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What if you could be someone else, just for one day?
That’s the proposition that drove writer/director/actor/improviser Dwayne Colbert, who took aim at police brutality against the African-American community in his musical comedy (yep, comedy) Afros and Ass Whoopins, to create a brand new show.
Shade, his latest exploration of race in America, boldly sets the stage for “a doppelganger switcheroo that goes way, way beyond skin-deep differences.” We asked Colbert, who is a graduate of The Second City's Improv, Conservatory, Writing, Longform and Directing programs, about his inspiration creating and staging the new musical comedy, the story of two women who trade lives for one day after discovering they are identical in appearance--except that one is black and one is white.
Where did the premise of the show come from?
I've always loved the switcheroo novel by Mark Twain, The Prince & The Pauper, which was the only one of his stories that took place outside of the South. The Physician In Spite of Himself by Molière is one of my favorite “mistaken identity” comedies. This show is not like either one of those, but they definitely inspired me.
What does "Shade" mean in the context of your show?
It means exactly what you think it means: the contemporary colloquialism of "throwing shade" by publicly criticizing or showing contempt for someone. But that's actually a small part of what it means in the context of our show. It's mostly a reference to skin tone. Shade.
How much of the script was written and how much was improvised with the cast?
This was a scripted piece that [songwriter/composer/Musical Director] Hughie Stone Fish and I brought to the cast, but I have asked the cast to improvise during the rehearsal process to inspire situations and lines that I would then go off and write, and Hughie would then go off and compose songs from. I can't even share the name of one of our songs with you it's so explosive, and we found it during our process. Come see it!
What is your style of directing?
I'm not concerned with style; I'd rather focus on substance. My goals as a director are always the same: showcase the talent, elevate the material on the page. Let's go!
What's your writing process like?
It depends on the project. When I wrote Afros & Ass Whoopins, I would write little "sketches" on the Notes app on my phone. Because the subject matter was so sensitive, it was hard for me to sit down at a desk and face that tale. With Shade, and most of my writing, I’ll start with what makes me laugh. Character is paramount! And once I have a loose idea of something that made me laugh, and a loose idea of what characters might be best to execute that idea, I write. Beat sheet, outline, then script. I may show it to a trusted friend or three before I write the script, but not lately.
What's the message you want the audience to walk away with?
Message? Yikes! My philosophy on comedy shows has always been:
1) Funny first
2) Have a story the audience can follow
3) Lastly, if you have something to say, you win.
It's hard, but not impossible, to go into a narrative with message first. It'll usually come out sounding very preachy with that approach. I like to poke and prod with no answers given, only opinions stated in the shows I write. Shade is my, and most of the cast's, opinion about people's hangups when it comes to skin color.
What are the biggest challenges in directing comedy?
Not knowing if something is truly funny or not until an audience sees it. Oh, and L.A. traffic.
Shade: A Colorful Musical Comedy is now playing in The Second City Hollywood’s Studio Theater at 10 PM on Saturdays through April 27th, 2019. Get tickets here.