OPINION: She’s a dancer, an actor, a choreographer, a director and a brilliant teacher. You’ll learn a lot from this episode.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
This week on “Masters of the Game” our guest is the legendary Debbie Allen. “Masters of the Game” is TheGrio TV’s monthly interview show where I do in-depth one-on-one interviews with amazing Black people to explore their genius. The episode premieres on Friday, Nov. 25 at 8 p.m.
Ms. Allen was actually the first episode of the show that we shot. I met her in Los Allen when she was on her way to the set of “Grey’s Anatomy.” It was an honor to talk to her because there were three different parts of her life I had to explore.
Nowadays, everyone knows Ms. Allen for her work as an actress, director and executive producer on “Grey’s Anatomy,” one of the biggest shows on TV today. For years, she has been one of the show’s central figures, playing Dr. Catherine Fox, a legendary urologist, as well as helping shape the show from behind the camera. One of Dr. Fox’s most heart-wrenching character arcs was when she had to battle cancer but did so with aplomb. I was curious if she had been part of the decision to have Dr. Fox deal with this disease, but she said she was not. Like any other actor, one day she was handed a script and discovered that the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, was sending her on this journey. She said you don’t question what Rhimes asks you to do.
But long before “Grey’s Anatomy,” Ms. Allen was a star. I grew up watching her on “Fame,” the hit show that was originally a movie where we saw the inside of a performing arts high school. Even then, Ms. Allen was portrayed as a leader — she was a dance teacher and the one who gave the unforgettable speech about how becoming a star means paying in sweat. That show helped her become an icon.
Years later, the people behind “The Cosby Show” launched a spinoff called “A Different World,” about life at a fictional HBCU. The first season was OK, but there was something missing. They called Ms. Allen in to revamp the show. She took over and made it something much more relatable and fascinating — it became more embracing of Black culture and more about tackling important issues. With that, it grew into a show that could last for years and be iconic. Allen told me that when she arrived at “A Different World,” she felt like there was no hot sauce on the table. There was no flavor. And there were too many white writers. She gave the show the energy that made us fall in love with it.
At her core, Ms. Allen is a dancer. Dance is her passion, so I asked her why she does it, what drives her to be a dancer, is the audience’s applause what she loves? She said not at all. No one who’s great does it for the applause. She seemed disdainful of that idea. You do it for yourself. Because that’s who you are in your heart. You do it to show yourself that you can be the person you dream of being. It was an extremely illuminating interview that will help anyone who’s interested in dance, acting, directing or being any sort of artist. Ms. Allen’s spirit and wisdom are inspiring. The whole point of “Masters of the Game” is to put people like her onstage so we can learn from their journey. This conversation is filled with ideas that will make you a better creator.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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