BWW Interview: J. Daughtry as Harpo in THE COLOR PURPLE on Tour
THE COLOR PURPLE is the story of a young girl named Celie who must overcome so many trials and troubles of growing up an African American girl in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th Century. She must navigate all of her personal problems while protecting the women around her. One important character in the story was Harpo, who stands beside the women and wants to not allow the past traditions impede his desire to protect all women. J. Daughtry currently plays the part of Harpo on the North American Tour of THE COLOR PURPLE. BWW caught up with Daughtry as the show prepares to open in San Antonio.
Your story is a little bit different from others in how you came to this career. Tell us a little bit more.
I was a banker for a long time in Washington, DC. When the banks crashed, is when I had to find something to do with my life. In high school, I went to an arts school - High School for the Arts in Lakeland, Florida. I was always a singer/actor. I don't know what part of me wanted to go and do something that I thought was a grown up thing to do which was to get my degree in Marketing and then go into banking after that. But, when the banks crashed, it was like divine intervention and I had to go back to what my instincts told me to do and that was musical theater. So, I taught school for a year after the banks crashed then I realized I wasn't a teacher because I was not fond of kids. So, while I was teaching, my principal knew I was a singer and asked me if I could take over for one of the chorus teachers that had passed away. I did that for a year and once she saw me working with music, she came to me one day and [said], "This is not what you're supposed to be doing." She was like, "You need to do what your heart is telling you to do." She allowed me to call out three days a week from school - this is a private Christian school - and every other day I would get on a bus; which was all I could afford; and go to New York and audition. In doing so, I was able to get to know the casting directors and they began to put me in the room to be able to start working. So, that's how I ended up in musical theater.
What do you like most about doing musical theater?
Being able to do something that I actually like to do. It's not work. When I was in banking, it was work. I had to make myself get up in the morning to go to work and find creativity in something that's not necessarily creative. Whereas, in musical theater, it's all creative. It's flowing. It's something that I don't get tired of doing. Being able to do the work and have fun and create and work with people who are like-minded and be a part of a community that is like you, it's something that I've grown to actually love.
In THE COLOR PURPLE, you play Harpo. What can you tell us about your character without giving too much away?
If we want to make him relative to the current times, [Harpo] is the new generation of men, the new ideology of a man who supports a woman in her strengths who is not emasculated because of the strength of a woman. He's also a man that has been taught certain things - he's watching his father and grandfather and how they talk about women and how they mistreat women. He is passed down this information but Harpo decides not to partake in it. He actually chose to beat his wife at one point and that was the biggest mistake he could make and that he actually loved and cherished women. Now we have the "Time's Up" Movement and the "I'm Here" Movement. Harpo is that man that says, "I'm standing right with women who are standing against oppression and mistreatment. There are men that are standing with them that are saying, "I'm going to support you in all of this. I think that's who Harpo is. That's what Harpo represents in our story.
What are some of the similarities you have with your character Harpo?
All of them actually. That's why I'm able to play the role with such honesty is because I see myself as Harpo as the man who has been passed down so many wrong ideas and so many wrong ideologies to pass on to generations and I'm the man who says, "Time's Up." We all are supporting the women and we decide not to continue the generational ideologies. So, I relate to Harpo in every way actually.
How are the audiences receiving THE COLOR PURPLE as you tour around the country?
It depends on where we are. The cast was just talking about this the other day. Here in Dallas, the crowd is more responsive. They let us know how they feel about the show during the show. Some places, they are more conservative and it depends on where we are and they are more quiet and not as vocal during the show. They wait until the end of the show and you can tell that the impact is the same. A powerful part of the story is that there are so many messages in this story and there are so many points of connection in the story that everybody can relate to it in whatever message they need to receive or healing they receive during the show. Just the responses of the people are different from place to place. We will be heading to Florida which is my home state and I'm a little nervous but, I'm sure we'll have a good time.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking about going into musical theater?
What I would say is to just do it. And when I say do it, I mean throw your entire self into it and it will respond to you. That's usually how life works. If you throw your entire life into it and focus all your energy on that thing, it will open itself to you. That would be my advice to anyone thinking about getting into theater. For me, I had to not be afraid of the shock that came with a life transition. Going from something that was so steady; and sometimes I still deal with this because you're never sure if this job is your last job. Just being able to be open-minded enough to trust that all these things are working together for your good [and] allowing the system of the work to help you. So, just do it. Throw your whole self into it and give yourself the chance and accept the opportunity to succeed.
THE COLOR PURPLE plays from February 6-11, 2018 at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. Go to www.majesticempire.com for tickets and details of show times. Don't miss out. Stay in touch with J. Daughtry. instagram :@mrj.Daughtry Facebook : Jamarice Daughtry and Twitter: jamariceinstagram
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Murphy