The turning point in the career of 29-year-old singer-actress Sheran Goodspeed-Keyton came in college. Now starring in the title role in Jubilee Theatre's production of Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues (playing at the Fort Worth theater through April 18), Goodspeed-Keyton commands the stage with a gospel-powered voice and considerable acting skills. But once upon a time, she was just another young theater major at Texas Wesleyan University. That's where she heard her first advice, from a professor she won't name now, about achieving her dream of stardom.
What did that drama professor tell you about being an actress?
He told me I'd never play a leading role because of my weight. You're a beautiful girl, he said, but "Hollywood doesn't do heavy. If you don't get a lot smaller, you'll never play a leading lady. You'll always play grandmothers and maids."
How did you react to that?
I transferred to Prairie View A&M. A professor there said he didn't think I even realized the power I had with my presence and my vocals. Learn to use it, he told me, and never, never, never become a bitch.
And success, as they say, is the best revenge.
My opportunity to get back at [the TWU professor] is when he comes to see me now as a leading lady and the weight is not a factor.
You've played the leads in Jubilee Theatre's productions of Lysistrata, Please and Alice Wonder. Don't you ever play anything but title roles?
I think I'm reaching my quota. Bessie Smith was a huge star in the 1920s but is almost forgotten now. What did you learn by playing her?
Our stories are very similar. She started out in the business very young, as I did. She had a talented family, and my family is loaded with people who sing and dance and act. She also had a bad marriage, and to a certain degree, I had that. I can identify with her drive. She didn't take no for an answer. She was a diva before divas were popular.
Audiences give standing ovations for anything these days. But for Bessie Smith it seems genuine. What do you feel up there on the stage?
It takes about 15 or 20 minutes into the show before I start to feel the love, after the audience gets to know Bessie a little. By the end of the show, every single show from day one, they have incredibly embraced her. At every curtain call, they jump to their feet. But the best thing is, they walk away with greater knowledge of who she was and how great she was. The writing [by Jubilee company members Rudy Eastman and Joe Rogers] has a lot to do with that.
Where will you be in the next five years?
Oh, traveling back and forth from coast to coast, working in some blockbuster movie with Denzel Washington. No, really, I'd love to do a Broadway show or a Broadway road tour. Every time I see stuff like American Idol or Oprah's talent contest, I'm in tears. I should be there. I should be doing that. My ultimate goal is to work every aspect of the business. Acting, commercials, movies. I want to do it all.
Where will you be in the next five minutes?
I'm walking through Wal-Mart with a mouthful of candy.
Chocolate Thriller? Flaming Dragon? Those don't sound like sex toys. They sound like bad shots that would leave us with a more bad hangover. But after reading our cover feature this week ("Sex Toy Story," by Glenna Whitley), we discovered that the 10-year-old company Passion Parties offers just such products. Come on, what kind of names are those? Do you want anything "flaming" near your genitals? Here are our suggestions if Passion Parties ever wants to update its line.
My Pretty Pony
Shock and Ahhh
Fist of Fury
Billy Bob Hard-on
Cherry Pied Piper
Hold 'Em Poker
Come Hither and Yawn
Ace High Flush
The Hardcastle and McCormick
There are certain cultural phenomena we've managed to avoid. For example, we didn't know that the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the fastest-growing sport in the United States with some 75 million fans--99 percent of them willing to sink every disposable cent on knickknacks flaunting their favorite drivers. We wouldn't know Jeff Gordon from Flash Gordon. This gives us the perfect vantage point from which to offer fresh, unbiased commentary on last weekend's Samsung Radio Shack 500, which drew more than 200,000 fans to Texas Motor Speedway, making it the largest BYOB (the speedway is dry) event not hosted by Promise Keepers. To makes things doubly good, we got ourselves some pit passes. Here are a few of our amazing discoveries.
··· NASCAR is steeped in fine traditions, namely running bootleg liquor. NASCAR legend Junior Johnson was a whiskey runner who cut his teeth driving modified cars with strong suspensions that could slide around on dirt roads in the mountains. Today NASCAR drivers seem to drink only water.
·· ·The start of the race sounds like an AC/DC concert, or at least it would if the band were strumming and beating on amplified beehives instead of amplified guitars and drums.
·· ·One of the best ways to feel the legendary thunder of NASCAR race cars is to stand next to the spectator fence above the track wall as the cars whiz by. This is also one of the best ways to get swarmed by security personnel.
·· ·Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so popular, women were lining up to have their picture taken with a member of his pit crew. Or was that Dale?
·· ·The average pit stop is 15 seconds, which usually involves gas and a new set of tires. A set of tires (three to four sets per race) costs $17,000.
·· ·Drivers drink lots of water during pit stops, what with race cockpit temperatures hitting 140 degrees. So what happens when they get the urge to pee? "Most of them don't," says NASCAR spokesman Scott Bowman. "They sweat a lot of that out...I've never seen the winner in victory lane get out of the car and then go directly to the bathroom. You just never see that."
·· ·Maybe not. But in an interview posted on NASCAR's Web site, rookie driver Brian Vickers offers a different perspective. "I hold it," he says. "Not everyone does that, though. Some go...They'll pour Gatorade in their lap [to cover it up]. But that's just what I've heard." How far off can the Evian Depends 500 be?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.