Monday, November 1, 2010
Interview: Regina Taylor reflects on The Trinity River Plays and her journeys as an actress and playwright
Taylor told the group about her writing style, "I pour myself into other people’s skin and see what I learn as a human being."
DOWNTOWN DALLAS In the intimate setting of the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art, a modest crowd of artsy admirers patiently waited for Dallas daughter Regina Taylor to emerge from the velvety black folds from backstage.
After a brief introduction from Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty, the conversation began -- more like a private conversation than an interview as the group discussed Taylor's new works, The Trinity River Plays. Taylor answered with polite enthusiasm and southern charm, speaking as a veteran actress.
Moriarty began at home. Taylor grew up in Dallas, a resident of the West Dallas Projects. She claims to have had the “best of both worlds” in that she was an only child within the folds of a large extended family. Her mother, a teacher for some years, “empowered her to think creatively” and helped write her first book, made of construction paper and conceptualized on the living room floor. Taylor said although she always had a passion for writing, her love affair with acting did not surface until years later when she was a student at Southern Methodist University. There she took an acting class because she thought it would be an easy “A.” The easy part turned out to be her true calling into the world of theater.
She remembers fondly stalking Henry Fonda in a performance of The Oldest Living Graduate, where she was approached by an agent who asked if she was an actor and then told her about an audition. This incidental meeting backstage led to a role in Crisis at Central High, where she co-starred with Joan Woodworth. After graduating from SMU, Taylor left for New York in pursuit of her dream.
However, her dreams didn’t happen overnight. As she looked for work as an actress, she worked temporary assignments, even posting theater advertisement posters in the middle of the night for up-and-coming productions. Hard work paid off and Taylor became the first African-American woman to portray Juliet Capulet on Broadway. In the '90s she would go on to star in the TV show "I’ll Fly Away," which she says was one of the “best experiences of her acting career.” She also recalled accepting the role with ease because she knew the character already. Lilly, in a sense, was her mother and her grandmother -- the other women who worked, loved, and sacrificed for their families and profoundly influenced Taylor herself.
Being in New York City was inspiring time for Taylor. “Each block has a story happening in the moment,” she said. “As a writer, you are trying to find your way. Just as the great Miles Davis, whose sound we know immediately when we hear it, was still always trying to re-invent himself as an artist. Well, so does a writer.” As a playwright, Taylor attempts to capture the “…tenacity of the human spirit. I pour myself into other people’s skin and see what I learn as a human being.”
Taylor’s current work, The Trinity River Plays, is set in Oak Cliff and reflects the cycle of change that a young woman must face in her lifetime. The catalyst for the creation of the plays was the passing of Taylor’s mother. She describes the birth of the play as “trying to reconnect and move through the world that you feel may just blow away.”
Although not quite autobiographical, Taylor admits that it was "over-whelming, yet embracing. I wanted to write a piece that came from the soil, about where you come from and how it follows you through the processes of life.”
The Trinity River Plays run November 6 through December 1 at the Wyly Theatre.
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