Producer, Playwright & Actor, Tanisha Taitt

Published on: August 11, 2012

Filled Under: 9-5, SummerWorks

Views: 985


All-round artist (but newbie playwright!) Tanisha Taitt gives us the goods on the SummerWorks fest, and all the women who make her artistically tick.

1. How do you participate in the SummerWorks Performance Festival, and why is your job important to it? 
I am the producer and playwright of VIOLENT BE VIOLET.  I also play the title character.

2. Why do you engage with the SummerWorks Performance Festival? What has it taught you as an artist?
I absolutely love SummerWorks.  It’s the perfect-sized festival and you really have the opportunity to take it ALL in if you choose to.  This is my fourth year involved in some way, and it has taught me so much about community, collaboration, consciousness.  In 2010 I was part of the SummerWorks Leadership Intensive Program (SLIP) and it was one of the most valuable experiences of my career thus far.

3. What advice would you give to a newbie SummerWorks attendee so that they really get a feel for the festival?
I would recommend seeing a wide variety of shows, including things that you regularly wouldn’t choose to see.  You could be very pleasantly surprised.  I remember coming out of I WAS BARBIE in 2010 thinking “Holy crap.”  It wasn’t something that I normally would’ve checked out, but I had to see it as part of SLIP.  It ended up being one of my Top 5 festival experiences that year, out of 37 shows that I saw. Be open to the unknown.  If you can’t afford to see many shows, try to at least see one thing that’s outside your comfort zone.  You may find that your comfort zone expands, which can change your life from that point forward.

4. Why do you think SummerWorks is important to the Toronto, and national, arts scene?
SummerWorks is my favourite event on the annual Toronto theatre calendar.  It is a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to new theatrical voices, and diverse ones, in a short and exciting burst of time and energy.  I have become fans of actors and directors whose work I was unfamiliar with before as a result of the festival.  I love that it’s juried, and juried by interesting and acclaimed artists who want to present a truly dynamic smorgasbord of high-quality theatre.  The National Series is a valuable chance for Canadian artists outside of Toronto to showcase their works to audiences here.  Also, being a singer-songwriter as well as a theatre artist, I appreciate the Music Series a lot.  I love the combination of music and theatre in this festival.  There are also some compelling panel discussions.

5. There’s never enough time to flesh out all we want to in our jobs, so what do you wish you had more time to do with your job?
As an actor I think that if you have too much time, your performance can start to die.  I absolutely believe that there is such a thing as too much rehearsal.  For all of the nuance and precision and things you can add, you can also lose the spontaneity and the sense of curiosity that should always be there.  And as a playwright, albeit a new one, I’m a big believer in writing the piece and getting it onstage.  Many writers wish they had more time to edit and dramaturge and rewrite and workshop — I’m the opposite.  I believe that you write it as best you can and then give it to an audience.  That’s where it’s meant to live, not on your hard drive or in a room endlessly with only one half of the equation present.  If it works for other people that’s just fine; each artist works in his or her own way.  That way doesn’t work for me.  I say let it be a snapshot of where you were as a writer at that time in your life and be proud of what you were capable of doing at that point.  Then move on to the next one and allow what you’ve learned to make that one better.  I’m not into the idea of workshopping the same play for years — by the time it’s produced you’re not the same person you were when you wrote it and its urgency in your life has often diminished.  I wish I had more time to write, but I’d be writing several pieces fairly quickly as opposed to belabouring each one.

6. Female artistic/creative influences; who were yours? 
Because the beginning of my artistic life was as a musician and not a theatre artist, my primary female artistic influences come from that realm.  I learned a lot about lyricism as a child from Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack and Carole King; the fluidity, ease and richness of good lyricism shares a commonality with good playwriting.  I am obsessed with words and the inherent musicality of language.  My mom was an English grammar and usage teacher, which I’m very thankful for.  As I got older I learned about telling poignant stories from more female songwriters — Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox… gifted storytellers who act when they sing and paint when they write.  Brilliant non-writing vocalists like Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight taught me about interpreting and embodying words that aren’t my own.  I was also influenced by Margaret Atwood.  As an actor there are so many that I can’t name them all, but I will say that I find Emily Watson and Lili Taylor mesmerizing in anything they do.  I am inspired by strong black female playwrights like Suzan-Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage, who can play English like a classical concerto and balance strength and subtlety with a deft hand.  Eve Ensler is not only an artistic influence but an everything influence.  I want to be her when I grow up.  And Harper… dear Harper Lee… writer of my favourite novel of all time.

7. Finish this sentence: If the SummerWorks Performance Festival were a woman, she would ______
Make waves in the morning, theatre in the afternoon, music in the evening, and love at night.

8. Money, (wo)manpower, and time aren’t issues: what do you want SummerWorks to do next?
I love what they’re doing now.  Sometimes festivals feel that to stay interesting and current they need to keep adding new elements, which often become so disparate that they do nothing but start to change the feel and spirit of the festival, and not for the better.  SummerWorks so far has been very interesting and creative but has always stayed true to its primary mission, and that’s one of the main reasons why I admire it so much.

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