March 8 is International Women’s Day and Michigan Humanities wanted to bring you a very special interview with a very special guest: Leslie McCurdy. Leslie is an actor, solo performer, dancer and mentor, among many other talents! She has been the recipient of the Mayor’s Awards for “Artist of the Year” and “Outstanding Performing Artist” of Windsor, Ontario. Leslie joined the Michigan Humanities’ family as part of our Arts and Humanities Touring Directory and through this program she has toured our state of Michigan with the solo performance: The Spirit of Harriet Tubman. Telling the story of this prominent Black woman, an unmatched activist and abolitionist, has been a lasting inspiration for Leslie. Through bringing Harriet Tubman’s story back to life in her performance, Leslie finds ways to re-tell history in a way that matters and that endures the passing of time. Throughout this month, Michigan Humanities invites everyone in our Humanities family to remember and bring back to life, even if in small ways, all these inspirational women that have changed the course of history. To become inspired please continue to read our interview with Leslie below.
Tell us about your experience being a female solo performer. What are the advantages and challenges of this work?
Tell you about my experience being a female solo performer. Nobody has really asked that question in that way before (laughs). First, I consider the work that I do to be an honor and a privilege. I have traveled across most of the continent to share the story of my personal hero. I have met wonderful people along the way and have been awed by some fascinating sites I have seen. Sometimes it can be a little scary though, when I’m traveling by myself, especially when I’m driving…in the February (Black History Month) snow… and being that I am my own “roady,” it can be a lot of work. I didn’t really ask for this line of work. I would rather have been part of a modern dance company. That was my dream. Solo performing can be a lot of responsibility. I have a couple of experiences where I floundered on stage searching for a line and there was no one to help me. Those were difficult moments but I persevered. One of the biggest challenges can be just getting opportunities to perform, but I am hopeful for a repeat of the “Roaring Twenties” that followed the last pandemic, where arts and cultured thrived, to help with that.
Why is it important to continue to tell the story of Harriet Tubman? How do you notice your audiences engage or react to this story being performed rather than read or told verbally?
I grew up a voracious reader. As a young Black girl who had seen few images like myself, when I first read about Harriet Tubman she was an inspiration. I like to think that the universal themes in her story inspire people today. I say it in her own words at the end of my play. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion, to reach for the stars, to change the world”. Also, I am proud of the work that has been done throughout history, and that is still being done today, in the quest for true equity and inclusion for all people. I like to count myself as doing the latter. Unless we know our history we are doomed to in some way repeat it so I feel it is part of my purpose to share that knowledge.
People tell me that Harriet Tubman is so much more real to them after seeing my performance; that I bring what they have heard or learned alive. I have been doing the show for so long that I am meeting teachers who saw me when they were in school. They tell me that they remembered my performance, Harriet Tubman because of it, and wanted to make sure that their students had the same experience. I have people come to see the show every chance they get because they feel they learn something new each time. Most humbling is the number of people who tell me that I have become as much an inspiration to them as Harriet Tubman because of my performance and my story that I share in post show Q&A sessions.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
That’s easy, all of the wonderful and kind people that I have the good fortune to meet!
What projects are you looking forward to in 2022 and ahead?
I am very excited going forward because I have a wonderful new agent, the fabulous Owen Kirschner, of Kirschner Creative Artists! He arranged for the performance that I’ll be doing at the Cheboygan Opera House this March 26, 3:00 PM and has several other intriguing possibilities that he is working on. I’m not too sure about 2022, but 2023 and beyond look potentially quite interesting.
I also have a play about Billie Holiday, called “Lady Ain’t Singin’ No Blues”, that is more about her work as a pioneering artist that I want to get back up on its feet. I did it last about five years ago but I’d like to perform it again.
Thank you for reading! You can learn more about Leslie’s work and future touring dates here.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Michigan Humanities.