SIUE Alumni Curtis and Septembre Lewis Motivate, Inspire and Teach
Don’t let looks fool you. Don’t give up on yourself. These are two central messages dramatically conveyed in “Beauty Inside and Out,” the original play written, directed and produced by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alumnus Curtis Lewis.
Lewis, who received his bachelor’s in theater performance in 2011 from SIUE, founded Journey Live Production in 2008. Lewis formed the traveling theater company after writing his first play, “Beauty Inside and Out” in 2006. Among others, the company consists of Lewis’s wife, Septembre, who graduated from SIUE in 2012 with a bachelor’s in nursing, and is the creative director for Journey Live. Septembre also won the community humanitarian award at the 2017 SIUE Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration.
“We use art to inspire our present, heal our past and give us courage to walk into our future,” said Curtis Lewis.
“I am on a journey. We are all on a journey,” he continued. “I want to inspire people to invest in their most important resource – themselves! I am committed to motivating others with what is one of my life slogans: You Are Great.”
In Lewis’s first play, he builds on the framework of being the best version of you, but first he strips away the superficial beauty of some characters and the false facade of others. Standing out among all the characters is a homeless man, Mr. Ernest (Lewis), who shows the essence of beauty by his sterling character, his ability to demonstrate kindness to others and his possession of simple happiness. The dramatic play centers on a hair salon, is comedic, thought provoking and sells the idea that everyone is connected, whether they realize it or not.
Lewis, of Rock Island, also wrote the play, “American Assassination” in 2010. The play spotlights the lives of various citizens, who are part of a community where it seems all hope is lost. The characters, however, rise up to demonstrate that people must fight for families, communities and themselves.
The playwright’s most recent work is an autobiographical book, Fear Saved My Life: 10 Ways to Make Your Dreams Bigger Than Your Distractions, and was written to take the reader on a journey to discover his or her greatness.
Septembre, counselor for the SIUE East St. Louis Center Upward Bound Math and Science program, is working on a book of her own, titled for her husband’s play, Beauty Inside and Out. Septembre, who plays Theresa in “Beauty Inside and Out,” opens her book the same way “Theresa” ends the play, with a poem by the same name.
“Beauty Inside and Out” has a cast of 13 actors and a production crew of approximately 20 people. Besides plays, the company provides acting and yoga workshops, youth motivational speaking, mentoring and coaching.
“I’m honored to be a part of Journey Live Production,” Septembre Lewis said. “It’s a ministry, really. It’s important because, unfortunately, the arts are being taken out of many schools. To think future generations may not have the accessibility to the arts as others have in the past is an unfortunate depravation.
“I get excited about seeing older people at our productions, too,” she added, “because as we grow older, we can tend to lose touch with our inspired selves due to the trials of life. Creativity is not something that just some people have. It is in all of us. It has to be tapped, and when it is, it makes us more human, and we see can see life more beautifully.”
Journey Live came about from the imagination of a quiet, introspective boy, Lewis told a group of SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School students during a black history month program. “I started at the age of nine writing skits for church. I was also a daydreamer, and while I didn’t talk much, I liked to observe people and use them as characters in my plays.
“I had a teacher who told me I would never amount to anything in life, and people would call me bad. I learned a lot through my father’s struggles, and I told myself that I had to do better,” Lewis continued. “I looked at my mother and how she didn’t give up on things. Every morning at 4 a.m., my mother would get me up to jog. She told me she saw something in me, and that I had to push myself.”
“Each one of you are great and have something to give,” Lewis told the students. “As you go through life, there will be some people who say you can’t do something, but don’t listen. Don’t hold onto your gift. Let it go!”
Another influential person in Lewis’s life was his grandfather, Elex Roberts Sr. “He always told me I was great,” Lewis said. “He told me to imagine my life as a tunnel, with me walking from the small end to the big end. He would also have me close my eyes, breathe and concentrate.
“I began searching for a better life, and I noticed my circle of influence was getting smaller. I also started making better choices. My grandfather also told me about his stepfather, and how he looked up to him. He was a man from the south who wasn’t the greatest reader, but could use pictures to illustrate amazing stories. He was a regular man who took care of his family.”
Mr. Ernest, the play character, is fashioned after Lewis’s grandfather’s stepfather.
“I write about all the things that I and others go through, and I try to frame it in a creative way,” Lewis concluded. “Life is all about the journey, not the destination. I can’t say where my life is going to go, but there will be a lot of greatness along the way.”
For more information or to schedule a play, presentation or workshop, call Septembre at 618.698.2480.
Photo: SIUE alumni Curtis and Septembre Lewis are the founder and creative director of Journey Live Production.