[THE STAGE] Philly Weeden: Destiny Fulfilled
In just a couple short weeks, Cleveland's own Philly Weeden will take the city by storm; yet again, with his newest stage play, SOULmate?! Starring accomplished actress Taral Hicks, SOULmate? aims to teach today's generation how to put in the work required to maintain lasting relationships. Already building quite the buzz, SOULmate? is geared to be a huge success when it hits the stage at the Cleveland Playhouse November 14, 2015! We were granted the amazing opportunity of talking with Playwright Philly Weeden about the play, it's storyline, what fans can expect, and all else he has brewing for the future. His own story is yet another classic case of one's own destiny being fulfilled!
Everything happens in due time, and what’s meant to be will surely be. We hear it all the time, but talking to Cleveland’s own Philly Weeden, that has never been more true than now. Philipe, otherwise known to the world as Philly, has come a long way, with many titles to his name. He’s been a semi-professional football player, a model, designer, and author. Much of the world knows him most for his work on the stage as a Playwright, and Screen Writer. Over the past few years, he has entertained thousands at a time with his hilarious, soul-stirring stage plays, selling out theater after theater along the way. His most recent stage play, If You Knew Better You’d Do Better, ultimately became a full length movie, which recently screened at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
Not bad, especially for someone who started with no experience is writing, let alone produce an entire stage play or movie. He still managed to do it, and it al became an instant success. His story is remarkable to say the least, and will inspire anyone looking to pursue their dreams in life, regardless if they are dreams of entertainment or otherwise. His story is one of perseverance. When the doors were seemingly shut in his face, he went through another door. When someone told him no, he kept going until another said yes, and that tenacity has paid off ten-fold. He has truly fulfilled his destiny, and through his brilliance, he's helping a number of others fulfill their own.
For as long as we’ve wanted to catch up with Philly, timing just never allowed it to happen, that is until now. Philly sits down and gives us the full rundown of his new stage play which hits the stage of the Playhouse Square in less than two weeks, and stars the amazing and accomplished Taral Hicks, who many will remember from her roles in Belly, Bronx Tale, and more recently Tyler Perry’s Aunt Bam’s Place. Take a moment to check out the exclusive below!
Urban Grandstand Digital: It's such an honor to connect with you man. Obviously, being here in the city, I’ve been able to witness your movement and what you’ve had going on. We’ve been wanting to connect with you for so long, and with your last play, timing was off, but it’s a huge honor.
Philly Weeden: I’m equally honored to be able to participate with the movement that you have going. Every time you’ve posted anything, it’s been great. I’m honored as well.
Urban Grandstand Digital: First and foremost, talk to me about the story behind the upcoming stage play, SOULmate?
Philly Weeden: SOULmate is a modern day love story. It has it’s twists and turns, but I wanted to show a relationship in today’s society with old school tradition. Mixing the old with the new. I believe that back in the day, our grandparents made that era. Whatever happened, they made it work. Nowadays, it’s so easy to give up. I wanted to show our generation that it is possible.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I agree with that wholeheartedly. I look, even at my grandparents, and how long they were together and the struggles they had. People today would divorce at the snap of the finger.
Philly Weeden: Definitely.
Urban Grandstand Digital: What should be the ultimate take away for those who come out to see the show?
Philly Weeden: The take away would be an experience, and a chance to witness a relationship that stands the test of time. I want you to think of how to challenge your mate to do this. It takes a team effort, but it is also you dealing with yourself? Asking yourself can you deal with it, or can you give this person what is needed for you to get it back. Relationships are reciprocal, and if not, there are things that need to be addressed. If you take cheating out of a relationship, 90% will make it. Again, I want to provide, not a fairytale, but an example to our generation because the same people on the stage area e part of our generation. You’ll be able to put yourself in those footprints.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Things are growing tremendously for you. It’s amazing how many people I know who ask if I’m going to your plays. A friend of mine won tickets to your last play. There’s ton of people who are sitting and waiting for you to come out with something new. People are also excited about the fact that you have Taral Hicks. Surely, people know her from Belly and Bronx Tale. Was she always in your mind?
Philly Weeden: When I wrote the story, I knew it was time for me to start building in terms of national talent. I’m all for locals, but it’s time for the brand to excel. To do so, you have to have national attention, which takes national talent. I just sit back and watch the scene. I don’t do too much or say too much. To be honest, I didn’t realize she was “the” Taral Hicks initially. I was watching Aunt Bam’s play by Tyler Perry, and Taral is the lead in it. I was watching and thinking about how she could sing, act, and everything. As the credits rolled, I saw her name, and googled her. I knew she would be a perfect fit. I kept researching, and realized who she was. I was like “Kisha”! Kisha was dark, but Taral is not dark, so at first, I thought it wasn’t her. But she was in Bronx Tale, Where Heart Lie, and just the single that she did. She was top 10 on Billboard. I was a little hesitant to reach out to her, but once I did, she responded right back. As far as everyone else, Justin is my dude. I’m in love with his work ethic. I believe he needs this exposure. He’s someone I can see when I’m watching television. He’s someone I can see myself buying tickets for and watching him come on stage. With him, I try to help him to get that exposure. Whatever platform I have, I just want to elevate him to the next level. He’s been with me since 2012.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I appreciate you mentioning him. I think it’s extremely important for people to know about the supporting cast. Everyone does an awesome job. It’s almost like Tyler Perry’s productions. He picks people from all walks, but no matter what, they act their asses off. On shows like The Haves and The Have Nots, or If Loving You is Wrong, there’s not one person who acts poorly. I think you’re trailblazing in that same sense. You have Justin, and you have Tiffany and Archie, and so many others who have been with you. I think it’s good that everyone knows because it says a lot that you come up together and it’s not just about you.
Philly Weeden: Definitely. I’m a little cat. If you continue to grind, I grind with you. I’m grinding regardless. I want us all to look back one day and say look at what we did. My first time at the Playhouse Square was a triumph in itself. When I first sat down to start producing stage plays, I called them and they gave me the whole rundown, and it discouraged me. When you sit down and have a dream, they are the first that come to mind in terms of venues. Not even thinking of the particulars, I was just thinking of a big dream. When I called, they pretty much told me no. I fell back for maybe a week (laughing), then realized I needed to start somewhere. I started working the college scene and auditoriums there. When I called back two years later, they knew who I was. Going for the first time was an amazing journey.
Urban Grandstand Digital: That ties into my next question which you've pretty much answered. It was how many times people had told you no. It’s good, not only for the general people reading this, but the younger people as well. You’re up front about being discouraged, which is good and healing for others. You still kept going. So how did you get the Playhouse Square to truly recognize? Coming from a journalistic standpoint, and that of a publisher, I know how they operate, and venues like theirs in general. You get a lot of people in general who do not understand your movement. I look at my own story of freelancing, and publishing, all the no’s I heard, and how many people told me the magazine was a bad idea. I’ve been in a position where I walked away from a career to start over with the magazine. It's amazing that you managed to stay lifted, keep moving, and ultimately get them on board. What did you feel like you really wanted to accomplish this time around with your new play?
Philly Weeden: There’s always the pressure of trying to outdo your last. With each production, I want to show my audience growth, whether it’s in my writing, or the sets, or the production itself. With SoulMate, this is monumental because we have national talent. Once you get to that level, you’re able to be a National playwright. I never professed wanting to do that because I want to stay here and break ground here. I wanted to get the city behind me. Believe it or not, there are people here who do not know me, or my work. I wanted to be able to stay here and make this the home for real so people know who I am. Then I would branch out to tour. I have a rotating set now. National Playwrights are doing that. I had two keys before, not I’ve added guitars and drums. With each production I want to grow. Whether I add lights, or music, or anything, I love the ability to show the audience the experience.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think we come from the same school of thought, even with you wanting to stay here and do it. Even with us, I’ve looked at opportunities to relocate to places where there’s more entertainment, but Cleveland needs you and us.
Philly Weeden: Of course. It’s easier to write, and cover stories when there’s a lot going on. Here, it’s not that much going on. You have to find somebody and see what’s going on, or see how can you do this. When you’re around stars, they live in Atlanta and Los Angeles. There’s news every second of the day.
Urban Grandstand Digital: But the more we have people like you that want to stay here and do it, the bigger Cleveland will get. Eventually, you’ll see the stars are here.
Philly Weeden: I have told people, when I received the Dawson Award, I spoke and said why not be the person who attracts people to your city. Everybody gets excited about the stars going to Columbus, or New York. Why not be the person that is the attraction to your city. That’s where I’m at. I told myself, if I get 5,000 faithful people behind me, I’m cool. It’s 5,000 people on one side of town. I’ll know that when I can be at the Palace, or the State Theater. That’s how I'll know it’s time to go. I believe in growth and maturity. I started at CSU and they have 500 seats. Thank God it was selling out. People were saying I needed to go somewhere else. I said no, let me do a couple more here so I can feel like I’m doing something. It’s that whole fish bowl thing. I want to be able to outgrow a facility before I move, even though I’m a man of faith. You still have to be smart. I don’t want to just jump out and get my head cracked. After 4 shows at CSU, the next one was Garfield. They have 750 seats. The first one sold out. Next was the Playhouse. They have 1000 seats. Standing in the Need sold out. I recently talked to the rep about doing the Palace. That’s the premiere place, so hopefully we’ll do that.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Do you ever consider mentoring? There’s so many people who need your knowledge. The things you have said so far make so much sense. You see so many artists who come here, and they’re set up to perform, but the first thing you think is why? You almost know that they won’t sell very well. The effect trickles down, because once people see that your sales are low, you miss out on other opportunities.
Philly Weeden: Man, I come from parties and stuff like that, whenever my brother wanted to throw a party here and there. The thing is, people are only attracted to what others are attracted to. If you go to this party and there's no buzz, or nobody knows…say you have a party that holds 100 people and there’s a line outside, people want to come in because they want to know what’s going on. There's nothing wrong with small beginnings. If you have 100 people, then get a venue that holds 50 people. The better the look, the better the demand will be. Now, you have 100 people trying to get in, and they know they have to get there early because it’s exclusive. You have to be able to build on your brand. You’re only as good as your last performance, or your last production. If everyone walks away knowing you only had 100 people, but it holds 500, they look at you as a failure.
Urban Grandstand Digital: How have you maintained your audience?
Philly Weeden: My key is, I know how to get your attention. If I can get your attention, I can get you to do anything your attention requires. If I can get you to look at this or that, the door opens because now you want to know more about what’s going on. It’s about your use of colors, verbiage, and the way you market. I have a concept that I haven’t strayed away from. I know what has to be done and what my guns are. If I have to post every hour on the dot because I know people are looking, then that’s what I have to do. I don’t mind walking around with a phone in my hand, and I don’t mind sitting down with a phone, as long as I’m being productive. I’m willing to do that because I know what it takes.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So fast forwarding, how do you get to the point of turning your play into a movie? Obviously, you and I came in contact at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival last month for the screening of your first film, which was really good by the way. You’ve done all these plays, and now, it becomes a movie. Not even lying to you, there’s something that goes along with up and coming movies and writers. A lot of times, they aren’t necessarily the best. That’s also why you stand out. There was real humor, a relatable story, and it wasn’t outlandish to the point that it couldn’t happen. Nobody would know that it was your first movie, or you are who you are.
Philly Weeden: Of course, when you dream you dream big. It’s like oh my God, how am I going to do this. When I first sat down, I said I would do a play, and then it would become a movie. After the movie, then I’ll do this, and everybody was looking at me crazy. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but everything is a process. Of course, when I sat down and said that, I just said it. Of course I wasn’t working toward it. I’d rather write a stage play because I know the formula. I would question how I was going to do it. Mike Berry was saying he had a movie premiere coming. We went to the premiere, and from there I was inspired.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s amazing how seeing someone else doing it, your mind opens to the possibilities.
Philly Weeden: That’s exactly what happened. Everybody sees me as being an inspiration, but sometimes I fall short too, of being inspired. That opened my eyes up and made me want to pick my dream up after seeing it could be done by somebody here.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I thought it was great seeing the transition, especially knowing you did it some time ago at Solon theaters, and now it being in the film festival. How was that experience for you?
Philly Weeden: It was a great experience. When I saw the movie, and every time I see it, it’s like the first time. Of course, around different people, you get different reactions. They laugh when you want them to, cry, and you get the awes and whatnot. All that stuff feels good. You write, perform, and entertain for that reason.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I know people keep asking when it’s coming out, so I said I would ask again.
Philly Weeden: (laughing) I don’t know. Over time I think about doing it, and Mike shoots me down.
Urban Grandstand Digital: You and Taral are doing promo on the 9th on channel 43. What other things will you be doing to promote?
Philly Weeden: Just more interviews. A lot with TV, radio, and we have one on the 6th where we will be on the radio.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Everything looks good. What else is coming down the line?
Philly Weeden: I have three stage plays I’m working on, as well as a film I want to do. There’s also the community awards that I want to do.
Urban Grandstand Digital: The last thing I want to touch on, is Naturally Gifted and the connection through your brother, and how he’s helping out?
Philly Weeden: He is the owner of Naturally Gifted. As far as Philly Weeden, he acts. I’m his support, and he is mine.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Any kind of words of encouragement, and final thoughts?
Philly Weeden: I want people to go after their dreams. I want people to live their life [according to]what they envision themselves being. It’s possible. The only thing you have to do is just do it. I’m no different then Bob, Billy, or Joe. My story is no different. It’s just I’m bold enough to say it. Just take the first steps. I had no experience writing, acting, or anything I’m doing. Of course, now I’m learning different techniques. In the beginning, I just had the guts to step out and do it. I want everyone to start living the lives you thought you could have because you are able to have it.
For more information on Philly Weeden, visit him at www.phillyweeden.com