encore performance so that those who couldn’t attend that evening would have opportunity in the near future. Several people who lived in other cities were so moved that they contacted me about bringing the play to their cities. People from Galveston, Dallas, Midland, and even a woman who was visiting from Oakland, CA. wanted me to take the play their respective cities
Wow! I couldn’t take it all in! Here I was just a girl from the eastside of Akron…
All of this buzz about my play. My little ole play-that took me all of three days to write! (Don’t get excited, it was God inspired!) You know what I did about all of that love and support? Nothing. Not a thing. I froze. It wasn’t rational, and there was nothing that anyone could say to me to make me move.
The cast offered to pay their own way—I said ‘No’.
They offered to sponsor the play in their cities—I said ‘‘No’.
I was assured that I could pick my own dates and time—I said—‘No’.
I was scared to move-paralyzed was closer to it-so I stayed where I was.
THE DISSOLUTION OF MY COMFORT ZONE
I continued to write and produce plays at my church for about five more years. Some years writing and performing three or four plays. During that time family, friends and especially several of the actors told me it was time to move my work outside of the church. I understood that because something inside of me that told me the same. Even my mother, [The Queen Mother] who was without a doubt my biggest fan and encourager, told me it was time to move on. Still I was too afraid to make that move.
The Queen Mother used to tell us growing up that she could show us better than she could tell us. I guess God had the same theory. So, out of the blue, my church decided that the adult drama ministry was going in a different direction and my services as the Women’s Ministry Drama Coordinator were no longer needed.
Talk about a soul-crushing blow. I didn’t see it coming.
I am going to be very transparent here. That decision hurt me so badly that it took a physical toll on me. I sat around angry, hurt, even speechless for a while. Then, I decided that if my church didn’t want me it was time for me to stop doing plays. The answer was that simple.
My linear thinking, architect husband corrected me. He said that the only thing that had happened was that I was stopped from doing my plays at the church. I could do them anywhere else that I wanted to. The Queen Mother chimed in with her Get together, girl speech! “God doesn’t close a door without opening a window! He told you to go outside the four walls of the church a long time ago! If you won’t move, He’ll move you! One monkey don’t stop no show!”
To be honest, I believe that I was more afraid of her than anything else so even though I knew NOTHING about producing a play outside of the church, I knew what it took to produce a play.
- A venue
- Sound and lighting techs, equipment
- Music, singers
- And let’s not forget money! A lot of it ($$$$) and a realistic budget (will blog about that too!)
About this time, I found out about a cultural arts funding program the city of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division sponsored. I wasn’t a 501C3 so I had to apply through a fiscal sponsor. In came ProArts Collective, a local African American arts fiscal sponsor (I will write about fiscal sponsorships soon too!). I applied and was blessed with funding for half of my production.
Still not knowing exactly what I was doing, I forged ahead and put the tickets on sale. Not only did my church family purchase tickets, but people who had no idea who I was or what I’d done were buying tickets. We sold out two weeks before opening night. Miraculous for an unknown playwright!!
The Red Sea had parted but I wasn’t walking on dry ground yet. During intermission, lightning struck a transformer and knocked out the power in the entire neighborhood. The theater manager told us that we had to evacuate the building for safety reasons! My heart almost burst out of my chest. I couldn’t believe that I’d come this far only to be stopped by a fluke of nature. (Had a private conversation with God, well, I talked and expected Him to listen. I told Him that he had me move forward and I did what he said and he better turn these lights on right now! I stopped talking for a minute and needless to say the lights didn’t come on.)
By now, the theater representative was looking at me side-eyed. I told her to let me think for a minute. She said there was nothing I could do with no lights, no sound, no air conditioning—I would have to refund their money.
I looked around and saw a bag of mini-flashlights I had bought earlier in the day and got angry because I didn’t think to get batteries. One of the crew members said that my husband had seen the flashlights and had gone to his car to get the family pack of batteries he happened to buy earlier. They fit. I asked the cast if they thought they could continue with light from the flashlights. Miraculous, they all said ‘yes’!
Not out of the woods yet. The theatre manager said that she didn’t think the flashlights would be enough light and that I had to give the audience the choice to decide whether they wanted to stay or get a refund. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and stepped onto the apron of the stage.
I was amazed. I hadn’t look from backstage. The theater was packed. Literally standing room only. There were so many people that some were sitting on the steps (serious fire safety issue-never do this!). I told the audience what had happened and asked them if they wanted to get a refund and leave or stay. Only five people left and that was because of the heat. The crew and actors held the flashlights on each side of the curtains and we finished the play to a standing ovation.
The picture above is from my first production., ‘The Broom’, It is dark because the stage was being lit by four-inch flashlights.
AND THAT AS THEY SAY…IS THAT!
People still talk about the ’The Broom’! I’m am thinking of doing a 25th anniversary performance!