Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ANGELOU REMAINS AN INSPIRATION By Lissette Hall, Published in The Pantagraph, 11/21/1996

I woke up to the news of Maya Angelou's passing this morning. I remember seeing her, larger than life, when I was barely a teenager and not much bigger than 5 feet tall.

With the outpouring of love and appreciation for Dr. Angelou that flooded across my computer screen, I was reminded that I had the opportunity to meet her at 13. I didn't take it. I sat in her audience and listened intently. I wavered before I departed because I knew that I was attending her event as real Journalist with a capital "J."

 I was shy and hadn't discovered improv yet. So I attended her speech at Illinois Wesleyan University, wrote my article, and didn't overcome this type of social anxiety until a few years ago.  Thanks, improv.

 I wrote for a teen column in the Bloomington, IL newspaper The Pantagraph. The newspaper reprinted their staff's article about the 1996 Angelou speech at IWU this morning. I was there too. I may have been a teenager, but I was also a hired Journalist to report about the event.  I may not have had the courage to shake Dr. Angelou's hand and thank her, but I had the courage to write these words.

 I do not have permission from The Pantagraph to reprint this, but I wrote this piece and would like to share it on this day that Dr. Maya Angelou is no longer with us. ~L

 Published: November 21, 1996
 Section: FOCUS
Page: D1

 Maya Angelou, author, poet and playwright, reaffirmed her inspiration for many at last week's Illinois Wesleyan University event.

 Angelou is the author of 10 best-selling books, is the newly appointed American ambassador for UNICEF and is an Emmy Award nominee for her performance in Alex Haley's "Roots." Yet, she still manages to be an example for all and a role model for young people.

 She spoke at Shirk Center which was packed with more than 3,000 people. It didn't matter whether you were sitting in the front row or standing in the back, Angelou was speaking to each of us individually.

 After the traditional introductions, the 6-foot-tall woman took the stage and began by singing an uplifting spiritual in her familiar rich voice. Then she spoke about the things that happened to her throughout her life, reciting pieces of poetry throughout to create a dynamic atmosphere. The manner in which she spoke was as if it were just the two of us sitting in a room together. I bet most of the people that were there wished, as I did, that they could do just that.

Personally, I have admired and respected Ms. Angelou as an author since reading the book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." After hearing her speak and comparing it to the way she writes, I find the two similar.

 She speaks with the same feeling and momentum that flows from the pages of her books.

But her speech was even more personal. Listening to her voice gave me a greater understanding of what she was talking about. This great author delivered more than one message that night. The first being that there is always a "rainbow in the clouds," always a silver lining. She also disclosed that everyone always has the courage to overcome anything and they will do so at the time they are ready to deal with it.

She used her own life as an example telling of the time she was raped as a child and how she stopped speaking for six years after. But she did speak again and the recitation of "And Still I Rise" reinforced that fact.

This event helped me further understand who Maya Angelou really is. She told us about herself and what the things she writes about mean. Anyone who attended the speech will perceive her books in a different way than someone who has only read her work.

 To me, her work is very important because it has significant meaning. It doesn't just pertain to me, but to everyone. Her writing sends a message to everyone that all people need to rise together and overcome the intolerance and ignorance the world can have and for people to try and become the best they can be.

 Archive contents are copyrighted by The Pantagraph and may not be republished without permission."

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Second City Taught Me How To Be Black

One year. Two blogs.

I am comfortable with that. I just finished something I never thought I would be able to do: successfully completed 16 credits. I realize that is not a big deal to, probably, anyone but me, but I feel like a chubby kid who just saw and touched her toes for the first time. I am typically a 12 credit kind of lady. If reaching my knees were 12 credits, I just looked past the curvature of my belly, saw my toes, went for it, and succeeded. It was the coolest 16 credits ever because I went to The Second City every day like it was my job. Going to The Second City every day for the past few months was my job!

My Comedy Studies semester is over. All is well. The flowers are still standing. So, how did that teach me how to be Black? Well, that title sounded catchier and more hip than saying, "What I learned at The Second City this semester taught me a new appreciation for my heritage and enabled me to own my African-American culture as I continue my journey in developing my point of view." That's what I am really saying. This blog sounded a lot better in my head, but here goes...

In the time I have been studying improvisation this year in Chicago, I have learned that my look as an actor is what many people describe as "confusing." Move over Special Skill of "Ethnic Ambiguity." There is a shorter word in town that means the same thing as you, you pretentious euphemism. When I wear makeup, my foundation is not dark enough to create believable blackface. (That is not a statement I could have ever imagined I would write and mean in earnest.)

Besides all of these amazing things about comedy and that Bob Fosse had a clubbed foot, I finally learned that any past accusations of my lacking Blackness, being an OREO, or living in Uncle Tom's Cabin have no impact on the reality that I am a woman with African-American ancestry. Well I knew that, but the new part that I truly understand now is that whatever I do, however I choose to live my life, and whichever way I express myself is what a Black woman does, how a Black woman lives her life, and how a Black woman expresses herself.

So even when I speak in my awesome South Indian accent am I still Black? Yes. Polish accent? Yes. British accent? Yes. But everyone sounds way more intelligent and automatically looks like David Beckham when they speak with a British accent, how can I still be Black? Because I am Black. What about when I play a character that is a physician and then people think I am playing into a stereotype because I must be Asian? It doesn't matter because I am black. What about when I am mistaken for Ethiopian or some other African country most Americans don't really know anything about, am I still Black? Tricky, but here is the thing: African and African-American are not the same thing; I am not African, but I am Black.

At the conclusion of this semester, a delightful young man named Jonathan Lee-Rey orchestrated a roast and bestowed me with the Award for "Being in My Head The Most." That's a fancy actor term for saying I think too much. With good reason, W.E.B. Dubois wrote about "double consciousness." As an androgynous, African-American woman, I have quite the quilt of consciousness-es. It keeps me warm. With all these dimensions and choices for social constructions of who I should be based on stereotypes, there are so many options for developing and honing my unique point of view. I mean, I am double-jointed too. My life is like running a race where the finish line keeps getting moved around. Regardless of where the finish line ends up, however, by the time I get there, I will still be Black.


Saturday, June 15, 2013


One of my improv instructors rightly identified me as a blogger today. I figured now would be the perfect time to launch my new blog.

  Until recently, like yesterday, I was working 40 hours a week in Corporate America, taking 7 hours of university credits, and driving a couple hours to Chicago every weekend to take Conservatory and Music Improv Conservatory classes at The Second City. I threw in the towel that dusted my cubicle and am jumping further into the world of improvisation. Describing the experience as living in the uncomfortable and leading with emotion does nothing to encompass everything that doing improv is, but they are some words that scare some people away from really digging in. 

In this new incarnation, now called Here's to Coffee and to Pink, I will share the experience of a future professional improviser. As my résumé does nothing for keeping real jobs but speaks highly of my skills as a performer, I will also share my other artistic pursuits: fashion styling & design, constructing awesome salads, and conquering social media the right know...skills completely relevant to the post apocalypse. #hashtag 

The only way this is going to work is if I engage in some Risky Business; dance around in my underwear; and, instead of allowing my decorum to hold back my genius, say what the fuck & tell you about it. With proper 21st century social media etiquette: WTF.  Let's play.