If you’re seeking to carve out a career in the theater, Desi Waters has some rather sage advice for you.
“Be kind and learn about other people,” said Desi, who shares the central role of Fannie Lou Hamer in the Oct. 22 production of “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou.”
Desi has directly observed the unkindness of acquaintances.
She has seen some “treat others terribly because they’re not the star,” she said. And as an overweight, dark-skinned child, she has experienced bullying first-hand.
“I got teased a lot,” she recalled.
Desi found solace in comedy, eventually taking to the stage to perform routines. She enjoyed the way that allowed her to connect with the audience.
“People would laugh with me, not at me,” she said.
“Acting is my first love,” said Desi, who grew up in Queens and enjoyed watching movie musicals and “I Love Lucy” reruns on television.
“I love Lucille Ball. I adored her,” she said. “Something about the way she built up a joke and then delivered it – that’s what I love.” Also, said Desi, “her physical comedy was so grounded in reality that I believed it.”
And here’s the kicker: Desi’s middle name happens to be Lucille.
“So I was able to call myself DesiLu,” laughs Desi, referring to the production company Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz established together.
Desi began to develop her own acting techniques in school. Her elementary school presented a play each year, and she continued performing in junior high school. In high school she sang in the choir while taking on a leadership role as president of the drama club.
School activities included field trips to shows such as Cats and visits to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see renowned performers such as the Alvin Ailey dance troupe. Desi continued to develop her skills at community college and conservatory, and while working for a repertory company.
“I did what I enjoy doing, and also I was lucky to have teachers who would challenge me,” she said. She constantly challenges herself as well.
“What I’m finding now is that I’m doing shows that have some kind of social relevance,” Desi said. “I think of it as edutainment.”
“Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou” fits into that category for Desi. While her dramatic portrayal of the 1960’s voting rights activist is a departure from Desi’s comedic foundation, the production is one that hits close to home.
“My Dad fought in the Korean war. But he came home and didn’t have the right to vote. That astounded me,” said Desi, whose parents instilled values that helped guide her through life.
As for the advice Desi would give actors and singers interested in learning and growing in the field of musical theater, here are a few more tips:
* “Continue to sing. If you want to sing, go to a voice teacher. If you already sing, go to a voice teacher.”
* “Learn how to read music.”
* “Have other interests. You don’t have to read plays all the time. It’s okay to read medical books, if that’s what interests you.”
* “Take every opportunity that’s offered to you.”
Desi believes her own professional future will continued to be grounded in New York.
“There are so many [live] shows and TV opportunities,” she said. “And the majority of my family is here. I’m definitely staying around New York City.”