Y’all…I wrote and produced a solo cabaret. As I type these words I’m still kind of in shock that I pulled it off. I’ve wanted to produce my own show since I moved home in 2015, but I’ve been too afraid. However, if you’ve been following my blog for a while you already know that my motto is “do it afraid,” and honey, I did it terrified!
My first blog post this year was “Level Up 2019: I Am Worthy,” and producing this show was a huge part of my leveling up. I won’t go into too much detail here (read the Level Up post for that), but 2018 taught me that I was selling myself short. I was basing so much of my self worth on the type of work I was getting in theatre and film, my interactions with other people, and my physical health. I was constantly doubting myself, settling for less than I deserved, and not holding myself accountable. With the help of some friends and a very stressful few months, I realized that I had to stop putting my worth in other people’s hands and start operating like the badass I know I am. That led to me finally committing to produce my own show.
How did I do it? I literally kept speaking it into existence from the moment I decided to self produce in October. I spoke it to myself and to close friends who could hold me accountable. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it or who was going to help me, but I knew it was going to get done. The first person I reached out to was my friend Sharon Williams, who has been encouraging me to write my own show for years. She held me accountable, walked me through the process of self producing for the first time, and brought on CD Forum as a producer, which provided me with a venue and rehearsal space for free. I asked some friends of mine to sing backup and music direct, and they immediately agreed to help. I forced myself to write more frequently and found that I’m way more productive when I leave the house and work in a coffee shop. I held readings of the first and second draft of the show for a small audience of trusted friends to get feedback. I announced that the show was happening to the public before I had a venue, the money to produce it, or a final draft of the script. Risky, I know, but from that announcement my production manager reached out to me saying he wanted to be on my team, and I gained another producer, A Sensible Theatre Company. God literally placed everyone and everything I needed in my life to make this show happen, and I wouldn’t have gotten the support if I didn’t speak it into existence. Even though everything seemingly fell into place without any trouble, producing this show was no walk in the park.
What is this show about?!? That question plagued me for weeks. I knew I wanted to share “my story,” but that’s so vast and vague. Do I start from birth or college? Do I talk about my health or my career? Is that even interesting enough to put in a show? I had so many false starts to the script and battles with writer’s block, but finally solidified that I wanted the story to be about my time in Seattle, and I stopped judging myself while writing. That mentality got me through the first few drafts, but I struggled with the end and the opening to the point that I was changing them both until days before the show. I also took on this project with a very full schedule. I started writing in the end of October at the same time I started rehearsal for Annie at 5th Avenue Theatre. Three days after Annie closed I started rehearsal for Rock of Ages, also at 5th Avenue Theatre. In the past I would’ve thought it was an impossible task to create a show while working full time on two other shows, but speaking it into existence, acquiring a team and setting a date pushed me to the finish line.
After Rock of Ages closed I had three weeks to get my show together. With a less strenuous schedule I thought it would be smooth sailing until the night of the show. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The day after ROA closed, I woke up to the news that my professor and friend from Howard University had passed away. I was in shock and honestly didn’t know how to move forward. It was particularly hard to work on the show, because he was a huge influence on my artistry and a big reason I’m not afraid to sing anymore. After a few days I decided to add a tribute into the show, and it helped me process the crazy range of emotions I was experiencing.
On top of all of those crazy emotions, I was also dealing with anxiety and imposter syndrome. I talked myself out of quitting multiple times and had a full on melt down five days before the show. Being hired to perform is one thing, but writing, producing and performing at the same time is overwhelming to say the least. I was spending so much time worrying about promotion, ticket sales, finishing the script, working on cuts of all the songs, solidifying rehearsal space, making sure everyone had the information they needed, and so many other things that actually rehearsing and making sure I was prepared for the performance took a huge back seat. I was doing everything to prepare for the show except rehearsing the show.
I was also stressed, because I was having vocal issues and hocking up mountains of mucus everyday. TMI, I know. I went to the ear, nose and throat doctor about a week before my show and found out I had a sinus infection. Womp, Womp. I was prescribed antibiotics, which I hate to take, but I was hell-bent on getting my voice back and glad that I finally knew what was going on. Unfortunately, I had a HORRIBLE reaction to the antibiotics while I was at a gig at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. I was throwing up and having hot and cold flashes; dripping sweat then seconds later shivering. My dad had to pick me up from the hotel and wheel me out to the car, because I could barely walk. The ENT prescribed a different antibiotic, but after that experience I decided to try and knock out the infection with neti pot, oregano oil and decongestant.
So many things happened that made me want to quit, and to be honest, if tickets hadn’t already been sold I might have. March 18th was approaching fast, I still hadn’t solidified the ending of the script, and my voice wasn’t cooperating with me. I also think I stopped sleeping the week before the show, because I was so nervous. But again, I assembled the right team around me who encouraged me, took care of business, and helped me get the final draft of the script done.
So how did the show turn out? The best way to explain the final product is a live version of my blog, set to the soundtrack of r&b, pop, hip hop, jazz and musical theatre, with a special guest appearance from Carmen with a “K” (my alter ego for those who don’t know), complete with an informational video to explain topical steroid withdrawal. I found a way to put all the things I love and all the things that make me, me into a show. I shared my reasons for moving back to Seattle, my journey with chronic eczema, my struggles with anxiety and self-esteem, my fear of doing the show, and how I was finally able to shake off the insecurities, do it afraid, and level up. A Night With Just Du Pree ended up being a night full of love, laughter, tears and growth. Below is a clip from the show of me sharing one of the biggest lessons I've learned since moving home.
This process taught me that when you step out on faith, God comes through in a MAJOR way and ensures that you won’t fall. The amount of support that I got from friends, family and acquaintances was overwhelming! Tickets sold out online twice, and we had to reconfigure the room multiple times to accommodate everyone. As if that wasn’t enough, the response from the audience during and after the show was nothing but positive. To hear that my 61 year old neighbor learned something from me blew my mind, and to know that people were touched and inspired by my story is all the fuel I need to keep going. The only thing I can compare it to is the day I launched this blog. We go through things so we can be a blessing to others going through the same thing. That’s why I’m so transparent on the blog and why I was so passionate about producing A Night With Just Du Pree.
That being said, this is just the beginning! I definitely plan to do A Night With Just Du Pree again, and I’m going to continue to write, create, and level up. When you put yourself out there, God answers and sends everything you need to get the job done. I leveled up and did it afraid and I encourage you to do the same. You’d be amazed at the results. Below is a highlight reel and photo album of A Night With Just Du Pree. Check it out! Until next time, loves!
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I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!