It’s been a few days since the hubbub (that’s right, I used the word “hubbub” right here in 2018) surrounding Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens. But as I watch the Emmys tonight, I find myself reflecting on this weird story that I felt a strong connection to.
In case you missed this bit of “news,” here’s what happened: Geoffrey Owens played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show back in the day.
Recently, he was spotted working at grocery store Trader Joe’s. Someone thought that this was amazing enough to take a picture of him while he was on the clock and then send that picture to Fox News. Fox News ran with this “news.”
Immediately there followed this very strange social media event where some people shamed him--he was a famous actor once. Why had he fallen so far as to be taking a “lowly” job like food-based customer service?? People found it hilarious that he was so pathetic now and many took great joy in making fun of an adult man for working at a job and feeding his family.
And then a lot of people came to his defense. People in the entertainment industry pointed out the fact that most actors have day-jobs/survival jobs to help them not starve to death in between gigs. They said that regardless of what it was, work was honorable and Mr. Owens should be praised for doing whatever it takes to keep his family secure, even if it wasn’t glamorous.
Since the “news” broke, Mr. Owens has done a few talk show appearances and also landed a couple of high-profile acting jobs. It seems his grocery bagging days may be in the rearview mirror for a while.
Tonight at The Emmys, two things will happen: One, a bunch of actors, writers, directors, DPs, makeup artists, etc., will be handed a bunch of shiny trophies, and two, some of them will make political comments in their speeches.
Tomorrow two things will happen: One, some people will retweet and share these political speeches and talk about how we as a nation need to get ourselves together. Two, other people will retweet and share these political speeches and talk about the problem of the “Hollywood Elite.”
The phrase “Hollywood Elite” gets thrown around every time a person made famous by film and/or television expresses a thought that is left of hard right. The logic goes like this: Hollywood People are super rich and out of touch and therefore, they shouldn’t offer opinions on what regular Americans are going through because someone who avoids gluten and has a trailer and a personal trainer could never understand what it’s like to have to work with your hands for 12 hours a day.
And you know what… sure, a lot of us who happen to work in the entertainment industry don’t know what it’s like to be a coal miner, or in the military, or a factory worker.
But that doesn’t mean we’re “elite.”
Far from it.
Yes, there are a handful of super famous actors, writers, and directors who make obviously huge amounts of money.
But the rest of us… we don’t. And we’re super regular.
While the A-listers get most of the attention, most of the work in this industry is done by very regular, very non elite, hardworking people.
Sure, every movie may have a fancy actor in it. But it also has:
Human Resources Professionals
Child Care Professionals
And a host of other positions that are not at all what one would call “Hollywood Elite.” Most of these jobs pay perfectly working- or middle-class wages. And many of us working these jobs on movies and TV show also have to take other side gigs to make up for financial shortcomings.
It always surprises me to hear that so many people don’t know how many “regular” jobs are created by every movie and television show. Yes, a movie budget supports talent trailers and directors’ desires for very specific salads, but that budget also supports a lot of very hard working regular people who are just trying to put their kids through school, pay for their parents’ medical bills, and eat from time to time.
It makes me sad to find out that so many people don’t realize how connected we all are through all of our work. Movies need cars and steel and catering and wiring and clothes--all things that we get from other great American industries.
And my heart always hurts when people deride the work we do in this industry. I know that some movies or TV shows can seem frivolous. But most of us have a favourite show or film that helped us get through a tragedy, bond with a distant relative, taught us something about the world, or simply stayed in our memory for any one of many many personal reasons. Most of us have, at some point, been moved to tears at an on-screen depiction of war or love or hope or family. That’s the work we make in Hollywood and I am damn proud to be a part of it.
Here’s to the regular people who make extraordinary work where ever they are.
Every once in a while, someone will an episode of Black Girl in a Big Dress and ask me: “Sooo…. Do you really do this stuff?”
And to them, I submit this photo as evidence.
Then I usually start talking about the joys of English Country Dance and they stop asking me questions after that.
Since we’re rolling into production on a new season, I’m getting this question a lot more than usual. And it got me thinking: Yes, I do do this stuff, but why? Why did period dramas grab my imagination so?
I think there are five main reasons.
Beautiful Costumes, obvs!
My goodness. Put this many clothes on anyone and they will look amazing! A corset or a cravate flatters every single person who has ever been or whoever will be. If I could get away with wearing a hoopskirt or bustle dress every time I went to Trader Joe’s, I would never leave Trader Joe’s.
Simple But Effective and Universal Stories
Listen, I have no problem with a Tinker Tailor Soldier Cerebral story. But I can’t help but love the simplicity of most period dramas. Sure, there may be the odd twist here or there (What? He was a peer the whole time??) but the driving forces of the stories are straightforward and something everyone can relate to. Characters want to fall in love or save their homes or find the object or get to the place or get home from the place. And all of us have those same basic, big shapes driving our own lives.
Characters you can happily releate to and enthusiastically root for
There’s a lot to be cynical and frustrated about these days. It’s very easy to look at the news, or read anything, or check social media for just 5 seconds and discover a world of pain and disappointment. And I have no problem with art exploring these pains. It’s an important function of art and storytelling to do so.
But I have always longed for stories that make me feel good when I watch them, despite what may be going on in the world.
Period dramas are often set in challenging times or characters are dealing with challenging things, but the characters meet those challenges with strength and determination. If these protagonists push love away for instance, it’s because of real fear or real obligation. These leading ladies and gentlemen tend to be honestly trying to do what they think is right. They are characters it’s easy to feel good about supporting without wondering if relating to them means that you hate yourself as much as they do.
There are some just straight up villains (I’m looking at you George Warleggan!), but often when characters are annoying or making things difficult, they’re still doing it from a good place. Mrs. Bennet for example may be hella pushy about her girls getting married, but she knows that if they don’t, they will lose their home and no mother wants to see her daughters turned out on the street.
The shows themselves also seem to want the best for the characters that are in them. I love contemporary rom coms, but sometimes, it feels like the films delight in seeing their characters as humiliated as possible (yes, I understand that from humiliation can come redemption...I know how character arcs work)...and there’s so much unnecessary pain in the world that I sometimes grow weary of watching someone get hurt, physically or emotionally, just for a laugh. There’s so much information thrown at us every day that it’s easy to quickly dismiss a pain or suffering or a joy; so I like finding stories that indulge us in characters’ happiness and present real empathy toward their sadness.
My first favourite book was Fear of Flying, which has a very ambigious ending, so I don’t mind an unsettled conclusion. However, I sometimes I do just long for a final shot that shows our characters absolutely and unapologetically happy. I could join the cynical chorus and say that Happy Ever After doesn’t really exist. But I don’t want that to be true, so I actively choose to believe that Happy Endings are possible. Here’s to period shows for giving them to us more often than not.
They're all about breaking out of boxes
Whether the story is about love across class lines, having a career despite your sex, choosing love over inheritance or pushing back against the duties of your title, these stories tend to ultimately be about breaking out of the boxes that society has shoved us into.
As a woman, a person of color, and a woman of color, I can certainly speak to this idea. I have spent my life being told that I’m not black enough, that I’m not feminine enough, that I’m too feminine, that I’m being too outspoken, that I’m not standing up for my people enough, that I need to stop standing up for my people and listen to others, that I can’t like certain things, that I should like other things, that everything is terrible and that everything is fine. It’s exhausting.
So I love watching stories where people stand up to what the world tells them they should be and then blow those parameters away with inner strength, focus, and determination.
And, finally...yes, I'm totally a feminist, but....
Those longing looks...much smoldering...
I’ll be honest right up at the top of this piece. I have an Indiegogo campaign running to help us produce the second season of Black Girl in a Big Dress and I hope that you’ll consider contributing to it.
I also hope that you’ll consider contributing to other crowd funding campaigns, especially if you want to see more diversity in Hollywood. Because it’s these smaller shows that will give diverse candidates the experience needed to get jobs working for major studios so that the game continues to be changed.
A Little Bit of Background
For the last 16 years, I have worked for major studios in production management, all while producing my own content independently. This dual experience has given me a really unique perspective on what it takes to work in this town.
On one hand, I know what it is to be a scrappy one-woman show, pooling together every single resource you can and hoping that you can convince enough people to turn up to your screening. I also know what it’s like to have the backing and budget of a major studio behind you, throwing money at every single problem and paying creatives top dollar for less work than you’d expect.
It would be easy to for me join the cynical chorus of people who say things like “Hollywood only makes remakes and franchises,” “Hollywood doesn’t care about real creativity,” “Executives aren’t creative at all--you have to spell everything out for them.”
I could join that chorus...if I thought that any of that were true.
Yes, Hollywood makes a lot of remakes and franchises. No, Hollywood doesn’t cast unknown actors, writers, or directors in A-list spots. And yes, if you’re pitching, you often have to walk an executive through every step of your vision.
But that’s because show business is a business and in order to be successful in that business, one has to make decisions from a business perspective. When you’ve got 80 or 100 million dollars on the line, of course you want to hedge your bets by making material that has already sold so that you’re pretty sure you can sell it again. I mean, there’s a reason all cars basically look and run the same—why take an incredibly expensive chance to reinvent something that could cost you everything?
When talking about how to help Hollywood tell stories that are more reflective of the world we live in, we have two choices. We can complain, or we can take action. I am excited to be taking action through my webseries. There’s nothing like Black Girl in a Big Dress on TV right now, and judging by the fan response, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if that changed. I’m excited to be able to show producers and executives another slice of diverse content that speaks to so many people; and I truly believe that the more they see of shows like this, the easier it will be for them to greenlight shows like this—whether those shows are mine or other deserving projects.
Diversity Isn’t Just What You See On Camera
One of the big challenges that Hollywood has in terms of making more diverse, inclusive, and representative content is that while we are starting to see more and more inclusive faces on screen, there’s still a dearth of inclusivity behind the scenes. The decision-makers are still mostly pretty homogenous. And as good as their intentions may be, they simply may not have the life experience that would have exposed them to a wide variety of ideas and people from whom those ideas come.
And it's not just important that executives and producers become more diverse. The more diverse Art Directors, Grips, Gaffers, Prop Masters, Visual FX Artists, Wardrobe Stylists, Unit Photographers, etc. there are, the more that all parts of every production will benefit. It's not just about having diverse bodies in the stories, it's also about supporting their diversity by having their environments properly dressed, their lighting showing them off in the best way, their clothes speaking properly to their body types and backgrounds, the candid photos that publicity will use be flattering and true.
Again, it would be easy to join the chorus of voices that say that the folks doing the hiring are just giving into their biases, unconscious or otherwise; and that they’re not hiring more women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc., because they’re too happy to keep the old boy’s club going. One of the most pernicious laments of the MeToo movement is people saying that Hollywood will just keep hiring more men so that it really is an all boys’ club again so that there are no women to hold men accountable.
Having been responsible for hiring people at a few major studios, I can tell you, it’s not that simple.
Getting Behind the Camera
Here’s how hiring normally works: HR sends the person in need of an employee a bunch of resumes that they have already culled from submission, meetings, networking events, etc. The person who needs a new employee must review these resumes and cover letters, all while doing the rest of their insanely busy job. We get just a few seconds with each application and have to make a decision based on that. Production moves too quickly and there’s just no time to do a super deep dive without putting expensive deadlines at risk.
We find a few resumes we like, set up interviews, and pick the candidate who was the least awkward and hope for the best.
Or, yes, sometimes, a candidate has an existing relationship with someone at the studio and that person can shortcut through some of the above.
There have been many times when I could tell that someone would probably be a great fit, but didn’t have enough experience to justify bringing them in for an interview. Working on smaller projects, like webseries—especially if those webseries are hits—can give people much needed production experience. However, it’s hard for a lot of people to justify working on an independent project if that project cannot pay them for their time. And a LOT of independent projects do not pay people for their time. Nothing against those filmmakers, it’s a very expensive process and not everyone has the money to be able to share the wealth.
Women and people of color are less likely to be in a financial position to be able to work for free; and they are more likely to be in a position where they must financially support others—either their children (as women are still more likely to be responsible for most domestic work at home) or family members (Rates of kinship care are much higher in communities of color). This makes it extra hard for talented, but not wealthy, people to get the experience they need to be able to get themselves into a good job on a studio lot.
Here’s Where The Webseries Comes In
BGBD works very hard to pay people for their time. One of the reasons we are looking to raise this money is so that we can give people a decent paycheck for their work so that they can put great experience on their resumes so they can transition into full time jobs wherever they like.
Our core creative team is women—Writer/Producer, Director, and Editor are all women; and our production staff includes people of color, immigrants, and more women.
(And yes, we have a few white guys involved, too. Sometimes people have pushed back saying that the entire crew should be women. But I believe that a big part of advancing feminism is having more men get used to working for more women who are in charge of things J )
How You Can Help
First and foremost, if you can contribute to our Indiegogo, that would be amazing. Even a few dollars makes a big difference. The more people who donate (at whatever amount), the more we can prove that shows like this have real support, and the more likely studios are to pick up shows like ours.
If contributing isn’t for you right now, that’s totally OK! You can still help by sharing our posts and videos, and liking and commenting on the same.
You can find us:
If you are interested increasing the inclusivity you see on screen, I would also encourage you to check out other crowdfunding campaigns, especially those with a good track record and ones which are endeavoring to pay their crews. And if there's anything you think we should be watching, reply here with the link so we can all see it!
(In the interest of transparency, I am also happy to chat with anyone about budget details, just shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’s a very exciting time in Hollywood. I’m excited to be a part of this change and I can’t wait to see what’s next for all of us!
If you have any questions about the show, or about working in the entertainment industry, reach out! Happy to be helpful!
...of the Second Chapter
I couldn’t figure out what to call this post
First, I know that every time I post something, I say thank you about a billion times. I worry that it comes across as insincere, but it’s really really not.
I never dreamed that so many people would be excited about this little show, so I really do thank you all so very much for watching and writing. I know that I can be pretty slow to respond. But please know that I read everything and it means the world to myself and the cast and crew to hear from people. Tis truly muchly appreciated.
Okay, here’s where I take off the corset and get real.
A couple of weeks ago, GLOW actress Betty Gilpin wrote this amazing piece called “Why Acting is a Seesaw of Death.” The piece explains the huge emotional journeys that actors go on as they try to land, and then keep, roles. It describes how exhausting and confusing auditioning is, how even when you’re on a show, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to be for long, and how landing a great role is no measure of job security.
I read this piece when it came out--as you might expect, lots of my friends are actors, so the article was widely shared in my social media. And when I read it, I tried to immediately forget about it.
My anxiety has been a constant companion for years. It’s kept me up for nights on end. It’s disrupted my eating. It’s made me cling to toxic people and shun healthy ones. It’s made me sabotage great opportunities and settle for repeating mistakes. And it nearly kept me from making Black Girl in a Big Dress at all.
I’ve made huge progress in the last few year or so. I got a coach who really helped me put things into perspective. I built an amazing library of really effective self help books. I started meditation. I got my eating under control for the first time since I was a teenager. I’ve rebuilt friendships and had the courage to say goodbye to ones that weren’t working for me. I’ve learned to accept that sometimes I’m gonna feel terrible but that the feeling will pass and that I can just observe those challenging emotions instead of indulging in them.
And I’ve felt amazing. It’s awesome to wake up excited most days and it feels fantastic to not be terrified of every decision. But it takes work. Every day. It takes serious, focused work every day. And when I mess up and slip back into old thought patterns, it takes extra extra work to get back on track.
One of the things that has allowed me to feel better is that I actively avoid pieces that talk about how difficult this career I’ve chosen is. There’s a mantra in the personal work I’m doing that says “that which you focus on, you make more of.” So if you focus on how hard things are, that is what you will notice and draw toward yourself--the struggle. But the truth is that yes, things can be hard, but they can also be easy. And if you focus your thoughts and energy all the opportunities around you, that is what you will see more of and that is what you will draw toward you.
I’ve found that for me, this mantra holds true.
So when I read Ms. Gilpin’s piece, it felt nostalgic and real; but it also felt like something I didn’t want to spend much time with.
Until I started producing Season 2.
And all the insecurities and anxieties came rushing back. Imposter syndrome took hold and I spent a couple of days back in bed with my old friend anxiety. The dozens of daily phone calls it takes to pull a shoot together triggered my introvertism. And the hundreds of decisions one has to make every day made me want to call the whole thing off.
And I thought of Ms. Gilpin’s essay.
She ends the piece by saying how important it is to get back up again and how ultimately that’s what makes a career. I totally agree.
She also reminds us that part of being a creative is that you have huge feelings. Those huge feelings are what compel us to express whether it’s through paint or film or dance or flower arranging. It’s been great to feel freedom from some of the pain of the past. But honestly, it was nice to be reminded that it’s so near the surface. The self-love I feel from creation helps keep the demons at bay. And descending into filmed fantasty helps me fight the fears.
And as nervous as I am tonight, I know that tomorrow is going to be spectacular!
Join us, won’t you!
Moments of self-reflection notwithstanding, we really are so excited about Season Two!!
All the characters you love are back and we’ve got some great new folks to introduce you to! There’s new dresses! There’s dancing! And there’s a great story underneath it all about how all of us are just trying to write our own fairy tales and find our own happy endings.
You can also help us make this season. Black Girl in a Big Dress is an independent, self-funded venture and we could use your support to finish bringing it to life. If you have a moment, check out our Indiegogo page. If donating isn’t for you right now, that’s totally OK!! Sharing the link or any of our episodes will be a huge help and we’d super appreciate it.
We’ll be sharing tons of stuff from set, so please keep in touch.
We were so excited this week to get the news that BLACK GIRL IN A BIG DRESS has been nominated for a Webby Award!
It was the Webbies that helped catapult Awkward Black Girl to an HBO series and we're crossing our fingers that this awkward black girl follows in those footsteps.
Each Webby Nominee is eligible for 2 awards. One is voted on by The Webby's academy. The other is voted on by YOU!
As of this writing, BLACK GIRL IN A BIG DRESS is in 2nd place behind Netflix. I love Netflix--am literally watching it while I write this blog post--but I would love for the little gals, the independent filmmakers to give the 'Flix's million dollar marketing budgets a run for their money. Help us win, won't you?
It takes about 2 minutes to vote and you can do it at this link. Leave a comment here so I know to thank you! And feel free to tell all your friends and share this link far and wide. :)
Her Ladyship thanks you for ever and always.
I wanted to take a minute and say thank you to everyone who’s written, messaged, tweeted, followed, or slid into my DMs to talk about Black Girl in a Big Dress!! When we wrapped production just over a year ago, I had no idea that this piece would resonate with so many people and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s watched and made BGBD what it is today!!
Between my blog The Oreo Experience, a previous webseries, and a bit of standup, sketch, and storytelling, I’ve made plenty of content in the last few years, and the comments and messages have typically been things like “haha,” or “funny!” or “Aydrea, it’s Mom, please call me back, I got some test results,” or “can u do one but wit your tits out???” Needless to say, the response to Lady Kate’s misadventures has been beyond welcome and so so lovely and encouraging.
I also wanted to take a minute and answer some of the questions I get most often. Mainly The Big Question: When Is Season Two?
But in order to answer that question, I have to tell you a little bit more about how we produced Season One.
And in order to do that, I have to tell you what I’m Doing When I’m Not Producing a Webseries.
Chief among my non-webseries life is Ye Olde Dayjob. By night and by weekend, I may be an elegant Victorian Lady, but by day, I’m a frazzled animation production supervisor. I’m currently on the production staff of How To Train Your Dragon 3. When we started Black Girl in a Big Dress, the movie was in the early stages of production, so I had plenty of time to write and produce. Now, we’re in high crunch time which means 60+ hour/7 day work weeks. It’s fun, but it’s…I’m at work a lot. If you’ve seen this tumblr, it is exactly 100% accurate.
But wait, there’s more!
After I get done training dragons, I head home or to coffee shops or cafes or unsuspecting strangers couches and work on a comedy series I have in development at the moment. It’s one of those “I can’t talk about it yet” things, but as soon as I can, I’ll spill everything! During BGBD Season One, my comedy series was on hiatus, now we’re ramping up again.
But wait, there’s a little bit more.
I also regularly perform standup and storytelling and in addition to my gigs, I run a private comedy venue that hosts an awesome monthly show.
This isn’t to say that there’s no more BGBD coming, it’ll just be like the space between Game of Thrones seasons. Longer than we might like, but worth it! (Seriously, GoT, 2019?? Really??).
I know there are a LOT of creatives making art in this fashion. The hustle is real. I love the grind as much as I love seeing the work on the screen and I’m honoured to be in such lovely company. Here’s to all of you! Let’s do the damn things.
The question I get asked second most often is: What can I do to help? First of all, thank you to everyone who has asked this question. It is incredibly kind and humbling and generous.
The only thing I could ask for is for folks to keep watching and sharing! The more people who get to see BGBD, the more momentum we’ll have going into Season Two and beyond!
Oh, and please send me links to your webseries, other creative stuff you love, English-themed memes, tea meet ups, English country dance events, or anything you think I or Lady Kate would enjoy.
Thank you all ever so much for watching! Please do keep in touch.
That Time I Was 8 and That Theater Teacher Kicked Me Out of Class For Being the One Reasonable Kid in the Room
“Just let it out! Let it go! GO CRAZY!!!”
That’s what one of my first theater teachers screamed at 8-year-old me.
For the record, I was not a child who let anything out. I didn’t let anything go. And I never went crazy.
I was serious child. About once a month, I would dump out all of my toys into the floor and organize
them by size and color. I gave all 200 or so of my stuffed animals names and put them on a written
rotation of playtime so that none of them felt left out. I tried to record books on tapes with my
friends, but most of the recordings are of me yelling at them when they mispronounced words or
didn’t perform with enough dramatic irony for my taste.
I didn’t “play,” I “explored myself through creative activity.” I didn’t “have fun,” I “participated in
events and sorted out how I felt about it afterward.” In the 4th grade, I told a teacher that I didn’t have heroes because all of us were imperfect.
It’s possible that it was because I was such a rigid child that I was so fascinated by acting and
performance as a young person. I loved the idea that for a bit, just for a bit, you could put on a
costume, be someone totally different, live a different life, impact others, then come back to the
emotional safety of never really leaving your bedroom. I loved that there was space to spread your
wings just a little, but that there were also rules so it was safe—there was a script after all, characters had specific things they were supposed to do, there were parameters to the fantasy, so you knew
you were going to be okay in the end.
I liked all of that.
I did not like “just getting crazy” and “going wild” in a room full of my runny-nosed peers.
I grew up in bland, suburban South Texas, a region of the country not known for its nuanced acting
training, so every class I was in consisted of overly caffeinated graduate students grinning like crazy
and telling us kids to lose our goddamned minds.
Young Aydrea would have been totally cool with doing this if the MFA candidates had been able to
tell us what running around like a chicken had to do with understanding Elizabethan scansion.
In case you’re curious, yes, I asked. No, they did not have answers.
But one teacher did have something to say:
“I don’t really think this is for you. You don’t have to come to the rest of class.”
Now, I’m not amazing with children. I’m the kind of adult that will straight up stop reading the
bedtime story if the kid doesn’t like my voices (hashtag, irony). I’ve definitely given a kid water in a
glass that used to have gin and tonic in it without washing it out first. I have no problem talking about my toxic exes in front of tweens who are about to go on their first dates. And I’ve definitely said the
phrase, “why would I have kids, I still have friends and my dreams haven’t died,” in front of people
who were younger than 18.
But despite all that, I know that you’re not supposed to tell a little kid that they can’t achieve their
dreams. I hope that Chad never finished that dumb extra degree.
After he kicked he me out of class, I still went anyway. I had enough shame to know that I could
never tell my parents that I failed at attending a perfectly voluntary, non-grade-based summer
program. So every day I got on the bus, rode across town, sat outside of the classroom and hoped
that Chad would come to his senses.
A few years later and I was taking my first proper theater arts class in Middle School. I knew that I
couldn’t get kicked out of this class because the law said that I couldn’t be truant and anyone who
signed up for any elective could take it. Ha! Life 1, Aydrea also 1.
In this class, I did reasonable things like decide to perform Hamlet’s Soliloquy for my first assignment. Yes, everyone else chose pieces from books with titles like “100 HILARIOUS MONOLOGUES FOR
KOOL KIDS.” But I was more elevated than that.
Was my performance of one of the Bard’s greatest passages “good?” I doesn’t matter. It was serious
and it was mine and it gave me the confidence to audition for my first real play.
The play was about a tree that granted wishes and was appropriately titled: The Wishin’ Tree.
Shakespeare, it was not. But, I was allowed to be in it. Fuck you, Chad, I thought. (I didn’t think that. I don’t think I dropped my first f-bomb until high school…unless my mother is reading this, in which
case, I have never ever used profanity in my whole life).
I played an uptight, nosy neighbor who mostly had to snark around on stage and be snippy and then march off all upset. What had 2 thumbs and no problem with the aforementioned part of the performance? This girl.
But then came the scream.
At some point the titular tree grants a wish in front of my character or something…I think the tree was actually meant to put something in my hand and I had to scream. Loudly. At the top of my lungs. And run around the stage like a maniac.
It was a real defining moment for the character and a real nightmare moment for me.
No one else in the play had to be that wild and unhinged. Everyone else got to say measured words
in carefully planned ways. I had to let go. And just go crazy.
Every embarrassing moment from that horrible class came flooding back to my brain and so every
time my scream came up during rehearsal, I froze. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t bring myself to be that
Was Chad right all along? Did he see a failure in me that he was just trying to protect me from? Was it possible Chad was a messenger sent from beyond with difficult yet prescient news that I needed to
heed lest I be shunned, embarrassed, destroyed? Was this really not for me?
Maybe. Possibly, for sure. There is a strong possibility that there are people who don't want me to be doing this. And I respect their positions. But I wasn’t quite done.
Because as shy as I could be, I was also extremely proud. So when my teacher/director gave me the very simple ultimatum of “scream or be recast,” I found my voice. I knew that if I lost this role, I’d go
crazy in the bad way, so I decided that it was better to go crazy in the good way. It still scares me
from time to time (read: 100% of the time), but I've been screaming ever since.
And okay, fine. I hope Chad got his MFA.
I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. I remember exactly where I was. The way that time slowed down. That knot in my stomach that lurched into my throat when my director approached me in the kitchen and said in a quiet voice:
“Hey, so… we lost all the footage we shot this morning.”
It was our first shoot day and until that moment, everything seemed like it was going well. We got started on time. The craft service was yummy and plentiful. The weather, which had threatened to rain, was holding. Everything was happening according to plan.
But that’s not how filmmaking works.
At the moment in question, we had been shooting for about three hours. We had already called and wrapped one of our actors. As far as we were concerned, we already had nearly an entire episode in the can.
Our editor had come by to collect and test the footage transfer and when he tried to get it off the drive, it wasn’t there.
We still don’t really know what happened, but it quickly got sorted out so that we didn’t lose any more footage that day. We would, however, have to reshoot the entire morning. So I began hoping, praying, and lighting candles to ensure that we could get our actor to come back to set 5 weeks later and that we could create 4 more hours in our shoot schedule without adding a day to the schedule as everyone on the crew already had other work scheduled. And there were still 8 hours to go in that day and I had to get through those 8 hours without letting on to my cast and crew that I was so scared we wouldn’t be able to get our actor back and that we wouldn’t be able to make up the shoot time and so I just wanted to run away and cry and scream and re-think all my career and personal choices to that point.
And that’s why it was my favorite day.
It was one of those days where you really figure out what you’re made of. A day where you have to dig in and get things done. A day where you worry that you cannot do the things you deeply want to do. A day where your heart breaks a bit because you feel like you made a terrible mistake and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but you just keep moving forward.
These days are not fun. But they are necessary. And we wouldn’t have the good days without them.
I have another blog called The Oreo Experience (check it out here...but not now; wait ‘till you’re done reading this). It’s about how I’m a super white black person (Black on the outside, white on the inside--like an Oreo). I make a lot of jokes there about how yes, I’m black, but I also really, genuinely love Renaissance Faires and have never heard Lemonade. I’m not even sure if “Lemonade” refers to one song or an album or a short film.
People often think that I’m joking about this. To be fair, I am being funny about it, but I’m not “joking” per se. I don’t know very much about pop music and I’m a big ol’ Anglophile.
You might be wondering how a black girl growing up in South Texas fell in love with all things English. You also might not be wondering this at all. If it’s the former, congratulations, I’m about to tell you how this came to be. If it’s the latter, no matter! It’s still a lovely story.
When people find out that I’m an only child, they usually respond with some version of “Ohhhh, you must have been so spoiled!!” I was not spoiled.
It’s true that as an only child, you get all of your parents’ love and attention. You also have to bear the brunt of all of their issues by yourself. There’s no sibling to dull the shock of adult problems. And there’s no peer co-conspirator to let you know that you’re not crazy and that you are interpreting your parents’ weird behaviour correctly.
Mom was the chatty one. She’s outgoing and energetic and will talk to anyone. She’s extroverted and loves to be the center of attention. I was a shy child--I couldn’t even look adults in the eye until I was nearly a teenager. And so I preferred the attention of my quiet father. He was a big reader, he studied meditative Eastern religions and he didn’t like to make a fuss.
My only complaint: He was, and is, too quiet. Even for introverted me. My dad is in part, not untypical of his generation. Men then weren’t supposed to be emotional or connective. They were supposed to provide for their families, which my father did very well. My dad also grew up as a black person in the segregated South. He’s seen a lot of traumatic stuff. And he saw it well before therapy was something that was OK for regular people to do. So yeah, he’s quiet.
Even today, when I call my dad, our conversations are mostly silence. He doesn’t ask me about my life, or my job, or my partner, or my work. Once he works out that I’m alive, he doesn't have too much to say.
It can be awkward.
I spent my allowances on various Shakespeare translations. I recorded Much Ado About Nothing onto tape and listened to it every night. I started practicing my RP. I began attending Renaissance Fairs. I began performing in Renaissance Fairs. I swooned over every costume drama I could get my hands on. I started buying and building my own costumes. Five years ago, I went to England for the first time and have gone back at least twice a year every year since. And this year, I made this webseries, committing my Anglophilia to film.
Today, I don’t know that my dad could tell you what my job is or what my partner does for a living. I know he knows I live in California, but I don’t know that he could pick out which bit or if he knows whether I have pets or not. But I can ask him about anything that Basil Fawlty did and my dad can tell you the season, the episode, nearly every line of dialogue that comes before and after the scene in question; and he kind of won’t shut up about it.
Honestly, that can be awkward, too.
I don’t know if I would have found British comedy and unearthed my Anglophilia if it weren’t for my father--South Texas wasn’t known for its transatlantic tastes. And if he had been a naturally chattier man, maybe he wouldn’t have needed dry, repressed jokes to relate to. So yeah, it might have been fun to have a livelier life back then, but I’d be missing out on so much that I love today.
We just approved the final updates to the post-production schedule today and I still can’t believe this whole project is happening at all! A year ago this time, I would never have guessed I would have a project of this scale about to wrap. I’ve co-produced one webseries in the past (you can watch that bit of magic here. It’s called WE’RE SEEING SOMEONE and it still makes me happy) and I figured that would be my one go at producing something like that.
I felt that way largely because as much as I love the collaborative experience of creative work, I am a huge introvert. So yeah, why not invite a cast and crew of 20 people to your house every weekend to make something?
As a writer, you can snag tons of alone time while you’re working on scripts. As an actor, you actually get plenty of time by yourself while you memorize lines in a vacuum or wait around on set while the rest of the crew figures out how to set up shots. But as a producer, you are never alone, you are always talking, and it is exhausting. There’s always a schedule to discuss, a problem to solve, a concern to assuage. It’s relentless. And it goes on long before the shoot and lasts for months afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong. I like people. I actually like people a lot. I can be blunt, to the point, and I definitely suffer from Resting Bitch Face (as well as Angry Black Lady Face), but I love seeing people do what they do. I adore watching other creatives be in their element and kick ass at their callings. I am inspired when I am see people doing what makes them tick.
I just prefer to do it from afar and I don’t want to necessarily talk all about it.
When I have a ton of social time or a bunch of events in a row, I absolutely need a few days with dim lights and near silence. I am at my best when I’ve had lots of time away from people. You’ll know that I love you when I tear myself away from my very comfortable couch to be social with you on a whim. Or if I call you. On the phone. That’s… a very big deal. (But if I don’t do any of those things, don’t take it personally. I just really really need recharge time. Without it, you don’t want to see me, anyway.)
The point is, being super social is an actual challenge for me. Without that time away from the fray, I get nervous, full of anxiety, and pretty unpleasant. And I forgot that when I decided to produce this project.
I think it’s kind of like childbirth. I don’t have kids, but I hear the process by which they get outside of one’s body is quite painful. And though I’ve had many mothers tell me about the pain in great detail, they all also say that you “forget about it as soon as they hand the baby to you.” On one hand, this can’t possibly be true because it’s ridiculous. On the other hand, this must be how it goes, otherwise, we’d all be only children and the human race would die out.
Sometimes we just have to step outside of our comfort zones to pursue that which which is important to us. We have to become uncomfortable to make something that matters--whether that’s a baby or a piece of creativity.
I love being creative and I love seeing creative work come to life. Especially when it comes to life on film. And you can’t do film by yourself. A moving picture (whether it’s on actual film, for cinemas, TV, or the Internet) takes a small army. It takes a lot of passionate people coming together in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. I am so grateful for everyone who helped make this happen. They are some of the best and I’m not sure that I deserve to know them.
I’m also very tired. Very happy. Extremely proud. But very tired.
Right now, as I did after WE’RE SEEING SOMEONE wrapped, I’m telling myself that that I just don’t see how I produce like this again.
I’m probably wrong about that. We’ll see how I feel after this nap.
Please keep watching this space for more updates and behind the scenes stories from BLACK GIRL IN A BIG DRESS.
If you like what you see, please tell your friends. If you don’t like what you see, please tell people you don’t like--it’ll be a perfect way to get back at them.
You can find us:
Here at the website, www. BlackGirlinaBigDress.com