Actress, Writer, and Producer Deborah Pratt Inspires Young Creatives
Deborah Pratt is the true meaning of being an inspiration. As a creator, writer, producer, director, her many talents and brilliance bring so much life to the world of entertainment. Now as the Executive Producer of hit television series Quantum Leap, it took a series of hard work, grit, networking, talent, and destiny that got her to where she is today.
Ms. Pratt comes from the south side of Chicago. Her mother is a psychologist and dad a banker. Growing up with her four sisters, all her parents wanted her to do was focus on getting an education for her future and be the best person she could be. She planned to get a degree in psychology, but in high school at the Academy of Our Lady, she learned she could sing and dance. While getting advanced placement credits at Finger City College in a summer program, Ms. Pratt auditioned for Marat Sade and Dark of the Moon and got the leads in both. When she went off to Webster University outside of Saint Louis Missouri to get her degree, she needed a work study job. She worked as an usher at the St. Louis Repertory theater which was associated with the University’s Conservatory. The Conservatory was putting on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. Not quite knowing the extent of her talents, she took a risk auditioning and landed the part.
Her ongoing success and love of the stage gave her confidence to say, “I really like this and think I’m good at this”.
Truly she was enjoying theater which prompted her to graduate early and take off a year to explore the entertainment business of Chicago. She had just started as an understudy in the Chicago company of “Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope”.
Ms. Pratt’s mother mentioned there was a nationwide search to audition women for the Golddiggers with Dean Martin’s TV show and touring group for NBC and she went to check it out. When she arrived, it was like American Idol or The Voice where she was up against hundreds of women. She stayed there, dancing and singing all day; 8 hours had gone by. At this point it was time for her to leave for work. By then only she and one other girl were left in the final round. She told the casting directors “I have to go to work but thank you for the opportunity.” The lead producer was surprised and baffled because so many women wanted the opportunity, and she was ready to up and leave. He said, “Do you understand what we are offering you?” and Pratt replied, “You haven’t offered anything yet, but if you want to hire me, you can bring me to Hollywood to do it.” She’s saving the colorful details for her autobiography. She got the job.
From that moment forward she kept pursuing dance, singing, but most of all acting. Ms. Pratt was deeply disappointed in the roles for women, especially women of color at the time confined to over-sexualized or unintelligent roles such as hooker, on camera reporter, nurse, or receptionist. Finally, the young actress ended up as a leader of the kidnapped earth girls Space Hunter, Adventures in the Forbidden Zone movie. When they fired the writer and director in the middle of production, the new script had little or nothing for her character to say or do. Here is an empowering moment in her life where she embraced fear, and she took matters into her own hands. Pratt snuck into the writer’s room, wrote seven pages, and brought her pages back to the head producer, Ivan Reitman. He cut her entire scene down to seven lines, but this became the defining moment where she began to write for the screen.
Ms. Pratt continued to write; it became one of her favorite things. One day a TV producer said “You’re good at this. Would you like to learn how to produce?” She was given the opportunity to start doing more behind the scenes work. Ms. Pratt wrote episodes for Magnum P.I and Airwolf, which she acted on as a recurring character. This led to co-creating Quantum Leap and executive producing a major network television series.
Her ideas keep getting bigger and bigger and the number of projects she puts out to the world shows her phenomenal mind. Pratt has written several books including “The Vision Quest” book series, “The Atlantian“, “The Odyssey”, “The Academy”, and “Panazia”, with book five of the series, “Salvation” due out the next year. A project she is currently excited about is a period piece about a Black musician and swordsman, Joseph Bologne, who wrote, conducted, and played violin from over 200 years ago whose music was all but lost in time. He’s a dualist with a sword and a violin, and the son of a white father and Black slave mother. This project is something she has been working on getting seen for twenty years as a play and as a feature film. In fact, eight years ago she thought the screenplay would be made into a movie. Ridley Scott wanted to direct her script but wanted the character rewritten as White. She wouldn’t defer from history or the truth of the character. This worked out the way it was supposed to because the play she wrote about this musician is being brought to life in the theater.
What’s also interesting is her Tony winning producer Dale Mott, found a theater in St. Louis that he really liked, and it happened to be the theater where it all began for her, at her alma mater the Saint Louis Repertory at Webster University. The same school she got her start in entertainment and wrote and directed her first play. “It’s kind of this big full circle…and I’m very excited about it!” she told me. They also found an amazing theater in London which they hope to premier in.
Coming up, she has been offered to direct two more movies; one comedy and one drama. She is also working on a graphic novel called WARRIOR ONE as well as a young, Black girl magic fantasy called MIRRORS: The Dragon Mirror, coming soon.
When she started, she was the only black, female writer, producer in the genre of science fiction in TV or film. She wanted to highlight that currently she works with an amazing cast, crew, and staff for the reboot of her original series Quantum Leap. For the original series she wrote 21 episodes. For the new series she is once again lending her voice to Ziggy, a character she created in the original series. She just directed an episode called “Family Style” set to air February 27, 2023, on NBC at 10:00PM EST and PST 9:00PM Central and then on Peacock Streaming. Ms. Pratt is doing what women always do best: reinventing herself. “Quantum Leap” is an always fresh, brilliant, and challenging series because it’s a little movie every week,” she explained. Actors from the new series include Raymond Lee, Caitlin Bassett, Ernie Hudson, Nanrisa Lee, and Mason Alexander Park. Raymond and Nanrisa are South Korean, Ernie is African-American, and Mason is non-binary. “It’s important to me to always fight for as much diversity behind the camera as in front of the camera, which I’m grateful for the reimagining of Quantum Leap by co-creators Bryan Wynbrant and Steven Lilen, and showrunners Martin Gero and Dean Georgaris agree.”
Ms. Pratt added, “I believe creating opportunities for diversity of people and ideas is your job if you’re a person of color. We must start funding our own movies and telling our stories.” She has from the beginning, a dream of creating a Quantum Leap movie and more to keep the franchise and the message of hope and world unity going.
Ms. Pratt has a passion for helping young talent including actors and writers. She had some great advice to give:
To the writers she suggested this exercise: “What I say to people is find a wonderful place you want to go to and work. Take all the ideas you have and start writing one of them. Start writing your story, but here’s the secret: Only write for 10 minutes then stop. It will make you crazy, especially if you’re in a flow. You’ll find when you get up, your mind keeps writing.” She also suggested reading 40 scripts in the genre you want to write in.
“Find a story that you’re passionate about. If you haven’t got an idea, go look at the world and see what moves you to care. Go read a book or 30 and find a story that your passions insist needs you to tell. You can get the rights and reinvent it. That’s what Disney did. Steven Spielberg did that too. When he directed Dual, I was told he stood outside Universal Studios every day until Sid Sheinberg stopped and asked what he’s doing there every day. “I want you to watch my movie, ” he said to Sid. When they did, that’s when they finally paid attention. The rest is history.”
Ms. Pratt’s message to the actors: “If you’re an actor, go find a story, a writer to write you a script, a director, and film. A 2-10-15 minute movie. Even use a phone, you don’t have to wait for someone to give you permission to get done. Take your picture and resume to USC, UCLA, AFI, or any University with a film school, tell them you want to act in the student films and start building your reel and your relationships. You never know who the next Ava DuVernay or Spike Lee will be. When you meet an agent, you’ll be able to pitch yourself with a variety of what you can do and show them your work. It’s about how convincing you are and sometimes it costs a little money but that’s what GoFundMe is for or friends & family. We all need to learn how to market ourselves. Know who you are and be fearless. Don’t be afraid to go do theatre. There’s a great saying – Movies will make you famous, television will make you rich, but theater will make you good. Seize the day!”
For the Black artists and women: “We as Black artists and women need to do this: don’t compete, support, and contribute. Be happy for someone’s success. Celebrate them. If you admire what they did, help get the word out.”
Deborah M. Pratt is a multi-talented woman, and she is the first Black woman of her kind. She has nominations for Emmys and Golden Globes, has won awards for Women in Film, Humanitarian, and several film festivals awards.
The next episode of Quantum Leap which she directed is called “Family Style”. It airs Monday, February 27th on NBC 10:00PM EST and PST and 9:00 Central, and on Peacock. She asks that you write or tweet or Facebook your favorite family food or story of how your whole family comes together.” You won’t want to miss it!
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