Dancer, choreographer, actor and director Debbie Allen spoke to a full house during the second of Columbia College Chicago’s three-event Conversations in the Arts 2012-13 series on February 27.
Allen’s lecture addressed a range of topics, from defining what art is (“It’s a matter of opinion,” she said) to advice for students on working hard and not taking no for an answer, and even included humorous stories from long and varied career, including pitching the idea for “Amistad” to Steven Spielberg and a recent phone call from Stevie Wonder.
Speaking about pursuing her own dreams, which began when she was four and decided she “wanted to take Shirley Temple’s job,” Allen advised students, “You have to keep working. Keep proving yourself. That’s what keeps you honest.”
Allen also spoke about the importance of lifelong learning and taking in culture as much as possible, advising guests to keep an open mind and “take in other colors and other languages.”
“You have to keep the left and right sides of your brain always working. There’s a reason they say arts and sciences” she continued.
Earlier in the day, Allen also appeared on Windy City Live, where she discussed her career and why art is such an important part of education.
As an actress, Allen is world-recognized for her portrayal of dance teacher Lydia Grant in the 1980 film “Fame” and on the ensuing television series of the same name. She also played Beneatha in the 1973 Tony Award-winning musical “Raisin” based on the play “A Raisin in the Sun.” Allen won three Emmy awards for her choreography on the television series “Fame.” Since 2007, Allen has participated as a judge and mentor for the U.S. version of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Her directing and producing credits range from television to film, including directing episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Hellcats,” “Girlfriends” and more and producing the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg film “Amistad” in 1997. Her 2008 Broadway directorial debut, an all-African-American production of Tennessee William’s classic, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” went on to London and won the Olivier Award in 2010. She is the founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles and has choreographed the Academy Awards a record 10 times.
Photos: Jonathan Mathias