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One Day in Paradise (A day on the set of East of La Brea)

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 (My sisters in the series played by Lee Sherman, top center and Jeryl Prescott, bottom left.)

My head was bouncing, my fingers were snapping, the music was blasting, and I was singing my heart out to Cardi B’s “I like.” In case you’re wondering, no I wasn’t at the club on a Saturday night. It was Wednesday, August 1, and I was in my car on my way to the set of the groundbreaking new web series East of La Brea. And yes, I was beyond excited about being cast as Darlene, aunt to the character Aisha Hassan, played by Geffri Maya (Private Practice).

East of La Brea is a groundbreaking web series that follows the lives of twentysomething Muslim women, Aisha Hassan (Geffri Maya), a black Muslim, and her Bangladeshi-American roommate, Farha Munshi (Kausar Mohammed), both of whom are struggling to navigate the changing landscape of their native Los Angeles home and their own ethnic communities. The series is produced by Paul Feig's production company, Powderkeg. Paul is an actor, film director, producer (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters to name a few) and screenwriter. Sameer Gardezi, who has writing credits on Modern Family and Outsourced, created the show. The series is directed by the fabulous Sam Bailey. She is the director and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated Web series Brown Girls. The DP is Ante Cheng. His narrative feature Gook received the Sundance 2017 NEXT Audience Award.

With this much talent and clout surrounding East of La Brea, it’s no wonder I turned my car into a disco on wheels. But it’s more than the A-list vibe that filled me with joy on August 1. It was the realization that my dream had come true—I had arrived. In February 2016, I took a leap of faith and retired from corporate America to pursue acting and writing fulltime. I had no idea when I took this leap if I would land on my feet or flat on my face. But with faith I have persevered, and God has given me favor.

As I drove West on the 10 Freeway, I flashed back to my days working as an assistant in corporate America. I thought about the times I would trudge into work after battling traffic. I cringed thinking about the times I’d spent in the copy room, binding documents, fantasizing about winning the lottery so I could leave the job and live my dream. I thought about the three-hour drive from work to home on rainy days, tears of gratitude pricking my eyes, thanking God that I no longer have to live my life on the freeway. The closer I got to set, the happier I became.

When I arrived, my eyes widen as they locked on members of the crew walking from the house where I would be filming to basecamp. As soon as I’d parked, I sent a text to the second AD and he quickly responded, glad that I was early. He met me at my car and escorted me to wardrobe. I was smiling so hard my face hurt. I wasn’t the only one cheesing. Everyone around me seemed happy. Basecamp was crackling with energy and warmth. It seemed like everyone was floating on air. I looked around at the crew and I got a sense that they were as happy as I was. It’s something about being around people who love what they do. The environment was the antithesis of my corporate job, where I’m sure there were people there that loved what they were doing, but I also know there were many who dreaded going into the office. That was clearly not the case on the set of East of La Brea. We were all there because we have a passion for telling stories.

After a little while other cast members began to arrive. I immediately connected with the actresses playing my sisters, Lee Sherman and Jeryl Prescott. In between makeup and hair, we hugged, laughed and marveled at our good fortune, telling one another about our backgrounds and how we had been cast in the web series. Before we knew it, it was time to report to set. Our scenes were shot entirely in the kitchen of my fictional house. I loved every minute of it. Our director, Sam Bailey, was kind and approachable, leading us through the scenes with grace, attending to every detail. It was a joy to work with her. All I could think about is that I never wanted the day to end. I laughed thinking about how when I’d worked in corporate America I couldn’t wait for the day to end. Yes, I was grateful I had a job. But that’s what it was—a job, not a dream.

By the time lunch rolled around I was still bubbling over with joy. I was so happy, I could barely eat. I plopped down at the table with my fellow actors. To my right was the talented and hilariously funny Kausar Mohammed who plays Farha Munshi the other twentysomething Muslim woman. In between bites of tofu, rice and vegetables we talked about how blessed we were to be a part of the series and how wonderful the writing was. Then it was time to play again. Back to set. One of the highlights of the day was meeting Paul Feig the producer and Sameer Gardezi the creator.

When we wrapped the last scene, we walked off set to be greeted with applause by the crew. It was magical. “Thank you! God bless you. Thank you,” I said, while I basked in the love and acceptance. I shook my head, imaging getting a standing ovation once I finished work at my corporate job. NOT!!!

After countless group selfies, hugs, promises to stay in touch, I returned to my car and made my way toward the freeway, still smiling. I turned on the radio and my head started bouncing, my fingers started snapping, the music was blasting, and I was singing my heart out that was overflowing with gratitude and appreciation for getting to spend a day in Paradise—on the set of East of La Brea!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Born in Oakland and raised in San Francisco, playwright and author, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. A graduate of U.S.C., Alretha’s plays have graced numerous Southern California stages. Her most recent production, “One Woman, Two Lives,” starred Kellita Smith of the Bernie Mac Show. Her debut novel, “Daughter Denied” was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Her second novel “Dancing Her Dreams Away,” launched in 2011 and was also well-received. “Married in the Nick of Nine” is her third novel and she recently completed the sequel, “The Baby in the Window.” Alretha says the one and only upside to her 350-mile-a-week-commute, is that it gives her ample time to come up with story ideas. When not in bumper–to-bumper traffic she enjoys going to the movies, blogging, and spending time with her husband Roy.

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