Lifelong artist Morris Gearring began his career from the most humble beginnings in Gary, Indiana. Literally making something out of nothing to put on stage plays for his childhood friends, Morris was driven at an early age to perform.
After graduating from Gary’s Roosevelt High (alma mater of the Jackson 5), Morris went on to receive his B.A. in theatre from historic Morehouse College before going on to study at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance.
Shortly thereafter, a chance meeting with the legendary Oscar Brown Jr. at an Maya Angelou speaking engagement changed the course of his life and career. The following year Brown took young Morris under his wing and on the road with him. Morris says the whole experience left him “blown away.”
After Brown’s passing in 2005, Gearring was inspired to put together his tribute show, Something About Oscar, to “reintroduce the world and future generations to the man and his music.” The show has been well received and garnered rave reviews while criss-crossing the country.
Morris’s latest production, Sammy, Harry, Oscar, a little Nikki….and Me!, is an expansion of sorts of his SAO show with added nods to Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Nikki Giovanni.
N’DIGO recently sat down with Gearring to learn more about his background and his exciting new production.
For more information on Morris, visit www.morrisgearring.com. Sammy, Harry, Oscar, a little Nikki….and Me! runs through October 7 at the Greehouse Theater, located at 2257 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.
N’DIGO: In your own words, please tell us who is Morris Gearring and a little about your background.
Morris Gearring: I’m a complex man from Gary, Indiana who dreamed of theater early in life, through Sunday School programs, children’s choirs and backyard performances.
Talk a bit about your childhood. Is performing what you always wanted to do or did you originally have other dreams?
It’s really all I know or ever dreamed of and known. I’ve been involved in music and art since I was three years old.
How did you get your official start in entertainment?
As crazy as it sounds, my official start was in my backyard after receiving a new refrigerator. I begged and pleaded for my mother to save the old one and not throw it away. I used it to create a stage and re-create the Mickey Mouse club for the neighborhood children.
What was the experience like of being under the tutelage of the late great Oscar Brown Jr.?
It was a mixture of a few things. It was magic. It was challenging. It was damn difficult. It opened my eyes to people I was ashamed of and wasn’t focused on. But that exposure and perspective helped me grow artistically, and develop and evolve into the artist that I am today doing this show.
Tell us about your latest production, Sammy, Harry, Oscar, a little Nikki….and Me!
At it’s core, it’s a celebration of the music, poetry, and overall lives of some pretty legendary people. Oscar, of course, who I did the Something About Oscar show about, but additionally, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Nikki Giovanni as well. Oh and me! (laughs) All of those people have contributed so much to the world, so this show is my way of paying homage and saying thank you.
What is some of the behind the scenes work necessary to put this production on?
Voice lessons, voice lessons, and more voice lessons! Also, the choreography was all rehearsed in New York at Alvin Alley under the guidance of Joan Peters, a renowned Alley dancer, and Dr. Robert G. Brewster, a renowned African-American opera soloist. The work is grueling and they encouraged me to strive for standards of excellence and beyond.
What are some of the unique challenges you’ve faced in getting this play in front of audiences?
Chicago is a tough market. Word of mouth and group is everything. New York is a place where people would go to the theater before the movies. Chicago seems the opposite. Stick-to-it-ness is important. Chicago supports theater in it’s own way. In the past on Rush street, there were nine striving jazz clubs; now there are none. Oscar Brown Jr. left a potent catalog due to his writing about Chicago. How lucky we are to have his artistry.
Who would you cast to play yourself in the movie on your life?
Until that project is fully developed, it would have to be me! (laughs)
Best advice to up and coming performers?
Quite simply: Work hard, focus, stick with it, and pray!
Any favorite quotes or affirmations?
“Don’t punish those who came for the ones who didn’t. Always give a good performance.” – Oscar Brown Jr.
What’s next for Morris Gearring?
The very next thing for me is a biographical play written by Wanda Christine and directed by Chuck Smith. We are currently in re-writes so I dont have an ETA for you, but please know it’s coming just as soon as we can finish and get it out to the world!