I am always searching for ways to let my personality shine. Many people in this industry are very much a stand for me inside of that push. Marcia Pendelton (far right/next to me in the picture below), Founder and CEO of Walk Tall Girl Productions (www.walktallgirlproductions.com), has been one of my most fierce and resounding cheerleaders. During a production of a show she conceived "First Person Singular" which had a brief, weekend run at the Riverside Church Theater, she cast me to host and sing an opener and closer for the showcase which featured many of the best that the New York City stage has to offer. And I support anything that she does - from staged, cultural programs to special programs that help to market plays and productions to audiences. She's quite a fixture in theater and was instrumental in enrolling MTV/Viacom to let her bring a Black History program on "African Americans in Commercial Theater" to the building for the media juggernaut's employees (i.e. MTV, VH-1, NICKELODEON, CBS, BET, etc.). It took place in the 3rd floor theater of 1515 Broadway and I gladly moderated - simply because Marcia asked me to do it, but most importantly because this type of work is perfectly aligned with 'the life of riley' and how I aim to be a voice for 'pop culture and possibilities' - two of my favorite things to talk about. From left to right, the panel - which included a couple of friends (Norm and Tamara) - featured: actor Norm Lewis (currently cast non- traditionally in "Les Miz"); his co-star Q. Smith, a Broadway newcomer, who is also also a teaching artist and is currently working on a book about the contributions of contemporary African American women to the art, craft and business of theater; three-time Tony winner Hinton Battle, who is a singer/dancer/actor/choreographer/director, who choreographed Idlewild and can be seen as Wayne in film Dreamgirls; Tamara Tunie (who in addition to being a multi-media actress is now producing two Broadway shows i.e. "Spring Awakening" and August Wilson's "Radio Golf"... and I've referenced her before: (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2006/11/15/tired-of-me-talking-about-dreamgirls.html)); Tiffany Gavin, currently director of professional licensing for Theatrical Rights. She is the only African American woman I know who has worked as an executive producer on a number of Broadway productions and also shepherded the organization's journey into the world of urban theater.
IT WAS AN AWESOME PANEL... to a packed THEATER... with lots of FORWARDING CONVERSATION in which our panelists weighed in on non-traditional casting (Norm and Q are cast in "Les Miz" which was an all-white cast when it first came to Broadway); the benefits of celebrity attachments (like Fantasia in "The Color Purple" or Usher in "Chicago") to keep booties in the seat; the good, bad, and ugly of adaptations (to or from stage) - like "The Color Purple" and "Dreamgirls"; the importance of Tyler Perry's success with audiences (via the chitlin' circuit) as a template for ensuring audiences of color go to all types of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows; what Tamara Tunie's new role as producer of two hot Broadway properties ("Spring Awakening" and "Radio Golf") to diversify the driving wheel of Broadway, which is usually comprised of white people; etc.
The panel could have gone on all afternoon. The audience was really into it. And I did my job to joyfully steer the conversation - at one point, reminding everyone of Philip Rose, legendary Broadway producer who brought Lorraine Hansberry's all-black play "A Raisin in the Sun" to life (and we know the revival with P. Diddy is soon to come to television on Philip Rose's shoulders). But more than that, this white man was responsible for cutting-edge casting that went non-traditional places - including Diana Sands who he cast in "The Owl and the Pussycast" opposite a white man. And he would continue to push the envelope and show that ANY ACTOR could play ANY ROLE to great success.
The feedback was good and I am excited to be booked again for more of these panels and eventually to have them recorded and airing all over for everyone to see.