This interview we get to know Melissa Mickens the creator of the web series “Shampagne”.
About the Creator: Melissa Mickens holds a BFA in drama from NYUs Tisch School of the Arts, where she trained the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Favorite credits include: That Bachelorette Show, Cafe Le Monde and Night of Power, Messiah Complex, and Gem of the Ocean.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the comedy web series “Shampagne” could you tell us more about it?
“Shampagne” is a web series that tries to answer the age-old question which is: “In order to be a successful black actress, CLEARLY, you must have a rap background first. Right? Merp!” But to be more specific, the show follows M, a 20-something actress in New York City, fed up with having to fit into the industry’s “black girl” box. She has finally reached her breaking point and decides to break convention, sort of, to make her dreams of hitting it big in the Big Apple stick. Her only challenge? Making this “rap-star thing” stick.
What inspired you to create the series?
“So, can you rap?”
If, like me, hearing this question leads to sweaty palms, uptick in heartbeat, and an urge to leave whatever room you’re in IMMEDIATELY, you have a small taste of how I two years ago.
Imagine, you have finished your prepared monologue or sides in the audition room, and the casting associate or director, looks at with you a smile, says “Thank you” and goes on to ask “So, can you rap?” Now, imagine that that happens to you multiple times over the course of one week, without any warning. Talk about “Merp” After talking to my mom about needing to have a “freestyle rap” in my back pocket, I really started to get a little frustrated about the NEED for me to be able to have this as a black actress.
So, one night I was hanging with a friend (Barron Bass, who would go on to be Leroy Legend in the show) in Columbus Circle and I noticed a billboard near the CNN sign for a champagne brand, can’t remember which one, and said “That would be an awesome rapper name!” and he agreed and then it turned into this inside joke between us. “Champagne, would rap about this! Champagne could definitely wear that!” And the joke kept going and I was like, “This could be something. This is a character!”
And “Shampagne” was born!
What was the biggest struggle creating the series?
Definitely starting! Deciding that this was an idea worth pursuing and then finding the right people to help me carry out the vision I had for the show. After I had the people in place, the second biggest struggle was BALANCE. The best decision I made at the top of pre-production was being adamant about NOT directing. LOL. Juggling the creator/writer/actor/producer hats were plenty, so it was great to have Jason (Gray) step in and take on the task of directing the show and helping me to see the possibilities in the script and the show that I couldn’t possibly conceive being so close to it (the show).
As Pagne Sham develops her skills, can we expect an album or a single?
When I started developing the show, (super early thinking LOL) I was thinking “What if the show’s episodes were ‘titled?’ You know each episode would be a track on the impending album. I haven’t strayed away from that idea and really am itching to get an LP out, or at least, a single. The rapping on the show is so organic, to the chagrin of my music supervisor and editor alike, but there have been some friends of the show that have reached out, who are like at the top of their game in the hip hop world, and I think I’ll ask for a master class or two in the coming future.
What is the greatest message you want to relay with the series?
That, black women, can be represented in a myriad of ways. That there is no single “box” that we must fit into, when it comes to fictional characterization on screen. With the show’s premise, it really is poking a bit of fun at the industry status quo! I mean think about it, with the Hamilton revolution on the stage, the continued perception that hip-hop/rap is king, the difficulty to be the “other” black person is hard to find in huge supply anywhere. I’m just trying to show that there are other stories out there.
But also, I take great pride in only having people of color on set, both in front of AND behind the camera. This is my small way of showing that there are technicians out there, who are NOT white that are just as talented and capable in their storytelling, even while larger scale films and TV shows try to tell us otherwise. How can we make a mark on this industry, if we, creators and producers, don’t take a chance on our peers, and put them in leadership roles on set?
It’s all about breaking out of the “box” and leveling the playing field.
As technology continues to grow what do you think is next for mediamakers?
I really think that more partnerships with social media platforms is in the immediate future. I’ve noticed how many influential websites and networks now have a media production component (Refinery29, Popsugar, CBS for examples), because they realize how many potential viewers are going to their sites on a daily basis, looking for something quick, new or innovative to watch, binge or invest in. More online centered content is definitely the future for all media makers.
For all your fans, what can they expect next from you and your team?
I’m working on a script for season two. New partnerships with streaming platforms, widening my audience and eventually building a production company to give other creators of color opportunities to develop their projects and get their points of view out to a larger audience 🙂
View the comedic web series on ColoredContent.
For more information on “Shampagne” visit our the official website.