Renowned, award-winning playwright Angela Barrow-Dunlap debuted her stage play production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls at the Music Hall for the Performing Arts in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 17. The play opened to long lines of eager theatergoers anticipating a great show. The play stars Robin Givens (Lady in Blue), Kelly Price (Lady in Green), Angie Stone (Lady in Purple) and Lillie McCloud (Lady in Brown), as well as up-and-coming Detroit artists NuNu Thurman as the Lady in Red, and Cherri Black as the Lady in Orange. The play was phenomenal. It was captivating and electric, and all the women delivered awe-inspiring performances. When the play comes to a city near you, it’s a definite must-see.
Rolling out got a chance to get up close and personal with Barrow-Dunlap to discuss her success journey as well as her success formula. She dishes on how she managed to achieve longevity in the industry and who some of her favorite actors have been along the way. She also sheds some light on her casting selection process, of which one might find to be very unique. Get the details below.
Briefly tell us about your journey in this industry. You are a longtime playwright, producer and filmmaker. How did you get started, what did your journey look like to get you where you are today?
Wow, I can go all the way back to when I was 11 years old, and I was in the Little Miss Michigan Pageant. My grandmother entered me into this pageant and I became intimidated because all the other little girls could dance, and sing and they had all these wonderful talents and I went home crying saying, “Grandma, I don’t have a talent!” And so, my mom wrote a dramatic monologue for me, and that’s when I first got bit by the acting bug. I ended up performing this monologue to the Cooley High theme song, and I ended up winning the pageant overall and the award for [the] best talent. So, my mom was a writer, she didn’t ever identify herself as that, but that’s what she was. So, I guess it was kind of in me. I would later find myself organizing all of the kids in the neighborhood to do what I now know is theater, wherever we could do it, we put on shows.
All through school, I was always blessed to be a part of great drama programs. I attended Southfield high school, and there I had a teacher named Virginia B., who had us doing everything, from building sets to, I wrote, produced, promoted, directed, plays at the school. It was really an expensive program, especially at that level. From that point, I went to Wayne State, and before I could complete my classes, I found out about an audition. So, I went and auditioned, and again, I didn’t sing or dance, so I was like ‘hey, I gotta make myself valuable,’ so I volunteered to do administrative work. And before I knew it, I was a 19-year-old tour manager. So, I was acting and I was the tour manager. I looked up and I was in New York, riding around in a 16 passenger van with Rance Allen, and the Clark Sisters, and all these guys in the back, and I was like “how did I get here? I’m living my dream.” From there, I went on to do a few plays and tours, such as A Good Man is Hard to Find, I worked with David Talbert on one of his first ones, What Goes Around Comes Around, and then with Cedric Walker, the owner of Universoul Circus. I actually traveled with him and found talent acts, such as animal acts, and trapeze artists, and all those sorts of things. And from there I left the circus, in tears, because I was being called to launch out on my own, and I did. I didn’t want to leave the talent, but I took that step and I did my first piece with my partner Lizzie Berry and it was Why Good Girls Like Bad Boys. It took off so fast, and it toured for over two years. It was really shocking the success of that piece and how it touched so many families, and it was incredible.
You’ve worked with some big-name actors. That’s amazing. You’ve also been successful at doing plays for a very long time, tell us what’s your formula for producing successful stage plays?
You know, the formula is ever-changing, as is everything. Trends constantly change. And the key is to try to stay ahead of the trends and to be a trendsetter. That’s the key, in my opinion, to pay attention to what matters to people. That’s one of the things I tell playwrights. A lot of the times I do consult playwrights and producers, and first and foremost, you have to be telling a story that people care about. That may sound vague, but it’s the best advice that I could possibly give them. You can’t just tell a story that means something to only you. You have to tell a story that is relatable. You want to be talking about something where people can say, “hey, that’s my life” or “I feel like if I go to this play, I’ll get answers.”
What are your favorite plays?
Some of my favorites were the Marvin Gaye story, My Brother Marvin, Church Girl, and If These Hips Could Talk, I would say those were my favorites.
What about some of your favorite actors you’ve worked with?
Some of my favorite actors? Billie Dee Williams was the actor I learned the most from. He was in the play If These Hips Could Talk. I learned from him and his crew when we would be in Los Angeles, there’s an Italian restaurant that he loves there, and he and some of the greats would sit around and tell amazing stories, and the jokes were hilarious. So, yes, him and Sherman Hemsley, and of course, I love Robin Givens. Lynn Whitfield, incredible actress. She was on the last leg of My Brother Marvin. And Tichina Arnold is another one. She’s immensely talented.
The singing in your plays tends to be phenomenal. You have some vocal powerhouses on your team. What does your casting selection process look like? How do you go about selecting actors and singers to play various characters?
OK, you will think this is a corny answer, but it’s the truth. I can have a plan, and a list, which I did. But God always steps in and takes control of that process. If you saw my plan on paper, you would laugh! I can’t even take hs credit.
Where can our readers find more information about the play and what are your social media handles?
AngelaDunlap.com. Email is [email protected] And Social Media is Angela Barrow Dunlap is my fan page on FB. Twitter is Angela Dunlap Inc. But you can connect to all of my social media through AngelaDunlap.com and there are links to all of them.