Written by Shala Hainer Tuesday, June 21 2011
Snapshot: Regina Taylor
After building a successful acting, directing, and playwriting career, in 2011 Regina Taylor reached out to students at Northwestern University to challenge them to find their own voices and share their ideas about the state of America. A year in the making, the “Regina Taylor Project” helped the students express themselves through plays, films, interactive graphic art, and other art forms. The project engaged students to see where America is today and how they could make a difference.
Born in Dallas, Texas, but currently living in Chicago, Taylor has acted on Broadway, on television, and in movies. Well known for her role as Lilly Harper in the 1990s’ TV series I’ll Fly Away, she was the first black woman to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway. Her film credits include Courage Under Fire andThe Negotiator.
Taylor’s acting skills have not gone unnoticed. Among her many awards are a Golden Globe, an NAACP Image Award, two Emmy Award nominations, a Peabody Award, and a Gracie Award.
In addition to being an accomplished actress, Taylor has written and produced an impressive array of plays. These include Oo-Bla-Dee, A Night in Tunisia, Magnolia, and Inside the Belly of the Beast. Her award-winning play, Crowns, is one of the most performed musicals in the country.
In memory of her mother, Taylor serves as the spokesperson for the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization.
Womenetics: If you had to choose between writing and acting, which would you choose, and why?
ReginaTaylor: Asking me to choose writing or acting is like asking me to choose between my right and left foot. They both take me where I want to go in terms of traveling through a creative life. Each play, each part is a journey – whether I’m writing, directing, or acting.
Womenetics: What do you like best about your favorite aspect of drama – writing, acting live on stage, television, or movies?
Taylor: With writing, directing, or acting I get to walk in someone else’s shoes, gain another perspective, and hop back into my own with a broadened sense of other people and of myself. It is to know that, yes, there are differences, and bottom line – we are all alike in our wants, pains, joys, and dreams.
Womenetics: What do you consider your biggest break in your career? How did you discover the opportunity?
Taylor: My biggest break was playing Lilly Harper in the ground-breaking Josh Brand-John Foley television series I’ll Fly Away. Lilly Harper was a maid in the 1950s who went beyond hands in a white household. You saw her mind, her heart, and spirit. You saw her in her job as housekeeper and as a daughter, mother, woman of her community with an evolving social consciousness. [She was] a fully fleshed-out human being that people recognized. When I went in to audition, I channeled my grandmother, Jazell Taylor, who used to work in the kitchen of the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Her spirit got me the job.
Womenetics: You have received many prestigious awards during your career. What award, or awards, has meant the most to you, and why?
Taylor: Each award is special -- like markers along the way -- the humble privilege to stand before peers you admire and respect so much. Getting the opportunity to do and share the work is a huge award.
Womenetics: What has been the hardest thing, or your biggest sacrifice, during your rise to success?
Taylor: Finding the time to do everything I’d like to do is the hardest part of my life -- to try and make sure my personal and professional lives are balanced and rich and full. There have been times when I lose myself in work.
Womenetics: How did you produce your first play, and what steps did you take to make sure it got you noticed as a writer?
Taylor: My first play was produced at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky. All you can do is the best you can; to know that each project is an opportunity to learn and grow; to be patient with yourself, even as you are driven to dig deep and do the hard and muddy work of creating something that you can stand by; to know that you should dare, take the risk, try something different to challenge yourself and audiences. Knowing that if you fall flat on your face, it’s OK. The victory is in daring. That’s what separates the exciting work from the mundane. With that understanding, you can always get up and try it again.
Womenetics: What was your inspiration to create The State(s) of America: The Regina Taylor Project? What was your goal when you launched the program with Northwestern University?
Taylor: I had been invited to Northwestern with the Hope Abelson residency. I had a great time with the students and was invited back with an open door to create whatever I wanted. I wanted to hear the students’ voices. I wanted to know what was the generational voice of young people today. I wanted to have them own their voices on issues that mattered to them. It was also an opportunity to have different departments in a university collaborate and have a dialogue. It culminated in a festival of short works: plays, films, computer-generated interactive art, spoken word, stories, and devised pieces. They tackled everything from race, religion, the war, gay and lesbian rights, to immigration laws.
Womenetics: What did you think about the plays, poems, stories, and films that the students at Northwestern created?
Taylor: I felt the work that the students created was thoughtful, complex, and provocative. The Northwestern students felt empowered in owning their perspectives. It lent itself to being the most diverse project on campus -- multicultural, multidisciplined. Undergrads to graduate students, engineering students and theater students knew they had a place to be heard. There was a constant buzz and holler in the air.
Womenetics: You recognized your love for the art of drama early in life. What advice would you offer to middle- and high-school students interested in drama, but who don't have drama programs at schools because of budget cuts?
Taylor: Seek out after-school programs. Seek mentors. Know that if you don’t see a door you can make your own door. Make an effort to make a connection with like-minded people -- students and faculty -- who are supportive.
Womenetics: You recently became the national spokesperson for the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization, where you share your inspiring story about your mother's battle with the disease. What are your responsibilities with the organization, and how do you work to promote it?
Taylor: With all members of OCSA, it is to raise the awareness of this silent disease, to speak about the impact on lives of those who have ovarian cancer and those who love them. It is to speak about the symptoms -- to possibly save a life.
Womenetics: Between writing, acting, empowering youth, and activism, you must stay perpetually busy. How do you make time for yourself? What do you like to do to unwind?
Taylor: I like to read, explore music, art, theater, and dance. I do like to dance. I was “happening” in my Soul Train days!
Womenetics: What advice would you share with young women trying to make a career as an actress or playwright?
Taylor: Be tenacious. Draw upon your resources. Have an open spirit and mind. No one can put limits on you. You can go as far as your imagination.
Based near Atlanta, Shala Hainer has been writing and copyediting since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, she most recently wrote and edited articles for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from Jacksonville State University.