With COVID still beating down on the world, creatives have come up with a new platform called CLUBHOUSE. This new social hangout spot has captured the attention of influencers and celebrities alike they have a room for everyone! From learning how to start a business to keeping your relationship alive; however, what has become really big is Clubhouse productions such Dreamgirls. I had a chance to sit down with Sydney Conners, Executive Producer and Brandon Patterson, Executive Producer and writer.
How did this production come about?
Sydney C: I joined clubhouse in early December when I first joined I knew it was a innovative platform. I began to hear about table reads being done by some of the acting clubs and thought how amazing it would be to do my own show on Clubhouse. Usually this time of the year I am writing and directing a black history play my old High School Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio. I discussed with Brandon about us producting our own show on Clubhouse during one of our many late night conversations. During one of those conversations I threw out the idea of producing Dreamgirls on Clubhouse at first his response was no lol, but I kept explaining to him the importance of the magnitude of what Dreamgirls would bring to Clubhouse. Brandon finally agreed so here we are 2 shows and 4 casts later.
Brandon P: In December of 2020 Sydney had continuously asked me to join Clubhouse and thought it would be interesting to do some sort of talk show or podcast on the app. After getting on the app and meeting other likeminded creatives – we decided it would be best to do something that had never been done before – 4 different casts to perform the iconic Dreamgirls show. Black history month is important to Sydney and I and has been ever since we were young and we both used to be Drama leaders of our high school’s Black History Month show which included singing, dancing and acting so it only made sense to do something similar at the global level. We never planned to go viral, but we did plan this production very thoroughly. We were always 10 steps ahead which is why when thousands of people became tapped in, we were able to deliver on our promises.
What benefits did clubhouse bring when it came to casting? And execution of production?
Sydney C: The benefit of breaking down the barriers. Like I said before we have 4 casts filled with amazingly talented people that clubhouse allowed us access too. Previous broadway performers that actually played these characters. Also the Black woman that sings every day in her shower that has never touched a stage as large as broadway in her life. It is breaking down the “Gatekeeper” barrier we have all seen before. Some of our Icons such as the original Deena Sheryl Lee Ralph, Composer of Dreamgirls Henry Kreger, Amber Riley, Shirly Murdock. Clubhouse created the access to people When it comes to execution there is more limitation than anything. The app is in beta form and it doesn’t make it easy to sing on but we are working diligently to get the best sound supported without the help of clubhouse because they are not assisting us in any way during the process of this.
Brandon P: One of the main benefits of using Clubhouse for this project is because we are now able to unite people from all over the world to lend their talents to something great. Not only is our cast spaced out across America but we are all over the world! This pandemic has made it hard for people to feel connected and for creatives to be able to make art but it feels as if we found a cheat code! We now have a way for people to be able to come together and work together when in another time and a different platform – it would have never been possible. Many people in our cast are friends or follow each other but have never been able to actually work together and it is nice to give them that opportunity. Also, the entertainment industry is very big on appearance – it’s one of the themes of the show Dreamgirls as well. Therefore, so many doors are closed to you if you don’t look “the part” but with Clubhouse we can’t see how you look. All we can do is tell based off of the talent of your voice. It’s amazing because in the show we have a line from MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and how he has we should be judged not by the color of our skin but the content of our character – Clubhouse has helped us to do something similar because instead of being judged immediately based off if you meet some distorted idea of beauty standards; we are able to judge you off of your instrument.
The executives behind the production, were you friends previously? Or is this all from meeting on clubhouse
Sydney C: Yes, We have been best friends for over 25 years. We became friends in kindergarten. However; we met the rest of the cast and crew via clubhouse.
Brandon P: Yes, we’ve known each other since we were basically born. We grew up on the same street in Cleveland, Ohio. Our parents also grew up together. We used to make up plays and shows in my grandmother’s basement or play story time with our friend on the streets and create superhero storylines.
Why is this Dreamgirls Production important for the culture in 2021?
Sydney C: There is still a group of people that has not had the opportunity to experience Dreamgirls from the amazing music to the dope storyline.
Brandon P: With the major shift in our country’s leadership – it is abundantly clear that Black Women deserve the spotlight and Dreamgirls provides that for us. Black History Month can easily become about Dr. King, Malcolm X, Huey P Newton, Du Bois, Barack Obama and so many other iconic men. But women are rarely the focus on progression in the Black community and Dreamgirls is a cornerstone of that. Dreamgirls was the first major Broadway production to feature Black women as the leads. Even today – Halle Berry is still the only Black woman to have won an Oscar for Best Actress. Representation for Black women in this industry is awful and this production will help change that. That is a big reason why we have 4 casts. Why limit the opportunities for Black people? Originally, we were only going to have 1 cast but then we multiplied that by 4. Imagine if every production multiplied the amount of Black roles, they had by 4 – the world would be very different. Dreamgirls is a story that encourages Black people to DREAM! We need that right now. We need Black people to understand that their dreams are valid and that they can come true. We need the audience to see themselves in this show and we hope that people are inspired to go after their dreams and to chase their dreams until they come true – just as we are doing!
How was the cast chosen?
Sydney C: Leroy Church is our casting director. We had an open call for everyone to come and audition the process ended up going viral #2 on twitter and over 2 thousand people auditioned per day.
Brandon P: The audition process lasted 3 consecutive days. The casting process was lead by Leroy Church but each judge had a vote. Sydney, Leroy, Amber Riley, Branford from They’ve Got The Range and myself all gave notes and voted on who was casted. We had a live note session taking place during the auditions and decisions were made on the spot. Everything happened in real time and notes were given for each person who auditioned.
Have any of the original cast members from the stage play and feature film given any help or advice?
Sydney C: The living legend Sherly Lee Ralph, High School Musical Amber Riley, and Henry Kreger the original music composer have all participated in the molding of this vision.
Brandon P: Their advice has been inspiring, encouraging and just an overall gift! They have really helped us bring our vision to life and to be able to stay grounded in the work we are doing. Whenever we have questions, they are always there to support us and we could not be more grateful for their love and support.
Is there any star power attached to the project?
Sydney C: Yes, there is a lot of “Star Power” attached. All 4 shows have a star-studded cast with insanely talented people. Some we have seen on television before, won competitions, and currently on Broadway. We are so thankful to have our Dream cast.
Brandon P: Our fourth Effie is actually an amazing and talented celebrity. We are keeping them a secret until the month of the show but once it is revealed people’s jaws will drop. History in the making!
Why is the Clubhouse platform important for The Dreamgirls Production?
Sydney C: I feel like Dreamgirls is important for the clubhouse platform in the way that Mickey Mouse was important for Disney. As a platform that was originally a white space, I think that Dreamgirls is the perfect reminder of the way black people step into spaces that was not originally meant for them per say however with innovation and creativity it what fuels the culture and moving forward we want to keep that momentum.
How does the future of Broadway look in your eyes? Do you think virtual plays is the wave of the future?
Sydney C: As long as people are unsure of the virus I think it will be one of their only options. They could remain closed, but as you see us creatives will always make a way for expression.
Brandon P: We are definitely starting a new wave of “Virtual Broadway.” The entire world is having to reshape what we think the “New Normal” is. When we think of Broadway we think of a stuffy theatre full of affluent people who have the privilege of being able to attend. People are ready to level out the playing field and allow more access to these creatives that normally would not have had the opportunity to even experience audtion. Virtual shows will definitely become a staple to rival the rich history of Broadway some might even think more popular. I already have a ton of ideas on ways to make it even more epic than the historic production we are currently putting together.
During the process of creating this show – what is the message you want to convey to your audience as an executive, who’s changing with the times? Any encouraging advice?
Sydney C: I want POC creatives to know that you can do whatever you put your mind too. I want the audience to know that Black Women are leading the new black renaissance with their magic. That Black people are not limited in any way and that Black joy and Black unity equals Black power.
Brandon P: People should take away that even in times of darkness as long as you have light within you – the darkness will not last for long. Historically, Black people have been given nothing but have turned it into everything. It is in our blood to turn nothing into something. We must know our power and use it and demand what we expect. That is a big reason why Sydney and I love Dreamgirls! It is a show about Black people who keep getting things taken from them and they finally decide that enough is enough and they are going to take matters into their own hands. That’s what we want people to take away from this. Don’t want someone to give you an opportunity or permission to be great – just do it!
Where can your fans find you? Any social media platforms? Websites?
Sydney C: You can find us @DreamgirlsCH on all platforms! We also have an apple playlist. The theme follows a different Dreamgirls character each week.
All images courtesy of Dreamgirls of CLUBHOUSE