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WYPR Arts

From Stage to Small Screen

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Some artists use music to spread their message and playwright David E. Talbert uses theatre - specifically urban theatre. And now, he's leaping from the stage to the small screen in the reality series "Stage Black." David, welcome.

Mr. DAVID E. TALBERT (Playwright; Producer, "Stage Black"): Hey, good to be here. Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: So why don't you start out by telling us a little bit about what you do and what you've done. You know, your plays are a blend of many different strains of themes and they've toured it all across the country, right?

Mr. TALBERT: Yeah. Since I started in '91. It had been toured in place, 12 of them have toured across the country. And they are, you know, it's like I'm like the black Neil Simon, you know. It's using comedy to show different slices of life and love and the human condition, and wrapping them in a package that can be inspirational also at the same time.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Well, what about "Stage Black?" What inspired you to…

Mr. TALBERT: Did I say Neil Diamond?

CHIDEYA: No, you did not. You said Neil Simon.

Mr. TALBERT: I said Neil Simon because I don't want to be a black Neil Diamond.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You are cracking me up.

Mr. TALBERT: (Unintelligible) I didn't say I was a black Neil Diamond.

CHIDEYA: You are cracking me up. It must be that drive from the valley that's got you punching.

Mr. TALBERT: That's what it is because I just want to make sure. Make sure that I pout the right information and that thing in the universe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: So what made you go into this TV project? And you've got some powerful allies - Tracey Edmonds and Blair Underwood who we had on recently.

Mr. TALBERT: Yeah. Morris Chestnut. You know, I was on tour with my latest play, "Love in the Nick of Tyme," starring Morris Chestnut and Avant. And Tracey and I got together. My wife and I came up with the concept for the reality show and then Tracey and I got together. We've done some work before on another play. And we put it all together, and then Blair came on board, Morris was in the play so he hung out with me and did the auditions and everything. And, of course, half of the women got - came to from fainting after seeing him, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALBERT: You could really get some auditions going on.

CHIDEYA: So it's an audition for eternal fame and fortune.

Mr. TALBERT: Oh my.

CHIDEYA: People are trying to get into your work. So let's listen to a young woman who made the cut in your L.A. auditions.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Don't waste your time trying to label or define me because I'm not what I was 10 years ago, or 10 minutes ago. I'm all that and then some. And whereas I can't live inside yesterday's pain, I can't live without it.

Unidentified Man #1: That's what I thought.

Unidentified Man #2: That's why I'm screaming.

CHIDEYA: So what makes - what gives her the juice?

Mr. TALBERT: Well, certain amount of confidence, stage presence, articulation, she opened her eyes. A lot of singers…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALBERT: A lot of singers - I don't know, I don't know who taught this but a lot of singers, they close their eyes when they sing, you know. And in theatre, the eyes, we are taught, are the windows to the soul. And so, she opened her eyes, which was very important, you know. And she had a bright smile and a charming personality. So I say come on tour.

CHIDEYA: That's fantastic. Now, let's listen to someone in Detroit who did not make the cut.

Mr. TALBERT: Uh-oh.

Unidentified Woman #2: To be or not to be that was the question until I asked Romeo where he was at last night because I didn't see him. And he claimed that he was all up in love with me but that is not the question because I know he's not in love because I'm that deal.

CHIDEYA: Now, that's a little Shakespeare in the blender.

Mr. TALBERT: Shakespeare on the corner of Jefferson and flosses(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALBERT: I don't know. South central version of Shakespeare.

CHIDEYA: So what made you veto her and what mistakes do you think she made?

Mr. TALBERT: Well, I think she was - I think she was creative. And I think she is creative, you know, you know, it's a certain magic that happens when you have enough confidence to alter something that's a classic. So, you know, I take my hat off to her but she just wasn't the right mix that I was looking for.

CHIDEYA: Tell us a little bit more - I mean, this is a series. Tell us a little bit more about where folks are headed. I know you don't want to give away the suspense but what exactly do folks get once they make it through the gauntlet?

Mr. TALBERT: Well, you know, I've started in a non-traditional route of theater, you know. I went to school, Morgan State, for - and I have a marketing degree. And I was on the radio.

CHIDEYA: Yehay(ph), Morgan.

Mr. TALBERT: Yes. So you know, I didn't go through the traditional routes. So I wanted the show to be open to folks that have talent but they don't necessarily - either, they don't know their traditional routes or they're not interested in traveling through them. So we got 10 people that, you know, sing in showers, or sing in the choir or sing on a street corner, whatever, and class clowns or whatever. And we gave them an opportunity to go across the country with "Love in the Nick of Tyme."

And ultimately, I'm going to pick one man, one woman. They're going to be stars in my upcoming production. I'll tour across the country. So they get a chance to do that - big stages, 4,000 seats venues. And they get some cash and they get a network deal on TV One. And they get free Southwest Airlines flights for years and all that good stuff.

CHIDEYA: Do they get the drink tickets with it?

Mr. TALBERT: They get the drink tickets. Two drink, minimum. Two drink, minimum.

CHIDEYA: Before we let you go, I want ask you about the movie.

Mr. TALBERT: Yes. I'm fortunate to have directed my first feature film with a great group of actors. It's called the "First Sunday." And it is with Sony/Screen Gems. It's coming out in January. And it's starring Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams, Loretta Devine, Keith David, Regina Hall, Malinda Williams, Michael Beach, Olivia Cole.

CHIDEYA: Fabulous.

Mr. TALBERT: I mean, it's got wonderful - Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, they're doing some of the music for me. But it's a wonderful group of actors.

CHIDEYA: When do you think it'll hit theaters?

Mr. TALBERT: In January. In January.

CHIDEYA: Oh, wow.

Mr. TALBERT: Yeah. We're editing it now.

CHIDEYA: Boy, you are…

Mr. TALBERT: I'm right down to the street form you.

CHIDEYA: You're on the march.

Mr. TALBERT: Yeah. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: That's fantastic.

Mr. TALBERT: We're getting it going.

CHIDEYA: Well, David, thank you so much.

Mr. TALBERT: Good to be here. Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: David E. Talbert is an award-winning playwright. His reality series, "Stage Black," airs Sundays on the cable channel TV One. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.