Backstage with the Cast of Hairspray Continued…
What was initially intended to be released within a matter of weeks of Introduction to Backstage with the Cast of Hairspray Series, has now taken six months to publish when my PC had other ideas, decided to crash and take with it all the audio files I had transferred. This was the only one I was able to recover (only because it was still on the device). So here goes…
Miss Boucaud Mason became a familiar face for me in what was probably the late ’90’s- early 2000’s as the lady in the sign language bubble, and from those T&TEC Christmas ads back in the day (Pearl you remember to pay your light bill?). In the context of the color-blind casted Hairspray she was “Velma Von Tussle”. Offstage she is the ever gracious and indefatigable Debra, giving 110% all the time, challenging the cast to constantly match that energy every time, in what can be described as a very energy demanding and draining process, while being able to inspired fellow cast members and pacify emotions and insecurities with her words. Being in a very Oprah Winfrey mode back then, I approached miss Boucaud Mason for an interview (Yay! Very 1st interview.. Harpo Studios here I come). Well… it’s more of a conversation than anything else… but that was last year. Six months has been a long time and although Hairspray is no longer the word (as opposed to Grease), I still wanted to share my indepth conversation with this theatre veteran and Cacique Award-Winning Actress, Director and Stage Manager.
1. How long have you been acting and what inspired you to pursue a career in theatre?
“I joined a theatre company in 1984 called Trinidad Tent Theatre, but when I joined in 1984 I really joined to work backstage… (to) do the assistant stage managing, stage hand, helping the actors, preparing things for the actors, cleaning the space… that kind of thing. It was only late into being around them that I eventually got a chance to be on stage. I was there for about three or four years before I actually got onstage productions. My first “professional” production was in 1989 with Raymond Choo Kong Productions… something called “Run for your Wife” at the Arima Town Hall… and when I say professional I put professional in inverted commas, because it was the first time I got paid. That’s when I started to get paid so.. you know for being an actress or an actor as you may want to say…”
2. Sooo… you did not join the Trinidad Tent Theatre with the intention of being on stage?
“Yes! Yes… but then I was prepared to do whatever it took.. yeah! My interest in theatre started when I was doing A level literature eh.. and going to the theatre as part of the literature class and wanting to be able to do THAT!… what I saw people doing on stage. So I joined with the interest of getting on stage but it really didn’t matter what I did before because I knew nothing. I really learned from seeing… observing… being in the space… seeing the process and eventually being part of the process and continuing the learning and the learning still continues of course.”
True! In my time being around young performers and people who want to get into the performing arts industry… I have come to realise that for many of them, they want to become stars. If they don’t get a leading or featured role… and these are young people with little or no experience…, then “ I eh doin it”. I heard a bit of that in the cast of Hairspray as well but I eh bussin’ dat mark. Young performers have to understand that you learn things along the way. If you do not get a leading role it’s not necessarily always be because you don’t have talent, but it may be because you are not what they may be looking for at that particular moment or for that role and they may keep you on board.. in the ensemble to simply observe you because the director sees potential. Sometimes you just need to take those opportunities to learn as much as you can and improve your art… at least that’s what I choose to believe.
“That is something I am trying to come to terms with and come to grips with, that young people love so much instant gratification. There is so much youtube and the internet and the Hollywood is closer to us now because of the internet and because of the way the world is. Everybody just really wants to be a “star”. Everybody wants to do it and they want to be PAID for it…you know? And I know that we did it for years and years just because we enjoyed it. I did it for years and years without any money and ah mean when I started what we were getting was considered a little stipend… for transportation you know?.. (to) buy a lil something to eat on the way to rehearsal. I have to admit I never enjoyed it because of any thought of being… “famous” for want of a better word. I never joined with any thought of being a “star”. I did it because I wanted to do something with my freetime after work. And I felt, you know lemme try this theatre thing and see how it goes, and that was my only reason for doing it.. to occupy my FREE TIME after work. Something that I hoped to enjoy and I eventually did enjoy it so much that I never stopped but it was never about the money it was never about fame or any of that. It was about being in the space, doing the work, enjoying what I do and that was the main thing for me.”
3. How many productions have u been involved in and what were your most memorable roles?
“Oh God! Plenty many productions! If I count from 1989 to now, I can literally say that every year from 1989 to now I have done something. Umm… to say how many… I would have to sit down and go through my archives. But I know that from 1989 to now I have been involved in the theate every year. Recently though the last 7 – 8 years I have been more involved in directing and stage managing than acting. So there are times when I opt to be the director and not the actor, or I opt to stage manage and not act because I just want to be a part of the process, I just want to be in the space. Whether I get on stage or not is not important to me eh. I want the work to be good work and the work to be the best work. I want us to enjoy what we do and for the audience to come away even if its just with a belly full of laughter… it really doesn’t matter. So now I am opting for more directing, stage managing, working behind the scene. If I get the acting role and they insist I must do the acting role I will do it. I can’t tell you how many, but I know from 1989 to now I have been involved in the theatre in some capacity, because I know when I started in the theatre, apart from being the gopher for actors I also worked as an usher. I also worked in box office, I did stage hands.. I was a stage hand in many productions and everything just grew , grew, grew to the point that I was an actor, then it grew to the point that I could stage manage and then it grew to the point that I can direct so I have been involved in all areas but I can’t tell you how many productions.
My most memorable would have been…well apart from the fist one, which is the most memorable because I remember how hard it was to get to what the director wanted… because of course you’re young and now learning. The director was Raymond Choo Kong and he was the person who gave me the most chances and its because of him I am where I am today. But because he is such a good director, we got it because I remembered going home nights and crying “I would never get this’ because I am not getting it and you know eventually I got it! So I will remember the role for that. I will also remember my most memorable role to date was in a play called “Boeing Boeing” where I played a maid. Uhhh.. “Bernard Lowe” which was Raymond Choo Kong’s character had three girlfriends all flight attendants and it so happened that one day all the flight attendants was in the apartment at the same time, so it was up to me , you know… he is depending on me to maneuver and manipulate and keep them away.. and of course I liked some and did not like others… you know it was a mess! [Chuckles]. So that was my most memorable role because it was the first time I got recognition, it was the first time I made the papers as an actress, so I remembered that and it has been one of my most enjoyable roles to date! yuh know.. maybe that. But I did really good work that I really appreciate. I did a play called “Doubt” with Richard Ragoobarsingh. I played the mother of the child who was supposedly being abused by the priest… I enjoyed that role tremendously. I enjoy ALL that I do I have to admit but ummm.. the most memorable was “Run for your Wife” only because it was the first and “Boeing Boieng” because it was the first time I was recognized… those will stand out, but every role was memorable, EVERY SINGLE ONE.”
4. I have never seen or heard of you being in a musical theatre production before.. Usually it is.. for want of a better term, “sex comedies”. Have you performed in musical theatre before?
“Well I did two… I think they were musical theatre… they were not “Broadway” musical theatre but I did “Dragon Can Dance” under the direction of Louis Mc Williams, which I think is a local musical, and I did something with the “Baggasse Company” in the 80’s called “A brighter day. It was actually written by the sister of the Baggasse producer, Kristene Johnson, and I was involved in that as well. So those were two musicals that I know for sure I had to sing and dance in… But I have never done a known Broadway musical… and my parts were never great wonderful parts where I had to daunce <Says dance with European accent> forever its just like what I do here.”
5. Besides the obvious, how is the musical theatre experience different from your experience in “legitimate theatre”?
” Umm… (1). I have never worked with so many young people so that’s one… A big difference right off is that its usually mature people, its usually people who are really good friends… so we’re like almost friends and family, I am accustomed to working with people I know, I trust, who I love who are my friends…who come like family and we have a certain way we do things. Here it is young people… 99% of them I don’t know. So that was one change. (2). Your rehearsal process is very different from our process. Your rehearsal process is long.. really long. Our rehearsal process is not that long because I think it is because we have more experience and with the actors who we work with. So we can get things quicker… and because of the type of theatre we do too. Of course a musical will take more work, because you have to work on choreography and all the dancing and you know?.. making it work. You have to work on music and learning all the songs and learning with the band and the orchestra whatever you use,.. plus you have all the drama in between so its a lot more work so your process is longer. I am not accustomed to long rehearsals!.. Rehearsals that start 1:00pm in the day and finish 9 O’ clock and 10 O’ clock at night.. NO! We have rehearsal processes that are shorter in terms of duration and in terms of the length of time it takes to get from the page to the stage. How is it different?.. its different because I love music. So to be exposed to that music and hearing good music every night really does something to your spirit you know?.. and I think that… what the music does here, makes up for what I am missing with my regular theatre company. In my regular theatre company we laugh a lot… we enjoy each other’s company a lot, we laugh a lot, we love a lot… and therefore that laughter, that camaraderie we have is what lifts my spirit there. Here, because I don’t have the camaraderie of people my age for one, and these are young people who are not my friends you know I’m just knowing them.. the music is what does that here. You know?”
6. As a veteran actress with many credits under your belt and with such a wealth of experience, did you have to audition for hairspray or were you precast?
“I had to audition for Hairspray. Umm… and I wouldn’t want it any other way because I really don’t think “veteran” is a word to use simply because I only do this as a hobby you know. I only do this for the recreation, the enjoyment, for the fun.. for just that. I don’t get so intense about it. I‘m not intense about it! I don’t want to go to Hollywood.. I don’t want to.. I’m jut not that intense about it. You know? I do it because it is something that satisfies my spirit! It touches my soul and I enjoy it.. so I wouldn’t say “veteran” in that way, but I know have been doing it long.. so yes! I had to audition… and I didn’t know what role I was going to get. I was waiting just like everyone else to see where they cast me. So I had to do the singing, the the movement and I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way because I don’t think that I deserve any special treatment and I will tell u why… Just looking at these young people they’re so talented.. so much more talented than I am and then acting is not something.. I heard this quote recently from Phillip Seymore Huffman, he said acting is not something you get good at and stay good at. You have to continually work at it so I can be very bad in something if I am not directed properly and if I don’t do the work. So being an actress and not having to audition for the role.. doesn’t work. <conversation lost to background noise.. and distorted audio> I need the director to help me to play the part and they have a lot of talented people who can dance better than I can dance, they can sing better than I can and act just as good as I do so really.. is wah?”
7. What inspired you to audition for hairspray and to accept the role?
“I wanted to do a musical before I reached 50. <laughs> (1), (2) I saw Sister Act on Broadway and I think that also kinda sparked a little… you know.. “I want to do a musical in my life”. I have to admit that Evette did call me and say you know… we’re doing Hairspray .. which is the production team did call me to say we’re doing this musical Hairspray, are you interested? I could have said no but I did say yes because in the back of my head was that inspiration from Sister Act and also in the back of my head I was turning 50 and I wanted to start to do different things. So that there call to me asking me if I don’t mind being part of the cast also meshed everything together.. but I had to audition.”
8. What research if any did u do to become Velma Von Tussle?
“I just googled Velma Von Tussle, read what her role was and that was it. ‘Cause I then had to depend on the director to tell me what he wanted and I still had to bring my own sensibility to it. But I did read about that character and after reading about her, I forgot that… and then developed my own sense of what I think she should be, based on what is happening in the theatrical production and what I felt I could bring to it as a Trinidad actress.”
9. You embody the character of Velma Von Tussle so well, how different is she from any other character you have played?
“You think? (laughs) To tell you the truth eh I think I play her very well because of the person I am naturally eh.. I am very cut and dry, and very direct! But I also did a television soap opera called West Wood Park where I played a character called Ava Dusoleil, rich , snooty , didn’t really like a lot of people So a lot of Velma reminded me of Ava Dusoleil and I have done that kind of role in other plays.. so it really wasn’t hard.. I just had to bring the “Velma-ness” and the “hairspray-ness” to it if you know what I mean.. you know?.. but I have done characters like that before particularly Ava Dusoleil in West Wood Park, I’ve done… these kind of characters on stage before where I was cut and dry and direct and rude and insensitive and.. I have done that.”
10. Who is Velma Von Tussle to you?
“A racist.. a selfish individual, who really just cares about herself. Even her daughter.. she cares more about herself than her daughter you know the daughter is there and her daughter embodies a lot of what she is simply because of the daughter being around her all the time. But to me shes selfish, she’s mean, and all of that because of her experiences I think and she never let go.. she never forgave. She’s very work oriented, very focused, very successful at what she does because she brings a certain amount of energy and discipline to what she does and that kind of stick-to-it-ive-ness of her role. But she can.. like everybody else, no body is one way.. She’s soft toward her daughter, she has her moments where she treats people well but generally, she’s flawed just like every other human being.”
11. I have a question written down here that you sort of answered in passing before, but not quite… So I guess I’ll still ask it : “Have u ever worked with a cast of so many young people before and what is the experience like?
“Well the closest I ever came to a cast of so many young people was “A Brighter Day”, and even that didn’t have THIS amount of young people!… and a lot of them weren’t even “young people” eh… a lot of them were much more mature people. What was it like working with this cast?.. I just had to get accustomed to what young people are… I am not around a lot of young people all the time! I teach you know, but my children I teach them and then they go home. I don’t really lime around a lot of young people therefore I had to get accustomed to the type of music… get accustomed to the talking all the time and the laughing all the time at every little thing and I am wanting to know what is so funny? What are they laughing at? But that was in the beginning. Now it’s just a lot of young people, that is what they do, that is the music they listened to, that is who they are, and I am now learning to just accept them for what they are. I think they are a really great respectful bunch of young people, I think they are talented, I think they work hard, I think their hearts are all in the right place and I am AMAZED that with so many young people in one space… there is no conflict! Maybe there is.. me doh know, but from what I observe, they just gel and work so well together and there for I think that this is a unique bunch of young people… Everybody’s interested in doing the work, and getting it right and making it work, and they don’t care how long they have to rehearse, they just keep going and I admire that. I really admire that! So they are great young people out here doing great work…”
12. Were there any skills or qualities you had to pull out of a hat, skills you never thought you had to become Velma Von Tussle?
“Yes! She had to sing <you should have seen DBH’s face here… classic>… and she had to do a little dance routine that I aint get yet… but umm… it’s just to be more confident in opening my mouth and using my singing voice and just being more confident and knowing well ok I practiced the dance steps long enough, I am going to get it. But it’s the singing skills and the acting dancing skills. The acting skills are there.. I just have to keep working at them and you know I know what to do, but the dancing and the singing…”
13. This one is a long question because I actually did some research on you before this interview right,.. Oprah said to prepare… and I came across and article and I think it was in 2007 and you said,
The day I buried my father I had to be on stage for the opening night of a play at the Central Bank Auditorium, no matter what, the show must go on.
As a performer I think I have sacrificed a lot. Sometimes I go weeks without seeing mums (God I love her) or months without a semblance of a social life, and have become all to familiar with the line “I can’t, I’m in rehearsals”. Were there any sacrifices you had to make as a performer that you have come to regret now?
“No! None. You know why?… because I am very good at balancing and managing my time. Umm… the only sacrifice you really have to make is a sacrifice of time eh. There are certain things you cannot do because you have a rehearsal, certain things you cannot go to… I had to give up a lot of things I was working on, things I had planned before, things that you (I) wanted to do and then you realize …OK they call a rehearsal or they call a production that is going to fall when you planned to go to the United States of America and you say well I have to cancel that cause you have to choose between… so it’s always a time issue, but I don’t ever consider any of it a negative sacrifice because it is what life is and it is just what happens. You just go with it! I don’t think I had to sacrifice anything. If it’s anything… the thing I sacrificed plenty is my sleep.<chuckles> Theatre is the only thing that gets me out of my bed at late hours. So I think THAT, sacrifice of sleep and rest, like on a Sunday. I have sacrificed my Sundays for this rehearsal which I will never do again. I am not sacrificing my Sundays. My Sundays are my days for my Sabbath to do nothing. To rest.. we/you got six days to work , one day to rest. I take my Sundays very seriously. So I sacrificed that, and its always about sacrificing time, but because I am so good at managing my time, the sacrificing of time has never really been an issue. When it becomes an issue is when the rehearsals begin to encroach on things I had pre-planned, and sometimes it’s easy to let it go and sometimes its not so easy to let it go yuh know? But in terms of family life.. yes there were times that my husband will find that I am not home enough and therefore I have to say “Ok producers, I am not rehearsing on the public holidays”, “I am not rehearsing on Sundays again at all”, “I cannot rehearse today because I need to be home”… so therefore you have to… YOU have to know what you have to (do)… and you have to decide what is more important. Once you can balance it [because I tell people I never leave my house hold chores undone to do theatre, that has to come first] .. and then. You know soo.. I dunno if I answered your question but..”
14. Have you ever performed outside of Trinidad and Tobago?
“Yeess! Tobago… well that is in Trinidad and Tobago. Greneda, St. Croix <laughs> Daz it! I’ve performed in Grenada and St. Croix apart for Trinidad and Tobago, yeah that’s it.”
15. How does the state of their theatre compare to our own?
They have NONE! They have none! We had to take everything there. Absolutely take everything there and they were so appreciative of what we were bringing that they’re begging us to come back, they were sold out, that kinda thing… and then he spaces that we performed… they didn’t really have “theatre” spaces except for St. Croix, St Croix had a good space but there were still a lot of things to be done to make the play or the production work.”
Kinda like Tobago!
“Yes! Very much like Tobago”.
I was talking to a performer from Tobago and I asked if they had any performance spaces and you know when you go to Tobago for.. what is this Tobago thing again… Heritage?.. it’s just performances under a tent, and for an island.. well we are a country, but for an island so rich and diverse in their culture I think it is unfortunate that they don’t have a performance space.
“Grenada is like that. In Grenada we performed in the National Stadium, you know?.. St. Croix had a nice theatre space, but still it wasn’t up to par with what we have here.
So essentially WE are the theatre centre, the “Broadway” of..
“…the Caribbean, literally! Except I think for Jamaica and Barbados. Oh yes I performed in Barbados too.. what is wrong with me? Yes we went to Barbados.. no, I didn’t perform… I went to work on a production. We did “Mary Could Dance” in Barbados. So I have done theatre in Grenada, Barbados and St. Croix. Barbados has their act together, St. Croix has their act together, but Grenada still has to develop some stuff.”
16. Soooo.. I’m not really sure how to ask this question. Well.. it’s not really specific, can you describe your journey from a tent cleaning stage hand to a professional actress, stage manager and director?
“Oh, Exciting! Interesting! Lot of hard work, lot of dedication, lot of sacrifices of my time and my SLEEP. I made lots of really really good friends, some of my best friendls are in the theatre. Learnt a lot about life. Realized that I am really a very disciplined person because I never fell into the vices that so called theatre people will fall into; the drinking and the smoking and the liming. I can say no, I can say I am going home to rest. I can cut off. But it has been a journey that made me realize how disciplined I am. It has ,made me realize that what I do in theatre is really enjoyable and I need to do it if for nothing else more, than the enjoyment and satisfaction of my soul. It has been hard sometimes because not all the time you do a play its easy and sometimes you get frustrated, sometimes depending on the cast it can be a little tough. Its not always an easy, wonderful, warm easy to work with cast, umm… they have seen a lot of my bad ways because I am a very abrupt, talk to people very sternly and a lot of people in the theatre don’t like that about me. But That’s is how I am and who I am. I try to curb it, so I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what I need to do in order to relate better with people. So it is all of that you know. From 1989 to now it has been a journey that has afforded me a life style that I would not have had, had I not been in theatre. Because it has exposed me to a whole new different world, a different way of thinking, a different world view you know?.. and therefore I am more open minded, because I am exposed o all these different ideas and word views. Theatre has afforded me the travel experience…umm even trips to new York. I do trips to New York with theatre people. I didn’t go with other friends.. I went with my theatre friends and lived on Broadway, you know and that experience in it self was one of the best experiences of my life. Every time I go to New York it’s Broadway… it must be Broadway! You know that kinda thing? So it has given me a lot a lot of umm.. a lot of experiences that has made my life very gratifying. You know, that kinda thing.”
17. To Who or what do you credit your success in theatre?
“To Raymond Choo Kong, Richard Ragoobarsingh, Penelope Spencer, Gregory Singh, all these producers… Nikki Crosby, Cecilia Salazar Clifford Learmond… and I don’t want to leave out any body. All these people I have lived with, Mairoon Ali that I have loved, you know, over the years I have done work with them for years. I credit them for that because first of all they trust me enough to give me work, they trust me enough to put me in the work, they trust me enough to get on stage with me, so I credit them. So I’ll tell you.. Raymond is the person who initially took the chance and he kept taking the chance and nobody else was taking the chance. So I have to say Raymond. I have to say my family, my parents, my brother my sister my husband because I have always gotten the support. I know it was a little tough with my husband getting accustomed to the theatre life style but I was still able to some extent do what I had to do. So family support was important. My brother and sister always supported everything I do, my parents who knew of my discipline they knew that my head was on, so that they trusted me enough to let me go into this thing called theatre and knew that it was going to be alright, you know hat kinda way..sooo umm.. them.. and myself.. for just sticking to something that I started. What do I credit for it?.. the fact that theatre is so enjoyable The fact that taking a piece if work from the page to the stage is such a wonderful process and that when you get to the end it is so enlightening that you just want to always keep doing it… and the fact that I enjoy my friends in the theatre fraternity so much. If I didn’t enjoy them and enjoy what I do I wouldn’t do it. So that is what kept me going. You know.”
18. I saw you and your school for the deaf attend Carvalho’s Production of Wonderland earlier this year and that intrigue me… How do deaf people enjoy theatre?
“They will enjoy it if there is enough spectacle on stage. They not hearing it… right? What we have to do is before or after explain the story to them or while it is going on they will ask you “what he say?” or “what that mean” and we will explain it as they go along. But the more interesting your lighting is, your costuming is, How BIG your production is in terms of the impact of lights, costumes and characterization, they see that and they can follow it based on that. So they can follow the story ‘cause they are not stupid, they can follow the story. Ah mean… you can’t hear but you know what is going on… but if a man get into a car and gets into an accident they can understand that. So if a character gets into a car and he drives and gets into an accident and somebody comes out and starts to quarrel with him that is not hard for them to follow. So they CAN follow because they live life. Theatre is a reflection of life on stage. They see these things everyday of their lives and they know what is going on. What adds to that is when you have magnificent costumes, interesting lighting, character portrayals that are really big.. so musicals work best for them, Grand musicals with big numbers of casts. It’s harder for them to enjoy something like “Doubt” you understand?… where there is a lot of dialogue and people are in regular clothing. They would be able to see what is going on but they won’t be able to understand because it is too… tamed. So they need the bigness, they need the spectacle.They need the color and the lights, the bigness of the characters. They need overdone action that kinda thing.”
Because Carvalho’s Productions if nothing else is always a visual spectacle…
Yes! that is what they need… a visual sectacle. <…> Hairspray they could have enjoyed… they would have enjoyed! Only thing is we closed before the school show, so they wen home. If the did’t go home then they would have come. THAT they would understand, that they will get. They will see the dancing… oh yes, and another thing i did not mention… a lot of dancing in it, they understand that. they do that. So dancing will appeal to them, characterization, spectacle… the Visual Spectacle. Everything that comes with.. the fog, the lighting, Oh! everything appeals to them.”
19. I recall an incident during tech when a member of the ensemble came to you expressing discomfort with..*thinks*.. how she would appear on stage, I won’t go into specifics to protect the innocent (lol), but you gave her some words of advice that was very inspirational, would you care to repeat that for the purposes of this blog?
“Well I wouldn’t repeat that, but I will tell people if you are an actor, and you have a problem with the way you are looking on stage then you are in the wrong profession.You just have to look the part, and looking the part may mean that you are completely out of the plot. It’s not you! I am not Deborah when I am on stage, I am what ever that character is, and If they put me in the ugliest dress, and the baddest wig, once it works for the character, once it is what the director wants, once you understand that it is not you, it has nothing to do with you, from the time you enter that stage you become somebody else and you have to lose yourself in that. If you cannot lose yourself in that then acting is not really for you. Because anytime you want to go onstage looking pretty like you usually do in your real life then what is the point? So I think maybe I mentioned it to somebody here, but I always mention it, I always tell people this. When I am on stage I am not me. From the time I get on stage, whatever character I am playing, I become them and I do not care how that person looks. That doesn’t bother me. (If) that is what the director wants, (if) that is what works for the character, then I am going there because at the end of the day I have to BE the best character. Deborah the actor has to do the work so that character becomes alive and lives true to everything else that is happening in that space at that time. You loose yourself in it. There is no audience. That is why I never get nervous wen I have to perform onstage, there is no audience. I am in that moment. You just have to lose yourself in it and be true to the character no matter what you look like or what you have to do. If there are certain roles that will go against your spirituality or go against your moral fiber then you draw the line and say you are not doing the role, but If you commit to the role then you have to go there and lose yourself in it. You have to lose you.”
20. As a director in your own right, you will have your own visualization of the transfer from page to stage. How easy is it to separate your vision from that of the director?
“Not easy at all! I have to talk to myself sometimes and say Deborah you are NOT a director here you are an actress UNDER a director, forget it! And if I talk to myself enough I could just lose it. Because there are so many things I see that I would have done differently… but I not directing nuttin. I am here to BE directed and therefore I have to tell myself it is not your vision, it is not your directorial choice, leave it and go with it. So I the actor may not agree with what you the director tells me to do but that is not my place (to question), I have to do what you want, and that is something that I can let go very easily but when I am directing if I want it I want it. So he (the Director) or she feels the same way. Hey wants it. They don’t care what my perception of directing is. That has nothing to do with it! I am one of those actresses who are very very… for want of a better word, glibly do whatever a director tells me to do. I do not question it. You know there are some actors who will question and analyze and say but that wasn’t my motivation… No! that is what you want me to do.. I can find the motivation to do it because I know you are seeing a bigger picture than I am seeing as the actress. So I am one of the actresses who whatever a director says, I say OK. I EH CHALLENGING NO DIRECTOR’S CHOICE”
Now as someone who choreographs (I don’t like to call myself a choreographer as I still have much to learn), I have choreographed for four different productions which included excerpts from Hairspray. Some persons who are in this cast have been accustomed to my 60’s style which is very different from this production’s so there has been this sorta internal conflict within all of us where it came to this production, especially after coming out of another “excerpts from Hairspray” workshops just a few months prior. I have had to remember what I told them and myself before we even auditioned for this production: Forget what you “know” about Hairspray and just…surrender to the process”. But as the choreographer for those other productions it was hard. Especially when the choreographer asked how I felt about a piece of choreography when I was trying to not have an opinion for better or for worse about it and just surrender. All I could have said was “You’re the choreographer. Whatever you give me I’ll do”. That was the best response I could have given at the time.. It was just so very different and my mind and body just needed some extra time to go back to default. Hope I didn’t dig a hole for myself…
“Yeah they have to forget it, but it’s hard. As a director sometimes I had to say Debra close yuh eye and walk away this is not your work. It is hard but you really have to forget what you know and surrender to That process and Trust the process.”
21. Have you ever felt taken advantage of as a performer? From my experience.. well.. I have no problem doing gigs Pro Bono but if you tell me I am getting paid.. then pay me! If things change and you come upfront and say so then fine, I appreciate that so now I can make informed decisions on how I spend my time and money. I appreciate the honesty and I am not left with resentment, or a feeling of being cheated when have to be running you down ’cause you ducking or taking forever… and I mean years to come through. Daz why I like contracts too… you see this verbal agreement thing… after those couple times.. that does have me so uneasy eh. Has that ever happened to you?
“Never! Umm… wait.. Once it happened to me. I did a radio ad. I went into the recording studio and did the radio ad and I don’t think the ad ever ran… but I didn’t even get the demo. I didn’t feel anything but I did feel tat the person was dishonest… they have to live with their dishonesty… that will not affect me. I did another ad… a series of ads that ran for a certain infomercial and I was promised lets say.. and I am just throwing it in the air $6,000, and i got $3,000. By the time I was ready to collect the next $3,000 the person moved. The company moved.The person I couldn’t get them on the phone again and I said that person is dishonest, they have to live with that. I did my best. I got what I wanted from it… the satisfaction of doing my best… money is just money and at the end of the day I will survive without it. So therefore I know of those two instances but I cannot say that I have been taken advantage of, and I will not be taken advantage of because of my perception. I could choose to say that dey owe meh and dey is dog.. I could choose that! but I choose to say they have to live with what they do. I could live with it because I did my best and that is all I ask of me: that I do my best. I tell people when people hire me to do anything, the last thing I talk is money because I am not doing it for the money. When I am finished, if the client is satisfied with my work. that means more to me than any cheque they can write me. A lot of times i do not discuss money up front. Lemme do the work and if you are satisfied with me at the end of it… pay meh, and if your not satisfied with it then that is fine too. so its all a matter of perception so i cannot say that i have been taken advantage of . Those people were just unfortunately dishonest people.. and we will always have both.”
22. Do u have any advice for young persons who would like to get into the performing arts?
“Yeah! Just know you have to make plenty sacrifice of your time. Sometimes your life is not yours. Sometimes you have to know if your mother is dead, or in hospital,whether or not you want to make that choice. Your father is sick home, you have to see bout he and/or come rehearsals. He done sick already. Now it might sound harsh, but it is the reality. So know that it is a lot of sacrifice. Know that it will make plenty demands on your time and sometimes you’re going to have to make a decision and weigh what is more important for your life down the road. Know that you mustn’t come expecting to be a star and want big money and didn’t pay your dues. I feel, and I might be wrong, and this may be a different time where getting into theatre means instant stardom and instant financial reward, maybe that’s where we reach now but I understand that being a part of the process and learning to respect the work and learning to respect the process and learning to respect others, and learning the process an learning, and learning, and making mistakes and learning could only make you a better person and a better actor so don’t want the instant gratification of fame and fortune, work for it nah and you will appreciate it more. So know that you will have to work for it, Know that it is a lot of sacrifice, and do it because you love it and are passionate about it. Doh do it because yuh doing it for money. You will be the worst in terms of your attitude to the work. If you’re doing it because you love it and are passionate about it and really enjoying it you could only get better and better.”