On the Suncoast, you've seen her as Queenie in Showboat and as Fannie Lou Hamer in Fannie (both at the Asolo Repertory Theatre), but you may have also seen her as the Narrator in the PBS production of A Christmas Carol, the Concert and, if you are from Chicago or Washington D.C., you have seen her in hundreds of other productions.
Though while training to be an actress at a conservatory, she was told she would only get small "maid" type roles, she has found her own voice, made her mark, and shattered the color barriers in the theatre world.
Hailing from Chicago, actress, singer, and entertainer E. Faye Butler has been inducted into the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C., was named the 2020 "Chicagoan of the Year" by the Chicago Tribune, and has been showered with award after award for her incredible talent and craft.
Want to know how she tackled the pandemic head on? How about her perspective on typecasting? And, the answer to the all important question, "Porgy and Bess or Hamilton?"
Come along and join the club!
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Robyn Bell: I am here today with my SCF music colleague and move a body friend Ms. Melodie Dickerson.
Melodie Dickerson: Robyn, what's a move, a body friend.
Robyn Bell: You know, that's someone that, you know, you can call on to help you move a body if you need them to. And for me, Melodie, that is you. , we have as our guest today, an incredible singer actor, performer, humanitarian member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. And Chicago, Tribune's 2020 Chicagoan of the Year.
Melodie Dickerson: And she has also won seven Joseph Jefferson awards, was the 2016 recipient of the Guy Atkins Award for Excellence and Advancement of Musical Theater has won the Rosetta LeNoire award to Helen Hayes awards, a, Barry Moore award, four Black Theater Alliance awards, an Excellence in the Arts award and Ovation Award, a Rami award. After Dark award, Kathryn V. Lampkey award Black Excellence award, and the 2011 Sarah Siddons award.
Robyn Bell: I don't know if she has enough room in her home for all of that hardware, Melodie. You first saw her in the Asolo Repertory theaters production of Showboat several years ago. And I first saw her on my television starring in the 2013 PBS production of Bob Christianson's a Christmas Carol, the Concert where she was playing the role of Narrator. And we both saw her last Friday night back at the Asolo, starring in Fannie, one of the most moving and poignant productions I have ever seen in my life.
Melodie Dickerson: Yes, it was so incredible. And we are thrilled to have her on the Suncoast Culture Club podcast today. E. Faye Butler, welcome to the club.
E. Faye Butler: Thank you for having me.
Melodie Dickerson: We are going to talk about your illustrious career and your many experiences performing here in the Sarasota area, including that wonderful production of Showboat alongside the fabulous Michael James Leslie But first. We would like you to give us a little bit of your background, like where you grew up when you started singing and acting and you know, when you got bitten by the bug and anything else you'd like to let us know about your first start?
E. Faye Butler: Well, first of all, it's great to be here. . It's great to be in Sarasota. That's even better. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, but I went to school in Rockford, Illinois, which is like an hour or so away from Chicago and When you grow up in a place like. Rockford theater is a heartbeat. You know, it's something you need to do. And so, Oh, I did all this stuff in high school I was supposed to do, but I was in eighth grade and my eighth grade English teacher said that I was a busy body when I would get finished with my work. So one day she said, Faye, I will give you an a, in this class class, if you'll do a show for me called the red shoes. And in this show, you have to play a deaf mute. I said, they're not going to get an a for just being quiet. She said, yes. I took the challenge and I was bitten by the bug in eighth grade, doing Red Shoes as Gimo the deaf mute. That was my first meeting. And then when I got to high school, I kept it going. I went to Rockford, Auburn High School in Rockford. Then I went to Illinois State University, finished my undergrad work and all that there. And then I went to the Goodman School of Drama. It was called then now it's called the Theater School at DePaul or something like that. So I've had a lot of help and I come from a family that loves the arts, loves music. My family was big on music, but I was never a singer. So nothing that I've ever garnered was because. I sang when I study, I never studied music. It just goes to show you that sometimes the thing that you think you're going to do is not necessarily the thing you end up doing, which is why you have to keep all doors open, to all possibilities, because I'm a classically trained actress who initially said musical, Oh my God, that is for those other people. I'm an actress. You know, that. When we get about being an actor and an actor doesn't sing, you know, I went through that whole phase until I got hungry.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Melodie Dickerson: Pays the bills. Doesn't it.
E. Faye Butler: Well, let me tell you, and now musicals and doing music in plays is my bread and butter. So there you go. In a nutshell, that's how we got here.
Robyn Bell: You know, I have a similar situation because I'm trained conductor or have a master's in instrumental conducting. And I had the opportunity to audition for the Air Force Band because they had a position open. They really wanted some women conductors in there and they sent me the audition material Faye and it was a lot of medleys and pops stuff. And I'm preparing for this audition. I'm looking through this music and I sat there and I go. I'm a serious conductor. I do not want to conduct the Armed Forces Salute everyday of my life. God Bless America. God Bless USA. And that's where I make my living now. So , I lived exactly what you were talking about now. You're still based in Chicago.
E. Faye Butler: Yes right now, I'm in transition to moving to the Maryland area, DC. So I'm going to be moving because my husband is retired now and he wants to go back home. He's a Washingtonian by birth. And so I said, okay, I can be anywhere. So it doesn't matter to me. So kind of in a transitional phase of moving from Chicago, but Chicago will always be my home.
Robyn Bell: You're kind of ensconced though, in that Chicago theater world. How will that translate for you to when you moved to DC?
E. Faye Butler: Actually . It translates really well because I worked so much in DC that people think I live in DC.
Melodie Dickerson: And maybe now they're going to think you have a second home in Sarasota. going to again to the Asolo again and again and again, let's bring her back.
Robyn Bell: We've talked about this, but you have now performed in Sarasota at least twice that we know of once in showboat and now you're finishing your run here at Fannie, both at the Asolo Repertory Theater. Tell us your impressions of our cultural arts community here on the Suncoast of Florida.
E. Faye Butler: Well, I love it. And I tell people all the time , for me as an artist and people that I talked to that are artists or love the arts, whatever form of culture it is, it doesn't have to be theater. When I say culture, I'm talking about the symphony, the ballet, the galleries, the opera. Everything is that culture of this area for me, this is a place to come in Florida, if you want that in your life, if you are a person that's focused on culture and having serious things to see, to hear, to be around it's Sarasota. I've worked on so many national tours and so I've gone through lots of cities in Florida. This was the only city I ever came to where I saw other theaters and not just , road houses. And I saw that I could go to a museum. , or I could go to see a ballet. Or, , exhibits. That's what to me is so amazing about this area and what kind of just keeps me wanting to come back here along with the sun. And you got some of the best beaches in the world for me.
Robyn Bell: Don't forget that.
E. Faye Butler: Okay. No, seriously , it's all of that. That makes Sarasota for me. When I say Florida, , I don't think Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, I would say let's go to Sarasota and you can go to a lot of places from here,
Robyn Bell: you haven't brought your husband here. If he wants to retire to Washington DC, because he would want come here.
E. Faye Butler: He's here with me now. And he's been, he's turning his head a little bit, but yeah, he loves Well it here.
Robyn Bell: I think you hit the nail on the head. We have so many cultural events and not just music or theater. We have the art galleries. We have the Selby botanical gardens. The list is limitless. We have the beautiful beaches. It's 86 degrees here today and it's the first day of March. My first year here. I ran out of money because I couldn't afford any more tickets to anything. Cause I was just going to everything.
Melodie Dickerson: So many things and artists series and , we could go on and on and name so many different things.
Robyn Bell: And here at the state college of Florida, we have these first two years where community college rates. So the first two years of all of that training theater, musical theater music. And so we like to connect with these artists that are coming through to speak to our students.
Melodie Dickerson: And connect with the theaters and other organizations. And we do have those partnerships that makes it really great for our students. . But Faye, Robyn and I were really impressed to read how you successfully navigated COVID-19 shut down in Chicago. And Because of your work, you won the 2020 Chicagoan of the Year Award from the Chicago Tribune. Our listeners may not know that story. So would you tell us, , what happened when literally one year ago we all went dark, what did you do to resurrect theaters in Chicago?
E. Faye Butler: Well, , I had started this project Fannie in 2019, we did a reading of it at the Goodman Theater and Cheryl West who wrote the piece and Henry Godinez, the director and Felton Offard, who was also in the play. He as a musical director. So when this pandemic happened and things were going on, we had an election coming up. And if you know anything about this show, Fannie Lou Hamer would go through fire to ensure that everyone knew they had the opportunity to vote and that they got out to vote and get registered. And in the election cycle, we were going through coming up in 2020, we were like, there's no way we can not do this play. So it kind of became our mission, the original production, which you guys saw is 70 minutes, but , Henry came up with the idea of Luis Valdez. Did. When it used to go into the fields in the sixties and take the information that immigrants needed in the fields to know what was going on, he would take that information to them on back of trucks. And he would Dodge the property owners, you know, so they didn't know that was the only way he could speak in Spanish and tell the field workers that they have rights, that they have things that they could do, that they did have a voice. And just in that way, Henry said, we have got to do this with Fannie. So Cheryl condensed the show down to 40 minutes, we got a trailer that we fashioned, like the old theater trailer that drops down in the front, , took that trailer to nine different city parks in Chicago, but we had to jump through hoops cause we're going to be the first production in the country to be sanctioned by all of the unions. That are affiliated. So we're talking about the IATSEs musicians. Union SDC is the further directors and choreographers plus actors' equity association. Those unions had to come together and the CDC guidelines, the city of Chicago guidelines, the state of Illinois guidelines and the Cook County guidelines. So imagine you have all of that on your plate. And they came up with the guidelines that we could only have 50 people within a circle. Now, these basic things that are normal, this is where that started, that we had to have a circle that only had 50 people in it that we could rope out. But outside of that, we would have 300 people show up in the parks. I had to start out by taking five COVID tests a week. . So we started this in July when nobody was doing this, the theater went as far, the Goodman did was to totally revamp their theater so we could rehearse inside at some point until we could get outside. So for a week they made everything toucheless to theater. We have to have the head , medical guy of, infectious diseases to check out the space. They redid their ventilation system. They're ready for. When we open up again inside, . We had to be separated in the rehearsal rooms and constantly testing. And that's how we started Fannie off. And when theater saw what the Goodman was doing outside, That's how that all kind of began. Then we took the production to Arena Stage in Washington, DC, , and we did it on the Wharf , and there I had to, quarantine for 14 days before I could even go on stage, just sitting in a room with food being brought to me until that could happen. . This is about thinking outside of the box and making sure that people had hope that we were coming back with theater. We were coming back with live performances, not only just for the audiences, but for the artists that make living doing what we do, because we lost hope at March. We were the first ones shut down. You know, we're the last ones to reopen which is going to be the case. But we're getting closer and closer. I was talking to Michael Edwards, he called to just check up on me with all the things that had happened over the summer and everything that we were going through. And he called me and he says, you know, E. Faye, I don't know what to do. I want to do my season. And I can't. I said, Michael stopped worrying about your season inside . And it's not going to happen. You have to step outside of the box. He says, I don't know, what are you talking about? I said Michael Edwards, every single time somebody comes to the Asolo. You take them out in front of that theater and you say, isn't this gorgeous. Now it's time to build out front of your theater. , build that stage out in front of that theater. Find out what your CDC guide is that you can be outside and put on theater. The people will come. I promise you. I know it seems like a dream. So he always says to me, till this day, it was your thought. Put in my head that we could do bigger and better that has re-invigorated this entire city now, because the Asolo started by building that stage out. Now, every theater in town or every organization or the symphony, we can all work outside now. Until it gets too hot, but just imagine it's something that now we have a new venue in every performing arts center here. Now we now know we can go outside and perform and people will show up.
Melodie Dickerson: Bravo, Bravo. Bravo.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. Thank you for talking to Michael Edwards because it started , the revolution in this town to come back. , The Westcoast, Black Theater Troupe doing their shows outside now. The opera, the Sarasota orchestra has their chamber music groups playing in and all the parks around town. But , this was your second time at the Asolo. When you saw Fannie
Melodie Dickerson: Third time, did they in the outdoor
Robyn Bell: Outdoor, right? And I was sort of like, wow, I walked up and it just felt like an outdoor summer festival. , it was a beautiful night. There was a full moon. And it was interesting. You were talking about your music director because where I was sitting, Faye, I could see, like I was kind of even with the edge of the stage. And before the show started, I looked up and I saw. You know, a big monitor and it just looked like there was smoke. And I thought, well, I wonder what that is. I'm going to keep my eye on that. And then when the musicians came out, I saw that there was a camera on him and I thought, how brilliant cause he was kinda behind you, the band was. And so when you needed cues or if you guys needed to communicate brilliant, have you done that for all of the shows
E. Faye Butler: Yeah, wherever I can. If I can't see him, then , yeah. They put him someplace in front of me so that I don't have to go searching or wandering around on stage. So yeah, it's worked out really, really well, but you guys got the full version of Fannie, so you're the first to ever have this particular version. The version we've been doing in the summer was a smaller 40 minute version. You've got the full production that now will go to the Goodman. It will go to Seattle Repertory Theater, and it'll travel the country now.
Robyn Bell: And , was Fannie already done or was it in the works and it wasn't originally called Fannie rights and stuff. I saw online this summer when you did it, it was called it had a different title,
Melodie Dickerson: Different title.
E. Faye Butler: Fannie speak on it. And the reason that it was is because the 40 minute version was very focused on registering and making sure people voted and knew they had the right to vote and got out and vote. So it was more focused on the people. Focus really on people understanding this privilege that we've all been given as Americans, that we have the right and the ability to vote. No matter , if you're an immigrant and it doesn't matter, go cast your vote. Doesn't matter who you vote for. It that's the way it wasn't her deal. And I don't think a lot of people got confused with our messages. It wasn't about vote for this person. It was about vote.
Melodie Dickerson: And your gave a Bravura performance, but I was so moved by the story of Fannie's life. It's almost unbelievable that so many things could happen to one woman and that she would maintain her faith and her hope and her clarity of purpose.
E. Faye Butler: Yes, and mind you, . She didn't even know she had a right to, she was 44 years old. , she died at 59. So this all happened between the ages of 44 and 59 that she made this impact on this country and this world.
Robyn Bell: The timing. So poignant, as you were saying with the 2020 election in November, to get that message out of go vote, you have the right to vote. So I'm going to go back cause I'm, curious then was the Cheryl West play already written and you discovered it and you said, let's do it. Or you guys worked in tandem. How did that come about?
E. Faye Butler: Cheryl. And I have worked on, this is our third project together, along with Henry Godinez. This is our second project together and I did Pullman Porter. Blues was the story of the Pullman porters out of Chicago. And Cheryl said to me, she's been saying to me for a few years, I got something I want you to do. I got something I'm writing for you. I'm like, yeah. Yeah. When you get it, you'll let me know. So Cheryl called me the summer of 2019. And said, okay, I've got it ready. I want you to read it. Call me, Cheryl is a listener. . She just closes her eyes and she hears the word she's written. And she knows if it's right. And as I read it, I said, Oh, she's going to want to hear this. So I called her back. I said, when can you hear this? She said, well, let me work on it. She found the Goodman. The Goodman says we'll commission it. And literally from when I got that script in July of 2019, by November of 2019, we were doing a workshop of it. We did one performance. We couldn't even do any more than one performance because I was on my way to China to work. And so I said, I have one slot open. She said, when it does, I said, November 10th, the Goodman said, let's go for it. We did the initial reading of that. And from that reading. That's how all these other theaters wanted to do the full production that you now have seen the pandemic kit and that went out the back door and that's how we have to Speak On It.
Melodie Dickerson: Incredibly. Well-written
Robyn Bell: Yeah. So Speak On It as the 40 minute version, Fannie as the 70 minute version now, Faye, where were you? Because you said you were going to China, where were you when the world shut down?
E. Faye Butler: I was in Washington, DC at Shakespeare theater. Doing Jane Baldwins Amen Corner, which was an amazing thing to do in DC because Shakespeare Theater had never done an all black performance show of anything. Never had a female director ever and so it was like groundbreaking. Here was a black female director, James Baldwin with an all black cast at Shakespeare Theater in DC. , We were like breaking barriers left and right. And then the pandemic happened. And so we had to shut down. And so that's where I was when that all happened.
Robyn Bell: And I bet like everybody else, you had other bookings through the whole rest of the year. And so how did that start falling for you and people just start saying, well, we're gonna push it. We're gonna push it or no we're done. How did that happen?
E. Faye Butler: You know, people kept saying they were going to push it and push it, but I'm a pretty realistic person. No matter what I do, I'm pretty real about things. I knew that wasn't going to happen. And I think that's why I really focused on Fannie in my head because what we were going through in the world, the only thing that kept speaking to me over and over again, was Fannie because I knew at that moment that other stuff is not going to happen. And I'm not saying that it was frivolous. The other stuff I was doing. But it, wasn't a passion. It wasn't a focus. It wasn't what we needed as a country. It wasn't what my mission should be. I knew what my mission was. And that mission was to get Fannie somewhere because somebody needed to hear these words, someone needed to know that they had a right to vote. Somebody does disenfranchise and with everything we were going through, I said, I cannot let this fall through the cracks. So we got together as a unit. And we make sure that this was going to be heard and mind you, , the Goodman went as far and Cheryl required it. And I loved it that at every single performance we did, there were the women's league of voters that was there to register people to vote. , They were there at every performance we did to ensure, and I, it was even written in the script. All of y'all that ain't going to vote. You'll be ready to vote. When I get finished, they got a registration table over here, go over there and raise your hands, baby. Let them see you. And they would raise their hand. Those ladies will help you registered to vote.
Robyn Bell: It's almost as if the conditions of the pandemic really laid a better foundation for Fannie to come to the world. So that's fantastic. And when we return Melodie and I are going to talk to E. Faye Butler further about her one-woman show Fannie its historical significance and how this role fits into her larger body of work back after this break.
Melodie Dickerson: Welcome back to the Suncoast culture club podcast, where today Robyn Bell and I have the extreme privilege to speak with actress, singer and entertainer E. Faye Butler, who has just finished her run of the show, Fannie at the Asolo Repertory Theater. And when we were last speaking, we were just talking about the evolution of this show and how it came into existence and how the Asolo had it. And I think that the takeaway that you were saying E. Faye is that. The right to vote is so important that we need to get this out. But even more than that, while that is incredibly important to me, what I got out of it was that this woman had the right to be respected. This woman had the right to have a voice , that might've been a very difficult thing for a lot of people that, , were growing up in the sixties to have that, you know, what age 44 for her to realize, wait a minute, I can vote, . I can even try to run for an office if I would like to. Has the show changed. You.
E. Faye Butler: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is not a show that guides you because you're some kind of extraordinary artist. I think this is a show that you have to be an activist. You have to stand for something. You have to believe in something and believe in people and humanity. , I've had actresses ask me, wow, that's a lot of work. This doesn't get you through because you're sitting there going over lines or you, got a great voice. If you don't have the spirit. To do this. It'll take you down a lot of material tackle and it's difficult subject matter for, , a person and , you could find yourself if you don't put yourself in this Fannie Lou spirit, as I say, falling down a dark hole. Because it's easy to become bitter and angry. But you can't use this piece for your bitterness and your anger. You have to use this piece to educate and show people that we still have time. We can still do better. This is all of our country. We all are here together and we got to fix this together. And it's one neighbor at a time. I constantly say that to people. This is about remembering when you open your front door and you see somebody standing in front of you and you say, good morning, we've lost the ability to speak to one another. We've lost the ability to hold a door for one another. We've lost the ability to just care for one another, just as human beings, not could, you know me. Because you're just another human being and we're all here trying to do the same thing, you know, live and have a good life. And I think that's what Fannie would want. The spirit of Fannie Lou is that every one has the ability to be an American and live a good life and have family and friends and love around you. We don't have to hate each other. We just don't, that's a choice. We didn't come hating each other.
Melodie Dickerson: No we did not. And do you have given her the ultimate respect and honor by bringing her story out and by embodying her so well, and , it gave me so much insight, but also made me want to be a better person. , I was raised in the South and , there's a lot of things that we're not even always recognizing about, but I'm very lucky. I had a pastor for a dad and a musician for a mom, and they were all about, you love everybody. Jesus loves , all the little children of the world. It doesn't matter, And you, just respect every single person and I'm very happy that I was raised that way, even though I grew up in the South, although the South has good to grow up I do too. so , seldom do I get to interview someone with whom I have played the same role and I'm not even hardly putting myself in the same universe as you, but in December, 2019, Robyn's Pops Orchestra and my SCF musical theater ensemble did a second production of a Christmas Carol, the Concert and the person we had signed up to be the Narrator role had a last minute conflict . So I had to step in as the director of the show and play the part. And I even have a greater respect for your skills and talent when I finished that production. But let's talk about that experience in a bigger picture. At the time when you played the narrator in the show, it was a newly written script and score. And what we began to see is this pattern of you taking on brand new works, taking ownership of them, bringing them to the masses and setting the standard. Am I onto something here?
Robyn Bell: Yeah. I mean, you know, like as a conductor Faye, I can, conduct Beethoven, which has been conducted a million times by thousands of other conductors, or I can be a part of a brand new piece of music that we get to premiere giving me. I kind of think of it as greater artistic freedom to shape it the way I see it and not be influenced by others. Who've done it in the past. So our question to you is. What is the difference in playing a role like the one you played in Showboat versus playing the Narrator and a Christmas Carol, the Concert or Fannie Lou Hamer and faint. Do you approach it brand new work differently than a reprised role?
E. Faye Butler: Yes, absolutely. Because normally in most cases, whenever you're doing a, book show, that's well-known people already have an idea of what it is and no matter what you do, they go, Hmm. But that's not quite Queenie. keep putting you in this box and you go, Hmm. That's not quite Dolly. That's not quite Rose, you know, whatever those iconic roles are, they have a banner around them and you're kind of, trapped into that. The lovely thing about doing new works and I really, really try to do new works mostly. Because I think there's so much that people that are much younger than me that have the stamina to do that. Can do those, book shows that are done and they can bring new ideas to them. With new works. The beauty of that is that you get to sit with the material and you get to grow with it. As an artist, you get to grow and you get to move in another direction and you get to bring a part of yourself to it that you can put your thumbprint on. And that was a case with a Narrator because the Narrator trusted me. My agent called me and said, I want you to go in for Christmas, Carol. and I've done a Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater so long until they gave me a plaque. And I was like, okay, that's the end of that show? When you get a plaque it's time to retire. So I said Christmas Carol said, yeah, it's the musical process of what is this. He says, yeah. Now I want to tell you, you got to be the only woman. I said, why is that? And he said, because I think you'd be good at the Narrator. So I'm going to send you in, , and you're going to be with the top voice over guys in the nation, it was a national search. This wasn't just a local search. I said, okay. So I go in and I've done enough voiceover. So I know these voices and I know a lot of these guys, so I walk in the room. And all the you're doing their Harry, right. Radio. And I walked in and saw a guy can say, Hey guys, how you doing? They're like, what are you here for Mrs. Cratchit? When they're making their little, you know, male jokes amongst themselves like that? No, I'm here for the Narrator. and a hush as my grandmother would say she's very Southern. A hush came over Jerusalem. Staring at me. And I said, Oh, and they said, you're going in for the narrator. That's a guy's part. I said, he didn't say guy.on my form it said, Narrator person with a strong, , exciting voice that can command attention. And who knows the story of Charles Dickens? That's what he said. I've done it a long time. I kinda know this story. So I think I can go in and do it. So they were like, okay, well have a good audition. And I'm telling you when they found out about two days later that I got that role, did the calls come in , I stole the man's job from them. I'm like,
Melodie Dickerson: Well there's enough men's roles in theater. I think they will not have to suffer too much.
E. Faye Butler: So imagine how amazing it is to know that you did that show based on the fact that a woman did it originally in that musical now that's the standard. Thank God. , but now we see it differently. female conductor,
Robyn Bell: And the first time we did Christmas Carol, it was Catherine Randazzo female. Another female that played narrator from Florida Studio Theatre. In the second time, it was supposed to be Samone Hicks who had to back out. And then you, so we don't ever envision this as a male. And I want to say, whoever does Fannie in the future. Nobody it's not the Fannie You now have the definitive Fannie performance, right?
E. Faye Butler: And that's the next thing. So that's why you do new works because you get to put a thumbprint on it that can translate to someone else that's coming along, just like Ethel Merman with Rose. You know what I mean? That's something that goes down the line and that's a kind of legacy and stuff you want to leave behind. , it feels good to know that women are being employed to do. You know, Christmas Carol, the musical women are being employed. Black women are doing Fannie this show. So that's what I'm saying. When you can set those kinds of standards, it's kind of a great thing.
Melodie Dickerson: Right. And to be a woman who's been a director, , still there are not a lot of women who are directing plays and musicals out there. And I've really felt with that Christmas, Carol, that Scrooge needed a counterpoint of female counterpoint. And then again, taking new things, it was first done with just a small group of people. And I said, let's do this. We have all these kids. Let's let them take on more roles and do things like that. And we put in a dance and, , just gave lots of people, things to do, and
Robyn Bell: We danced your Christmas. you know, I would be remiss if, cause we talk about this often Melodie here is our department chair for the department of performing arts, music and theater. I am the music program manager, . And also the band conductor, the orchestra conductor, our college president is a woman the executive director of our foundation here at the college is a woman. And so we see that and people see that in the arts and also just in the community that it's really a estrogen driven right now.
Melodie Dickerson: Yes ma'am. , so as a woman of color performer in the theater industry, I know that you have seen. A lot of changes. Have you seen any improvement in the type of roles you can get the recognition you receive and the general reception to your talents say then twenty-five or 30 years ago
E. Faye Butler: Yes, and no because as a woman and I have to put that first as you age up, it doesn't matter what your color is. Because, you know, in this industry, the older you get, no matter what it is, I don't care where you are as a woman. They go, Oh, well, you can only do this now. Well, you can only do that. Whereas men, they get graceful, , and they're, they have all these, , Oh, they're great. I'll look at him now. He's really in his prime now with us, it's like, Oh, she's old. So let's make her the grandmother or something. So, you know, but I mean, that's what happens. , that's the honest answer. It really does happen. So as a woman, It gets more difficult. So you do have to make sure to choose the roles that you can shine in. I do have the ability as an African-American woman, that now people see me as a person that they can hand certain roles over that they might not have as a black woman, 10 years ago. I just recently, a couple of years ago, did mama Rose. Which is never, ever, ever, ever done by a black woman. I think the last person who did it was Leslie Uggams. And I think Michael did it with her, . And so to know that I was able to do that and that the estate said I could do it, but before I could do it, they had to go down the wire and say, let's look at the credentials that the person you're bringing to do this. So, , in many ways I was like, wow, here we are in 2018? And finally someone can do a full cast. And we even made it very interracial in the sense that the kids were from everywhere. Those kids are orphans. So we were able to have, Asian. Kids. Some of the dances were Asian. Some of them African-American, some of them were Indian. So it was brilliant to know that we did Latin X kids and that we can combine those roles because these were kids she found on the road. As a Mama Rose. So when you look at things like that, things have opened up, but they're very particular in the things that they do. , but I think with what we're going through now and the change in theater that's happening and how the playing field is so leveled right now, because right now all artists are in a training session because what we're going to come into when we leave and this pandemic is over and we go through this phase of it is everybody has to think outside of the box now, after everything we've been through this summer, through this election, everything we've been through as a country, we have got to start shaking trees and be real about what we say art is. And art doesn't have a color. It's the artist that you want to see. And we've got to get in that mindset and people are slowly doing it. , but it's going to take us being honest with ourselves. Stop lying about it. It does matter.
Robyn Bell: It does. And, you know, I saw Hamilton in Chicago. I never saw it in New York. I saw it when it was in Chicago. And think about like what you were saying. We have a black Aaron Burr. We have a black George Washington. Angelica was a , Latin American. And , you don't even. Have to typecast anymore. , I've got a George Washington, Oh, it can be a person of color. What a revolutionary thought that they all had with that. And I, just want to see a continue on and on and on. And I know here, especially Melodie and your musical theater ensemble, you want to put on a show and students sign up for the class and you have to put people in the roles. . You take what's there and you've done it masterfully
Melodie Dickerson: And multiculturally.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, absolutely.
Melodie Dickerson: It doesn't matter , whoever fits the role and who can play it the best. And that is the beauty of educational theater that you have that. But I do caution them that when you get out there in the real world, things change sometimes. But I do see an opening up and we've had a lot of our students that have gone on and they've been able to be cast in roles that they might not have originally been cast in.
Robyn Bell: You know, people ask me all the time about being a woman conductor. They want me to come and talk about my experiences being a woman conductor. And I honestly try not to think of myself that way, you know, maybe a purposefully put some blinders on and there's only one time in my life. That I can really point to where I felt like I was discriminated against as a woman conductor. And it turned out to be all good because the guys had planned outing to a strip club and they didn't invite me. And I didn't realize it at the time. I just felt like I was being left out of whatever was going on that night. And the next morning I realized what they said was, sorry, we didn't invite you. We didn't mean to exclude you, but , we were doing this. And I was like, well, thank goodness, but , can you remember any kind of specific time where you just felt. Totally and you can kind of point to them as it, cause that kind of thing sort of pushes me. Right. And you can say, Hey,
E. Faye Butler: Yeah, . There are times that I was told coming out of conservatory that I would never work very much because I asked too many questions. And my instructor said, look, You're not going to get those roles. You're only going to be maids. You're only going to be this. I said, did I spend this kind of money to come here for you to tell me what I was going to do? She said, you just asked too any questions. , Things will change at some point and you'll get to do Mama in Raisin in the Sun. She started naming off all these show, you know, you'll get to do Pearly maybe, , and I was just like, really. And I can't forget the first time I ever received any award. The first thing I did was I stood up and I thanked her. I said, I thanked her for being such a negative Nelly. To spite her, I will have lead roles. I will be able to do this. And to know that I got that a particular award for being the first. African-American woman in the city of Chicago to do a non-traditional musical. Hello Dolly. They had never had a black woman ever do anything that wasn't a black show. And I did that, and that was a first, it was a groundbreaker and I was able to point to it and go. Thank you. I thanked her very much because without her. I'd never would have strived to probably do those kinds of roles. It's why I do those roles now. It's why I wanted to do mama Rose is why I actually did Mrs. Loving in Sweeney Todd. It's why I go after the roles I want to go after, because that's the kind of stuff I want to do. I want to break that ceiling for the next one coming behind me to say, you can do that.
Melodie Dickerson: And those are the juicy, juicy, juicy roles. I love that everybody wants to do so. , I've kind of push people's buttons cause I've had my buttons pushed like that. I remember a voice teacher telling me once, Oh honey, just cause you can memorize that song overnight. Doesn't mean, you know it, and I was like, What do you mean? I don't know it. And of course, I didn't know the song and you have to like jump up against that and then overcome that. And just like, I will do it and I want to do it and you can't stop me from doing it. I seen today, sometimes students are not strong enough to stand up to that. They're they're like, you know, and theater is a very tough business. Requires. Inside tough. Even when you don't get the roles that you want, and sometimes you get roles that maybe you don't want to have, but you have to have them anyway to put the food on the table. And we do have many students here in the music and theater program along those lines who want to make their living as performers. And here we are having a conversation with you, someone who has not only made it, but overcome many odds to get where you are in this point in your career. Do you have any advice you could share with the students or with anyone listening? If this is the type of
E. Faye Butler: Yeah, just what I know. The one thing I can tell anyone that ventures into this, first of all, make sure this is really, really what you want to do. That it's a passion, not something to be famous that might not have ever happened. Not something you want to do cause you want to make money. Cause child, you are truly in the wrong business. , this is something that has to hit you in the gut. This is something that turns you over in the morning. And you're still thinking about that piece you did yesterday. I don't care if it's music, dance, whatever it is. The art is a very difficult thing to do. So that's the first thing I say. The second thing I say. Is you never stop learning. You never stop studying just because a class is over just because you've graduated. That's just the beginning. It never stops the minute you no longer learn you no longer going to be valuable. You must always keep your learning hat on. Listen, soak up like a sponge. I cannot tell you that enough. Soak it up like a sponge, everything you can. Don't just be an artist, but be a patron of the arts. Go to the arts. You have to support theater. You have to know the theaters that you're going to, you have to know the goals that you want to, you have to continue to study because this can be really hard. And the best thing that I could tell anyone that's doing this business, surround yourself with love and your family and your friends. You're going to meet a lot of acquaintances in this business. They come and they go and you might see them again. Your family is going to be the backbone of everything. You need to make it through it day after day. So don't shun your family. Don't shun, your religious beliefs, everything you've been raised with, I'm talking about keeping that circle around you, of community, whatever that community is. Everybody's community is different. Keep that base of community around you. It will keep you lifted, have a life. That's another thing I tell people will not sacrifice your life for this, because this could happen at any time. I'm of a certain age that a lot of people say, wow, don't you wish that happened when you were 20? No. Cause it was supposed to happen now when people hit it 20 and they're finished by 30, some people hit 25 and they're finished by 26. Some people hit it 70 and 80. When a career goes to their debt. What I want you to do is follow your path. Do not look at anyone else's journey and say, that's your journey. Your journey is uniquely yours. If you're doing what you're supposed to do, focus on what you need to do and continue to work at your goal. It's not going to happen in your time. And I know people might not subscribe to it. It happens in God's time. It happens when the spirit is supposed to make it happen. So don't give up if this is your passion, I'm going to say that again and not just something you're doing. have to believe that , and it's the thing . Why people say, what do you do in your real life? Well, I have a family. I have a husband, I have kids. I have grandkids. I still do the laundry. I do everything theater and the arts is not who I am. It's what I do. But it's because of the experiences at being a human being and having family and friends and community around me is what I bring to the table. Every time I go to a new work, because my life experiences is what I can bring to a script is being able to know as a mother. I know what that means. When a line hits me is being a wife that when a man says a certain line of me, I'm like, who you think you're talking to?? Okay.
Melodie Dickerson: you're a wise woman wise, wise, wise.
E. Faye Butler: If any student, anybody venturing into this, it's your life experiences that will make you the best at anything you want to achieve and do. And so I say, hold onto those things, don't change yourself.
Robyn Bell: No a hundred percent, you were saying, hold onto your family and know who your friends are. I call it my board of directors of my life. I know those people and they are my board of directors. And we also talk often about how, when your profession is your hobby, you know, it gets really blurred and you have to find a way as you say, to have a life, to have an interest because when your profession is your hobby, sometimes you can't leave it.
E. Faye Butler: There's one last thing I would say to my single girlfriends now that are well in their age, you know, they're more mature now. I tell them they're in the second act of their life. And so as you go into the second act of your life and you look back and you're now saying, I wish I had been married. I wish I had had kids. I wish I had dated because you were waiting for something to happen. That means that you stop life. To sit there and now life has caught up with you and you're standing there and you're having regrets. I don't want people to have regrets doing this, live your life, and what's going to be yours. Promise you. It is always yours.
Melodie Dickerson: I'd say that many, many times and no one, no one can take away that investment that you've put into all of it.
Robyn Bell: I think this podcast could be required listening for our students.
Melodie Dickerson: I'm thinking of it right now. I'm going to make it as an assignment.
Robyn Bell: Well Faye we have come to our rapid fire section. Our favorite part. We have a couple of questions for you. They're either or this or that. However, the spirit moves you. Are you ready? All right. Melodie's got the first question.
Melodie Dickerson: Okay. Chicago, deep dish pizza or Baltimore crab cakes.
Robyn Bell: I tell people as a woman conductor, I'm not allowed to eat pizza people looking at you behind for two hours at a time. It's no good. Okay. Porgy and Bess or Hamilton.
Love it. Good answer
Melodie Dickerson: Midway or O'Hare.
Robyn Bell: I always fly into midway. My favorite airport.
Melodie Dickerson: No, no, no, no, no.
Robyn Bell: A role in a big cast musical or a one-woman show to yourself and you were excellent at it. My goodness.
Melodie Dickerson: Sunrise with coffee or sunset with cocktails.
E. Faye Butler: Sunset with cocktail. Funny. Honey.
Melodie Dickerson: After my own heart.
Robyn Bell: favorite cocktail?
E. Faye Butler: Yeah. Give me a shot of tequila and appear back girl. And we're good.
Robyn Bell: Okay. You've spent some time here in So we assume you've been here St. Armand's circle or Navy pier.
E. Faye Butler: St. Armand's circle. Cause maybe cool. Bores me. Sorry,
Melodie Dickerson: The Chicago lyric opera or second city,
High heels or tennis shoes.
E. Faye Butler: High heels to the tennis shoes. That's what I do.
Robyn Bell: Love it.
Melodie Dickerson: Before show jetters or post show relief.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. There's that excitement, right? I mean, I love before something happens, the energy that's on the inside of us and you can't wait, we talked about this with our students last Friday at our recital seminar. We said, you know, when you put on a concert or show, it's not about you, you, you look at me, me, me, it is about. Putting this art form out to the world and sharing it with the world. And that's what I like about the pre-show jitters. Same. Yeah. Okay. And I know , you don't consider yourself a singer, but you sing cause it pays the bills. But if you had one song left to sing in your life, what would it be?
E. Faye Butler: how I got over. It's an old gospel tune. Oh, my soul looks back and wonders how I got over
Robyn Bell: And, you know what it says, it puts a stamp on, our lives when we get to choose our theme song. Basically, I love that.
Melodie Dickerson: Absolutely. So you've been on stage many, many times, but you have one
E. Faye Butler: it's my one show. It's the last one. And I, this is all I got. Okay. I'll go see, I love Gypsy so much. I just love that show so much. I've got to go see Gypsy. This is the only one I can see. That character is such an amazing character.
Melodie Dickerson: And the script
E. Faye Butler: Oh, people don't even know the
Melodie Dickerson: That's why I'm saying it's, for an actor. It's just, and then of the Julie Stein score. Amazing.
Robyn Bell: Okay. The Chicago Bears Bulls Blackhawks Cubs or White Sox.
E. Faye Butler: White Socks. I'm a South side.
Robyn Bell: You a Nice.
Melodie Dickerson: Well, you know, you can come and join our Tampa Bay, rays, you know, we were the runner up, you know, we were in the world series when you're home with the trophy this time. But we are known as Tampa Bay because we brought on home. Everything Well congratulations East Bay Butler You're now officially
Robyn Bell: This has been an absolute thrilled to spend some time with you today getting to know you better your philosophy on your work and life Melodie and I so enjoyed the show and your performance and Fannie last week It is just spectacular Something you should be so proud of and that please keep touring it as long as you can The entire country needs to see this show
Melodie Dickerson: And wherever you go we hope this is not your last stop to the Suncoast of Florida And we hope that we will get a chance to see your artistry and skill that you bring to new roles And we're thankful that you're sharing your talent with us and congratulations on being such a leader a woman and bringing live performance back During this pandemic in Chicago in DC and wherever you've gone with it And now right here in Sarasota and we hope maybe one day we could get you here at the famous State College of Florida to be on our stage and talk to our music and theater students to inspire them the way you have inspired you us today Yes ma'am Thank you And best of luck mean not bottom of my heart as you continue.
E. Faye Butler: . Thank you so much for inviting me and having me and everybody out there. I'll see you soon. Just keep your eyes up at home.