“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” Maya Angelou~
By the age of twelve, Mae began to develop a passion for acting, singing, dancing and playing piano. She was shy and quiet, except for when she was performing… it was her escape. “I come from a really good and talented family,” says Mae. “My parents loved to sing and dance. My sisters are excellent singers and one of my brothers played professional football. We have truly been blessed.”
Mae’s mother was a strong proponent of a good education and even though she was a single parent, Mae attended and graduated from private school. She recalls her mother always working two or three jobs at a time and recognized the hardship tuition placed on the family. Determined to go to college and complete her education, Mae signed up with the National Guard during her junior year of high school and, with help from their college tuition assistance program, she was able to ensure her college dreams.
It was the summer of 1985 and with high school behind her—this obedient and somewhat naive young lady with a never ending smile set out for basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. As with all new recruits, it was an adjustment getting acclimated to military life. Chapman worked and studied hard. Failure for her was not an option. “It was tough”, says Chapman. “It was an emotional roller coaster for all of the recruits. Each day brought a different level of stress and it began to take its toll on a lot of people. I tried to keep everyone’s spirits up by singing and entertaining them when we had down time.”
One day, with no warning or time to prep, something happened that would leave an indelible impression on Private Chapman. It was a hot summer afternoon in South Carolina and her
platoon was going through Combat and Tactical Training when they came upon the Confidence Tower (a station that fellow recruits would later deem the Tower of Terror). One by one, platoon members began their attempt at conquering the ominous tower, but to no avail, as the massive structure was too much for the first wave of recruits. The drill sergeant came down pretty hard on everyone, she explains. “As he berated the whole platoon, I thought to myself, But, I haven’t had a chance yet…” Just as the drill sergeant was calling it quits on the operation (because he thought no one could do it), Mae remembers speaking up with a voice she had no idea was there… “I raised my hand and told the sergeant that I hadn’t had a turn yet. He tried to intimidate me by asking if I really thought I could handle the obstacle myself.
I calmly and firmly said, “YES DRILL SERGEANT.” Receiving his nod, she quickly went to task and to almost everyone’s surprise, she successfully completed the dreaded Tower of Terror. Her adrenaline pumping and with a new-found boost in confidence, she announced she wanted to do it again and proceeded to complete it a second time.
It was the boost she needed and Chapman still credits her unwavering self confidence to the own experience. She explains, “It helped me find my voice as an adult. I knew then that if I set my mind to something I could do it. Maybe not on the first try, but I knew that if I really wanted something and I was committed to accomplishing it, I could do it—that was a great epiphany for me on many levels.”
After completing Basic Training, Mae returned to South Louisiana and began classes at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) where she majored in Elementary Education before switching to Business Administration. Performing arts, ever-present for her, became a big part of Mae’s college life. She joined a hip hop dance group called “Chocolate Shake”. They competed and won local talent shows and were given a wonderful opportunity to be the opening act for an upcoming LL Cool J performance. However, due to unexpected circumstances, the opportunity was lost and the group quickly dismantled. It would be the first of many missed opportunities for Mae.
College life was exciting. New-found freedoms coupled with countless life choices led Mae to her first big reality check as an adult—when she learned she was pregnant. The birth of her first child (Jasmine) left Mae more determined than ever to complete her education. She worked nights as a dorm monitor while her daughter slept on a mattress at her feet. The late nights allowed her to study and complete school work. “I didn’t have a sitter so I brought her to class with me,” Mae said. “I did what I had to do. It wasn’t easy, but there was no way I could fail now.”
After completing college, Mae was forced to move back home after surviving a terribly abusive relationship that almost killed her. Rescued by her parents, Mae was able to escape, regroup and make a better plan for her life. In the early 90s, after completing her obligations with the National Guard, she moved to Mamou, LA and settled into the country life and where she eventually got married. “Life became good for us then,” she said with a smile.
Starting out as a teacher’s aide at Mamou High School, Mae became a Certified Paraeducator. When a chance to take over an ill teacher’s classroom for a half year presented itself, she took it willingly. It became a full time job with challenges. It was no ordinary class, as it consisted primarily of “At-Risk” students. These students soon found a place in Mae’s heart which sparked a maternal instinct within her. “When you teach children, they start to become like your own and those kids became mine.”
One day after hearing that a teacher had told Mae’s students on the playground that they would never amount to anything in life except to have babies and go to jail, she decided to give the kids hope. She pushed the curriculum aside and brought in a book by Dr. Farrah Gray titled Reallionaire. I told them, “No matter what they tell you in life, no one can dictate who you are gonna be. Do you understand me? I’m going to teach you how to be entrepreneurs.” Mae not only taught in theory but invested her own money to start up a pie selling business with the kids. In addition to teaching the kids how to run a business, she brought in The Secret written by Rhonda Byrne. “The Secret really resonated with me and I wanted to share the laws of attraction with my students.”
A natural born performer, Chapman always made room for artistic expression. Whether she was writing and directing plays at Mamou High School or performing in one at Cité des Arts, performance art was a staple in her life. Through this work, she met Wayne Douglas Morgan at a meeting. Morgan would eventually offer Chapman the rare opportunity of working as a casting assistant on the set of “Into the Electric Mist” starring Tommy Lee Jones and John Goodman. The gig was for three months and was being filmed in Acadiana, particularly New Iberia and St. Martinville.
Chapman was faced with a dilemma. Accepting the job, she would have to leave her teaching job mid school year. Conflicted on what to do, she visited the school administrator who told her, “When I was a little boy, I told my daddy that I wanted to be an actor. He was abrupt and nonsupportive so I never pursued it. Who am I to discourage your dreams? You did a fantastic job with those kids. Follow your dream.” Those words directly affected the course of Mae’s life.
“That was 2006 and I haven’t been back (in the school system) since,” Mae said with a laugh.
That year, she was also encouraged to start “MeetUp”, an opportunity for people in film to meet and connect in the Lafayette area, while staying abreast of entertainment opportunity and news. She proudly states that they started with seven key members and now have over 1000 members online. Volunteering her time to that for the past decade is one of the things Mae is most proud of—bringing people together. She doesn’t only want success for herself but for all those around her.
However, not everyone was supportive. The pursuit of Mae’s dreams triggered the demise of her marriage. Another “failure” to fuel the Chapman drive. Don’t ever tell Mae she can’t do something because she will do everything in her power to prove you wrong.
After working on several projects and another huge missed opportunity, Chapman vowed to make a difference for herself and her family. In 2010, Mae decided to branch out on her own by forming her own casting company, Chapman Casting, now known as Mae Chapman Casting LLC, becoming the first African American woman to own a casting company in the state of Louisiana.
A true warrior and survivor, Mae turned failures into opportunity—Mae Chapman Casting LLC is thriving in 2016 and is known for its integrity and professionalism. Hoping to pass her casting company down to her four children, Jasmine, Brandon, Maureen and Jeremiah (the youngest graduates high school in May) she plans to pursue a law degree specializing in Entertainment Law.
Mae constantly works at her life’s mission, which is to leave a legacy. “Taking the leap of faith that I did showed me how much faith I really had,” she said. Still a single mom, Chapman says it’s still hard and she just tries not to worry and takes it day by day. Four years ago, she joined the U.S. Army Reserves where she holds the rank of Sergeant.Mae usually has a wide smile even when she is talking about something that isn’t necessarily pleasant and most of her sentences end with a laugh. Her positive attitude and drive for success are infectious. Mae Chapman sees rough times and pitfalls as catalysts—forces driving her to succeed. She is a woman who is unafraid of hard work and asking for what she wants. She keeps moving forward, no matter what life throws her way.
Noted Credits & Accomplishments include: Mae Chapman Casting launched its debut project, Mystery Diagnosis, which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Since then, the company has cast multiple SAG / AFTRA and Independent projects, such as History Channel’s, Way of the World Upperline Entertainment’s 1959, Pekin Express, The Amazing Race, He Watches Over Me, and Dirt Road to Lafayette. Mae has also worked as an on- set acting coach with celebrity actors Terrance Howard and Jaqueline Fleming in The Ledge. She was a Film Production Assistant on The Life the House Built, a Gulf Coast Habitat for Humanity project produced by former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. She is also working with International Platinum R&B/Pop Artist, “New Cupid” as Film/TV Talent coach/Mentor and Head Administrator of his Fitness program, CuRobiks. Mae Chapman’s casting expertise has assisted “Nephew Tommy” (an On-Air personality from The Steve Harvey Morning Show) and Cupid with professional dancers for the Nephew Tommy Comedy Tour.
Article by: Kisha F. Kana
Photography by: Caresse CrosbyFace Magazine 2016. All rights reserved.