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Sunday, January 7, 2007
CONVERSATIONS EXCLUSIVE! TYLER PERRY: Building success from pain
Playwright/actor/director Tyler Perry is a man of many faces whose talent has graced the stage and screen. Coming from humble beginnings and becoming a force to be reckoned with as an artist, he sets an example for so many who strive to follow in his path. In 2005 he stunned critics when his movie DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN, based on his like-titled hit play, grossed $50million and sold about 2.4 million in DVDs during its first week of release. In 2006, Perry brought his play MADEA GOES TO JAIL to Mississippi to rave reviews. Perry's first novel, Don't Make a Black Woman Take Her Earrings Off: Madea's Commentaries on Love and Life, hit bookstores last April 11, 2006. The book is written from Madea's point of view, and offers commentary about love, relationships, and family. In its first five days in stores, the book sold more than 25,000 copies to send it up The Book Standard's Nielsen BookScan charts. The hardcover hit Number One on the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed on the list for twelve weeks. It was voted the Book of the Year and Best Humor Book at the 2006 Quill Awards.
The New Orleans native suffered abuse as a child and rejection as an adult, but he drew from his past and is using it to entertain the masses. Perry shares his story in this CONVERSATIONS exclusive.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE FROM YOU IN THE BEGINNING.
Lady luck wasn't to me in the beginning. As a poor kid growing up in New Orleans, my childhood was quite depressing due to poverty and physical abuse. I was the middle of four children. I was unhappy and miserable during the first 28 years of my life. The things that I went through as a kid were horrendous. And I carried that into my adult life. I didn't have a catharsis for my childhood pain, most of us don't, and until I learned how to forgive those people and let it go, I was unhappy.
WHAT WAS YOUR THERAPY, IF ANYTHING DURING THIS TIME?
It was writing in my journal. This actually began my career as a playwright. I tell people I was watching the Oprah show one day and she said that it's cathartic to write things down, so I started writing down the stuff that was happening to me. I started using different characters' names, because if someone had found my journal, I didn't want them to know I had been through that kind of stuff. That's how my first play [I Know I've Been Changed] started, which features a character who confronts an abuser, forgives him and moves on.
DID YOU FIND IT WAS EASY TO BE FORGIVING?
It's nothing like real forgiveness, a deep-down forgiveness where you don't hold any grudges against people. I forgave [everybody] for the things they didn't know and for the things they didn't know to do."
HOW DID YOU GO FROM PLAYRIGHT TO ACTUAL PRODUCING YOUR OWN PRODUCTION?
In 1992 I saved $12,000, rented out a theater, wrote, directed, promoted and starred in my own production of I Know I've Been Change--and it failed miserably. I think during its entire weekend run, only 30 people showed up. When the show was over I was broke, broken and homeless. For about six years after that, I held a string of odd jobs in order to finance the show, and lived on the streets when I couldn't afford to pay the rent. There wasn’t a lot of support during this time. Almost everyone, even my own mother, begged me to quit the theater and find a steady job. But I refused to give up.
AND YOUR NEXT PRODUCTION?
In the summer of 1998 I financed the production once again. And this time, I said it would be the last time, if the production failed. That production was I Know I've Been Changed, and it opened at the House of Blues in Atlanta and sold out eight times over. Two weeks later, it moved to Fox Theater and sold out 9,000 more seats. After the show, every person who had told me no, every promoter who had turned me down, came to me with an offer.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL WHEN YOU ARE PUTTING TOGETHER A PRODUCTION?
With my shows, I try to build a bridge that marries what's deemed legitimate theater and so-called 'chitlin' circuit theater,' and I think I've done pretty well with that, in bringing people in to enjoy a more elevated level of theater. At one point, the criticism made me feel ashamed of my productions. Then I got some advice from playwright August Wilson. He said, “Do what you do. Don't worry about these people, do what you do because I don't think it's bad at all."
HAS IT BEEN HARD TO COMBINE YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL GOALS?
I plan on writing a new chapter in my journal of life. You know, Tyler Perry, the family man. That's my next major goal, to find a wife who's balanced and have four or five kids. I’ve already been furnishing the nursery. As I’ve said before, I've put my private life on hold for too long because I wanted success. I wanted something to offer to my woman and my children. Now that I'm at that point where I feel like I have a little bit to offer, I'm ready to be a good husband and a good father, I know I can do it.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ARE ASPIRING TO FOLLOW YOUR LEAD OR BLAZE THEIR OWN TRAIL?
For me if you have a natural talent to do things, and then nurture it, educate it into making it better. Do everything you can. Whatever your gift is and it's given to you no matter what's going on in the world, no matter how many singers, no matter how many writers, your gift will make room for you in that situation. So, I always believe that. If it's your gift nurture it and make it the best that it can be.
Find out more about Tyler Perry and his future projects by visiting www.tylerperry.com