On stage, Dionne Figgins is a force to be reckoned with. From Motown the Musical to Leap of Faith to Memphis, she’s conquered the Broadway stage. Off stage, she’s a force in the community as one of the founders of Broadway Serves. We caught up with the triple-threat to talk about her new show, Trip of Love, and how her perspective on her art has changed.
How has this show challenged you as a performer?
This is the first time I’m having the opportunity to utilize my entire skill set. I’ve been in ensemble of many Broadway shows like Memphis and Motown, but this time, it’s my role. The challenge of being able to do this much dancing and singing every night is new to me. That’s where my challenge is. I’ve been training to be a triple threat my entire life and now I have the opportunity to do it. Trip of Love is full out dancing that’s very technical so it requires a lot. Earlier this year, because I knew this was a challenge I wanted to be ready for, I put myself on a once-a month performance routine where every month, I would make sure I was performing somewhere, choreographing something, or dancing. One of those opportunities was at The Apollo for Amateur Night. I know I’m not an amateur, but people know me as a dancer so I challenged myself as a singer/dancer. That went over well and the response mostly was that people couldn’t believe I could dance like that and sing at the same time. I idolize Chita Rivera and Eartha Kitt who were vocalists but were dancers as well.
You’ve had plenty of practice existing in the 60’s with Motown and now Trip of Love. What inspires you most about the decade?
The political climate of the 60’s is so powerful to me. It was all about activism, standing up for yourself, and being yourself. Motown created a world where people of color where seen as glamorous. Diana Ross was a glamour icon and that was something people hadn’t seen from a woman of color. The 60’s were prolific for the African American community to be seen for all that we are. We could be seen as being strong but also for being soft and vulnerable. Diana Ross did a lot for women of color to being seen for their softer, more glamorous sides.
You’re one of the co-founders of Broadway Serves. How has that enriched your experience as a performer and what’s coming up?
What’s really been fascinating is how the community has embraced Broadway Serves. As performers, we are so used to making things about ourselves. Promoting ourselves, focusing on making ourselves better, and thinking about doing the job well. You’re getting outside of yourself when you’re serving. Also, you are learning about all kinds of people which is useful when portraying characters on stage or screen. When people are unemployed or auditioning, there’s a place they can use their talents for a greater cause. I know that tomorrow, if I’m not in a show, there’s a place I can go and be of great service to the community. My art doesn’t define me like it used to. My art is bigger than 8 shows a week.
What drives you as a performer?
I like to be of service and see the people in the audience. I always say that the audience is our final cast member. Without them, there’s no reason to do what we do. As a performer, as much as I enjoy telling these stories, when you’re doing 8 shows a week, there has to be something larger. It’s about making it fresh and new for these people who have spent their money to see your show. As performers, we are of service to other people. That’s what keeps me driving and why Broadway Serves exists. When we perform from that place, it becomes selfless.
What else do you have coming up?
Beyond the show, Broadway Serves is my life. We have so many holiday initiatives coming up. I’m also working on my next one woman show, “My Momma Threw Me To the Gypsies,” with the comedic songs I’ve written over the years. And I’ll be at Trip of Love as long as people are coming to see the show. I’m also one of the characters on Flesh and Bone on STARZ so be sure to check that out as well!