DIVA TALK: Chatting With Shida and Color Purple Star Jeannette Bayardelle

By Andrew Gans
09 Aug 2013

Bayardelle in Shida.
photo by Walter McBride

Question: Tell me a little bit about how playing a more intimate space like Ars Nova compares to playing in a Broadway theatre. What’s that transition been like?
Bayardelle: Well, you know, I would say this is definitely more pressure because in a Broadway theatre, of course, I was part of a cast. I’m part of a cast now of about seven or six characters now, but it's just me. There’s no break, and I have a responsibility to deliver the same quality every night and tell the story and give people the full experience of musical theatre with it just being me. And that was the thing in writing it—I wanted people to come and see the show, and I didn’t want you to feel like you were watching a one-woman show. Because some people are turned off by one-woman shows. A lot of people that come say, "You know what, when I came, I felt like I didn't want to see a one-woman show. I don’t want to see that!” But they were blown away because they had no idea it was a full-on musical, and honestly you really forget that it’s just me! [Laughs.] And there are moments in the show where you're like, “Oh my goodness, wait a minute – it’s just her on the stage!” But you really forget, and the people they say they want to meet the characters! They’ll say, “Where’s Jackie?” or “Where’s Miss Smalls?" It’s just so funny because I make stuff up like, "Jackie said she’s not talking to anyone because she has to preserve her voice for the second show." And, they laugh… A lot of us actors and singers, we have more to offer, but sometimes you don’t tap into it because you don’t realize it’s an option. And I feel like the bar has been raised. A lot of us are so talented, and we just limit ourselves to what we know, but we don’t search within ourselves to pull out those things inside of us that can just take people to the next level with entertainment, and give the audience something more from us other than imitation.

Question: What’s your goal with this show? Would you like to perform it elsewhere?
Bayardelle: We definitely want to go to Broadway, and we definitely want to tour. We get so many invites to tour around, even in Africa! [Laughs.] So we definitely are going to plan a tour. We’ve done it in Syracuse already; we’ve done it in Virginia. Of course, we’ve done workshops in New York. But this show is definitely going to have a life, a long life. It’s a story that people want to hear, and it’s a story people need to hear.

Question: You mentioned Africa. I heard you recently returned from a trip to Africa. Was that your first time or had you been before?
Bayardelle: Oh no, I’d been before. I’m in Africa maybe four or five times a year now.

Question: For work or pleasure or both?
Bayardelle: For both. I’m also an artist – a singer, so I did a tour. I toured with my CD.

Question: What kind of music?
Bayardelle: I sing inspirational music – music that empowers. I love Africa, Africa loves me. [Laughs.] I’ve done South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, lots of African countries. I’ve done India, Europe, The Netherlands, Jamaica, the Caribbean, all over. I’m literally traveling about 48 weeks out of the year. But I took off, of course, because Shida is my baby. We planned this. That's pretty much the only thing that can keep me here these days. But I'll tell you, stepping out doing your own thing is definitely a challenge because you have to have faith, and you have to believe in the product that you have. Sometimes it means saying no to other things. I know my agents probably get frustrated because I kind of just don’t go out to audition for anything. I’m focused on Shida, and I’m focused on my touring. I just want to do things that I’m drawn to and things that I feel are going to take my career to the next level or take my audience to the next level, and I think that’s what Shida does.

Question: Do you think Shida has a message? What does it say to you?
Bayardelle: Oh yes. For me it has so many different messages. [Laughs.] But for people, there’s definitely a message. The message is, number one, we can’t judge people. A lot of times people get in situations, and we judge them based on a decision that they made. But we don't realize that decision was made based on something that happened, and they responded based on their paradigm. And, what is their paradigm? Their paradigm is the way they see the world based on the experiences that they have had. We don’t look at that. We’re like, "Oh you’re doing drugs, you’re bad."…… We do a lot of judging. But this show really opens up your eyes and says, "Wait a minute, let me not judge this person. Let me see this person’s story and see why and how they ended up here and why they do the things they do." And I believe that message speaks to everyone – black, white, male, female, everybody. If you just talk to people who've seen the show, I’m telling you they get the same message.

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Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.