Morgan McCoy is an actress, educator and minister from Virginia, but it was her mission to tell a story that helped us cross paths earlier this year. Her acting combined with her writing helped compose an amazing play that looks at the path that Black women have taken in America. Amptly titled, Evolution of a Black Girl: From the Slave House to the White House, the one-woman play uses 12 characters to put a microscope over the journey that few ever take time to focus on. I had the opportunity to talk to Morgan about her inspriation, her other endeavors and what’s next for her on this journey. Find out more about the young superstar here…
Parlé Magazine: First and foremost, hope you’re having a great day. What started your passion for acting?
Morgan McCoy: Thank you, I am having a great day. When I was seven I saw Dr. Mary T. Christian do a performance of James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation and I was mesmerized. I didn’t know how to define what she was doing, but I looked up and told my mom I want to do that. That’s kind of how it all began for me… I love storytelling, which fueled my passion for acting.
Parlé: What’s the first role you remember playing?
Morgan: Well, I was about five years old when I starred in my elementary school’s Christmas play as Mary, the mother of Jesus. I was so excited when I saw my name on the cast list. You would have thought I got a starring role on Broadway.
Parlé: As a child watching television, was there anyone who you aspired to be or be like?
Morgan: Absolutely! Growing up I loved watching Jasmine Guy as Whitley in A Different World and wanted to be her. That show had a lot to do with my decision to attend an HBCU. Also, Felicia Rashad inspired me not only as an actress but also as a positive portrayal of a strong black woman. The actresses I aspired to be like that were on the big screen were Julia Roberts, Meryl Street, and Angela Bassett. These women give such stellar authentic performances in every role I’ve ever seen them in and I can’t wait to share the screen with them.
Parlé: What’s it like growing up in Virginia wanting to be an actress? Is it a means to get out or are there examples of other actors to look to?
Morgan: That’s funny, acting was never a means to get out of Virginia. Despite what others might hear, its not that bad. People are in VA for the most part and because I grew up in an area with a lot of military families, I had the opportunity to meet people from all different walks of life, which I pull from when portraying different characters. Actually there’s a lot of work in the DMV area and we have some amazing actors here as well. I do travel a lot with my career which I love; however, its always nice to come back home.
Parlé: What was your experience like at Hampton University?
Morgan: Wow, well I love my Home by the Sea. Hampton was definitely a great experience. I was a theatre major and our department was really close knit and worked hard at honing our craft. I am forever indebted for the many professors who believed in me, poured into me, and took the time to sharpen my skill set. Not only did I graduate with a degree, I graduated with lifetime friends, marketable skills, and a new outlook on life that stays with me until this day.
Parlé: Oftentimes with Black actresses especially I feel like roles are few and far in between, especially in the beginning, so a one-woman show is a great way to get your foot in the door, was that the case for you?
Morgan: I didn’t create the show in order to get my foot in the door. Instead beginning this show was like creating a brand new door which indirectly has opened many other traditional industry doors which is a nice perk.
Parlé: How did the concept come about for Evolution of a Black Girl?
Morgan: People would constantly stop me and ask, “has anyone told you that you look like Michelle Obama?” I would respond saying that I want to play her when the Obamas story is told on film one day which I still do. These conversations got me thinking about how we got to have someone like Michelle Obama and the many African American women who sacrificed in order for future generations to make it this far. So many see how some of us have “arrived”, but they don’t know the back story of what was done to get to this point. So what better way to show someone than by showing them on stage… hence, the Evolution of a Black Girl: From the Slave House to the White House. The show began to evolve in such a way where the voices of the past speak to present situations in hopes to encourage the audience to build a better future.
Parlé: How long did it take to develop?
Morgan: That’s kind of a tricky question. I first started playing with the idea of creating a one woman show a year prior to the debut, but I didn’t sit to write everything out until December 2012 and I had a finished product at the end of January 2013. However, a couple of the characters in the show I had already developed years prior to the concept of the show.
Parlé: When did you initially launch it?
Morgan: I launched the show on February 10th, 2013 and I remember that day like it was yesterday. By the end of the show, so many people came up to me crying saying how they were blessed by the show. At that moment, I knew that this show was something I was destined to do and something much bigger than me.
Parlé: You’ve reached so much early success with the project. Is the response anything like what you imagined it would be?
Morgan: Truthfully, I had no idea that the show would take off the way it did. I just wanted to get the message out. I knew that I had been tremendously impacted by the lives of the women I showcase in the show and I wanted to spread that message to anyone who would like to hear it. However, I had no clue how many people would end up seeing the show and how it would evolve. One show on February 10th, 2013 led to 80 performances to date and a national tour. It’s really unbelievable and I am truly grateful.
Parlé: How did you decide which characters and which type of characters to play? You have 12, was it hard getting it down to so few or did you feel like you were doing too many?
Morgan: I prayed a lot during this process about which characters to include and felt like those characters were the ones the Lord wanted me to do. I knew that I couldn’t tell every strong African American woman’s story because we have so many, but I believe the way that the show is structured it covers enough to challenge the audience to research and learn more.
Parlé: Any other difficulties you faced?
Morgan: Honestly, no I didn’t have many difficulties with the show. Its kind of unbelievable I know, but I’ve been blessed and things have gone so smoothly.
Parlé: Where do you envision the project going?
Morgan: Honestly, this project has taken a life of its own and I’m going along for the ride, so whatever doors God wants to open I will go through. I’ve performed all over at colleges, detention centers, churches, community centers, high schools, banquets, theatres and etc. Basically, we are taking the message to everyone we can and so I perform in a lot of nontraditional performance spaces similar to how Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls” started before going on Broadway. One day I would love to see Evolution of a Black Girl on Broadway too. Oh and the White House. Definitely the White House. It would be a dream come true to be able to perform the show for First Lady Obama.
Parlé: What’s been the most rewarding part of doing the play thus far?
Morgan: The theme of the show is “getting better every day” and I would say that the most rewarding part is seeing people leave the show enlightened, inspired, encouraged, challenged and overall better than the way they came in. Seeing lives changed for the better…that’s the most rewarding part. Learning from the lives of these women has helped me have a more positive perspective in life, so I definitely know researching and performing these strong matriarchs has made me better too.
Parlé: You mentioned filming a pilot, can you tell us a bit more about that project?
Morgan: Yes, I had the privilege of performing in “The Heart” tv series as the lead character Tracy Washington and it was such a phenomenal experience. The Heart is based on award winning author Iris Bolling’s romance novel series. It’s a political drama intense love story and action thriller all wrapped up in one. The story is great and the show is a must see. I’m not just saying that because I’m in it…its really good. We shot 6 episodes that aired on the CW in the Central Virginia area and we are gearing up for season 2!
Parlé: What’s something you hope to bring to the industry that sets you apart from others?
Morgan: Hmm that’s a good question. I know there has been a lot of controversy because a few celebrities have been getting back lash because they say that they didn’t sign up to be a role model. Interestingly enough I don’t care about fame or fortune but I do care about having influence… I want to be a role model. We have a lot of young women who desperately need positive female role models to encourage them to understand their self-worth, the need for an education, how precious they are to God. I want to be one of those voices to share that message. Also, I’m a team player so I give diva style acting without the diva attitude… I just want to help tell quality stories and I know its not all about me.
Parlé: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Morgan: Well hopefully I would have met Prince Charming by that time so I would be married with children and maybe have a Oscar or Tony by that time. (she chuckles). In addition to acting, I would like to start producing some of my films. I have about five feature films and since the two shows I wrote have been so well received I’m a little more confident in my writing. There are a lot of things that I want to do in life, but the main thing is I want to help people. Hopefully in five years, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. I might be helping by acting in an inspiring film or tv series, or writing books, or speaking, or producing, or preaching. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing but I know the impact I want to have.
Parlé: What advice do you have for upcoming actors and actresses?
Morgan: I met Blair Underwood briefly a few years ago at the premier of the television show The Event and I asked him the same question. He told me that it is important to remember that show business is just that a business. I feel like we as actors must realize that in order to be truly successful in this industry you must be an “artrepreneur” (an artist and entrepreneur). Knowing your craft in out is imperative, but also know how to market yourself and manage your brand. Also, I would like to tell upcoming actors, Your skill, your look, your ability, is unique so be comfortable and confident about what you have to offer. Most importantly don’t wait on someone to cast you… cast yourself and create your own opportunities.
Parlé: Any final words you want to put out there?
Morgan: Yeah, I would like to remind any parents that are reading this article the importance of encouraging your children to pursue their dreams. There is no way I would have had the mindset to believe I could do any of what I am doing today if I hadn’t been so tremendously blessed with the parents I have. Also, just want to say thank you Kevin for interviewing me and for coming to see the show. If anybody wants to find out more about me or my one woman shows, “Evolution of a Black Girl…” or “She’s Got issues” check out my website www.evolutionofablackgirl .com orwww.morganaverymccoy.com. I would love to hear from you!
Images by Kevin Benoit