By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog
Dream With Your Eyes Open, a contemporary gospel musical written, produced and directed by Toussaint Duchess (right), combines entertainment with altar-call spirituality.
Duchess, Founder and CEO of Toussaint Duchess Entertainment, spoke with TBGB about the chain of events that led her to write Dream With Your Eyes Open and begin her own entertainment enterprise.
Many children dream of becoming actors or singers, but Duchess had no such aspirations as a young girl. Her thinking began to change after she moved to San Francisco and someone told her she was so pretty, she ought to try modeling.
While doing some print modeling for a medical magazine, “the photographer told me I was very animated and always camera-ready," Duchess said, "so I should try theater.” Finding initial success on the stage, Duchess relocated to Los Angeles and gave Hollywood her best shot.
The aspiring actress found that being a Christian and a Hollywood actor was a challenging combination. “They didn’t have roles for me,” she said. “I had great managers, but I came to realize that Hollywood is full of money, lust and lies.” She gave up on her acting career temporarily but in the back of her mind was a piece of sage advice offered to her by fellow actor Bill Duke. “He told me, Toussaint, if you want to do more in this industry, consider writing, producing and directing. Don’t limit yourself to just being an actress.”
Duchess departed Hollywood and moved back to her home state of Louisiana, where she began writing original material. “Once I finished the script, I decided to give birth to an entertainment enterprise.” In November 2010, she organized Toussaint Duchess Entertainment (TDE) in Dallas, Texas.
“At each step, someone encouraged me to get to where I am now, a writer/producer for my own entertainment company. So if Hollywood did anything for me, it pushed me into my destiny.”
The first play TDE produced was Dream With Your Eyes Open, a contemporary gospel stage production Duchess wrote in the latter part of 2005. The show’s premise, Duchess explained, is that “you don’t have to sleep to dream. You can make reality your dream if you stop living in the past.”
Set in New Orleans during the time of Hurricane Katrina, the play follows the life and times of Carrie Lynn Matthews, played on the stage by Duchess herself. Carrie Lynn survived Hurricane Katrina but still suffers from the after-effects of the storm as well as from “generational curses from when she was a child.” Duchess explains that the character's epiphany is when she learns to focus on life itself “and find a relationship with God so she can dream with her eyes open instead of sleeping in her past.”
Gospel artists Deitrick Haddon, Trin-i-tee 5:7 and Shari Addison also star in the musical.
“Deitrick and I were sharing the same manager at the time,” Duchess explained. “Deitrick’s such a character. He’s funny, he’s anointed, he’s powerful, so I wrote his part into the show. The character he plays, Gizzard, is nerdy and he stutters.
“This was the first acting role for the Trin-i-tee 5:7 girls [Chanelle Haynes and Angel Taylor]. It was touching to watch them perform since they had experienced the hurricane disaster personally. And I saw photos and videos of Shari Addison. I chose her to play the role of Mother Thelma Lee, but when I met her in person, I realized she was way younger than I thought, so we changed the age of her character.”
TDE also hired Beyonce’s all-girl band, on hiatus while their star was giving birth to Ivy Blue, to serve as the show's musicians.
“When my executive assistant Titania McGee and my staff were building the company, we studied a book called Purple Cow [Seth Godin]. The book talks about doing things unique and different. For us, the ‘Purple Cow’ was that the show would be ministry and entertainment at the same time, and that we would open with a band, an all-girl band. Most times the band is all male, or maybe with one or two girls, and they are in the pit where you can’t see them. I wanted to put the band, an all-girl band, on stage where you can see them.”
Dream With Your Eyes Open has garnered rave reviews. “I’ve performed for many years and opening night is normally a disaster,” Duchess laughed. “But the opening night [for Dream With Your Eyes Open] was so powerful and anointed, I knew that this was more than entertainment. So many people were touched emotionally. At another performance, one lady traveled two hours because she had heard people were being saved at the show and she thought there might be an altar call!”
Duchess and Chuck Bethany wrote all of the music for Dream With Your Eyes Open except for “Well Done” and “Sinner’s Prayer,” written and performed by Deitrick Haddon, and an original song by R&B artist Christopher Williams.
TDE is currently planning to film the production on DVD before going back on the road in 2013. Duchess anticipates the DVD will be available this fall. “We would like to shoot the DVD in the heart of New Orleans, so it will be more authentic. Also, people have been asking about a music soundtrack, but that is still in negotiation.”
Toussaint Duchess summed up her journey thus far in a way that sounds like a mission statement: “The stage is my pulpit. Entertainment is my ministry. When people come to Dream With Your Eyes Open, they don’t just get entertainment: they have an experience with God.”
For more information, visit www.thefamilyoftde.com.