Imagine a cross between the motivational speaking style of Tony Robbins and the triple threat chops of actress, dancer and singer Chita Rivera, and you’ll get the sense of the presence of Broadway and film actress Deidre Goodwin. The actress spoke at an assembly and ran a master class on January 28 with students performing in the school musical through the school’s Goodman Banks Performing Art Series. A statuesque performer, she commands the room with her “give it your all” gusto and message of positivity.
Appearing in 10 Broadway shows and with over 40 film and television credits, Goodwin was the first African American actress to perform in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line as the sassy Sheila Bryant, beating out over 3,000 other actors for the spot. She followed that role with a star turn as Velma Kelly in Chicago in 2009. Goodwin shared with the students that as a child she was drawn to musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and Guys and Dolls, but she did not realize that one could make a living from that type of work. Like many children, she meandered through piano and trombone lessons only to quit the instruments after her mother purchased them. When she was 16 she asked her mother for dance lessons, and while supportive, her mother suggested Goodwin pay for her own lessons due to her noncommital attitude towards her former pursuits. She auditioned to be an alternate on the dance team at the local gym. Watching the other quality dancers, Goodwin studied her craft and headed to Missouri State University where she took a dance elective. “I danced like no one was watching. I had no technique, but I didn’t let didn’t let the negative things distract me from my love and passion. I wasn’t intimidated by the people that were better than me. Instead, it fueled me and made me want to go for it harder,” she said. She credits her college teachers especially, her jazz dance teacher Cheryl Love Miller who saw her potential, offered constructive criticism and encouraged her to pursue her dream. “Keep your mind open,” she said. “Find faculty that care. Big name schools may be great, but they might not be where you should go.”
Following her talk, Olivia Pear ’21, Olivia Coxon ’19, Sadie Margolis ‘21, and Remy McCoy ’20 participated in a tabletop discussion with Goodwin about her craft. She said she took inspiration from other actresses of color like Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly and Jennifer Holiday that planted a seed giving her permission to follow acting as a career. While she was in college, the director cast her as the Marilyn Monroe role in the musical version of Some Like It Hot. That opportunity allowed her to “take the idea away of ‘I can’t’.” But, as a working African American performer, she faced some headwinds and was typecast as the tough and mean character. Eventually, more roles opened to her so she could blast away the narrative, chip away at the very real barriers to success so the producer and directors “took me for who I am.”
Goodwin explained the practical tips for our young thespians: keeping healthy and balanced, practicing auditioning to reduce nervousness, working hard (It's everything!) and finding the energy to keep the long-running performances fresh and interesting. She shared how one evening two dogs sat in the audience donning silver capes supplying the actors extra dose of energy on stage.
As an actress, Goodwin has faced rejection, but she doesn’t let that negativity define her experience. “Give yourself time to mourn the loss. Be okay with 'I'm upset. That didn’t go my way' and then move on. When you sit in that disappointment, you just missed that next opportunity. Take a second and press forward. Put your lashes back on and kick it,” she said.
During her grueling nine-month audition for A Chorus Line, she said her initial audition wasn’t strong because she didn’t take herself seriously. Although she was honored to be the room with the other talented actors, she convinced herself that she wouldn't get the role, and she was initially passed over. Over seven months later, they reopened the audition for the role and called her back. This time, Goodwin determined that things would go her way. She said, “ It’s my job to be the best version of the role. I made a choice and made it happen. That’s when I booked it. You can control how you come in a room.”
After the assembly, the fortunate students performing in the school musical, Chicago, workshopped with Goodwin in a three-hour master class. The barefooted class, attired in leggings and t-shirts, worked itself into a sweat, warming up their wrists, hips, and head in a series of isolation exercises accompanied by Ed Sheeran tunes. While working on their technique, Goodwin reminded them to breathe while they were performing and retain a disciplined game-face despite their physical exhaustion. Complimenting the class on their ability to pick up the dance moves with ease, Goodwin led them across the floor like a Fosse-esque dance troupe while the group sang a resounding chorus of Paramour’s "Ain’t It Fun."
On a final note, Goodwin exhorted the crowd to follow their inner voice. “What you think is possible is actually not. You will exceed your possibilities. Stay tuned in to your dreams of what you want to do, not what others are doing. I hope you have your antenna out. Dive into your spirit and make a living doing it,” she commanded.
With the Goodman Banks Series, students experience the creative process firsthand as they work with visual and performing artists from around the world. Through performances and master classes, artists share their techniques, processes, and creations with Middle and Upper School students who come to know life through the eyes of working artists. Goodwin's visit was made possible through the hard-working efforts and connections of Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds.