BWW Interview: Camille Metoyer Moten: A Triumph!
Omaha, Nebraska is teeming with talent. And once in awhile you come across a person who is more than a performer in the spotlight; she is a light. Camille Metoyer Moten is a singer, actress, author, and inspirational human being. Read what she has to say about performing and triumphing over cancer.
There is so much about you online. You have the most fascinating life story. I don't even know where to start. Maybe an update? What's been your most recent venture and what's coming next?
You know last year I did something at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Oh, "Bubbly With Barbara?"
Yeah, I did "Bubbly With Barbara" and people liked it a lot. That was for their fundraiser, so the tickets were expensive. I heard from a lot of people that were saying, "I really wanted to come, but I'm not paying that much for a ticket." So, I decided to do another one and called it, "Color Me Camille." I did that one in August, and it went really well. I was nervous about it because I thought, well, one night, maybe I can get 100 people there. But Katie Broman and the people at the Playhouse said, "We think you should do two nights. I think it'll be okay." So I did do two nights and almost sold out both nights! I know almost 900 people came.
I couldn't believe it! I was like really, seriously? This is crazy!
I was talking with the OCP staff recently and they said, "Hey, if you feel like doing another thing, let us know." So I thought, "Well, maybe I should try it again." This one's not a tribute to Barbra Streisand, although it will include quite a few of her songs. It's the hardest thing naming these things because it sounds like you're so full of yourself, right? I have a hard time naming things! My husband actually named this one and my accompanist named the last one. It's called my songbook because it's all the songs that people have really responded to. It's the genres that I am known for and feel comfortable with, like jazz, pop, a little Broadway stuff and of course Streisand. So that's what this one is in June. I'm even more nervous about this one. I think, "Did they come last year because it was Streisand music? Did they come because of me? Did they come because of both those things?" I don't know. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think you just need to take risks some times.
You also recently performed at the OCP gala again, right?
Leanne Hill Carlson and I, as well as J. Isiah Smith and Paul Tranisi. I don't remember if you remember Paul. Paul was here for years. He was a big Playhouse guy. He moved to Kansas City about 10 or 11 years ago and kind of got out of the public eye. But he's moved back. We've been friends since high school. When I did EVITA years ago, he was Che and I was Eva. Then he was Tevya in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the first time the Playhouse did it. He was Lancelot in CAMELOT, Sweeney in SWEENEY TODD, the father in SECRET GARDEN and more.
Anyway, when I did "Color Me Camille," he sang a duet with me. That kind of reminded Jim Boggess and people that he was back in town so they asked him to do the Gala.
Do you have a song that represents you?
I would say, other than the church songs..I'm a die-hard Christian...so those songs that represent my faith. But I would say that my signature song has become, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
I knew it! I would have put money on that.
I sang it at Salem Baptist Church...and it was very well received. It's not a traditional gospel song; I changed the words just a bit. I don't remember what the original words are, but I always say "heaven..." which pulls it into a more spiritual thing than Judy Garland's song in The Wizard of Oz. I feel the Spirit when I sing it. I always tell everyone that this is my 'God bless you and I love you."
I read that you were in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Orpheum.
There was a guy in town, His name was Gary Schweigart. He was just doing productions at the time. He would bring in famous people. The guy that he brought in to play Jesus was a guy that lived in Hollywood doing stuff. I don't remember his name, but at the time he was somebody. That was my very first time doing a show as an adult out of college. What happened was, after I graduated from Burke, I went to Xavier University in New Orleans, and then we moved back to Omaha to be family teachers at Boys Town. Paul Tranisi had done this production. This was the second time that they were going to do it at the Orpheum. He was Pontius Pilate the year before. He called me because he knew I was back in town and he told me, "You should audition for this. It would be a way to get your foot back in the door. There's a pit chorus, maybe you could get into the pit chorus." I thought that would be perfect. I went to the audition and sang. And then we had to dance. This was at the Upstairs Dinner Theater. They had a huge buffet server where they put the food out. I was doing some move and I backed up and my butt hit that thing, and it almost knocked the whole thing over. I always say that's why I got Mary Magdalene.
I got a good review in the paper and started doing commercial jingles. And I started getting involved in more theater stuff. That was in '82. And then I did stuff at Center Stage and started doing stuff at the Playhouse. Kate Schrader was the music director for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. I always give her credit for getting me started.
Do you remember any of your jingles?
I did one for Eppley Air Field and Spaghetti Works and some others. There's one that plays every morning. It's Getzshman's. I tell Michael if I could only get a dollar for every time it plays. Jingles were one of my favorite things to do. The music was there. You sing it. No pressure. ....
I see you have a record too. An arrest record in fourth grade!
My family was very active in civil rights. This was when we were protesting for open housing. If you ever want to be disgusted with America, you should read "The Color of Law."
You know, I went to one of the plays at the Union for Contemporary Art. They were running "Bourbon at the Border." That was about housing discrimination. I was completely unaware.
It ran deeper than that. It was just horrible. So anyway, Omaha was the same as everywhere else in the country. This was government, state issues ...Black people were banned from certain areas because they were too close to white people and several other ridiculous reasons. So my parents were very active in getting fair housing. In those days we would march. For some reason my parents didn't take my sister Lanette, and they didn't take my brothers, but they took me out of fourth grade class to go with them. They were always trying to teach us what's right, what's wrong, and how to stand up for yourself. We went there and marched at City Hall. They called police, so I went to jail with my dad.
I also read that you wanted to audition for GUYS AND DOLLS at Burke High School when you were a student there and they wouldn't allow you to because of your color.
I was one of three Black students in the whole school. This was before busing and any of that stuff. I had been at the school for 3 years and participated in every play and musical and sang in the elite choral group. I auditioned for the lead in GUYS AND DOLLS and the music director said he was not having a black girl kiss a white boy on his stages. I would never even have known except for my drama teacher. She came and told me with tears in her eyes so I wouldn't be discouraged. My mother was dying of cancer at the same time. It was a bad time. The funny thing about it is that the music teacher, who is still around by the way, after I graduated and went on, he would tell people, "Oh yeah, she was my student."
What's so ironic is that your picture is on the hall of honor there at Burke High School.
I know! hahaha! Isn't that crazy? Good things come out eventually.
Do you keep a journal?
No not really.
Well, you kinda do. I kept track of you on Facebook. So entertaining and so inspirational. Did you ever write that book?
I did! I had a book release. It was great! We had a hundred people come to the book release. It was awesome. I sent those books all over. I never did figure out how to get it online. There is a whole process where you can download it. But I have sent it to so many people. It was so amazing when I was going through that whole thing. So that was my journal. I call the book, "Nothing is Everything," because my whole point was that there is no one thing in your life that is the total sum of your life except for Jesus. It's called "Nothing is Everything: Fighting Cancer Through Faith, Family and Facebook." There was so much encouragement that came back to me through those posts on Facebook. I wrote the book. The book just really chronicles my life up to when I got cancer and I wanted to show the things that happened in my life to get me to my faith, to get me to where I was never afraid because of who I know as my Healer. Then the last part of the book is all the posts. It was an opportunity to show people to a) Know my faith, b) Understand what it is to go through cancer, and also to know the ups and downs of treatment-what happens. I have copies of my book at the Bookworm on 90th and West Center. I self-published. I have a friend who is an editor and he edited it. I had it printed at Standard Print by my friend who often plays percussion for me. They did a beautiful job and It came out really well. I give them away to people who are going through cancer. It was such a blessing. I know God doesn't give us illness, but we go through things for a reason. I felt like this was my ministry to write this.
I don't call myself a cancer survivor. I say, "I've triumphed."
One thing that you and I share is the deaths of our moms at an early age. Yours was 43 and mine was 45. Were you still in school then? Who stepped in to take her place?
My mom died the week I graduated from high school. I was heading to college in New Orleans at Xavier University. My mother's mother stepped in with a vengeance, it was really difficult for my dad...he was lost for a while. We were always a tight knit family, so my grandmother really stepped in to be the mother. But then, a few weeks later, I left to go to college. I branched out on my own at that point. Yeah, it was tough. Nobody was at my high school graduation. Graduation is nothing at that point. Nothing is Everything.
When people get cancer, a lot of times it becomes their identity. There are all those support groups and they invited me to join, but I don't want to join with people just because we had a disease. I don't want to do that. I am done with that. I have triumphed over that. I don't want to get together once a month so we can talk about--what? Cancer? No! I'm sure someone will think, "Who does she think she is?" for saying that but I will talk about my faith, my Healer, and that kind of thing but I'm not going to sit there and talk about how we all had cancer.
This is the stupid part! I don't know. I guess I just like to let people know where my faith lies. And so that does make it interesting as I progress through life and as theater changes I have to be so conscious of what I get involved in. I have to read every script before I agree to it. I'm a pastor's wife. I have a band but I don't sing in lounges. I have a standard. If they serve meals and there is a bar, I'll sing there, but I won't encourage people to come to a bar and drink to hear me sing.
I am nothing. I am only what God allows me to be. Standing backstage of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR back in 1982 for my very first debut, my heart was pounding. I could look out there and the place was full. There were 2,000 people out there and I started to pray. God said to me, "What is wrong with you?" This is what you want. This is your blessing. Please enjoy this. This has nothing to do with people's salvation. Put it into perspective." That has carried with me through so many things. This is so kind of God to allow me to express myself like this. I'm just very grateful.
Camille Metoyer Moten will appear in her own show at the Omaha Community Playhouse on June 8 and 9 at 7:30 pm and on June 10 at 2:00 pm. Tickets to "The Camille Metoyer Moten Songbook" are available at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by calling the box office at 402-553-0800. Don't miss this talented and inspirational woman.