Last night, I did something I haven’t done since I was in the sixth grade: I was in a play. I memorized a monologue, practicing late into the night, and I even had to do a bit of dancing and singing—“like” Michael Jackson. I was a part of an incredible cast of actors, most of whom had long lists of IMDB credits. And we raised money and awareness to combat homelessness.
First, you should know there’s a SECOND show at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $20 and ALL the proceeds goes to the Midnight Mission. The play is at The Meta Theatre at 7801 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (entrance on Ogden Drive). To buy tickets, click here: https://hlametatheatre.brownpapertickets.com
For the entire time I was at the theater for Saturday’s early rehearsal and performance, I forgot my phone existed. I didn’t check or post to Twitter. I didn’t take selfies with my fellow cast members. I didn’t think about the ghoul in the White House or the other ghouls in Congress who keep him there. I was totally invested in the moment. That little theater became a world.
And when I got home, I could barely sleep. It was hard to remember the last time I felt so adrenaline-pumped—even after selling a book or a screenplay. My entire being was luxuriating in the newness of the experience, the thrill of walking on a tightrope in front of a live audience. And, like the character I play—a woman who never knew love as a child and only found it as a Michael Jackson impersonator—I got to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Even better, my husband and 14-year-old son were there to see the play. My son, who is a natural actor but shuns classes, saw his mother perform with professionals and heard monologue after monologue about the very real people who have faced homelessness to help him understand how choices and/or bad luck can have a devastating impact on our lives. I hope the play increased his empathy, broadened his understanding of the world’s traps, and gave him inspiration to perhaps pursue theater like his older sister, even if it’s just for fun.
The last time I did a creative project to stretch myself was shooting a one-person short film with my iPhone three years ago, “Lost,” and this was similar—something I’d always wanted to do but had never found a reason. The play found me: the director, Colette Freedman, teaches with me in the screenwriting MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and she invited me to join her veteran cast members on “a hunch.” I’m so glad she did!
I’ve thought for years that I would want to take up acting when I reached this point in my life, but I hadn’t pursued it. Now that I’ve had a taste, I remember what it was like to skip under the bright lights as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at the Coconut Grove Children’s Theater when I was in the sixth grade (directed by Cornelia Dozier). My IMDB page has called me an “actress” since I appeared as a jogger in a short film Blair Underwood directed based on our Tennyson Hardwick book series a few years ago, but now…hey, I’m just starting out, but I AM an actress!
I know I’m not Viola Davis. I often say I like to “learn by doing,” and last night was a master class as I watched the way my cast mates inhabited their roles. But like the character I play in my monologue, I didn’t really know I had it in me, and that’s a valuable lesson for any of us. I highly suggest pursuing a creative dream at least once a year that is completely outside of your comfort zone—whether it’s writing fiction, shooting a short film, or acting in a play or before a camera.
In the monotony of work and family demands, especially in such a grim political landscape, sometimes we all need that adrenaline boost in the arts to remind us of the simple joy of being alive.
Tananarive Due is an author and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing and screenwriting MFA programs at Antioch University Los Angeles and Antioch University Santa Barbara.