Dallas' Erykah Badu is a world-class performer, an R&B icon with more than 20 years at the forefront of the music world. But when Badu (nee Erica Wright, a Booker T. Washington High grad) steps on a downtown Dallas stage Oct. 29 in front of a hushed audience, she'll feel like a nervous kid again.
"I'm petrified, I'm not going to lie," Badu, 44, says during a recent chat about her upcoming three-night stand at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters. "It's a scary thing. I really feel a little jittery."
Why is she feeling this way when she's confidently presided over thousands of live performances in her career? Well, this is no typical Badu concert. It's a one-woman (or "one-human," as the star prefers) dramatic piece that will find her acting, singing, dancing and, in some cases, improvising.
Badu will debut the two-act piece as part of a packed 39th season for the academy.
The idea of the candid stage show has been marinating in Badu's mind for years. She says she even booked theaters in New York and L.A. to do it, "and I chickened out."
Indeed, being the sole writer and central focus of such a production could frighten even the most self-assured performer.
So it took a little encouragement from a longtime mentor and friend to get Badu to agree to finally take the leap: TBAAL's founder and director Curtis King. He'd known and worked with Badu in performance art programs since she was a child.
"Curtis was our director for one-act play competitions at the Dallas Theater Center every year, along with my godmother, Gwen Hargrove," Badu says. "I learned everything about who I am from being an actor on the stage -- that was my world.
"Uncle Curtis would scold all the other kids, but he would never scold me for some reason, and I would be acting a fool."
King speaks up: "Because there was something there!"
Indeed the theater veteran and TBAAL exec is elated to serve as a director for Badu on her show. She's written it all herself and was still mapping it out, but he's helping her find the appropriate structure and tone.
"The show is a reflection of her journey, so you get an idea of some of the people she's encountered either in her head or in real life along the way," King says. "To me, she's still an enigma.
"When I was sitting with Ms. Badu at her dining room table and she was talking through some of these characters and things she's written, it reminded me so much of sitting with Ruby Dee and working with her," he says. "To me, that's the level of artistry."
Badu doesn't want to give too much away about what audiences will see, but she'll go as far as to say that it's in no way a linear life story.
"It's not biographical," she says. "It's kind of stream-of-consciousness. I'm a pretty spontaneous artist."
That means the experiences could vary each evening, something that excites Badu. She's also sure to raise some eyebrows with the show's title: Live Nudity.
Yes, Badu agrees, the name works as a tongue-in-cheek reference to that controversial 2010 "Window Seat" video for which she publicly disrobed in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. But it also goes deeper than that.
"The title really expresses the pure honesty of my many personas," she says.
She can't help but add a teaser: "And we're not going to let you know if I'll actually be nude or not -- you're going to have to come see."
Yet Badu contends that Live Nudity will be fit for all ages.
"There will be some parental guidance needed, sure -- parents need to explain to their children some of the things," she said. "But the kind of parent I am, I do not hide anything from my kids no matter what stage of life I'm in.
"I want my kids to see who I am -- a human being, spiritual, rhythm, life."
Badu's oldest, 17-year-old Seven, has been working with his mother on new music including her wildly popular cover of the current Drake smash "Hotline Bling." Badu says all her kids -- including Puma, 11, and Mars, 6 -- have a solid sense of art. They are a kind of test audience for her in all her projects.
"They're pretty hard critics," Badu says. "If I ask Mars what she think about what I'm doing, she'll think for a minute and she'll say, 'Well, I want some Popeye's beans and rice.' And that's profound."
In other Badu developments, she'll host this year's Soul Train Awards, airing on BET Nov. 29. Her world's a stage these days.