News Column

Cheyney grads produce a show they say gets real

April 30, 2013

YellowBrix

April 30--Cedric Perry and his production team are out to smash what they say is the stereotype of the historically black college.

So, three times a month, Perry drives to his alma mater, Cheyney University in Delaware County, with floodlights, cameras, and a script.

Once settled in the student center, Perry becomes the producer, cowriter, director, costar, cameraman, wardrobe manager, and lighting guy of the YouTube series We're Just Talking.

"This is the glamorous life of Web TV," said Perry, 27, as he adjusted lights and prepared to change into his character's hip-hop (circa 2002) wardrobe.

The 2008 Cheyney graduate and his friend and fellow alumnus Devyn Swain are the creators of a show whose message is that black college life is about more than pledging, frat parties, and step shows.

And they're doing it with laughs.

Think a 2013 version of A Different World with a cast of Cheyney students and alums, along with a few students from West Chester University.

In 12- to 15-minute installments, We're Just Talking tells stories of roommate drama, family issues back home, dating, running for student office, and trying to fit in on campus.

There's even a Fresh Prince-esque theme song:

They're two brothers from two different worlds.

Got too many problems with two different girls.

One is a nerd. He's got a way with words.

The other is a brother who was raised in the burbs.

"People think [black colleges] are like the 13th grade," said Northeast High School grad Swain, 26, who wrote the theme song and cowrites the scripts. "There's a perception that if you go to those schools, you won't be able to compete in the workforce."

And if the school is not one of the big-name historically black colleges or universities, students can feel invisible, Swain said.

"If you're not Howard, Spelman, or Morehouse, it's like, 'You said Cheyney? You mean like Dick Cheney?' "

So Swain and Perry are trying to raise the school's profile and chip away at a stereotype, one YouTube view at a time.

The two main characters are versions of themselves.

Swain, a Philly nerd, and Perry, a suburban kid from Morrisville, Bucks County, met at Cheyney when both earned four-year scholarships as Keystone Scholars, one of Cheyney's premiere academic programs.

After initial tension, the two became best friends.

They began the sitcom project after the success of some silly online videos they posted as an offshoot of a weekend photography business they had started.

That lead to their sitcom script, called Undergrad, prompted by their love of 1990s black sitcoms.

"We've watched Martin, The Wayans Brothers, and [The Jamie Foxx Show] to the point where it's unhealthy," Swain said.

But they shelved Undergrad as graduation approached. A year later, Perry, who has also written two books, decided to do it as a sitcom. By then, he had moved to Trenton to work as a technician for the state Motor Vehicle Commission, and Swain had moved to Pittsburgh to help administer a student mentorship program.

The two began writing the scripts with friend Raymond Bracy long-distance, and Perry began his two-year exercise in guerrilla filmmaking. He has spent $4,000 of his own money and sells DVDs and T-shirts for additional funding.

Cheyney senior Rashad Buckson called the show a truthful representation of student life. The film director Spike Lee retweeted a link to the show site.

On set, Perry hurriedly shifts roles while shooting a scene whose topic is upperclassmen dating freshmen. Lindy Brown can't seem to get the line "You look more excited than Lil Wayne at a skinny jeans sale."

"I'm not an actress," Brown laments. Then senior Kyle Glover, who costars in the series, hits her with some Shakespeare: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

In other words, yes you are.

Finally, Brown gets it. Then the crew lugs the equipment to another hall and solicits students to be extras in the next scene.

This time, sophomore Kara Craig will star when a classroom lecture veers into a discussion of interracial dating.

Craig hopes that Perry gets his wish and that We're Just Talking leads to bigger things and more realistic perspectives.

"I want people to watch and be able to relate in some way," said Craig, of Los Angeles, "and see us for what we are."

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Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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