Detroit’s has an extremely rich, but often misunderstood history. If you’re not from Detroit, you may think that Detroit’s history was all about the auto industry. However, you would be gravely wrong. Detroit’s rich history includes several noteworthy eras and events that should be shared, and Dominique Morisseau is one Detroit native who is setting the record straight through her historically themed, Detroit based plays.
Dominique is an actress and an award-winning playwright that has written several plays about the history of Detroit. She’s enlisted the help of actors such as Blair Underwood, Andre Holland (Selma), and Reuben Santiago-Hudson (Selma) to help her flawlessly bring her visions to life. Their work came together on the play, Paradise Blue, which “…was inspired by Paradise Valley, which was a real area in Detroit in the 1940s and 1950s,” Morisseau explained.
Well, Dominique is back at shining a light on Detroit’s culturally rich history in her running play, Detroit ’67, which is playing in Detroit at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) through Sunday, June 5. The play is set in 1967 Detroit, where Motown Music sets the backdrop for a basement-turned after-hours joint for a family to help them make ends meet. Drama finds its way to the family as they clash over much more than the “family business.” And as the drama starts to unfold, they also find themselves caught up in the middle of the ’67 uprising.
Rolling out recently caught up with Dominique to get an exclusive on how she got involved with plays, and to discuss how she liked working with Blair Underwood. Check out her interview below, and let us know what you think. And be sure to check out her play Detroit ’67.
Tell us how you got involved with plays.
I got involved with plays when I was in college. I was there as an actress and I wasn’t getting a lot of work as an actress because they weren’t doing a lot of black work. So, I wrote. I started writing for myself and some of the other black actresses, and that’s how I got involved.
What inspired the play Paradise Blue?
Paradise Blue was inspired by Paradise Valley, which was a real area in Detroit in the 1940s and 1950s and I wanted to know about it. And then, I wanted to explore the jazz era because I knew that that was a big jazz heavy community. So, I was inspired by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and all these really great jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, and I wanted to explore jazz bands. Blair Underwood is into that, so he signed on to do the play, along with Andre Holland and Reuben Santiago-Hudson signed on to direct it.
Speaking of Blair Underwood, how was it working with such top actors such as Blair and Andre Holland?
Fantastic, because they’re really amazing men. I know they’re “A-List” actors, but they’re really human beings, and they’re “A-List” people with “A” personalities, and that’s why I had a really great time working with them. They’re generous artists, they really give of themselves. They came here to Detroit for me because I simply called them and asked if they could come to Detroit for me. That’s who they are. And they’re busy, busy artists. It speaks to their generosity.
How did you know that acting was something that you wanted to get into?
I knew I wanted to act since I was a little kid because I liked playing in front of the camera, and getting on the microphone. I watched the Cosby Show, and I wanted to be one of Rudy’s friends. So, I sort of knew it as a kid, and I started finding my way. I went to Bates Academy (Detroit Public School) when I was in elementary school and I had teachers there that kind of helped to shape me as a young actress there. And then, Ms. McCormick (Cass Technical High School Drama Teacher) helped to push me further in high school.
Speaking of being a young actress, what advice would you give other actors?
I would tell them to find a program that would allow them to exercise and flex that acting muscle. There are a lot of programs in Detroit right now. There are a lot of programs, not just at Wayne State University, but there are a lot of youth programs, like Mosaic Youth Theater is one example. I would tell them to get involved at a very young age and to find a program that would help them hone their craft. And then I would tell them to get around other acting mentors to help them get further along in their efforts.
Photo Gallery credit: Porsha Monique for Steed Media