Having articulated her dream at the age of ten, becoming a student of Theatre at the age of 12, dubbed “Little Cicily [Tyson]” by a most respected senior member of her church, Norma always knew who she was and what she wanted to do. So, just a couple of years out of the University of Houston, degreed in Theatre and English Education, at the prompting of a friend, Norma headed to Dallas, Texas to get her feet wet and lay a foundation in the entertainment industry. Though agents saw her as a potential fashion model, garnering titles like, Miss Black Dallas and doing ad work for local companies, Norma’s heart was in acting; she took no time connecting with the Dallas Theatre scene, performing in shows such as “You Can’t Take it With You” and “For Colored Girls…”, and in tv commercials such as Remco and Radio Shack, in McDonald’s industrials, and feature films, “The Fig Tree”, “Save the Dog”, “Chained Heat”, and “Dark Angel”.
Enjoying a dual career as Performing Artist & Arts Educator, Screen Actors Guild card in hand, sights on the bright lights of Hollywood, Norma J. determined that the 1986 Hollywood climate just might not be too supportive of a young, single mother, nor of the full career she desired. Yet, she must confess; she still wonders. She decided that she would have to write the plays and produce the films worthy of her talent, with diverse, Black, female characters as she perceived them, not as Hollywood narrowly projected them. She felt, also, the call to nurture, develop, and train young talent to do the same, called to raise a new vanguard of artists to the caliber she, herself, aspired to, the ranks of Cicily Tyson, Ruby Dee, Dianne Carroll, Ossie Davis, Harry Belafonte, and Sydney Poitier. She saw the need, also, to utilize the Arts as a tool of outreach and exposure in the community.
Staying true to her dreams, goals, and aspirations, while teaching English, Speech, and Drama in public school, Norma began a self-designed study of film, and developed SumAct, a summer Theatre youth program which, for 5 years, provided theatrical training to children, employed college Theatre majors, and brought Arts to the community. Out of SumAct grew the Speech Choir of Houston, a tour group of young performers, and Scape Productions, which fostered the mission year ‘round with projects like Inter-Generational Theatre, bringing children and elders together onstage in the original production, “Yellock’s Diner”, featured at the Texas Conference on Aging.
Plagued daily by the inadequacy of the public classroom, she partnered with Angela F. CeZar and founded Scape Africentric Umbrella Home School, enrolling sixty plus students over four years, and introducing the methodology now called Arts Integrated Instruction, to the Houston scene. Scape students were featured regularly on the radio show, Dialogue w/ Ada Edwards, as was Norma who married Spoken Word performances to whatever topic was being featured on the show that day. Upon closing the doors of the school, with the graduation of her only daughter, Kam, the founder continued the mission of Scape in places like the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program where she used Theatre and Creative Writing in her work with teenage fathers, at youth conferences, women’s conferences, and where ever theatrical expression might be of inspiration, enlightenment, and entertainment. Encouraged by the notoriety her work was gaining through these efforts, as well as Theatre and Film Festivals, she founded French Creole Productions, a stage and film production company. Through FCP, came “Church Anniversary”, “Church Ladies”, which opened at Houston’s Zilkah Theatre, “You Tappin’ On My Last Nerve2” (“Tappin’ On My Last Nerve” was a festival favorite with Soul Rep New Plays Fest as was “By the Waters of Babylon” the year before). Other, more recent, original FCP productions include “Wizard of Swag”, “Urban Christmas”, and “Lest We Forget”. Her short film “Harvest Moon”, screened at the Shrine Cultural Center. Under the banner of FCP, Norma has produced stage plays, musical productions, PSA’s, music videos, documentaries, and more. Her screenplay, “Blessed Be the Ties That Bind” was a finalist in the Hollywood Black Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.
Ever committed to arts education, Norma returned to the classroom for a few years, then came upon the position of UIL Fine Arts Specialist within the Houston Independent School District, where she enjoyed providing support to teachers and Fine Arts programs. Realizing how much support for schools and programs would have to come from outside the school system, she helped establish the M.C. Williams Alumni Association in support of M. C. Williams MS, and the Black Theatre Educator’s Caucus. She is a member of the Texas Motion Picture Association, the Texas Educational Theatre Association, Texas Theatre Adjudicators & Officials Organization, and serves on the Board of The People Outreach Ministry in the building of Haitian schools. Norma has instituted projects like The Torchlight Magazine, Shrine Media, YTG2.0, and the Sacred Trust Youth Project at her church, the Shrines of the Black Madonna [Houston], and regularly offers her theatrical and film talents to its mission.
At present Norma is working to unite her endeavors under one roof, physically and virtually, including:
- French Creole Productions (a stage and film production company)
- Bibi’s Girls Publications (children’s content emphasizing Reading and Character Development, 3 books in print)
- The NJT Network (a streaming website, 5 channels of video programming)
- NT Conservatory (a non-traditional school of Fine Arts and Arts Integrated Instruction, opening January 2016)
Each entity serves to preserve and advance Norma’s life-long artistic work and vision, a legacy she is striving, with the unwavering assistance from partner, Angela, to leave for daughter Kam, and two grand daughters, Kamiliyah and Leelah.