Theatre Corner

FULL EPISODE

Dedrick Weathersby & Tisha Campbell

We sit down with two powerhouses of talent in the theatre, television, and film scene. Dedrick Weathersby and Tisha Campbell join us to chat about their trials and tribulations in our industry.

AIRED: December 23, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

you by Amazing Grace Conservatory--

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announcer: and by Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce,

The Mental Bar, Jones,

Del Cerro Tax, the Westgate Hotel,

La Jolla Playhouse, and viewers like you.

Thank you.

Michael Taylor: Hi. Welcome to "Theatre Corner."

I'm your host, Michael Taylor.

As a lifelong theater enthusiast and a board member for one of

the top theaters in the country, I've seen firsthand the positive

effects that diversity and inclusion can have on the stage

and the theater seats.

This interview series was created to share my passion for

theater and promote diverse voices throughout

the national theater scene.

We sit down with some of the top professionals in the

entertainment industry to discuss training, careers,

advice for young actors, and how to make theater matter

to more people.

Michael: Today, I talk with NAACP award winner and actress,

Tisha Campbell.

Tisha describes how she began her journey all the way from a

poor community in north New Jersey, overcoming challenges,

and her special snack request for whenever she's on set.

Here's a glimpse of a self-made and extremely hard-working black

woman, Ms. Tisha Campbell.

So silence your cell phones, folks.

You're entering "Theatre Corner."

Michael: Tisha Campbell.

Tisha Campbell: You got me.

You got me here.

Michael: Welcome to "Theatre Corner," and welcome to KPBS.

Tisha: Thank you so much.

Michael: And so it's such a delight to have you here.

Before we even get started, there's something special that

we have to present to you because we understood

that it was mandatory that we have blue M&Ms for you.

I don't know--

Tisha: Did you separate these yourself?

Michael: Yes, I had to--we had to hire someone because

that's not an easy task.

Tisha: First of all, this is a lie.

Okay?

It's a lie.

It's not even a lie, it's a lie because Tichina Arnold made it

up in a skit that we were doing about ourselves.

You know, we often--you know, self-deprecation

is our middle names.

And so I was like--she made up this thing where I just only

like blue M&Ms, I'm that kind of diva.

And I don't even eat these things.

Michael: Oh, okay.

It's a mistake on our part.

We--

Tisha: That's funny.

Oh, I would have to be absolutely insane

to request that.

Michael: Okay. All right.

We figured out you're not insane.

Tisha: Okay, thank you.

Michael: But you are incredibly talented, which is

why it's such a delight to have you here on the show.

I'd like to hear about how you get from New Jersey

to the heart of Hollywood.

Tisha: It started when I was 3 years old.

I was 3 and I began singing with my mother and my dad and schools

and churches and stuff like that, and they always

had these local performances.

This is pre-Reagan.

So there were like summer programs for people

in the projects 'cause I grew up in the projects.

And so they would build stages and all the local acts could

get up there and perform.

I'm talking full-on bands and stuff like that right dead smack

in the projects.

And so I became one of the local acts, and I think I was about

5--I was 5 years old, where I really wanted this color

television and I found out there was this contest happening and

there were only--there were no kid groups allowed,

I don't think.

Oh no, they were allowed, but not a lot of people were up

for it.

So I begged my mother.

I said, "Please let me--enter me into this contest."

It was a statewide contest.

And I didn't win the color television, I won a car.

I won the first prize, and I was mad for two reasons.

One, they put the keys in my hand and I'm 5, and I'm going,

"Why are they giving a 5-year-old a car?"

And then I threw those down and ran to go kill my brother

because he had my Cheetos.

He was eating them watching me, and I'm looking at him

from on stage.

And when they grabbed me back, they put it in my hand and I

actually saw my mother crying and my dad like screaming

'cause we didn't have a television--I mean,

we didn't have a car either.

So, you know, that's when I realized that what I could do is

help people, so it became my mission to do that.

And then I started doing a lot of, you know, off Broadway,

Broadway shows.

And I think I was about 11 or 12--okay, this is bad parenting.

Mom, sorry.

But 11 or 12--I was about 12 and I convinced my parents to let me

go to New York by myself.

Yeah, take the train, take the bus, take--whatever

I need to do.

"Give me $20, give me $20 and I will make it last the whole

entire week, but y'all making me late for my gigs."

And, you know, Broadway make--waits for no man.

So back then--I don't know if they still do this, but you

would get docked $50 for every 5 minutes that you were late,

which to this day I have this thing about being late.

Like, I cannot be--theater trained me, right?

So, you know, they wouldn't--couldn't get

through that Lincoln Tunnel.

And so I just said, "Listen, I'll do it myself.

I promise I won't talk to any pimps, anybody like that.

I'll, you know, beeline straight for work and come

right back home."

And that's what I did.

Michael: Between television and film and the theater,

what do you think you feel most at home with?

Tisha: I can't choose. It's very hard for me to choose.

Now, my foundation is theater, and once I became 18 and I could

afford classes I started taking classes from Howard Fine.

And I've always studied the Stanislavski methods,

Uta Hagen and all that.

But--and it made me a better actress, I think.

At the time, when I first started taking classes with

Howard Fine, I was trying to apply some of it to some

of the sitcom work, and it depends on the sitcom.

You can actually apply all of it.

But it's just a quicker rhythm, and--you don't, you know, ever

want to use the word quick when it comes to theater, right?

But it's--the emotional turnaround has to come

with more urgency.

As a matter of fact, when--in the '90s when all these

comedians were getting these deals on television, I started

auditioning for a lot of sitcoms and I remember this one

casting director says, "You need sitcom classes."

I go, "Oh, okay.

Where can I go get those?"

She's like, "There aren't any."

I was like, "Oh, man."

So I had to literally figure out what that was, and going to a

place where there were audiences--again, sitcoms are

very similar to doing theater for me, you know, because you

get an immediate response from the audience, you have to be in

the moment, and it's just--that is a high for me.

So I started going to all of these different comedy act

theaters, the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, any--and sitting

with the comedians to try to figure out what is comedy.

After a while, months and months of just sitting back there with

them, I noticed that the ones who told the truth were the ones

that were really great, and then I realized there's a fine line

between drama and comedy.

And if it were told--if these stories were told in any other

space, you might cry for that person.

And so I was like, "Oh, it's just the truth, but it's told in

a different way."

Michael: What role in your career has impacted you the

most?

Tisha: I would have to say the "Martin" show only because

Tichina Arnold was by my side once again, and most of the

actors were from the theater and we surrounded this one person,

Martin Lawrence, who was a comedian.

So I think they--I don't know if they did that purposefully, but

we all could help the nucleus.

You know what I mean?

Like, shine bright because we all came from--we all had,

like, theater backgrounds.

Michael: And that's tight.

I mean, that's upwards of 123 episodes or so,

something like that?

Tisha: Yeah, it was five seasons.

And our agenda wasn't to be icons.

Our agenda wasn't to, you know, last like "The Brady Bunch"

or, you know, be here eons later.

We were just trying to make people laugh and forget their

problems, and I think that's--you know, we were got to

talk about the difference between being an artist

and being a celebrity.

A celebrity doesn't understand yet.

So I always tell people, have patience with celebrities.

They don't understand that they're here to serve others,

and artists knows that they're here to serve.

That's a servitude.

Like, you're helping someone to forget their problems.

You can make people laugh, or cry, or think.

You can--like in the Harlem Renaissance, you can,

you know, change mindsets.

We do it through the arts, and I--and you're--when you do that,

you're serving other people.

Like, when someone, you know, approaches me and ask for a

selfie or something like that, 99.9% of the time, unless it's

in the bathroom, I'll give--I'll do it for you, you know,

unless--or if I don't have my kids.

I can't--if I can't see my kids or I can't get to them.

Because I feel like we are communicators of God's Word.

Right?

And as communicators, we're saying hello first

with our art form.

So if someone comes up to you while you're at dinner and just

wants to talk to you, there has to be a little bit of patience

with that because you spoke first.

Michael: There you go.

Tisha: You communicated first.

So you can't just, you know, push somebody away.

"Hey, can we do this after dinner?"

"Yeah. Cool."

But--you know what I mean?

Like, we are communicators.

When you're serving others, it's a privilege.

And I think that's the difference between what makes an

artist and what makes a, you know--Tichina calls them stars.

She's like, "Stars fall."

Michael: Right. Oh, yeah, yeah, wow.

Tisha: And that's the other thing that one must know, is

that, you know, there this sea--there are seasons

with this thing.

You just going to have to keep riding that roller coaster.

You know, there's ups, there's downs.

And I often think of it like a game as well; you know,

in basketball or football or whatever.

You know, life is a game, and this is a game.

So I don't pay attention to the crowds and the noises 'cause

they're there for a purpose.

Sometimes they'll applaud you.

Sometimes you will get booed.

Pay attention to the people that's on the field with you,

that's running the ball with you.

They've got the same goals as you.

Don't necessarily have to be in the arts.

It could be motherhood. It could be love.

Whatever it is, like somebody who's running the ball with you.

But not the sidelines; especially them cheerleaders

that you think are your friends that's cheering you on,

those aren't the real friends.

The friends are the ones taking those hits with you.

You understand what I'm saying?

So I--that's how I look at this business as well, and I'm

grateful that it may have taken a long time

to get to where I am today.

It's a beautiful devastation, and I'm just so blessed to have

experienced all of the things that I've experienced.

The journey is great.

It's not easy.

You know, there's full--it's full of rejection, know that,

but nothing can break you unless you let it

and if you're not learned.

So I have--I had to learn.

Michael: Heart, soul, and spirituality is what Dedrick

Weathersby explains as the catalyst for helping him embody

the character of James Brown on stage.

When it comes to playing the role of a legend like James

Brown, you have to be able to study and pay close attention.

Listen as Dedrick explains what it takes to perform day after

day and how he pushes himself to dig deep.

♪ So nice, I got you ♪

♪♪♪♪♪

♪ When I hold you in my arms ♪

♪ I knew that I can't do no wrong ♪♪♪

Michael: Dedrick Weathersby.

Welcome to "Theatre Corner," brother.

Dedrick Weathersby: Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you.

Michael: You've made it.

Dedrick: I made it. I made it for sure.

Michael: It's definitive now.

Now, we've got a lot to talk about.

I'm so glad you're here, brother.

This is a--I'm looking forward to this conversation,

and then speak to James Brown a little bit.

Dedrick: For sure. For sure. For sure.

Michael: So the main thing, you do a show remembering

James--the life and music of James Brown.

This is a one-man show.

Dedrick: So this--it was started as a one-man show, but

now it's a full-fledged musical.

Michael: Tell me about it.

Dedrick: So it's a 90-minute musical, theatrical stage play

from 1951 and 1968 telling the story of James Brown and his

music from the perspective of Bobby Byrd, his best friend

and right-hand man.

Michael: You started writing this in 2013?

Dedrick: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yeah.

Michael: What was that process like?

Dedrick: So I love--my guilty pleasure--well, it's not a

guilty, it's just my outside extracurricular activity is

going to karaoke bars.

I put on a cap. I--this is before the mask.

I put on a cap and I just go inside a karaoke.

I sit in the back.

And then I put my name on the list and I go there, and I used

to go there and sing, "This is A Man's World," and "I Feel Good."

And I was just singing the songs because I was like,

"These are some tough songs, you know, for me."

It's like--'cause you think it's so easy until you actually

singing it and then you hearing it back to yourself.

You're like, "Okay, this is not that good."

And so I would go there and test out these songs

and people would love it.

They was like, "Who is this guy?"

And I would have my name on there and it just say Dedrick,

and then after that they was like Dedrick the entertainer,

like Dedrick James Brown.

You know, so it was interesting, and people was like,

"You are doing that James."

And I was like, "I think I can go further."

And so I just started to, you know, sing it more.

And I joined a tribute to the legendary stars,

and that was great.

You know, just doing two songs, just doing two songs and I was

like, "What if I had a story about James?

No, never mind.

No, that's crazy.

That was wishful thinking.

No, I'm not even going to touch that."

And I just left it alone, but then it kept just bugging,

it just kept bugging me.

Michael: And so you first performed this at the Boxcar

Theatre, and this was 2019.

So what was it like coming out the gate

the first time as James?

Dedrick: It was nerve-racking.

It was nerve-racking because it was--a lot of people was like...

First, it's a new show.

Second of all, "James Brown? Really?

Ain't nobody can do it like James Brown.

So who is this young cat?

Who is this young guy?

No one can do it like him."

And I was like, "Just give it a chance."

And then people was like, "Well, look, this better be right."

So you had people that had contingencies

within their attendance.

They bought tickets, but it was contingent.

They was like, "Look, if you don't bring it, oh,

we're going to talk about you.

We will let people know not to come."

And I was like, "Just give it a chance."

And it was a lot of nerves.

It was a lot of nerves because I know what I prepared,

I know what I had, and I was like, "I just got to put

this out on stage, I just got to do it."

And so after the nerves subsided we had that first show,

and when I tell you the audience erupted and they loved it--

I was like, "Wow."

Michael: I mean, this is James Brown.

So there are the costumes.

So what's the approach to--I mean, I see--you wear this one

signature vest that he used to wear and a black turtleneck, but

what was that like going through the process

of putting costume together?

Dedrick: Well, first of all, I like to thank Will from Will's

Formal Wear in Longview, Texas.

And so Will Lions, he was my mentor in high school.

And so he--so I went there, you know, just for formal wear like

for dances, you know, for prom, different things like that; and

he said, "I like your style."

And I just had a style from Goodwill, Salvation Army.

I pulled out thrift. I was a thrift shopper.

And so we didn't have much, you know, growing up,

but, you know, what we did have I made it look good.

And he said, "I like your style."

I was like, "Oh, thank you."

He said, "I would love to--for you to model in one

of my magazines."

I was like, "No, no, no. Like, me?"

He was like, "Yeah." And I was like, "Okay."

And so he put me in a tuxedo, and it was so amazing.

I was like, "Man, this feels so good."

He said, "Yeah."

He said, "Why don't you come after school and volunteer here,

get you some experience?"

So my first, like, in the fashion realm

was with Will Lions.

Will Lions, may he rest in peace.

But he would allow me to come after school

and just be around fashion.

Eventually after I proved myself, I believe my senior

year--so it was my sophomore to senior year I was volunteering

there, checking people in, my peers and different people

that's getting ready for weddings, sizing people up.

And then he said, "Hey, go back into my--the warehouse.

And I'm trying to get rid of this, but I want you to

go through the scenes first."

So I got a penguin tail, duck tail vest, the white

suit--tuxedo suit that I use in this show for

"This is A Man's World."

That's from Will's.

The red and black, Will's Formal Wear.

So a lot of the things was all tuxedos, tuxedo jackets, and I

just tweaked and fine-tuned it, found a vest and just, you know,

added along with it if it didn't have a vest.

And so--and I did research.

I did--so I counted what I had in my inventory, and then I did

research on looking at each one of James Brown wardrobe.

I said, "This is some fabric right here,

but it's to the nine."

I said, "So if it's not correct, I cannot do it."

And then I had to get the tailor to make sure that it's fitting.

You can't have your daddy's suit on.

It has to--you has to not only look good, it got to move good,

and you got to have extra reinforcement in the pants

definitely for the splits, and tuxedo pants

is the best for that.

Michael: I'm really impressed by how much you,

like, embody James.

I mean, it's--you get lost in the performance as I watched,

you know, this stuff.

So--but you insist there's only 5% technical.

Dedrick: Yes.

Michael: What is the other 95%?

Dedrick: Heart and soul and spirituality.

Like, literally like--so reads my--

like the technicality.

I was technically trained for musical theater and all that

that entails, right?

And so I was bringing that into the role of James Brown,

and I would play it back and I would hear it and I was like,

"Something is off. I'm not feeling it."

I'm like, "This don't feel right."

I'm like, "This is something not--something's not right."

And so then I said, "Okay, let me strip away everything I've

been trained, strip away everything I've known, and let

me just lead with my heart and let me lead and just put my soul

into it and see what happens."

Not thinking about if I'm going to strip my vocal cords,

like--of course, you don't want to strip your vocal cords.

But like, "Let me see if I just dive in head first

on what happens."

And when I tell you, I shocked myself diving in head first.

I was like, "My vocals is not stripped.

My body actually feel good it want more."

Like, "I'm really hungry."

So that's what that--like that's what really, like, happens.

Like, I just stripped away all the technicality and just--I

just dived in and--because think about it as I'm capturing the

essence of a man that did it naturally.

He did it naturally.

And so just like my breathing is differently, then I will breathe

if I was in a traditional theater--theatrical show.

It's really different.

So I understand like when he does his grunts,

that's breathing.

When he does different vocal inflection, that's breathing.

When he gives the band some, that's a time to gather yourself

and get back into it.

Michael: What does that look like?

I mean, the example of the breathing?

Dedrick: So he's like,

♪ Can I. ♪

♪ Get the band now. ♪

♪ Like that. ♪♪♪

So that's James Brown breathing. Now, let's say--

♪ give me something ♪

♪ something-- ♪

Like that.

So it's a subtle breathing component, like, that he does

and that I, like, bring to the stage and bring to the character

that gets me through the song because I was like, "There's no

way I can get through all these songs."

Like, "I'm breathing, but the next line is here."

I'm like, "How the heck is he doing this?"

And I get it. I like, "I was getting it."

He's getting his subtle breath in and keep moving forward.

Michael: You have a full band on stage.

How do you pull that off?

Dedrick: Well, first of all, we wasn't about to do tracks.

We was not about to do tracks.

There was not about to be no lip-syncing.

If we was going to do, we was going to do it right.

Here's the thing.

So Boxcar wanted this show, but he said, "You have to have a

band on rails."

And I was like, "I don't have a band."

They said, "Well, we give you a deadline, you know,

to find a band."

So I was on a hunt to try to find a band.

I didn't know where to look.

I did look on Craigslist.

I don't know a band, but like I knew orchestra members.

But we're talking about a band that can capture James Brown's

song and sound.

My musical director William Griffin; wow, he was the pianist

for Herbie Hancock, and he loves James Brown.

He grew up on James Brown.

And I went to him with the idea and he said, "Are you serious?

Count me in."

He said, "I don't want to know any more details.

I know enough."

And I was trying to pitch it to him--elevator pitch it to him.

He said, "I don't need to know anything else.

Just give me like a week and I'll call you back."

He called me back in 6 days to say, "I got the band."

And I was like, "Are you serious right now?"

He was like, "I got the band."

And then I came in and I was just like a kid

in a candy store.

Michael: In '68, you know, there was the

assassination--murder of Dr. King.

James Brown sort of--you know, he played a role in kind of

managing, you know, the fallout, and here you are doing James

Brown and then there's George Floyd who gets

brutally murdered.

Dedrick: Definitely.

It was a scary parallel because we got '68 and we got 2020.

I was like, "But what can I do as an artist?"

You know, as a person, as Dedrick,

I know what I'm feeling.

I'm feeling rage the same way Mr. Brown--James Brown

was feeling.

Rage.

But what he said is, "What vehicle do I have in order to

try to bring people together?"

He came out with "Say It Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud" because

there was people that said, "I'm scared to say that I'm black.

I don't like my skin.

Because if they killed Dr. King, who am I?

I stand no chance."

Right?

So then that's when I thought about it.

I was like, "What if I do 'Say It Loud,' but have visuals

from this day?"

♪ Uh with your bad self ♪

♪ Say it loud ♪

♪ Na na na ♪

♪ Uh say it loud ♪

♪ Ahhh ♪

♪♪♪♪♪

Michael: Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Those that don't got

it can't show it, and those that got it can't hide it."

As you witnessed today the talent of artists like Tisha

Campbell and Dedrick Weathersby radiates as they refuse to

shrink themselves on stage.

I'm Michael Taylor.

See you all on the next episode of "Theatre Corner."

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announcer: Support for this program comes from the KPBS

Explore Local Content fund, supporting new ideas

and programs for San Diego.

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