The Obie-winning multi-hyphenate on how he took fear and flipped it into his new inspirational podcast, The 180 With Eric Lockley.
While theatre is on pause, Eric Lockley has picked up the mic and pressed record. As of 2020, Lockley added the title podcast host to an already extensive resume of actor, writer, comedian, filmmaker, and producer.
The Obie-winning multi-hyphenate is no stranger to creating content on stage, screen, or behind the scenes. Audiences have seen Lockley in Off-Broadway’s #DateMe, Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix, and experienced his writing as head writer for Broadway Black’s inaugural The Antonyos Awards. His additional work as a writer includes Blacken the Bubble, Last Laugh, The Sad Secret Sex Life of Steve Urkel, Sweet Chariot, and Without Trace. He’s also the founder of Harlem-based organizations Harlem9 and The Movement Theatre Company.
Now he’s taking on a new medium with his podcast The 180 With Eric Lockley. Having his multiple creative perspectives allows Lockley to discuss a number of topics with a wide variety of guests, from The Good Place Emmy nominee and playwright William Jackson Harper to Iron Chef Jose Garces.
Get to know Lockley in the Q&A below.
What project(s) are you working on currently?
The 180 with Eric Lockley
This is my inspirational podcast where my guests and I discuss a moment in their life when they turned things around. With its joyfulness and gem-droppin’, it’s like Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday meets The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
I created the podcast because at the height of the stay-at-home lockdown I was extremely lonely and found myself stuck in a hopeless place despite continuing to create content. Because I’m typically an optimist, I kept asking myself what was making me doubt that the future could be better. I realized that it was the levels of unknown we were dealing with day to day, especially at that time. Once I understood that “the unknown” was what I was scared about I reminded myself of the varied unknowns I’ve lived through before, especially as an artist—not knowing if I’d be able to pay rent, not knowing the next gig, not remembering the next line, not knowing if my work was “good enough.” I remembered that all of my artist friends have these type experiences, and beyond that EVERY PERSON has to face the unknown at some point and decide to lean in the direction of change. We’ve all GOT a “180.” So to inspire myself and hopefully others, I connected with people to share their stories and to encourage others that no matter how hopeless it may seem it’s always possible to turn it around.
My guests include theatre folks like Jessica Frances Dukes, Bryan Terrell Clark, William Jackson Harper, and Mykal Kilgore. Also, influential folks in other industries including Iron Chef Jose Garces, Founder and CEO of The Honey Pot Co. Bea Dixon, and April Reign, who started #OscarsSoWhite. Listeners have been really moved by the episodes. (Plus, each episode you get to hear the fun theme song written by Jaret Landon and see awesome portraits of the guest done by Byron McCray!) Big shout out to my team of David Treatman (co-producer) and Mike Lunoe (audio production) who do tremendous work to create “The 180” experience. I hope folks will continue to listen to the podcast, spread the word, laugh, and be inspired.
This is the title of my Afrofuturist dark comedy that examines the lengths Black people might go to discover and define true liberation. The piece spans centuries and galaxies. It places Black folks on Earth challenged to find peace, then on a spaceship plotting a fresh destiny and finally on a new planet embracing a brand new way of being. It excites me to share tall tales of flying Black people, a dysfunctional space-crew trying to pull it together for the “culture,” and an alien race that might not be so alien. The project is still in development but over the course of the last couple months I’ve had opportunities to create digital pieces that are excerpts from the full play. One such excerpt is entitled, “What We Forgot,” which premiered as a part of the Under The Radar Festival at The Public Theater. It was exciting to explore the “other-worldliness” of the piece on-screen and ideally draw people into the fictional but relevant world I’m creating.
I am honored to be a part of the Devised Theater Working Group cohort affiliated with the Under the Radar Festival, which means I will have a workshop production Sweet Chariot in 2022. I’ve been developing Sweet Chariot with the support of my theatre company, The Movement. Nevertheless, I’m still interested in residencies to get away and work on the script and seeking more opportunities to explore the digital life of the piece. I’m very interested in creating a hybrid “play” that tells a story through both a live theatrical event and online media. Ideally, the world of the live theatrical event expands beyond the stage and can captivate audiences whether they can access a performance in a theatre or even if they can only access their phone. I’m excited for Sweet Chariot to be a unique experience.
Beyond that, I’ll be performing as Ahmal in A Drinking Game NYC’s presentation of Sister Act 2 on February 19. (Oh, happy day!) As a writer I’m developing a pilot, and I’m continually producing my own content and content with my two theatre companies.
Where are you finding inspiration?
I’m finding inspiration in the new ways that we are discovering and creating community. Whether cyber-hang outs with friends or attending shows on YouTube and corresponding in the chat, Instagram ,and TikTok #challenges, Clubhouse rooms, innovative Zoom gatherings, or any of the many, many new ways people are discovering connection—they all inspire me. There is nothing like in-person interaction, but the inexplicable human impulse to connect has found new ways, and that’s so inspiring. I try to cultivate and nurture community always. That’s why I’m a founder and leader of two theatre companies, and even a week into the pandemic started a support group for artist friends. Knowing that there’s a community to lean on, learn from, and lift up, is such a worthy reminder of one of my favorite quotes and an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
This very unique time in our history allowed me space to release many things I’d been holding onto and has welcomed some really awesome relationships that have helped me to refine my community. I’m grateful to go far together with them. Check out my OBIE-Award winning organizations that continue to create community and opportunity for artists of color:
The Movement Theatre Company
In 2020, The Movement launched 1MOVE: DES19GNED BY . . . which commissioned 30 designers of color to create digital pieces and also highlighted social justice causes and organizations. This year we’ll do another round of 1MOVE, begin a new program to nurture artists’ skills, and continue developing new work by artists of color with herculean ideas.
Harlem9, widely known for our “48Hours in . . .™” festival of short plays, is currently seeking submissions for our series, “Consequences”. You can learn more details and watch episode one here. Tickets are on sale for our showcase of six new short pieces, 48Hours in . . . ™EL BRONX, which is a partnership with Pregones/PRTT that will premiere February 18 at 7PM.
What perspective do you bring to the artistic landscape?
I bring myself; my wholly unique self. I’m a multi-hyphenate; a creative; a storyteller across disciplines and mediums. I’m an optimist that loves the horror genre. Screams and laughter come from nearly the same place which is why I aim to create both horror and humor in my work. Messiness scares me, but that’s what I like to create—moments of messiness made beautiful (maybe). My parents have been together for nearly forty five years and maybe that makes me a hopeless romantic or maybe it’s why romance is rarely in what I write; maybe it intimidates me. But there’s a lot of love in what I write. I admire Flip Wilson, and I have a lot of aunts and maybe that’s why I have a female comedic persona named Sheryl. Sheryl is over 50 and doesn’t bite her tongue. I’m personally learning not to bite my tongue; it hurts.
I do Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work and that often teaches me a lot about people’s resistance to change; and especially white people’s resistance to change. For me this makes me create work for my community, not with white people in mind, because that’s a necessary paradigm shift in our collective consciousness. Let’s decenter whiteness. Trans Black Lives Matter and need to be represented more on all platforms. I hope that in my being and in my business I make more room for them, my sisters and brothers.
I think very rhythmically, so rhythm is in what I create. I’m really particular about this, especially for my on-screen work. From sketch comedy to short films to fully staged productions, if the rhythm is on point, impact is inevitable. I performed at The People’s Improv Theater weekly doing musical improv for almost two years and so have built a deep belief in intense listening, “making it up as you go along” and the certainty of happy accidents.
I performed in Amateur Night at The Apollo when I was seven years old and won! This made me pretty dang popular in elementary school and even now I still have worries that my level of recognized success might have peaked at that very young age. I aspire to feel that popular again. LOL (I think I’m kidding . . . Eeek!) I deeply admire Wayne Brady, Dave Chapelle, Jordan Peele, and Jaleel White (aka Steve Urkel) and I hope to work with or perform as all of them.
As a podcast host I am passionate that everyone’s story of personal struggle and eventual triumph is a bridge to connect each and every one of us. It’s why I’m grateful for the platform of The 180. And ultimately I bring to the artistic landscape all the colors of my own joy, pain, sunshine, and rain as a rainbow that I’m hoping appears as a beautiful transparent bridge. Let’s connect.
How has your artistic credo evolved in the past year?
My artistic credo has consistently focused on compassion, joy, and magic as its foundation. I want whoever experiences my work to know that those three things are possible for them. 2020 has evolved that credo to include radical imagination and healing. Imagination was vital for getting through 2020. We’ve been re-imagining what the theatre industry can and should be for the BIPOC community, re-imagining a country that defunds the police and also imagining new worlds in media that’s being consumed, like the HBOMax series Lovecraft Country. So my imagination has been sparked more, and I think additionally the need for escapism has felt more present since the pandemic hit. I’ve been fortunate enough to escape New York City and spend time in nature, seeing and experiencing new things, which I also know rekindled a passion for discovery that’s inherent to imagination. Imagination requires belief; seeing the unseen, and right now I believe we need more of that. Healing has been added to my artistic credo simply because I know I’ve been hurt and I’ve experienced the collective blows of 2020 as an opportunity to prioritize healing as a necessity. I hope people can experience my work and see those elements at play: compassion, joy, magic, radical imagination, and healing.
How do you navigate working in a field where you are constantly subject to critique?
I have self-care practices that remind me that my worth lies in how I see myself and how I treat myself. These include meditation, working out, journaling, stating affirmations. These are things I do solely for myself and holding myself accountable to do them daily or weekly is more often how I measure success. Attention and moreover praise for my art is icing on the cake. As I’m in the process of creating anything, I know that whatever the project is, it’s an outlet for me. Directly or indirectly I get to express my joy, dress my wounds, expose my hurts, offer a tribute, be messy, be unapologetic, and ultimately, be anyway I want. That is a special opportunity; that’s sacred to get to express that in an artistic way. AFTER I’ve created that expression then if I decide to share it, then ultimately my goal is that it reaches someone and makes a difference for them, even if just for a moment. Beyond being able to express myself through my art, how it’s received I can’t control, so I can’t place too much concern or value in that. But being brave enough to create the expression and then put it out there to be received is what I celebrate. There’s great bravery in creating and sharing and knowing that simply because you shared, you made an impact.
How do you cultivate joy in your life when you’re not creating?
I personally think we’re ALL creators and we’re ALWAYS creating. We are constantly creating the lives we want to live with our mindset, our focus, our habits, our actions, and our intentions. Beyond that, what we decide to wear, how we wear our hair, the way we make our food or set up our desk, are all creative acts. I’m able to find joy in ALL of that—in my very being—because I’m constantly creating. When I’m outside the more traditional expectations of the creative process, I’m cultivating joy by dancing around my apartment, laughing with friends, grabbing tea or coffee from my favorite barista in Harlem, being silly with my brother, reading a book, Netflix (and chill), listening to new music or my fave 90’s RnB, lighting candles (check out Jean Gray Candle Co.), strolling around Morningside Park, making travel plans (even just in my head), making up silly songs, encouraging my friends, leaving ridiculous voice mails, staring at my pet fish, writing affirmations, meditating, working out, and reminding myself to sometimes just be still and rest.
What do you want to bring to theatre when it returns?
I want to bring new genre-bending work that centers Black folx and expands our collective imagination. I want to bring new work to the theatre that also happens off the stage and maybe doesn’t even have a stage or building. I want to and will bring my community. I’ll bring new voices. I’ll bring better pay and a better environment that acknowledges the wholeness of our humanity even as artists. Artistry should not be defined by level of sacrifice or “starving.” I will change that in whatever ways big or small I can. I’ll bring more possibility and more awe and perhaps one day in the future someone will share with me how Sweet Chariot reassured them that they had a place in this industry; that their unique voice was necessary and welcome. That’d be nice. Even if that never happens I’m bringing more of me and mine once theatre returns!
You can follow Lockley on social media at @iamericlockley.