Wendy Raquel Robinson and Ro Boddie
In this episode we sit down with two incredible actors, Wendy Raquel Robinson (The Steve Harvey Show, The Game) and Ro Boddie. Robinson, an NAACP Image award winner, talks about her career, her conservatory, and the difference between performing for a live audience versus a camera. Boddie discusses his performance in the one-man-show, “Every Brilliant Thing,” and what it means to have illegal fun.
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Michael Taylor: Hi, welcome to "Theatre Corner."
I'm your host, Michael Taylor.
As a lifelong theater enthusiastand a board member for one of
the top theaters in the country,I've seen firsthand the positive
effects that diversity and inclusion could have on the
stage and the theater seats.
This interview series was created as a way to share my
passion for theater and promotediverse 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.
Today I got to sit down with twoincredible actors, Wendy Raquel
Robinson and Ro Boddie.
Miss Robinson is known for her roles in "The Steve Harvey
Show," "Grand Hotel," and "The Game."
We sat down at The WestgateHotel to discuss her career, her
conservatory, and the differencebetween performing for a live
audience or a camera.
So silence your cell phones, folks.
You're entering "Theatre Corner."
Wendy Raquel Robinson: Well, it's good to be here.
Michael: It's so wonderful to have you here.
We're talking about over 30-plus years of television--
Michael: Television, film, and theater.
Michael: It's incredible.
So what do you recognize that the theater foundation
specifically has done for you?
Perhaps--I don't know--preparingyou for television and film?
Or what difference do you see that you have theater
as a background?
Wendy: For me, it's allowedme to go with an ebb and a flow,
you know, and to make adjustments on demand,
right on the spot.
Improvisation, doing sketch comedy, you know,
things that come very easily to me.
I have to attribute it to my background in theater.
You know, it's the overall foundation.
You gotta go for it.
You can't do another take, you know,
so you have to trust your instincts.
You have to trust that first choice that you make to do
anything with, and I thinkthat's kind of catapulted me in
almost every role that I've gone for.
Michael: So many of ourviewers would recognize you from
the early years of "The Steve Harvey Show."
Wendy: God, "the early years," thanks, yeah.
No, I appreciate it.
Michael: What was that experience like?
Wendy: You know, it was a magical time.
It really was.
It was back in 1996, and the thing that's so bizarre about
that, they had shot the pilot for "The Steve Harvey Show."
I didn't do the pilot.
The role of the principal, itwas a old, white Jewish guy who
played the principal of the high school.
So after they bought the pilot,they picked up the show, and
they were like, "Uh, something's missin'.
We wanna give him a nemesis, youknow, a female, you know," so
they created this whole backstory, and I had to go in,
jump through several hoops.
But I had done another pilot with Steve years ago.
It was called "Me and the Boys,"and it was on ABC, and Steve
remembered me from that.
So when it came down to even auditioning for it, I'm not
gonna say I had a shoo-in, but Ihad a toe in 'cause at least we
had history, you know?
But it was a magical timebecause they were at the height
of their careers, the "Kings of Comedy," he and Cedric.
Michael: That's right.
Wendy: So, you know, it was fascinating.
That's when we used to do showsin front of a live audience.
So you talk about theater?
Television, especially for a camera, the traditional way,
it's a lot like theater.
You're doin' it live.
There's the audience.
You know, even though you haveto do it a couple of times, but
it's as live as live is gonnabe, and when you're workin' with
comics, you don't know what they're gonna say, how they're
gonna go, you know, and you just roll with it.
So I think I've learned how to be the straight man as well as
the funny man and the woman in between.
Michael: And so, but whatI'm hearing also is there's that
collaborative element that you have in theater as well.
You're giving somethin' to an audience,
and you're getting something back.
Wendy: Yeah, and it's noteven just the collaborative with
the actor in the audience.
It's also the writers.
So the writers are there, you know, and it's like, "Oh, that
joke didn't work."
Ah, in between each take, they give you a new line.
So it's not only being quick onyour feet, but it's quick in the
delivery, the memorization, regurgitating the information,
and hoping that you'll get the laugh.
You know, so it's a constant being on your toes, being
present, and, yeah, just makin' it happen.
But there are not that many shows that
are done live anymore.
Michael: Right, right.
Wendy: Everything has kind of transitioned to single camera,
which I miss that audience, youknow, because immediately you
would get the--okay, you get that energy.
You'd get the--I don't wannasay "validation," but, in a way,
that's what it is.
Michael: And then, let's fast-forward a bit.
Then you had a quite a longrun on a show called "The Game,"
where you played Tasha Mack.
Michael: There's gotta be some great memories.
But what--I mean, that's adifferent game altogether, so to
speak, than "Steve Harvey Show."
It ran ten seasons but over a span of almost 15 years.
So we started on the CW as ahalf hour, live audience, total
different format, and then the CW transitioned, no audience,
and, "Okay, let's get alittle bit more--let's call it a
'dramedy,'" so to speak.
Then after three seasons, Ibelieve, we were canceled by CW,
and at the time, BET was interested in doing original
programming, but it was so far-fetched.
It was like, "Oh, it's not gonna happen."
So we were canceled by CW, butthen the talks were still goin'
on, you know, and cut to maybeabout four years later, BET said
they were ready, and we were resurrected and brought to BET
as a single-camera show.
It was a difficult transition in the sense of all of the
characters stayed the same, theactors with the same, but we had
to move the show to Atlanta.
It was a new network, so there was no money, so, you know, we
were workin' out of a warehousethat wasn't even--it wasn't even
configured to a soundstage, soit's like, "Okay, where are we?
It's freezing," you know?
But it was like, take the coat off, and it's 105 degrees
in your mind.
You know what I mean?
'Cause the show was based in San Diego.
It was a interesting transitionthat kind of developed and
migrated into something that's so--it's so precious and so
magical, you know, that I can really--I can barely describe
it, you know?
They're still lookin' to do reunions about the show, and
then we just got picked up from Netflix--for Netflix.
So it's like the gift that justkeeps on giving, you know, and
Mara Brock Akil, who created theshow, she's huge theater buff,
but she always called us"the little engine that could."
Michael: And then you went on to the magical OWN TV with Ava
DuVernay, "Cherish the Day."
Wendy: Another magicalexperience for several reasons.
"Cherish the Day" is a new showthat is on OWN, created by Ava
DuVernay, starring one of my theater babies from Amazing
Grace Conservatory, Xosha Roquemore, and she's the lead
actress in that, and I got the call the day before, and it's
like, "Can you come in and do this part?"
And I was like, "Sure," you know,
okay you get a offer to do it.
Had not seen the scenes, had not seen the dialogue,
had not seen anything.
I just knew I'd be playing a psychologist.
So here's where theater comes in.
It's like, oh, pages and pages of dialogue, and I'm like, "Oh
my God," and I had to shoot the next day.
So thank God the cast was allfrom theater, so we sat around,
and we ran the lines 'cause it was just as new to them as it
was to me, and we really createdsomething that was memorable.
I played a psychologist, and Iwas counseling the young couple
as they were going through theirmarital problems, but it was a
lot because it's that vernacularof, you know, being the doctor
but then also being--you know, I was a different kind.
I was like a neo-soul kind ofdoctor, you know, and it's like,
"Come on, feel yourselves," youknow, so I'm tryin' to find this
character, but it's still pagesof dialogue, so it goes back to
takin' those risks and followingyour instincts that theater
definitely embeds in you.
Michael: Let's talk about theconservatory that you cofounded
in Los Angeles, California.
What exactly happens there?
Wendy: Wow, so 23 yearsago, my best friend and I, Tracy
Coley, two struggling artists, pretty much, we put our heads
and hearts together andcreated a curriculum and found a
wonderful place to rent, and westarted teaching young people
the arts: acting, voice, dance,yoga, creative writing,
But beyond that, we gave them aplatform to simply be themselves
in a nonjudgmental environment.
And especially today, you know,and even then, you know, there
are just so many things that wetell our young people to "Just
say no to this," and "Just sayno to that," but we gave them a
platform to say, "Yes,"unashamedly, and I really pride
myself, and I think, more thanjust creating artists, we create
incredible human beings that have a platform, that know who
they are and what they wanna doand are unashamedly proud of it.
Michael: And you'vebirthed some significant stars.
Would you name a couple ofthe alumni that are significant
names now and doin' their thing in film?
Wendy: I'm so proud of Ashton Sanders.
He was in "Moonlight," won the Oscar.
He's done "Equalizer 2."
He's in the Wu-Tang Clan series, and has several movies
on Netflix right now, but morethan anything that he's done in
the industry, he's created theAshton Sanders Scholarship that
goes to an African-American male--very specific.
He funds it, and that's going onto higher learning in the arts,
a four-year accredited university.
He's a graduate of DePaul.
So he wanted somebody that's going on in that trajectory.
So that's pretty huge to see a young man that's accomplished
but still has the wherewithal to give back.
And I think that's one of the things I'm most proud of.
It's like you can go on and getall of the accolades,
but then what?
What are you really doing?
So, -- Ray, of course, you know,
Emmys and all of that and incredible work.
Elle Varner, she's a Grammy-nominated artist,
Rhyon Nicole Brown, she just completed "Empire."
She was a series regular on that,
doing some incredible stuff.
Christopher Babers, he's the head of Awesomeness TV.
Thomas Hobson, Ovation Award winner.
He's still makin' a living as atheater actor, you know, in Los
Angeles, which is not a easy feat to do.
He's very talented, Yale graduate.
So there are so many.
I know they're gonna kill me.
It's like, "Miss Wendy, you didn't say who was who."
But I just wanna say, overall, I'm so proud of each and every
one of them, and I do feel like the proud mom.
I really am.
Michael: No, I mean, it seemslike--I mean, you planted seeds,
and there's the fertilizer, butthere's also the love that you
provided those former students to help them develop into what
they are today.
Wendy: Thank you.
And it's not easy runnin' a nonprofit.
There's no profit in thenonprofit, but it's the passion
and definitely the purpose andto see them transition from day
one, bein' in class and beingcloistered and here, and just to
see what the arts does and whattheater does is transformative
work, and to see them take their bows at the end of that
production and to know that there's that sense of
accomplishment, that sense of purpose, that sense of pride,
Michael: Next, we're at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town to
meet up with actor Ro Boddie totalk about his performance in a
one-man show, "Every Brilliant Thing."
We had a great discussion about his role, training,
and having illegal fun.
Michael: Welcome to "Theatre Corner," brother.
Ro Boddie: Thank you, my friend, thank you.
Michael: All right, you're in San Diego, back at the Cygnet.
Michael: You've been here before?
Ro: Yeah, done three playshere now, "Stupid F--in' Bird"--
you don't want me to say that word-- "Seven Guitars," and
"King Hedley II."
Michael: The play you're performing in this time is
"Every Brilliant Thing," directed by Rob Lutfi.
This is a one-person show.
Ro: Yes, sort of, and so there's a lot
of audience participation.
The play centers around a list that I write when I'm a
17-year-old boy because thatwas around the time that my mom
first attempted suicide.
On the way to the hospital, my dad says that she can't see
anything worth living for.
And so I started a list of everybrilliant thing in the world
that's worth living for.
And so what's immersiveabout this play is that, at the
beginning, there's no blackout.
No curtain will rise.
I will be outside in the lobby.
I will be talking, mingling thepeople and giving them slips of
paper with a number on it, andwhenever I call out that number
throughout the show, they have to yell out with their biggest
voice whatever that item is on the list.
And so throughout the play, I mean, I go all the way up to a
million, but I'm also tellin'the story of, from age seven, to
her last attempt, and taking youguys on that journey with me.
And certain audiencemembers will be playing certain
characters in my life too.
It's not a lot of lines or anything.
They're basically just there to help me tell the story.
And so it's very--it's a one-manshow, but it can't just be me,
and so it's almost an "everybody show," you know?
Michael: So, a one-man show.
I mean, this is no small beans.
This is not the simple thing either.
So how have you been preparing for this?
Ro: It's about 52 pages of lines, and so I came to the
first day of rehearsal off-book,and we started rehearsal a week
ago, and so we had a week of rehearsal.
We have a week of tech, and then we open the show.
And so this is a quicker process than normally.
Normally, you get three weeks ofrehearsal, you go into tech, and
then you open the show.
And so I've had to speed it up alot, and that's taught me a lot
about losing an expectation of aresult, you know, bein' easy on
yourself as far as embracin' arole like this that really talks
about really heavy issues.
I mean, a lot of people who havedealt with, you know, things
like mental illness or been affected by it because we've
all, in some way or another,been affected by someone who has
suffered from that.
They will have a differentexperience, I feel like, and my
goal with this performance isto get a dialogue going about it
because I feel like a lot of people don't talk about it.
There's a stigma about it, andso once that dialogue starts to
happen, I feel like the healingprocess will begin for a lot of
people and so--
Michael: You say that you showed up off-book, and I say,
of course, you did.
You're that kind of actor.
Ro: Yeah, gotta go.
Hard to go home, man.
Michael: Right, right.
This is quite challenging, I mean, for you as the actor, I
mean, on stage--and it'sonly you for the most part, for
almost 90 minutes.
Ro: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Michael: What are you expecting that to be?
Ro: You know, it's--
Michael: I mean, I know you're up for the challenge.
Ro: Yeah, but, you know, you always want those roles that's
gonna give you little butterflies in your stomach,
You want those roles that's gonna, you know, scare you a
little bit because, if you'redoin' it, and that isn't there,
it's like, why?
Why are you doin' that role?
Why are you portrayin' it?
What are you learning from itif you're not risking something?
And so every night I'll berisking something because I want
people to think, when they cometo see the show, while they're
mingling with me outside, once Istart talking here, that they're
talking to Ro and forgetting that they came to see a play,
and if I do my job right,it'll be effortless, and people
will--and people will come up tome afterwards and, you know, ask
me, "Did this really happen?"
you know, and, yeah.
Michael: You got a BFA.
Ro: North Carolina School of theArts.
Michael: Yes, and you've justbeen goin' nonstop since then is
what it looks like.
Ro: I've been blessed. I've been blessed, yes.
Michael: You've been doing theater, and you've been doing
film and television.
Michael: Let's talk about that theater foundation.
Ro: Well, North CarolinaSchool of the Arts, you know, we
got a little bit of Meisner training, but it was really
heavy on Stanislavski training,and so given circumstances,
"what, why, when, how," you know, those terms, "as ifs,"
like so, for instance, I'm putting myself in the shoes of
This character, for instance,this one, my mom, actually, has
never suffered from mentalillness or attempted to take her
own life, but "if she had," you know?
So, you know, we got training inthat and also Lecoq mask work.
It's been nice utilizing all ofthose, all of those skills, but
it was Michele Shay, who is a Wilsonian, who directed me in
"Gem of the Ocean," that gave me another tool.
She started doin' this thingwith us, who were in "Gem of the
Ocean," the cast members, called"healing sessions," and I didn't
know what it was, but she woulddo these healing sessions on us
before, you know, we would doshows, and I just remembered me
being so open, and it waseasy for me to access different
things, and I was like, "What is this?"
And what she taught me isthat sometimes the body actually
gives you more information and knowledge than the mind does,
and so what is your body telling you in this moment?
You know, and she taught me howto work with energy, you know,
which was another tool.
So, for instance, in life andalso on stage, people are doin'
either four things: They're pushing someone away, they're
pulling someone in, they're stopping someone,
or they're allowing.
And what that does is, all of a sudden, I get out of, like,
"What am I doing?
What is my action in this scene?"
Blah, blah, blah, and I just--like, right now, I'm
trying to pull you in to me to get you to understand
what I'm saying.
And it's subtle, but, on film, it works wonders because the
camera is right there on you, and so, if I can, like, stop
someone with my energy without having to, you know, really
muscle it--yeah, it's beautiful.
It's beautiful to watch.
It's beautiful to, you know,practice those tools, and so she
directed me in Floyd--as Floyd in "Seven Guitars," and she
directed me in "Gem of the Ocean," and I learned so much
from her about the rhythm of thetext and just that energy work,
Michael: You've done a great deal of August Wilson.
Michael: As a matter of fact, I saw you perform the
"Seven Guitars" here as Floyd,
which you've done more than once.
Ro: Yeah, yeah.
Michael: You mentioned thisrhythm, you know, that goes with
this August Wilson piece 'causeyou've done Shakespeare as well,
and then there's this thing of"You can do Shakespeare, you can
do anything" because--
but I would argue it's the same thing with August Wilson
pieces because there is that rhythm that you find in
Shakespearean pieces as well.
Ro: Mm-hmm, there's amusicality in, for me, in every
play that I read, and once I find the rhythm,
I start to be drawn into the character.
The character brings me closer to them, and I'm not trying to
bring the character closer to me, and some way, somehow,
we start to merge.
You know, the deadly part of when you go to see Shakespeare
or August Wilson is when peopleare acting between lines or when
they're breakin' it up, and theydon't realize that the work that
they're doin' in between those lines will easily come out if
they just keep saying the lines,hitting the important words, you
know, elongating vowels and finding the staccato or the
punctuations, and once you find all of those things it's
so juicy, man.
It's just so much fun to just get up there, and, all of a
sudden, you know, two hours havegone by, and you're like,
"What just happened?"
you know, and you've changed some lives or yours have been
changed, you know?
Michael: As the actor in television or in theatre,
what's your approach to getting out of the way?
Even as a actor, getting the actor out of the way of the
character so the character can be?
Ro: Not bein' so result-oriented.
That's what really happens whenI know that I've done all the
work that I can do, and I justhit the stage, and I just let it
all work on me instead of tryin'to do more work, that really
helps me, and it helps me to release--Michele Shay calls,
"havin' illegal fun."
"It feels so good that it, you know, has to be illegal,"
And, all of a sudden, you letgo, you release, and, you know,
it's hard to not take it home with you.
You know, when I first started,it was--I was such
a obsessive artist.
You know, I would--you know, and you should be to a certain
extent, but you also have to practice self-care.
You know, like, a role likethis, you know, the other places
I have to go to, imagining thatmy mom succeeded one day with
taking her own life, all of these things, when I hit that
door, I have to leave it herebecause, if I take it home with
me and not dwell on it, youknow, yes, you may think you're
doing great art when you returnto the theater, but you're not
really taking care of you, you know, and your instrument.
Michael: One thing I reallyadmire about you as an actor is
you really take ownership, so to speak, of your career.
I mean, you really take this serious.
I mean, you talk about having a--you know, creating
relationships with your casting directors and such.
What got you to that point?
Was there a lesson learned, oryou just kind of figured it out
on your own or--
Ro: I'm just madly in love with it.
That's all, you know?
Like, I'm not gonna--you know, it's like bein' in love with a
partner, you know?
I have a certain responsibility,you know, to, you know, keep the
love going, to, you know, keep the marriage going,
to make it flourish.
And so that's the same with my passion.
You know, I'm lucky enough to have found one.
You know, some people go their whole lives, and they
don't--they just work, and theywork, and they work, and I was
lucky at the age of 17, when I didn't know exactly what I
wanted to do with my life, andmy guidance counselor filled out
my electives, put me in a dramaclass--didn't know what that
was--and I did my firstmonologue, and people's faces, I
was like, "Finally, I know whatI'm good at, and I know what--"
and it just happens to be what I love.
People are sayin' I'm reallygood at it, for the first time,
good at something for the firsttime in my life, up to that
point, and I love it.
And so, I mean, it was game onsince then, so, yeah, there's a
responsibility when I walkthrough these doors, and I have
to deliver performance.
If I'm comin' in and people havepaid $60 for a ticket, or more,
and I'm givin' $20-worth of a performance, you know,
that just can't fly.
And so maybe I take it too seriously, but I feel like you
have to, you know.
I feel like you have to.
Michael: It always amazesme the insight these incredible
performers are able to give.
Thank you for tuning in.
I'm Michael Taylor, and we'll see you on the next episode
of "Theatre Corner."
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