Have you always been a natural performer? Is it something you knew you always wanted to do?
If you ask my mom, she’d say I’m a natural. I’ve been a performer since I came out of the womb. I’ve been involved in music since I can remember. I started playing the piano at 4. I’ve been singing in the church choir … you know, stuff Black girls do. I’ve always loved performing, however, I didn’t go to school for any of it. My degree is in political science and corporate communication but I soon found out that I was extremely unhappy working in that sector. I had my first ever real-life anxiety attack working for a bank, and so I quit shortly after that. I took some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to do something involving performance, so with a raggedy headshot that a friend took, I went on my first audition and by my third audition I landed a role and was on my way. That was five years ago. I did it because I didn’t want to live this life with any regrets. I didn’t want to be 64 years old and saying, “Man, I should’ve just tried it one time …” So in a way I guess I have been designed and destined to do this because it’s working out.
Were you always a fan of one-person shows? Any favorites as far as the medium goes?
Honestly, I can’t say I’ve always been a fan of one-person shows, but I am loving some of the ones I’ve seen recently here in Chicago. I saw Kellye Howard’s show. She’s a beast! My friend Melissa DuPrey does an amazing one called Sushi Frito. So I’ve seen all these women doing them and it’s been very inspiring. Of course, you have some of the legendary comedians like Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams who’ve done them. I really admire anyone who can get up for an hour and talk about any and everything. There’s a fearless quality about it and I’m a person who shares. I’m a storyteller if you will and I do that through music. You can look at someone like Stevie Wonder as well as someone who tells his stories through music. So in total I’ve had a bit of a weird hybrid of individuals who’ve inspired me to do something like this.
What there a particular inspiration that made you decide to take the leap? What pushed you to decide that you were going to essentially bare your soul like this?
I come from the musical theater world and there’s a medium called “cabaret.” It’s generally where an artist will just go and sing a few songs to get some stuff off their chest, ya know? So for me, I was just having a horrible day. I guess a nervous breakdown of sorts and I was trying to think of a way to get it all out. I said to myself ‘Maybe I’ll just go do a cabaret somewhere.’ I called up a few friends to get a band to accompany me and the next thing I know someone says “It should be bigger than that!” So from what I thought it was going to be to what it has become now … this thing has completely changed shapes. It grew without my trying to make it into an all out production, which is great now because in hindsight I realize I want to touch as many people as I can to let them know that they’re not alone. I just wanted to sing three or four songs about it and now it’s a full-on show.
Tell us about your show, Black Girl Interrupted. What can the audience expect?
What the audience can expect is full transparency on my part. And that includes some very touchy subjects. Ones that the African-American community is often times discouraged or scared to discuss in public forums or even their homes and churches. That’s essentially what the topic of the show will be about: touchy issues like depression and suicide and self medicating to deal with pain and those things will all be wrapped in songs because that’s my outlet. That’s how I heal. So it’ll be some joy, some pain, some laughs, some crying. It’ll be a roller coaster of sorts but it’ll be a fun ride because that’s what roller coasters are, right? Lots of ups and downs and twists and turns.
What’s next for Sydney Charles?
In November, I’ll have a role in a new production called The Citizens Anthology by the Inconvenience Theater company at the Victory Garden Theatre. The production deals with the subject matter of what to do as a citizen of your city and how to stand up and what to fight for and when to fight for it, etc. I’ll also be taking part in a Holiday concert around Christmas that’ll feature the concert choir from my alma mater, Kenwood Academy. I also just booked another show but it’s too early to speak on the specifics of it but it will go into production next year. And believe it or not we haven’t even done the Black Girl Interrupted show yet but there has already been talk of extending it and taking it to other cities so….I’m definitely staying busy.
Black Girl Interrupted will take place on Friday, Oct. 9 at Refuge Live located in Chicago’s South Loop at 416 S. Clark. For more information, please visit www.sydneycharlesexperience.com.