Merle Dandridge on Passion and Giving Back
She’s toured the United States and Europe six times and starred in leading roles on Broadway from Aida to Rent and even serves on the Board of Directors at The Geffen Playhouse. It was Merle Dandridge’s upbringing that prepared her for her starring role in OWN’s hit drama Greenleaf, which is about a family that runs a sprawling megachurch in Memphis. Dandridge stars as Grace Greenleaf, the estranged daughter of the church leader who returns home after a twenty-year absence and uncovers family secrets and scandalous happenings. We interviewed Dandridge in 2017 and talked with her about how she developed a passion for theatre and why she believes it is important to give back to others.
Dandridge shares how she developed her passion for theatre and what excites her the most about it.
“Drama found me. I took it as an easy elective in high school and ended up finding a tribe. I was a pretty singular person before that. What the theatre did was open me up because I was very quiet, and it gave me a group of like-minded people who were fearless. That gave me the courage to really be myself and walk my path. That was right in line with the time that I found God. I found God and I found that [theatre tribe] the same year. I’d always been in church, but that’s when I actually had gotten baptized and started a personal relationship with God. That’s how I know that there’s something else, and other, in what I’m doing with my work. As long as I stay connected to that [relationship with God], it always blessed and served me. I committed to it because I was raised by a military dad and an Asian mom, and the combination of those things mean discipline, discipline, discipline. I had a lot of discipline. Personal discipline as well, and was able to apply myself one hundred percent. So when I was gifted with this full ride scholarship – otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to college and leave Nebraska – I committed and in those college years in Chicago fell passionately, fundamentally in love with acting. I saw what art could really do, and that is: encourage, turn a mirror on the social condition, and heal. Those things just turned into a life calling.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Dandridge explains why she believes it is important to give back and serve.
“If certain people and moments in my life hadn’t been generous with me, I would not have been able to step forward or find another break through. There were some times that I thought I was really going to languish, and the clouds parted and somebody just gave me a hand or a nugget of wisdom or just a hug. When somebody has been generous with you, you just feel compelled. You must reach back and do the same. You must pay it forward. I feel like where I can be of help, I have to be of help. When I can be of help, if I have something to give, I need to give it. It’s also been my theory that if you close your fist, nothing can come in, nor can it go out. If you keep your fists open, the blessing will come in and you must keep it open to pass it on. It’s just a dropping point for a place for the blessing to come into your life and you can siphon it out where your eyes see it needs to go.”
Befriend others. No matter if we are in junior high or late in our career. It can be hard to make friends when we are in a new place. It is good to remember that if someone is new at school, church or work, try to go out of your way to get to know them. Introduce them to other people. Invite them to sit with you at lunch. Offer to show them some your favorite places around town. Take time to get to know them. Pray and ask God to show you if there is someone in your life that you can reach out and befriend. It might be a neighbor, teammate or someone at work.
Be yourself. It can be challenging when we are trying to fit into a new group. It can be tempting to make decisions or conform to the group so that we can fit in and not appear different. Instead, God wants us to be who He created us to be. He created each of us to be unique. Our physical features and personality are all a reflection of Him. If you are having a difficult time finding a group that accepts you the way that you are, pray and ask God to help you find faithful friends that will love and accept you for who He created you to be.
Hold your hands open. Whether it is time or possessions, hold your hands open to the resources God has entrusted you with. Take time this week and ask God to show you how He wants you to use the resources He has blessed you with. Be willing and obedient to share what you have with others. It might be taking time and mentoring someone. It might be giving something to someone that will help them in their career or walk with the Lord. Likewise, hold your hands open to the blessings God wants to give to you. It can be humbling to receive from other people. Ask God for perspective on receiving wisdom and gifts from others.
To read our entire interview with Merle Dandridge, click here.
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