Adrienne Dawes & Heckle Her
Moving comediennes of color from backstage to center stage
I first heard of Adrienne and Heckle Her last year while listening to The Read, one of my favorite podcasts. When Kid Fury and Crissle mentioned Adrienne during their black excellence segment, and the fact she lived in Austin, I immediately hit the interwebs to learn more.
What I found is a woman who has truly put her foot down as a playwright and producer due to her goal of changing the face of comedians/comediennes on stage. She recognized a lack of diversity in Austin’s many stage shows and decided to be the change she wanted to see.
The reasoning behind Heckle Her reminded me of the vast search to find Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata for Saturday Night Live, as the 41-year-old show came under fire a few years back for not having any black women in its repertory. It may also remind some of the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2016. Those two events were huge for the culture, and ultimately changed the discussion around black actors and actresses. Heckle Her is no doubt just as important.
It was exciting to learn more about Adrienne who is working hard to put together brilliant casts of people who look like us on stage.
First & Last Name
Why did you decide to start Heckle Her?
I started my production company Heckle Her when I was living in Chicago. I was a financial aid counselor at a private graduate school by day and a student at Second City Chicago’s Training Center by night. I needed a company name to submit student show proposals so I went with a name I’d had on the back burner for a while. The first show I produced was a musical I wrote called Never Have I Ever which was inspired by playing the drinking game with a bunch of my liberal arts college friends.
What does Heckle Her mean to you?
Heckle Her began as a vehicle for me to produce my own writing (as a comedic playwright), but I think I’ve been most successful when I worked on projects that featured other writers and comedians. Heckle Her has given me so many opportunities to hire the comediennes I fangirl so hard for while also amplifying the voices of new comedic talents that are just coming up in the community. I focus on projects that specifically feature women and people of color as lead performers and collaborators.
What have you had to overcome in order to achieve success?
The challenges I’ve faced making work in Austin are pretty normal for many creatives just starting out. For one, it’s difficult to raise money, secure a venue (especially now that Austin has lost so many arts spaces), and to connect with an audience. Up until this year, I paid for every Heckle Her project out of pocket and I was lucky if I broke even. I have never been able to pay myself until now. I understand that this is NOT good business practice to essentially lose money on everything you ever make, but the work itself has always been more important to me than the money.
As for connecting with an audience, I think it takes time to develop those relationships and truly distinguish yourself but good word of mouth has been a huge help. If someone works on a Heckle Her show and has a good experience, they will often tell other people about it and bring friends to other shows. That really helps you build this network of people really excited by your work and eager to jump in and support.
What does it mean to be a black business owner?
I know that for a lot of people, when you see someone like you in a dream job or role you’d like to have, it all seems possible. I think for a lot of women, specifically women of color, it can sometimes feel like there’s no space for us in the comedy and theater communities in Austin. There are very few women or people of color that teach, direct or produce and those are the positions with the greatest power to hire and cast other women and people of color. So it means a lot for my work to be seen and heard right now because I know how hard it is to do all the hustle and still feel invisible in this community. I know what it’s like to have someone ask out loud, “Why is she in the room?” as if the theater was a place I wasn’t supposed to be.
I really hope my work makes it easier for someone else coming up so they have a specific successful example to point to as they think “She did it. She sold out every show.”
Playwright and theater artist Adrienne Dawes of Heckle Her is on a mission to create productions reflective of the…www.essence.com
What advice do you have for people who are ready to follow their dreams but are hesitating?
You really just have to go for it. Give yourself permission, right now. Today. Don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s OK or to approve or validate you. You do this work because it gives you joy and it means everything to you.
Do the work because you’re still figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Do the work because it connects you to so many different people and you are shy and kind of a loner without it.
Do the work because it will give you courage and confidence.
Do the work because it will teach you about who you are and what you care most about.
Do the work because making the work is the most fun thing. Just do the work, even you have to start small at first to work around a day job or other commitments.
Do the work and keep doing the work.
Eventually you forget that you’re “not good enough” or “don’t know what you’re doing.”
I just moved to Tulsa, OK in January for a two-year writing fellowship so Heckle Her is on “hiatus” until 2019. I will definitely be back to Austin to work on a new performance piece called Casta that premieres in 2018 with Salvage Vanguard Theater.
Want to contact Adrienne for more information?
Do you know a Black Creator or Tastemaker? Of course you do! Let me know in the comments so I can feature him or her this year!
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