Glynn Turman has been an actor for 39 years, ever since he stepped onto the stage as Sidney Poitier's son in the original production of the Lorraine Hansberry classic, A Raisin In The Sun. He was 12 years old when he got that first role in New York, on a Broadway stage.
Turman's career has been vast and has included all genres. However, he isn't only an actor: he's also a producer, director, blues musician, cowboy with the Black cowboy circuit and owner of Backyard Ventures, Inc. (a production company). Turman has received a Dramalogue Award and three NAACP Image Awards.
One of the countless stage productions he's been in is Do Lord Remember Me. The play is celebrating its 15th Anniversary and recently had a successful run in New York. Turman was with the original cast, along with Ebony Jo-Ann and Lou Myers. This year, they're joined by Barbara Montgomery and Roscoe Orman and they all bring this show to life. Thursday night was the opening performance. While Turman has attended three of the four Festivals, this is his first time performing at the Festival.
The veteran thespian grabbed a bite to eat before Friday's 3 p.m. show. While enjoying a grilled chicken plate, Turman discusses his career, Do Lord..., and the festival.
His favorite role was Preach in Cooley High. His favorite play was "a one act play called Proud, written for me by the late, great, C. Bernard Jackson, the artisitic director for the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It was about an aspiring actor who was trying to maintain some dignity while going through this business." To prepare for roles, Turman explained, "My life experiences are my preparations for my different roles. You must draw from your own personal experience for your characters, so the broader-based your life experiences are, the deeper the well you have to draw from. In all of my roles, the first thing I try to find out, is what I have in common with these characters."
In Do Lord Remember Me Turman has to dip deep into several wells as he and the cast play multiple roles. How he does that, he explained, "are secrets of the trade."
While the audience at Thursday night's opening embraced this play, how did they compare with the New York audience, who saw it a couple a months ago?
Turman reflected, "The enthusiam with which this play was received opening night has not been matched anywhere we've played."
He offered this explanation. "I don't know if it's from being in the south, where it all took place--it's closer to home. The characters are more recognizable. People are ahead of us in this play. There's a scene where we're giving the old superstitions and a lot of the audience were saying them before we got through them.
"So, these were people that I think are still very fresh in the minds of people in the South. Grandmother and grandparents are not shipped to [old age] homes. They live at home, cared for by their offspring, so they know these stories and these people and they pass it on.
"In the North we've been too sophisticated to let those barriers down, to tackle that source immediately. It takes audiences a while longer to warm up and get reaquainted, whereas here they were with us right away.
After 15 years, how has the show improved? "Coming back to do it this time, having experienced 15 more years of life, we all bring more to the piece."
Besides his roles on stage, film and TV, Turman successfully runs Backyard Ventures, Inc., his production company. The company is presently co-producing two pieces with Phoenix Pictures that should air on NBC called "Code Of Honor" and "Lawman."
Under the umbrella of Backyard Ventures, Inc., Turman stated, "We have camp Giddy-up...That's a children's camp. We have a 40 acre ranch. I'm a professional cowboy, so my cowboy buddies and their wives come up and bring kids from the inner city (Los Angeles). The kids are 10-13 years old and they stay at the rance the last week of August. During the year we beg foundations for funds to bring these kids up. This year we have 70 kids coming. In fact, as soon as I leave here, I go back to get ready for that."
Recalling the opening day press conference and that evening's gala, Turman spoke of a spiritual and touching moment. Both times at the mike, he called for everyone to remember those who had passed away within the year. Turman, Debbie Allen and people throughout the crowd began to shout names. Then Turman asked co-star Ebony Jo-Ann to perform spirituals from their show and her singing brought the crowd to their feet.
Why did he do this? He admitted, "The spirit just hit me. And, I told Debbie to call me up...I had to go up right then and I didn't know what that was about. But, when I got up there--I knew."
The entire festival has been an experience to remember. Turman shared his view of it. "I listened to the drummers Thursday night, on the strip. And everyone was milling around, dancing upstairs and dancing on the street. Partying, networking and talking theater and shop. Having all these dance and theater troupes come in from all over the country. It was like the African shows on the Discovery Channel, when they display some of their festive occassions. Where the different tribes come together, bringing their music and dance. And, they just celebrate. It has that same feeling. All the different tribes coming together, talking with each other and sharing knowledge. Passing on informatin through the drum, the spoken word.
"That's what I got a very strong sense of last night -- that this was not something new, that this was a tradition that's been instilled in us for a long time. And we're continuing it, exactly in the same format."
- By Linda Armstrong