It was a very great pleasure to talk to writer/star Priest Tyaire about his new play, “Mrs. Independent,” currently on tour and opening in Washington D.C.’s Warner Theater May 8-11 for Mother’s Day next weekend.
Can a woman still be submissive to her husband and allow him to lead her household if she is the primary breadwinner? Does the role reverse? These are the questions explored in Priest Tyaire’s critically acclaimed stage play, “Mrs. Independent.” While Trey, maintains an honest and respectable salary of $40,000 a year as a head mechanic, his wife, Carleena, climbs the corporate ladder as an attorney and advances to a six figure salary. This creates not only a financial imbalance but also raises a question of Trey’s intellectual compatibility in Carleena’s mind and pushes their once equally yoked marriage further off course. With such a significant gap in their salaries it becomes increasingly impossible for Trey to satisfy his wife and this leads to a downward spiral of emotional and spiritual conflicts in their relationship. The play stars Robin Givens, Christopher Williams, Shirley Murdock, Tony Grant, and Trisha Mann-Grant, along with Tyaire himself as the husband trying to understand what it means to be a man in this relationship.
Tyaire is often referred to as “the new Tyler Perry,” because he was inspired to start writing because of his own struggles, because he writes and stars in his own plays, and because he has attracted a devoted audience primarily made up of African-American women. Tyaire spoke to me about what got him started and the messages he hopes to send with his writing.
You were trained as an electrician. Why did you start to write?
In 2006 my mother was diagnosed with cancer and the Lord laid it on our spirit to write about her. That show sold out. We did 24 tours, over 90% seats filled. Still, my father told me it was time to go back to being an electrician. But the Lord kept changing my path and he understood that. Before he passed, he apologized for discouraging me. But he was just trying to protect me.
My first play was a tribute to my mother. It was called “Tears of a Teenage Mother.”
In the show, a girl does not want to tell her mother she is pregnant, and she almost dies. A young lady brought a group of teenagers to the show. One of them ran out of the show. She was pregnant and did not know how to tell anyone. I hope my plays will help people have those difficult conversations they do not know how to begin.
I wanted to write about my father next, so my next play was “Torn Between Two Fathers.”
With no background in writing, how did you begin?
I bought every Tyler Perry DVD, listened to the backstage commentary, and learned everything I could about blocking, sets, pacing. When I was growing up, I did not think it was manly to go to plays with my mother. But she took me to Mama I Want to Sing and I was so touched by it. I love to get a phone call from a guy asking, “What do I wear to a play?” I know he will find out that he will connect to the story and want to come back to see more.
And you also became an actor. How was that?
The funny thing is, I’m shy. People say that is hard to believe. As long as I feel the audience is with me, as soon as I hear the first laugh, I’m good. I know you’re not supposed to break the fourth wall and interact with the audience, but we do it all the time. I always try to include the audience in, make it an experience. That’s our mantra: “not just entertain but experience.”
In “Mrs. Independent,” the woman is the breadwinner and the man has insecurities behind it. It’s always a topic of discussion. There is a mother who pushes them but it is not bashing anyone, women or men. It is uplifting. But bring your tissues — you are going to cry. And you are going to church.
Do you pray before the show?
Always. We have someone I call our prayer warrior. She gets us going. And you will always see God throughout my work. I’ve been through so much I felt like Job at times: “God said you can do what you want to him but you can’t kill him.” I needed to make sure it was God’s voice and not my own. God will test you and push you. God gives everyone a gift, but just like it says on Christmas, the batteries are not included. You have to provide your own.