What gave you the idea to write "Black Angels Over Tuskegee?"
It’s a great story actually. In 2007, I was watching television clicking through channels, and I got to one station and stopped. President Bush and Congress were awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen, more than 60 years after the 332nd Fighter Group's World War II achievements. I was so moved by these men in their 80s and 90s still full of energy and pride I knew I wanted to tell their story on stage. In the 90s HBO produced a film, but I had never heard of a stage play. So I began writing the show in 2008. I took a break after a few hours, hung out with a friend told him what I was writing about – to my surprise he told me a Tuskegee Airman lived next door to him. So I had an opportunity to meet him, listen to his stories, and really get an opportunity to be in the presence of a true American hero.
Give us the history of starting at Whitmore Lindley to three years Off Broadway with an eye set for Broadway.
Black Angels Over Tuskegee Opened (BAOT) at NoHo's Whitmore Lindley Theatre Center in 2008. When I finished the play I knew I had something incredible. In the past whenever I wrote a new play I always felt it could be better, work shopped more before I put it up. But with BAOT I didn’t have that feeling. I knew I had created something really special. It became a huge hit in North Hollywood selling out each show. It won the NAACP Award for Best Play, and also an ADA Award for Best Ensemble. It ran for almost a year closing only for holidays then reopening again to sell out audiences.
One day we were doing a pick up rehearsal and at the end I just blurted out – “how would you guys like to take the show to NYC in 2010? ” There was a hush, and then everyone looked at each other and said why not. We had no money but we were going to take the show to NYC. Lol. So I contacted Edmund Gaynes a theatre producer/owner at St. Lukes Theatre in NYC and in NoHo at the Whitmore Lindley Theatre. I told him what we wanted to do for a two-week run, he gave us a budget on what it would take. That next day I presented it to the guys – we all got together threw our money in a hat and said – let's do it. So in mid-January 2010 we all got on a plane and headed to NYC for a two-week run. We didn’t have enough money in our budget for any publicity so we did grass roots marketing, performing excerpts in Times Square, churches, street corners- anywhere the NYPD wouldn’t threaten to arrest us. Lol. That happen a lot. Well the marketing worked. All shows were sold out, and the reviews were incredible. We wanted to stay longer. But St Luke’s Theatre had two other shows coming in, so it was either shut down, or more to another Off-Broadway venue. So we moved to The Actor’s Temple Theatre on 47th St. and that two-week run has turned into three years with numerous NYC Theatre awards to go along with it. From its debut in NYC the play has been commissioned to perform for The NAACP, The National Urban League, The Smithsonian Institute, The Navy Memorial Museum in DC, Al Sharpton’s National Actor Network, The Federal Reserve Bank Of NY, The Tom Joyner Foundation, and the National Tuskegee Airmen Convention in Los Vegas. The Broadway transfer has been echoing around NYC for the past two2 years. Well, now we are in the process AGAIN of throwing our money in a hat AGAIN to get the wheels rolling.
Where are you regarding getting the production to Broadway?
We are in the process of raising the seed money of $40,000.00. The full Broadway Budget is 3.5 Million. The $40,000.00 will help us with filing the Broadway paperwork for investors, securing our law team, and start the negotiations on a Broadway house for the 2014 season. We have all this information on our Website at www.blackangelsovertuskegee.com whereas anyone can donate. And it’s all tax-deductible. Your help is greatly appreciated.
What formal training have you had?
I began my career as an actor in Louisiana. I wrote my first play in 1998, and was paid $1500.00 for a 10-minute play. I immediately changed my disciplined to writing. I Love all mediums though. I write, direct and act. I’m starring in Black Angels Over Tuskegee. As an actor there is nothing that can compare to that instant feedback from an audience, as a writer I am so amazed how my words can touch a soul and bring audiences to laughter and tears, as a director watching your vision come to life through others still amazes me. I am always in awe of it all. I love my job so much.
What obstacles have you been through?
Wow! NYC has really thickened my skin when it comes to the entertainment industry. Specifically theatre. Producing a commercial play in NYC for one month can cost up to a small house in some states. It’s a risk. You have to be ready. There is no secondchance. It’s a cruel, beautiful, incredible journey that I love and welcome every day.
What advice would you give to a new producer, director and writer?
You’re going to have up and downs. You’re going to have people telling you how great your work is and, of course, you’re going to have people telling you it's not. You have to have a thick skin. We’re in the business where we are judged for everything we do. All I can say is "stay true, stay focused on vision, have clear eyes, full hearts and you can’t lose.”
Black Angels Over Tuskegee is performing at The Actor's Temple Theatre in NYC. 339 W. 47th St. For tickets to the show or to donate to the Broadway campaign go to www.blackangelsovertuskegee.com