Madea is coming to Denver!
Tyler Perry’s beloved character, created nearly 20 years ago, will grace the stage of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex on Oct. 20 and 21 in a new musical stage play, “Tyler Perry’s Madea on the Run.”
Tyler Perry, a writer, storyteller, producer, director, actor, philanthropist, mogul – we ran out of nouns to describe him – has evolved into a significant force in the media. After successful television shows on TBS, “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne,” he spends his days with the series that revolve seasons on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), “The Haves and the Have Nots,” “Love thy Neighbor,” “If Loving You is Wrong” and “For Better or Worse.” The series has caught on with audiences, since debuting in 2011. He works hard and seems to move easily from projects on the stage to television to the movies, but has been somewhat private about his life. But Perry, a close friend of Winfrey, opened up in a 2010 article for Winfrey’s O Magazine and gave us a glimpse into the world of the man –Tyler Perry. It is that interview that we primarily reference for this interview.
The interview revealed that Perry had struggled with a tough life in his native New Orleans, a life riddled with abuse and confusion, and what appeared to be little love. He eventually moved to Atlanta in 1992 where for nearly seven years he worked every kind of job imaginable, all while writing and putting on his plays to small audiences but always with the expectation of packing the house.
Perry’s story is one of resilience. Like many artists, his art is borne of personal pain and a particular view of their world. At times he was homeless and living out of his car.
We are grateful he made time to share some thoughts about his story with the Denver Urban Spectrum.
DUS: When you were living in your car, what is the vision that inspired you to keep going?
Perry: My faith has always been the thing that keeps me going. I thank God every day that my mother took me to church when I was a little boy to help build a foundation that sustains me today.
Perry was finally able to produce his play, “I Know I Have Been Changed,” to a packed house in 1998. Madea is just one of the characters he brought to life on stage and then to the screen. In the O Magazine interview he related that as a young man he was inspired to write by watching the Oprah Winfrey Show, but he gave characters voice in his writing to mask some of his pain. A friend saw some of his writing and thought he had something worthwhile to share. Madea is a compilation of the sympathetic softer side of his mother and the gun-toting aunt who rescued and protected him from an abusive father. Madea has been his most enduring character.
DUS: Madea has been the most successful franchise both on the stage and on the screen. What do you want audiences to learn from her? Why do you think she continues to resonate with audiences?
Perry: Madea has the same kind of no nonsense approach that is needed in this day and age. She is not politically correct and she says what we’re all thinking so that’s the connection.
With the significant presence on television and in the movies, Perry has gone back to his roots with the road tour of the stage play “Tyler Perry’s Madea on the Run.” After nearly 20 years, Perry still believes audiences will glean something good from the character and the story. Winfrey noted in the O Magazine interview that attending a Tyler Perry play was like going to church.
DUS: With your substantial presence on television, why are your plays still relevant and important?
Perry: The plays are still relevant because it’s such a unique and different experience. It’s a concert, its church, it’s a comedy show, and a good time all wrapped into one.
A good dramatist captures the attention of the audience and draws them in. We should feel a connection to the characters and like them often feel empathy for them. Perry does this on the stage and in his teleplays and screenplays, and like any good artist he raises the level of conversation and starts discussions about issues that we sometimes need to confront, both individually and collectively. “The Haves and the Have Nots,” the steamy drama reminiscent of the legendary “Dallas” and “Dynasty” television shows, tackles not only the expected deceit and infidelity but also homosexuality.
DUS: How much of you is educator, entertainer and peacemaker?
Perry: I think they are all equally important. I wouldn’t want to do this if I couldn’t leave a strong positive message in people’s hearts and leave them thinking in their minds.
Perry’s characters are often flawed, as we all may be, but they have the commonality of being capable of good. In the O Magazine interview, Perry revealed that just prior to having his first successful runs of his play, he had an epiphany involving his father. After years of cowering to his father he stood up to him in a telephone conversation. His father told him he loved him, something that Perry had not heard before. At that moment, despite years of traumatic pain, he was grateful for his father who had made him what he was.
DUS: What is the price for getting what you want? What values ring true for your characters?
Perry: I think we all need to weigh the price for whatever we want. What I try to do in my work is be a beacon to show how to get it the right way.
For Perry, finding the right way is often reflective of how he was shown by his interactions with his mother, whom he spent the most time with away from his father. This is evident in the God-fearing Black women who dot his plays and screenplays. Madea is a strong personality as is Hanna the mother and hardworking domestic worker on “The Haves and the Have Nots,” and they all want the best for their families, often through struggle or sacrifice.
DUS: Your television programs seem to feature and even be dominated by strong Black female characters. Why do you think this is what audiences want to see?
Perry: I never thought about it in the since of what the audience wants to see, rather me being a story teller and most of my influences growing up were strong Black women. And people like to see themselves and their own faces on TV.
Perry puts a lot of himself into his dramas. In the O Magazine interview we learned that he did not graduate from high school or college, and is essentially self-taught. Nevertheless he draws audiences around the country to his plays, programs and movies. He is a media mogul, and in June took steps to expand his brand and Tyler Perry Studios (TPS) in Atlanta with the purchase of 330 acres of land at the former Ft. McPherson Army base. The base was closed in 2011, leaving a deficit of some 7,000 civilian and military jobs.
It is estimated that 5,000 jobs will come to the south Atlanta area when TPS is operational. Ten to 20 movies and television programs will be produced there. TPS will occupy most of the land on the nearly 500-acre former army base, with the rest of the development of some 145 acres being managed by the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA). Other development will be businesses that will support the studio and other mixed uses.
DUS: What is your responsibility as a mogul?
Perry: My new studio has my fullest attention right now as far as business goes. Turning 330-acre former army base into a movie studio takes some doing. That’s my next 24 months. I’m most excited about building something that my son can look at one day and know that his father made history.
Perry is trying to stay ahead of the curve in a city that has become the Hollywood of the south. There is a pent-up demand for production facilities because of Georgia’s generous tax incentives for the film industry. Dormant factories have been razed and redeveloped into movie studios, and there are production houses rising all over the city. Amidst all of this, Perry believes in the importance of staying relevant. His films and television programs, whether he is in front of the camera or behind it, capture the lives of African Americans, from all walks of life and their everyday struggles, and his ongoing hope is that audiences will learn from them.
DUS: You have this substantial platform. How do you keep it from being fleeting?
Perry: I always try to infuse new ideas and life into what I’m doing. That’s why I go from movies to plays to TV and so on. I don’t want to stay in one lane too long. My responsibility as a human is the same as any other, to teach what I’ve learned and lift humanity as I go.
Perry’s output is astounding. Since 2005 he has released 13 films under his brand. That is an average of one new film every six months. As a director and screenwriter his 16 films have grossed nearly $1.2 billion. Even those films which were considered less successful like last year’s “Single Mom’s Club” grossed at least $15 million at the box office. In 2014 Perry made Forbes magazine’s top 100 list of highest paid celebrities, ranked at number 56. Through all this, Perry remains committed to his art and telling the stories he wants to tell. That is why he made “Single Mom’s Club.”
DUS: Through your media projects you wield a lot of power and influence. How do you stay humble?
Perry: Again, knowing that all I have comes from God, my mother’s lessons burn in my heart. This could all be gone tomorrow.
And our final question reached out for future plans.
DUS: What is next for Tyler Perry – projects, theatre, film and business?
Perry: I think people will be surprised with my next three movies. I’m going into some different directions. But I will never leave my base.
It may be true that empires rise and fall. But there are few legacies like Perry’s. It is a story that has perhaps been steeped in traumatic pain, but also tremendous resilience. He has somewhat made peace with his past and at 46 is creating a future anchored in a new purpose, the only one that really matters.
Editor’s Note: Tickets are on sale now for “Tyler Perry’s Madea on the Run,” and range from $55-$75. For more information, visit www.artscomplex.com.