Written by: Ayanna Chatman
Tazrean is an incoming freshman at Wellesley College. Throughout her time in high school, she performed in many school productions such as Twelfth Night and Indecent. In addition to on-stage acting, she has worked on the stage crew and was able to become an assistant director during her senior year. Her favorite part of performing is “getting to discover new characters and analyze why they act the way they do.” Tazrean has been acting ever since her freshman year of high school and plans to continue acting and pursue directing in college as an extracurricular.
How long have you been acting for?
I started acting in the spring of sixth grade.
How and why did you start acting?
I’m a part of the Teak Fellowship, and one of the first classes we ever took was Shakespeare, and our Shakespeare class was not just about reading Shakespeare and understanding his text, but also being able to act it out. Every week we would read and act out different plays, and we would practice the scenes… I always remember doing scenes from Romeo and Juliet, and we would perform for others. So I started acting because we had to, and then I started to genuinely enjoy it because I thought Shakespeare was really cool and I also liked English class so it was cool to act out and understand more about the characters and myself in the process.
What has been your favorite role to act as and why?
My favorite role was in my ninth grade spring play. I played Horace in Time Flies. The spring play was five short plays by David Ives, and I was in Time Flies, and it was my first role ever at my high school. It was my favorite because I thought Horace was a really fun character to play. For background Time Flies is about two mayflies who fall in love and realize they’re going to die in 24 hours. Horace starts out really awkward and uncomfortable because when the two flies first meet they’re in their pre-pubescent phase of their 24 hour life, so he is just dancing side-to-side. I feel like ninth grade me was more like Horace than I wanted to admit, so the character was perfect for me. And throughout the play Horace grows and he realises he is about to die and starts to express his feelings and becomes more of a “man” in those 24 hours. It was a fun role to play, I had my little antennas and wings, and I just connected a lot with him.
What is your favorite genre of theatre and why?
I think I definitely prefer comedy. Comedies and Shakespeare are my favorite. I like Shakespeare because I started out with it, so I’ve loved it since sixth grade and comedies because personally, I think that activism is important. Though I do theater to separate myself from activism and give myself a break from it, every time I have been able to participate in a comedy or a show that is more lighthearted and might be social commentary, but not in a serious way, it is a lot more fun… it calms me down and puts less stress on me.
How has theatre impacted your life?
Wow. Never really thought about that. I think it gives you a really strong sense of self, and it gives you a community. The community is the biggest part for me because in high school my closest friends were in the drama community. Generally, when I started acting I think it gave me a sense of self; I became more confident because I was an awkward sixth grader pretending to be a queen plotting to overthrow her father, or a desperate lover who only liked a man for three days. I was always playing characters who were so much more powerful than me at the time, and it allowed me to step into other people and take some parts with me, and I think that gave me more confidence. Every role that I have played, I have grown from and became a better and more interesting person as a result.
To you, what does it mean to be an actress of color?
To me, it means sometimes feeling that I’m being typecast. I think it was really hard at my high school because, in 10th grade, I had to play the role of an Indian man because, at the time, there was no other South Asian in my drama community to do it. So that made me feel like I have to play those roles based on my identity and represent something larger than me, which can be really overwhelming. But it also means that I get to show up and remind people why this is important. When I was assistant directing a play called Twelfth Night, even though Shakespeare doesn’t make commentary about race, I think it was important for me to be there and mentor the other students of color in the performance and to just be there for them, and to also help them through their discomfort in theater. Also, helping them recognize that the drama community is very white, and learning to be ok with that while showing up, taking my space, and not being uncomfortable. That is what it means to me. So it is hard, but I will say that when I started at Teak, almost everyone there was a person of color, so it was really interesting starting that way because I didn’t automatically feel less than or out of place. I started acting knowing I had a space. Acting is one of the few things that I never doubted whether or not I was good at or whether or not it is somewhere I belong because when I learned how to act, I learned from a black teacher or with people of color around me who didn’t make me feel less than.
Do you feel represented in the theatre industry?
No. I think that being a person or color or a person of color with melanin is really different. I think a lot about how the people of color in the drama community tend to be white passing… so I began to think of whether or not the costumes would fit me right, or not being able to share makeup with my cast member. I asked myself, “Am I going to be in a role that comments on my skin tone?”…It is the small things that set you apart and remind you, “Oh, I’m different in this space.” So I think that is something I have had to think about not only as a person of color but as a person of color with darker skin.
Who is an actress of color who inspires you and why?
I have so many! Jameela Jamil from the ‘Good Place’. She is just amazing. She is the coolest person and not only as an actress… She has a body liberation campaign, which is different from body positivity because she wants people to step away from the idea of looking at the number on the scale and instead look at yourself and say, “I’m not that number, but there are still all these amazing things about me.” Because some people don’t want to think about that on a daily basis, and I think it is such an interesting and powerful movement. Also, Mindy Kaling. I have complicated feelings about her because sometimes her shows and the work she does doesn’t hit as hard, but I think she has done so much important work in creating South Asian representation in the media. Though not all of her work represents my experiences, the fact that she is out there trying, and is also popular, is really important… I really love some of the work she has done… but for instance in the Mindy Project, a sitcom she made, I think it was really interesting because her character Mindy in the show, only dated white guys and clearly separated herself from her identity. Though the character discovered herself… it was never something that was fully addressed… I want to see brown girls who love their identity and want to embrace it and not be judged for it. The same thing came up in Never Have I Ever because I think the main character was never really proud of her identity either. I understand that is her experience and I think that is good and it is something I relate to, to some extent but not fully, because as much as I might disconnect from being Bengali, I don’t think I will date only white guys or be ashamed of who I am. I think I stand in the middle ground, so those are the parts where I don’t feel represented. But I still commend her because she tries and she has produced so many movies and tv shows that have been so successful… so there are still brown people out there who do feel represented by her and, I appreciate the work she has done.
As a career choice, would you rather be an actress or a director and why?
I think I would be a director because this year was the year I got really into the responsibilities of tech… and the thing that is really cool about directing is you get to combine both those interests because you are helping craft the stage, and you are helping decide what the world is going to look like. You are working with costume designers and with all these other people working in tech, but at the same time, you are helping stage each scene and giving acting tips. When I was assistant directing, I was able to tell my peers how to act, which was weird at times… and I also got to work on a tech set, so it combined both of my interests. I think being an assistant director was good for me because I would have gotten very overwhelmed directing the entire show, but I definitely want to get to a point where I feel comfortable directing something by myself.
What is your greatest accomplishment/proudest moment as an actress?
Ok, this is from middle school. We did a scene from Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio dies, and I played Mercutio. It is my favorite moment to this day because I had a little ziplock bag of fake blood hidden under my sweater and a thumbtack in the inside sleeve of my sweater, so in the play, I was like, “A plague on both your houses,” while gushing out fake blood… I also learned how to fence for that scene… I loved that moment. It was fun to just act out, but it was more fun with the fake blood and fencing; the little things that make it so different.
What advice would you give to young girls of color who are starting to or thinking about acting?
I think it is important to recognize that you are entering an industry that was not made for you, but you need to learn to take up space and never feel like you don’t deserve that part that you are given. Also, that the parts you are given, do not always have to be about your identity. You do not have to enter every space and make your identity a political statement because sometimes that is what it feels like when you’re entering certain arts spaces that tend to gear towards activism. Drama can be geared towards social justice, so it is natural to enter that space and feel like your identity is the focus. You don’t have to do that. You can show up and decide how much of yourself you are bringing into that space–– it is all up to you. You should not let other people determine that for you. If someone wants to cast you because you and the character are the same race and not even the same ethnicity, you can step away. If you want to represent your race or ethnicity in that way, you can elect to, but it is up to you. Other people might give you opportunities or certain labels, but it is ultimately up to you on how you want to feel represented and how you want to be an actor.
How do you define being an artist?
I think it is the ability to create something that is new and has significance to you.