I am kind of terrified by the telephone.Â And terror is dramatic. Don’t get me started on the thrill and risk of listening to episodes of Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane while shuffling on the freeway. Beyond the endless distraction, my iPhone is the gateway for drama and the link to my destiny. When that phone rings, everything changes. Could it be a reminder of colossal debt? A casting director hungry to schedule a network test? The answer is always a variation of yes and”¦ And that’s what keeps me in this industry.
By the time I was five years old, Bette Midler, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg taught me that trouble was hilarious, personal, and to be sought out and paraded in public. Those legends inspire my original cabaret, The Morning After Show. They dare me not to overlook struggle but to use it to reach for the brass ring. The brass ring is really well lit in Hollywood.
I’m learning that while I yearn to book commercials and roles on TV and film, the more I serve the story I write, the story I live, the story that has me in a neck brace and couture in the same week, the more effortlessly genuine joy pours out of my aging anxious heart.
Sunshine is the best medicine for a cynic. Thank you L.A. I love a healthy dose of sunshine, optimism, and guts. So I’ve made a habit of producing The Morning After Show. It began in my journal as a light-hearted way to recover from tawdry escapades I was too looped to remember. The first song was an epic disco ballad titled “Legend of the High-Fiver,” and the latest addition to the show is a political ragtime ditty called “The Swelling’s Gone Down.” The former highlights a most unpleasant afterglow; the latter celebrates the realization that troubles aren’t fabulous. But of course troubles are fabulous, they make great theater, friendships, passion, and eventual triumphs.,
In 2010 my phone rang and Martha Wilson, head of Franklin Furnace, called to tell me to relax, because I was obligated to produce The Morning After Show in NY.Â In 2011, I rang a bunch of phones to encourage folks to donate to my campaign through United States Artists. The plan was to raise a cool 5K and top off the wonderful grant I won from Franklin Furnace. Well, we did it, and in the face of Hurricane Irene, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, fashion week, black mold, and every technical difficulty imaginable, I headlined a six-night engagement at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Trust me, you haven’t lived til you’ve sung sans amplification over a four-piece band and two Black-up Singers (on mics) for a mighty audience of one.
Last winter, the brilliant Marcus Kuiland-Nazario says to me you should pitch your show to Bootleg. He called. He never calls. Then his dear friend, the ineffable lighting designer Kirk Wilson, rings my line. Fear and hesitation gripped me, but I pitched it anyway, and long story over, The Morning After Show opens Thursday.
My phone has replaced meals, workouts, and rest. Director Clayton Farris, musical director Sam Lustig, and I are telling a story of shaking off the ghosts of tradition and taking personal demons for a night on the town before kissing them goodbye forever. I hope the audience leaves exhilarated and enchanted by my point of view. If nothing else, I hope the show looks so uncomplicated that a guy or gal can mount a cabaret of his or her own. I am compelled by the simplicity of this art form. Just add a stage to a story and a spectator to the mix.
Before this year started, I watched a few hours of Oprah’s Lifeclass. Oprah taught me quite a few absurdly reasonable things. The most remarkable of them all, she borrowed from Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg — “What would you do if you were not afraid?” And that was it. I put on my invincible panties and set out to make The Morning After Show my job.
Maybe, in the past, I was in my own way.Â Whatever was the hold-up? I had plenty of exposure to greatness. Bartending in the Lounge at REDCAT is a fabulous way to build a career, witness incredible feats of artistry and make friends. Enjoy a simple visceral exchange, no phones. These friends are pushy and demanding. These friends ask me how my art is. “How is your show?”Â Typically I deflect, “How is your show” with “Oh, it is”¦coming up.”
This time it really is, friends.
The Morning After Show, a co-production of Circa83 Productions and the Bootleg Theater. Opens March 22. Plays Thurs.-Sat. 8 pm. Through March 24. Tickets: $15 online, $20 at the door. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd, LA. www.bootlegtheater.org.
***All The Morning After Show production photos by James Daniel
Ayana Hampton: Smith College/ CalArts Alumnae is an artist who serenades a gynecologist about the habit of date-raping oneself and the accountability of American Apparel and Xanax. Ms. Hampton performs at The Echoplex, The Comedy Store, Comedy Union and more. “The Morning After Show” was developed at REDCAT, is supported by Franklin Furnace Fund and United States Artists, and delivered a NY Premiere at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. www.missayanahampton.com